Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher

Article excerpt

For beginning teachers committed to instructional improvement and to honest assessment of their effectiveness, the teaching portfolio is a proven, constructive instrument worth serious consideration

THE SECRET is out, and beginning teachers would be smart to stay ahead of a powerful trend in teacher development. Teaching portfolios are becoming perhaps the most effective tool in improving the instruction of both new and seasoned teachers and in providing a supportive, convincing method of evaluation. The dramatic increase in institutions using teaching portfolios demonstrates that this form of documentation ably serves the needs of instructors interested in professional development and of administrators seeking more reliable means of evaluating teaching performance. In 1993 Peter Seldin noted that, in contrast to the "75 institutions thought to be using portfolios just two years ago," as many as "400 colleges and universities . . . are now using or experimenting with portfolios."(1) Many other recognized American scholars, such as Ernest Boyer, Lynne Cheney, and key figures in the American Association for Higher Education, have joined Seldin in touting the benefits of using teaching portfolios to help shape exemplary teaching careers and to help define viable criteria for the evaluation of instruction.(2) For two decades, Canadian educators have known the practical rewards of teaching dossiers, and Dalhousie University's comprehensive use of dossiers for faculty development is a model program illustrating the impact of portfolios on both beginning and experienced teachers.

Many veteran faculty members have compiled portfolios for practical improvement, for the revaluation of specific methods and outcomes in designated courses, for post-tenure reviews, for reflection on pedagogical or methodological experiments, or (as in the case of one distinguished professor emeritus in a North Carolina University) for the purpose of leaving a legacy of valuable experience to junior faculty members. But the beginning teacher stands to gain even more from a teaching portfolio in that it can serve as a catalyst for substantive improvement in one's teaching philosophy, methods, and goals. Also, the ability of the portfolio to provide outside evaluators with concise, selective, evidence-based information from a wide variety of sources gives the novice instructor a highly individualized, credible, and factual document for the purpose of evaluation.

The Contents of a Portfolio

The portfolio is a narrative document in which a faculty member concisely organizes details of his or her teaching efforts and accomplishments. Most effective portfolios run eight to 10 double-spaced pages in length and offer selected information about a teacher's assigned responsibilities, philosophy, methods, materials, classroom experiments, participation in workshops and other professional development efforts, and teaching goals. Portfolios may also include evaluations from students, peers, and supervisors, along with student products that concretely demonstrate learning.

Being selective does not mean constructing a biased picture of one's teaching performance but rather providing a fair and generous representation of it. Even the occasional flop is worthy material for a formative portfolio, especially if the portfolio reveals a process of genuine adjustment and growth, if the teacher has articulated innovation and risk as key components of a teaching philosophy, and if the institution recognizes experimentation and change as signals of vitality in teaching. In any case, an appendix contains all the hard information that concretely supports the narrative and balances claims with evidence.

Because each portfolio bears signature items intended to provide a unique profile of an individual teacher, each one will be different. But a representative table of contents might include the following entries:

1. Assigned Teaching Responsibilities

2. …