Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

'Even If No-One Looked at It, It Was Important for My Own Development': Pre-Service Teacher Perceptions of Professional Portfolios

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

'Even If No-One Looked at It, It Was Important for My Own Development': Pre-Service Teacher Perceptions of Professional Portfolios

Article excerpt

Introduction

In past decades, there has been a shift from portfolio use for assessing student learning to evaluating the professional development of both pre-service and in-service teachers. Studies have shown that the use of portfolios has rapidly expanded and continues to increase as a tool for capturing the complexities of teachers' work and learning in authentic settings (Gellman, 1993; Grant & Huebner, 1998). One reason for this shift is the potential for the professional portfolio to provide teachers with opportunities for thoughtful reflective dialogue. In this study, Wolf and Dietz's (1998) definition of professional portfolios is adopted. The professional portfolio is defined as a personalised, dynamic and interactive collection of teachers' work that emphasises ownership, self-evaluation, accomplishments and progress. The portfolio allows both practising and pre-service teachers to plan, monitor and reflect, to uncover concerns, to engage in discourse, to collaborate and to improve on their teaching (Cushman, 1999; Johnson, 1999). This definition differs from that of showcasing portfolios, where practitioners demonstrate their performance against a standard or set of standards. As they develop their classroom management skills, content pedagogy, command of the subject matter, student-specific pedagogy and professional responsibilities, practising and pre-service teachers may well become better thinkers and educators through constructing their portfolios (Barrett, 2000).

This interpretative case study seeks to answer the question: How do pre-service teachers perceive the role of professional portfolios in promoting reflection on their growth as individual learners and educators? A tentative answer to the question arises from examining pre-service teachers' critical reflection on their experience in constructing a professional portfolio using Wolf and Dietz's (1998) framework.

Literature review

For the purpose of this review, research manuscripts on professional portfolios are grouped in two categories: use of professional portfolios in disciplines such as the health sciences; and use of portfolios by pre-service teachers.

Portfolio use in education and health sciences

This use occurs for various purposes and in a variety of disciplines, from nursing education (Farrand et al., 2006; Joyce, 2005) to dietetic science (Weedle, Himberg, Collins & Lewis, 2002). The primary purpose of professional portfolios is to advance learning and to allow learners to set their own goals. They vary in content and style, are generally loosely structured, and reflect a variety of works that illustrate accomplishments and progress towards self-chosen goals.

In a thesis on the perceptions of teachers and administrators of the professional portfolios, Attinello (2004) concluded that, although they expressed great concern with respect to the time required to work on their portfolio, practising teachers recognised that reflection was an important facet of their work. Overall, results of studies on the use of professional portfolios with school teachers and nurse practitioners seem to suggest a positive relationship between professional portfolio design and understanding of teaching practice in light of relevant theories and principles (Storey & Haigh, 2002). In these contexts, professional portfolios appear to promote self-assessment and reflection on practice and to help adult learners to take charge of their own lifelong learning.

Portfolio use with pre-service teachers

Various empirical studies focusing specifically on the use of professional portfolios with in-service teachers (Doty, 2001; Gelfer, Xu & Perkins, 2004; Orland-Barak, 2005) have found that constructing a professional portfolio and reflecting on one's teaching tend to improve teaching methods. For example, content examination of the participants' portfolios in Doty's study on science teaching revealed a gradual shift from a teacher-centred to a student-centred approach. …

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