“Pretty Good Practices” for the Design of Teacher Portfolio Courses

“Pretty Good Practices” for the Design of Teacher Portfolio Courses

Spencer P. Greenhalgh (Michigan State University, USA) and Matthew J. Koehler (Michigan State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8403-4.ch010
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In this chapter, the authors argue that although portfolios are a popular means of teacher evaluation, they, like any other assessment, must be properly implemented if they are to realize their full potential. Accordingly, they offer seven “pretty good practices” (Mishra, 2008) for designing portfolio courses: peer feedback, authentic audience, diverse resources, learning by doing, open access, confidential spaces, and self-pacing. These practices were developed from the authors' extensive work helping teachers to develop portfolios that demonstrate their learning in their graduate studies, and they help students create portfolios that have value as both summative assessments and places for formative growth. In the spirit of “pretty good practices,” however, the authors invite others to modify these practices for other contexts or to carry out research that would help refine and improve them.
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Alignment between learning activities and assessment is always critical but often overlooked. To teach differently than one assesses is to set students up for failure (Friedman & Heafner, 2007); conversely, to assess differently than one teaches is to underrepresent students' accomplishments in the classroom (Heafner & Friedman, 2008). In both cases, teachers are demonstrating their knowledge (i.e. teaching) differently than they expect students to demonstrate knowledge (i.e. through assessment), creating conflicts or even contradictions at the heart of the learning process. Although “teaching to the test” is often frowned upon, this instructional approach should instead only be viewed as problematic when the assessment itself is problematic (Whetten, 2007). In an ideal world, teaching and assessment are aligned and founded on solid learning theories; however, since testing is often more maligned than teaching, educational reform has often sought to replace assessments without ensuring that other teaching elements are adjusted properly. The result is that some educators “begin at the end”—they adopt new and improved assessments but ultimately create new problems because they haven't designed their courses to emphasize those improvements (Love, McKean, & Gathercoal, 2004, p. 24).

In the field of teacher education, portfolios are one of the most promising results of the search for improved assessments. Since their emergence in the 1980s, advocates of teaching portfolios have spoken of their usefulness for varied purposes and in diverse contexts. That is not to say there is no downside to portfolio-based assessment, even for its advocates. Like any other form of assessment, educators must support portfolio assessment with appropriate curricular and pedagogical strategies. Therefore, every promising feature of a portfolio entails potentially more changes educators have to make to ensure that those promises are fulfilled. Even if educators only focus on those features of portfolios that are most important for their particular context, the wide variety of ways that portfolios are used can make it difficult to know what other changes need to be made.

Portfolios may be used in many different contexts, spanning from the level of individual courses or teacher education programs (Zeichner & Wray, 2001) to entire states and countries (Wolf & Dietz, 1998). In fact, there is such wide range of uses for portfolios that Bartell, Kaye, and Morin (1998) described the portfolio as having been used “at every phase of teacher development” (p. 5); therefore, it is important to explain the context from which this chapter has emerged. For the last several years, we have been involved in helping teachers develop portfolios as part of the Master of Arts in Education (MAED) and Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) programs at Michigan State University, which require a portfolio in the same way that many other master’s programs require a thesis (DeSchryver, Leahy, Koehler, & Wolf, 2013). Just as master’s students may be required to take a certain number of credits to complete their thesis work, MAED and MAET students must enroll in a capstone portfolio course to complete this program milestone; however, unlike many thesis credit requirements, the capstone course is a fairly structured class with specific lessons and homework assignments designed to guide teachers through the process of creating a portfolio.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Portfolio: A means of formative and/or summative assessment that involves collecting artifacts that demonstrate skills and proficiency.

Open Access: In a portfolio course, the practice of hosting digital portfolios in a way that allows students to access, edit, and publicly share their portfolios even after the completion of a portfolio course.

Learning by Doing: The principle of using the completion of tasks to help students acquire knowledge rather than treating the latter as a prerequisite for the former.

Peer Feedback: A practice in which students’ work is evaluated by their peers in addition to or instead of their instructor.

Diverse Resources: The practice of encouraging or mandating the use of a variety of technologies as they are needed to accomplish certain tasks rather than focusing on only a few tools.

Course Design: The process of making decisions about what and how to teach and assess students in a particular course. Ideally, these decisions are focused on aligning teaching and assessment with course objectives and pedagogical theory.

Confidential Spaces: Classroom practices or means of communication that allow students to give each other feedback in a private way.

Self-Pacing: The practice of allowing students to learn and complete assignments according to a self-determined schedule rather than an instructor-set schedule.

Authentic Audience: A person or group other than course instructors that a student keeps in mind when creating a portfolio and making specific decisions about that portfolio.

Portfolio Course: A course designed to guide and scaffold the process of creating a portfolio.

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