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Vol 34 No 3, July - September 1996 Page 24 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT

The Teaching Portfolio
A Tool to Become a Reflective Teacher
by Jesos A. Bastidas

Although student and teacher portfolios are very well known in schools within the United States, they do not have this same acceptance in other countries. This article specifically focuses on the teaching portfolio (TP) as a learning or assessment strategy in the classroom. However, before rushing in to implement this activity the reader should begin by "practicing what he preaches," and in so doing, corroborate Lee's (1994) experience:
"My portfolio is a model for my students' portfolios. Because I explain to my class why I pick items to include in it, the kids have learned to be selective of their own work and eager to explain why they choose the pieces they do for their portfolios."

Ralphene Lee,Trajan Elementary School, Orangevale, CA.

After a discussion of the definition of a portfolio, its purposes, contents, and uses this article attempts to provide arguments to support one of the strengths of the TP: To serve as a vehicle for reflection, improvement, and achievement.

Common images of portfolios come from the fields of fine arts and financial investment. The artist's leather portfolio is a folder, a binder, or a case that includes selected samples of work such as paintings, drawings, photographs, etc. Artists select the contents according to the purpose of the portfolio (e.g. to enter an art school, to exhibit their work in a gallery show, or to get a job). The investor's portfolio is a collection of papers, including securities, real estate, life insurance, stocks, bonds, etc., which represent "an array of assets purchased with an eye on their potential increase in value" (Seger 1992). In both types of portfolios, their owners control the range of the contents through a continuous process of self-evaluation and a careful consideration of their objectives and knowledge of the external audiences.

In education, portfolios became popular in the mid 1980 s as a logical follow- up to writing folders. These folders, which included daily pieces of writing, were transformed into portfolio assessment tools soon after their introduction in the area of language arts.

Portfolios, as assessment tools, have been defined as a purposeful and systematic collection of students' work that demonstrates the students' progress, efforts and accomplishments in one or more areas. Portfolios are vehicles for ongoing assessment which represent activities and processes, more than products. While collecting writing samples, students engage in reflection, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation with the assistance of teachers, peers, and parents (Paulson et al., 1991 and Tierney et al., 1991). These samples assist teachers in making instructional decisions to help students learn and achieve their goals. Likewise, they provide teachers with a means to document their teaching efforts and accomplishments. This article, however, will address the makeup and use of the teaching portfolio.

Defining teaching portfolios

Various authors have provided the following definitions of the teaching portfolio (TP).

"A factual description of a professor's major strengths and teaching achievements. It describes documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of a professor's teaching performance." (Seldin 1991).

"A teaching portfolio is a collection of documents that represents the best of one's teaching and provides one with the occasion to reflect on his or her teaching with the same intensity devoted to scholarship or research." (Murray 1994).

"The portfolio is a narrative document in which a faculty member concisely organizes details of his or her teaching efforts and accomplishments." (Zubizarreta 1994).

For the audience of this article, mainly pre-service and in-service TESOL teachers, the TP could be defined as a selected collection of documents and materials that exemplifies the teacher's theories, development, and achievements as a result of a continuous process of reflection and self- evaluation. It is important to add that the TP is not a one-time collection of documents, but rather a means of collecting representative material over time. For teachers to demonstrate their growth, development, and teaching performance, they constantly need to revise, add to, substitute, edit, or discard some documents or materials from their TP.

Contents of teaching portfolios

As with the definitions of portfolios in general, teaching portfolios will vary with the teachers who create them. Hamm and Adams (1992) Murray, Bozzone, and Zubizarreta (1994) have suggested the following lists of entries to be included in the TP, and classified according to specific categories.

A. Teacher's Beliefs
1. Owner's principles, philosophy, or theory of education.

  • Principles of both human learning and language learning.
  • Principles of language teaching.

B. Program Design

  • A statement about your students' needs to learn English.
  • Goals and objectives of the EFL/ESL courses you teach.
  • General statements about the type(s) of syllabi for your EFL/ESL courses.
  • Guidelines for teaching the language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and language components (sounds, vocabulary, grammar).
  • Principles of language assessment.
  • Statements about your role as a teacher.
  • Statements about your students' role.
  • A statement about the use of the first language in the classroom.

C. Procedure/Methodology

  • Effective teaching techniques.
  • Effective exercises, activities, and tasks.
  • Effective tips for classroom management.
  • Stages of your own language lessons.
  • Statements of how actual teaching in the classroom matches one's theoretical principles.

D. Professional Development
1. Evidence of teaching effectiveness.

  • Students' evidence of learning.
  • Actual products of learning.
  • Audio and video tapes of selected lessons.
  • Teacher-created instructional materials.
  • Language assessment tests.

2. Evidence of growth and development.

  • Recent changes incorporated into teaching.
  • Workshops, seminars or conferences attended.
  • Articles or books you have read recently.
  • New ideas received from your students, colleagues, or administration.
  • Organizations you belong to.

E. Personal Achievements

  • Clippings about your class from the school newsletter or local paper.
  • Clippings of articles you have published.
  • Honors and distinctions.

F. Owner's Reflections

  • Immediate impressions or thoughts on a specific class, disappointments, and thrills.
  • Students' evaluation data from your courses.
  • Statements from colleagues who have observed your teaching.
  • Results of principal's or supervisor's evaluation.
  • Self-evaluation of teaching performance.
  • Analysis and reflections about the results of these evaluations.
  • A list of questions and issues that need change or improvement.
  • A plan to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for future self- improvement. This "meditation is the reflection of a caring, dedicated and professional teacher. Rather than admitting deficiencies, it expresses strength and renewal." (Murray 1994).

Purposes and uses of teaching portfolios

The TP has been used for these purposes:

  • To evaluate, promote and get tenure at the university level (Seldin1991).
  • To recognize and reward excellence in the field of teaching (Wolf 1991).
  • To describe the full range of a teacher's abilities over an extended period of time (Urbach 1992).
  • To stimulate reflection and improvement of a teacher's performance.

Promoting reflective teaching through the use of teaching portfolios

This section of the article is intended to support one of the most important and authentic reasons for assembling a TP: To promote reflection on one's teaching performance as a means to develop and improve oneself constantly.

Although teachers can reflect on their teaching activities by thinking about them or by discussing their concerns with other colleagues, administrators, parents, etc., the results would soon fade from mind. Teachers who want to begin a process of serious reflection need to look for more effective ways to assess their teaching practices, and the TP can constitute one of these alternatives. When teachers select an entry for their portfolio, not only do they have to think or discuss, but they also need to write down their ideas and reflections. Reflective writing provides teachers with an opportunity to focus, organize, edit their ideas, and finally to reflect upon them in print. And, perhaps most importantly, the written documents are always available to be reviewed, and to serve as clear evidence of the teacher's thinking, reasoning, and actions.

The TP provides the teacher with an opportunity to become a reflective practitioner. Many teachers have never had this experience and consequently, have never perceived the reward of becoming a reflective person. Seldin and Annis (1990) reported this finding: "I taught for 18 years without really thinking about it. When I wrote my personal teaching philosophy for my portfolio, for the first time I thought about why I do what I do in the classroom." ( Murray 1994).

The beliefs and reflections included in the TP can inspire and direct personal renewal and growth, and allow teachers to control their own development (Murray 1994). Bozzone (1994) supports this fact by quoting a teacher from New York:

"Even though I teach first grade every year, every year is different. So my portfolio helps me see how I'm evolving as a teacher. It helps me see where I've been, where I am, and-because I set goals-where I'm headed. I ask my students to keep portfolios, too, so I live the life I teach."

In addition, (Zubizarreta 1994) affirms that the TP ".is the only instrument that concurrently improves instruction through the process of reflective writing and self-scrutiny and evaluates performance within a framework of narration and evidence." The previous assertion is confirmed by Brian O. Kaigler, a teacher from Katie C. Lewis Elementary, Washington, D.C.:

"During my first teaching year, I didn't keep a record of what I did and that taught me a valuable lesson- you can't learn about how you're changing if you don't have a self-assessment tool. During my second year, a mentor teacher suggested I keep a portfolio, and organizing and sharing it became a collegial activity. I've been teaching for four years now, and all I have to do to see how far I've come as a teacher is look at my portfolio." (Cited in Bozzone 1994).

A procedure to organize a teaching portfolio

First of all, define the purpose of your TP. Once you have identified your purpose, decide on the types of entries that you would include in the TP. As this article supports the use of the TP as a tool for reflection, the teacher should begin with a statement of one's philosophy of education and one's basic principles and beliefs about language, and about learning and teaching a second or a foreign language. This information can "prompt reflection on how teaching choices match one's beliefs about teaching." (See Murray 1994).

Based on your teaching philosophy, you can start selecting the type of documents you will include in your TP. Murray (1994) asserts that "The emphasis is on fusing beliefs about the learning and teaching process with methods, outcomes, and evaluation."

After collecting and/or writing the appropriate entries, classify them into categories and place them in your portfolio accordingly. Bozzone (1994) recommends that before adding an item to the TP, it is important to date it and add a brief note that explains your reasons for selecting it.

Finally, set aside some time from your schedule to revise, add, modify, or discard some contents of your TP. Portfolios are not static folders that store a collection of samples from one time of your teaching life. On the contrary, they are lively and flexible three ring binders, cases, canvas bags and the like that allow you to demonstrate growth, development, and accomplishments over time.

A valuable recommendation made by Murray (1994) is to prepare and keep the TP in consultation with others. Collaboration from colleagues, students, administrators, or professors is necessary to keep the teacher's process of reflection open to critical comments, to support the need of being up to date, and to improve teaching effectiveness. This suggestion is particularly useful for pre- service or for beginning teachers who can benefit from a mentor's collaboration. The mentor can provide the new teacher with tools to be selective and to steer the direction of the TP, so that it meets the needs of instructional improvement. According to Murray (1994), the primary role of the mentor is "to help a colleague improve instruction in actual ways by analyzing definite products of good teaching-just the kind of supportive scrutiny a beginning teacher needs."

Concluding reflective remarks

Nobody can deny the fact that the teaching profession has similar problems in most countries. Teachers are underpaid, and they are required to have a heavy workload. Therefore, teachers are so busy fulfilling their teaching responsibilities that they do not have time to question the educational reforms, which are usually imposed by the governments. In addition, many teachers are so concentrated on the process of teaching that they do not have time to notice if their students are learning.

I think that we as teachers, no matter what subjects we teach, need to set aside some time to reflect on these and other critical issues that have always been with us. Some teachers are conscious of them, but they have not been able to change them. Obviously, one teacher cannot change such serious problems, but if we unite, we can begin to construct many changes. But, we cannot forget that change begins with each one of us, and one of the first things we need to modify is our routinized way of teaching. To accomplish this we need to stop in our daily journey and reflect consciously on any issue related to our job. But, if we want to have a productive reflective activity, let's not ask the easy questions. On the contrary, let's begin to reflect upon the what and why questions. In this way, we can project our teaching to its broader socio- political context and accomplish the kind of reflection proposed by Kemmis (1986):

"Reflection is not just an individual, psychological process. It is an action- oriented, historically-embedded, social and political frame, to locate oneself in the history of a situation, to participate in a social activity, and to take sides on issues. Moreover the material on which reflection works is given to us socially and historically; through reflection and the action which it informs, we may transform the social relations which characterize our work and our working situation." (Cited in Bartlett 1990).

Perhaps, the readers are wondering about which questions need to be asked to begin the process of critical reflection. Here are two of them: Why is the teaching of English important for your students? What is language teaching? The answers that you provide to these questions can constitute the first entry for your teaching portfolio. In this way you begin to document and form a biography of your own teaching development as well as the proof of your improvement and accomplishments.

If teachers can demonstrate growth based on their own self-evaluation and the product of their entries and documents in a teaching portfolio, they will be equipped to exercise control over their teaching, to critically question educational reforms, to support teaching as a respectable profession, and to demand the appropriate recognition of this profession in their society.

Jesos A. Bastidas A. is currently teaching at the Universidad de Nari o, Pasto, Colombia.



  • Bartlett, L. 1990. Teacher development through reflective teaching. In Second Language Teacher Education. ed. J. Richards and D. Nunan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bozzone, M. A. 1994. The professional portfolio: Why you should start one now. Instructor, 103, 9. pp. 48-50.
  • Hamm, M. and D. Adams. 1992. Portfolios: A valuable tool for reflection and assessment. Journal of Experiential Education, 15, 1, pp. 48-50.
  • Kemmis, S. 1986. Critical reflection. Unpublished manuscript. Geelong Australia: Deakon University.
  • Murray, J. P. 1994. Why teaching portfolios? Community College.
  • Paulson, F. L., P. R. Paulson and C. A. Meyer. 1991. What makes a portfolio a portfolio? Educational Leadership, 48, pp. 60-63.
  • Seger, D. F. 1992. Portfolio definitions: Toward a shared notion. In Portfolio Portraits, ed. D. Graves and B. Sunstein. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Seldin, P. 1991. The teaching portfolio. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Tierney, R. C., M. A. Carter and L. E. Desai. 1991. Portfolios in the reading- writing classroom. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.
  • Urbach, F. 1992. Developing a teaching portfolio. College Teaching, 40, 2, pp. 71-74.
  • Wolf, K. 1991. The school teacher's portfolio: Issues in design, implementation, and evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 129-136.
  • Zubizarreta, J. 1994. Teaching portfolios and the beginning teacher. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 4, pp. 323-326.

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