As part of the initial teaching licensure process, more and more states now require a teaching portfolio, a structured collection of a teacher’s work, to demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency on a set of externally defined teaching standards. However, even though teacher education programs may require that students include evidence of proficiency on a recognized set of standards, this evidence varies as to the types of artifacts selected or recommended for inclusion. This is true not only from one state to another, but can also be seen across teacher education programs within the same state.
Another widespread variation among programs is the nature and quality of the mentoring process that elementary pre-service teachers experience during portfolio construction. Programs range from those situations where elementary pre-service teachers work largely on their own in constructing the teaching portfolio to those such as those at Bank Street College and the University of Southern Maine where significant peer and teacher educator mentoring has been incorporated into the portfolio development process (Davis & Honan, 1998; Freidus, 1998; Whitford, Ruscoe & Fickel, 2000). This mentoring is supported by the work of Zeichner and Wray (2000) who indicated that the value of teaching portfolios is greatly enhanced when pre-service teachers are given opportunities to interact with others on a regular basis in their construction. However, questions still remain regarding the effect of an established mentoring process on elementary pre-service teachers’ attitudes of and perceptions towards the portfolio process itself.
Teaching Portfolios: Theoretical Framework
A teaching portfolio is defined as a structured collection of evidence of best work that demonstrates a teacher’s accomplishments over time and across a variety of contexts (Edgerton, Hutchings, & Quinlan, 1992). Kenneth Wolf (1991) declared, “Portfolios provide a connection to the contexts and personal histories of real teaching and make it possible to document the unfolding of both teaching and learning over time” (p. 129). The teaching portfolio is seen as a more “authentic” form of teacher assessment rather than teacher certification exams (Barton & Collins, 1993) as well as a way to better capture the complexities of teaching and learning over time and across different contexts in authentic settings (Shulman, 1988). The teaching portfolio is also intended to be a dynamic portrayal of teacher performance based on multiple sources of evidence (Valencia, McGinley & Pearson, 1990).
The ability to better understand the nature of an individual’s learning through the use of portfolios is enhanced through the development of teaching portfolios (Loughran & Corrigan, 1995). It is this attitude that supports the use of portfolios by teacher preparation programs across the country. It is believed that teaching portfolios promote student learning, professional development, and reflection as well as provide evidence for evaluation (Williams, Davis, Metcalf, & Covington, 2005; Fredrick, McMahom, & Shaw, 2000; Kenney, Hammitte, Rakestraw, & LaMontagne, 2000; Otis-Wilborn & Winn, 2000; Stone, 1998).
Teaching portfolios in elementary pre-service teacher education can also be used as a way of encouraging student teachers to document and describe their skills and competence as a teacher. Portfolios have the potential of providing much richer information than do traditional assessment methods (Long & Stansbury, 1994). Results of the four-year Teacher Assessment Project at Stanford reported that engaging in the process of portfolio development appears to encourage teachers to become generally more reflective about their teaching practices (Vavrus & Collins, 1991). Mokhtari, Yellin, Bull and Montgomery (1996) reported that when elementary pre-service teachers maintain a portfolio of their work, they learn to assess their own progress as learners. Klenowski (2000) observed that pre-service elementary teachers who developed portfolios: a) developed presentation, questioning, and teaching skills; b) increased self-evaluation skills; and, c) improved independent learning.
Developing a portfolio can be difficult for elementary pre-service teachers who are unfamiliar with this assessment process and who have limited time to devote to the project (Stone, 1998). Krause (1996) found that specific instruction was needed in order for students to comprehend portfolio development. Sufficient time and support from supervisors also had an impact on students’ portfolio development. Ford and Ohlhausen (1991) found that active participation in the teaching portfolio process played a critical role in changing students’ attitudes, beliefs, and classroom practices related to alternative forms of assessment.
Rationale for Study
The development of professional portfolios as required by new state certification regulations was initially seen by elementary pre-service teachers as just “one more thing to do”. In an already busy teacher education program, students attempted to complete university and state requirements for licensing while focusing on obtaining a teaching job. Balancing these commitments led to several tensions associated with using portfolios. Elementary education students struggled to find the time to develop the portfolio and understand the portfolio concept (Anderson and DeMeulle, 1998). Students questioned the value of the portfolios and lacked an understanding of their purpose. Students needed assistance from faculty to reflect on their work, extended engagement in the ongoing portfolio process, and an understanding of how the portfolios would be used in conjunction with other forms of assessment. Thus, a structured program-wide mentoring process was established to assist the students in the development of the teaching portfolio. The purpose of this study was to determine how the students’ perceptions of and attitudes toward the portfolio process changed after participating in the program-wide mentoring process.
The research question for this study was: What impact does a program-wide mentoring process have on elementary pre-service teachers’ perceptions of and attitudes toward the purpose and process of portfolio development?
In most states teacher education institutions function under an “accredited program” system which requires periodic state evaluation of teacher education units and programs. On July 1, 1997, the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation (OCTP) assumed the responsibility for accrediting all of the state’s teacher education programs. The OCTP currently mandates that any teacher education unit in the state must ensure that a teacher candidate’s competency to begin his or her professional role in schools is assessed prior to completion of the program and/or recommendation for licensing.
One way of documenting teaching competency is through the use of a professional portfolio. The OCTP, similar to other teacher certification agencies in other states, now requires a teaching portfolio as part of the initial teaching certification process. This portfolio demonstrates an acceptable level of proficiency on a set of externally defined teaching standards. The OCTP’s standards document specifically states that the portfolio, to begin early in the pre-service program, must document the teacher candidate’s effective teaching in specific school settings. According to the OCTP, the portfolio should: a) provide pre-service teachers with a personal tool for reflecting upon their teaching skills, knowledge and understandings, b) contain an edited collection of the teacher candidate’s evidence of professional growth, c) include reflections representing progress through the entire professional education program, d) differ from individual course portfolios in that it represents the integration of learning in all courses, and e) provide the basis for assessing the student’s progress in, and completion of, the teacher education program.
Portfolio Design and Process
The professional portfolio at Oklahoma State University (OSU) is organized into four sections that represent the conceptual framework adopted by the university’s Professional Educational Committee: Diversity, Integration, Professionalism, and Life-long Learning. These guiding principles represent the essential understandings that faculty want the elementary pre-service teachers to learn through their campus-based instruction and field experiences.
The portfolio is viewed as having two components, a process and a product. The process is from the variety of activities, teaching and learning experiences, and presentations that the elementary pre-service teachers are involved in during their entire teacher education program. The products are the individual items of evidence that the elementary pre-service teachers produce to represent their understanding of these activities and experiences. A major focus of both the process and the product is to assist the elementary pre-service teachers in articulating their understanding of what they think it means to be a teacher.
As students progress through their teacher education program, they collect evidence of their learning from all of their courses and experiences. The portfolio items collected document and demonstrate their experiences, achievements, and progress from their first teacher education course, usually taken during their sophomore year, through the student teaching semester. This evidence may include lesson plans, units, student work, evaluations by cooperating teachers and university supervisors, photographs, letters and notes from students and parents, and individual course assignments and projects. All items of evidence in the portfolio have a reflective caption which explains in what context the items were collected, why they were selected, and how the items address one or more of the state competencies.
At three benchmarks in their preparation programs, prospective teachers are expected to demonstrate their competence to proceed to the next phase (see Figure 1). They do this through the documents, assessments, and artifacts of evidence included in their portfolios that are reviewed by a Portfolio Review Team composed of university faculty, doctoral graduate students, and classroom teachers. After assessment, the portfolios are then returned to the candidates. Those students who receive an unsatisfactory score are given recommendations for improvement and up to two weeks to make corrections. They are required to resubmit their portfolios to the same assigned faculty member to review. Portfolios are the ownership of the students; thus, all final portfolios are returned to students to accompany them on their job interviews.
The first submission of the portfolio is to gain full admission to the teacher education program and is done orally as part of an interview with two members of the Portfolio Review Team. For this submission the students develop goals and a philosophy of education. The subsequent submissions are reviewed by an assigned faculty.
Figure 1: Portfolio Process
Portfolio Mentoring Process
The Professional Education Portfolio Specialist plays a primary role in mentoring pre-service elementary teachers as they develop and submit their portfolios. The Specialist is a full-time staff position and was created during the first year of the portfolio implementation at the university. As a mentor, the Specialist modifies and updates the Portfolio Handbook, conducts group and individual help sessions, and trains portfolio reviewers.
The Portfolio Handbook was initially developed by a team of three faculty members who were using course portfolios as a form of assessment in several of the elementary pedagogy courses. This team drafted a portfolio handbook and piloted it with a select group of 25 students who met on a regular basis during the first year of portfolio implementation. The students provided feedback on the handbook as they progressed through the portfolio process. After revisions, the handbook was then given to faculty to review.
The content of the current handbook is organized around the four guiding principles of the university’s conceptual framework. It also contains a working definition of teaching portfolio, a rationale for using portfolios as a form of assessment, and guidelines for writing essays, educational philosophy statements, and artifact caption pages. To guide the pre-service teachers, all forms, timelines, checklists, and rubrics are included in the Handbook.
Portfolios are introduced to the elementary pre-service teacher candidates during their first Foundations of Education course. Students in this initial teacher education course are required to purchase a three-ring “portfolio” binder and the Portfolio Handbook, available for sale at the campus bookstore. The Professional Education Portfolio Specialist conducts an initial how-to session for all students enrolled in this course and provides a brief overview of the Portfolio Handbook. This session includes general information about key assessment concepts, portfolio requirements, program goals, field observations, and the purpose of the portfolio. Students are then directed to carefully read and refer to the Portfolio Handbook. A beginning philosophy of teaching and a personal goals essay, in which guidelines are presented in the handbook, are written at this time as required components of the foundations course. The Portfolio Handbook, describing the process and procedures for completing each submission of the portfolio, is also available on the university’s professional education website. The Specialist is available to the students as a resource outside of class for individual or small group consultation. Students can also review examples of satisfactorily completed portfolios, kept with students’ permissions, in the office of the Portfolio Specialist. At the end of student teaching, for the third portfolio submission, the philosophy is rewritten to reflect what has been learned during the teacher education program.
The Specialist conducts help sessions for candidates throughout the three submission periods. During these sessions candidates discuss ideas about personal teaching philosophies and professional goals, ways the competencies could be demonstrated in the artifacts, and how the university program’s conceptual framework is related to their experiences in the classroom. During student teaching, students receive support and assistance with their portfolios from their university supervisor. In addition, the Portfolio Specialist conducts a seminar for all student teachers as they complete their final portfolios.
The Portfolio Specialist also conducts training sessions for the elementary education faculty, graduate students, and public school teachers who will be assessing the portfolios. Faculty are encouraged to include in all syllabi a reference to course assignments that could be used as portfolio artifacts and correlate those assignments to the university’s conceptual framework. Faculty are also encouraged to discuss the teaching portfolio in all the methodology classes and when possible, include the portfolio and artifacts as components of course assessment. Finally, faculty should be prepared to answer questions during classes concerning the core concepts and teaching competencies related to the candidates’ coursework.
The sample for this study consisted of 86 elementary education majors, of which all were classified as undergraduate seniors. The sample consisted of two groups of elementary pre-service teachers: a control group of 37 elementary pre-service teachers and an experimental group of 49 pre-service elementary teachers. Purposeful sampling was used to ensure that all study participants were enrolled in the elementary teacher education program and required to complete of a portfolio. The undergraduate student demographics at OSU mirror that of many elementary education programs throughout the United States. Approximately 84% of the students who participated in the study were Caucasian females, and the majority of those students were between the ages of 21-30.
Data were collected in the following two semesters: Spring 1999 and Spring 2002. Each participant completed a survey at the end of the respective student teaching semester. The survey was used to assess elementary pre-service teachers’ perceptions of and attitudes toward the purpose of portfolios in the context of the teacher education program. The control group (n=37) completed the survey in the Spring of 1999 at the end of their student teaching experience. This group did not have access to mentoring or the Portfolio Handbook. The control group (n=49) completed the survey in the Spring of 2002 at the end of their student teaching experience. This group had access to the Portfolio Handbook along with mentoring from both trained faculty and the Portfolio Specialist.
The Portfolio Assessment Student Survey (see Appendix A) consisted of 27 items pertaining to portfolios in general and portfolio assessment specifically. The statements were drawn mainly from surveys developed by Mokhtari, et al. (1996) and Barton and Collins (1993). To ensure clarity of the statements and content validity, a panel of faculty who were experienced in portfolio assessment reviewed the questionnaire and revisions were made accordingly.
Participants responded to each survey item using a 6-point Likert type scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 6 (totally agree). The focus of this study was on the perceptions and attitudes about portfolios rather than the understanding of portfolios as an assessment tool; therefore, a subset of the survey was used to devise a total perception score. A total perception score (TOT) was calculated by summing responses for items 10-26 on the portfolios survey. Reliability analysis on this subset resulted in Cronbach’s alpha of .80 for the 16 items.
Data obtained from the experimental group (Spring 2002) were compared to data collected from the control group (Spring 1999). In order to determine whether there was a significant difference between the mean total perception scores of experimental and control groups, an independent samples t-test was used to analyze the data.
Overall, there was a statistically significant difference between the mean total perception scores of the elementary education majors of spring 1999 (μ = 70.05) and those of spring 2002 (μ = 76.88), t (84) = -2.534, p < .05 (see Table 1). The mean TOT for those elementary pre-service teachers who received the portfolio mentoring throughout their teacher education program was significantly higher than the control group who did not receive that treatment.
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and t-values.
Even though no direct relationship can be established as a result of any one mentoring strategy, it is speculated from the results of this study that a variety of mentoring components of the portfolio process combined to contribute to the significant positive attitude changes. Several possible major contributors to change in student attitudes over the three year time period included changes in program admission policies and state requirements for certification, establishment of a portfolio handbook, and establishment of a university portfolio specialist. As a result, students realized the seriousness of the portfolio process, for not only must they successfully complete the portfolio for licensure, they must also complete it throughout their degree program for continuation in the program. The teaching portfolio changed from not being required at all in the teacher education program to being a required component for all elementary pre-service teachers for formal Admission to Professional Education. This admission then leads to placement in the senior level methods courses and subsequently, student teaching.
When the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation first mandated that all teacher education programs in the state must require a teaching portfolio for initial licensure, no guidelines were initially established by the state as to what the portfolio should include. Within the first year, the Commission realized that the universities and the state licensure department needed some guidance and consistency across the state, and consequently, established nine components to be demonstrated in the elementary pre-service candidate’s portfolio. These components include: 1) beginning the portfolio development early in the program, 2) relating and applying principles and theories to actual practice, 3) observing and practicing in a variety of communities with a diverse population that represents exceptional populations, 4) observing and practicing in a variety of school settings, 5) interacting with a variety of teaching styles, 6) having involvement with parents, families, and communities, 7) receiving feedback on their teaching simulations, 8) exhibiting effective teaching in a school setting, and 9) demonstrating competencies approved by the State Board of Education. These mandated components were quickly implemented into OSU’s portfolio process and handbook.
OSU’s Professional Education Portfolio Handbook was first created in August 1999. At that time university portfolio guidelines were neither well recognized nor established. Each year since, the portfolio handbook has been modified, guidelines have been more clearly linked to requirements in course syllabi, organization has more closely followed the conceptual framework of the Professional Education Program, and the state components from the OCTP have been more clearly integrated into all course syllabi.
A full-time Portfolio Specialist staff position has also been established. This person currently coordinates the process for the entire Professional Education Unit across the University. The Specialist introduces the elementary pre-service candidates to the portfolio process early in their degree program, teaches the portfolio development process to whole classes and individual students, and trains public school personnel and faculty how to read and score the portfolio for reader reliability. The Portfolio Specialist acts as a resource for early awareness of the portfolio process to help the students feel less anxious about the portfolio requirements. Individual and small group sessions are conducted throughout the year to give the students support while completing the portfolio.
The State Legislature approved in July 1998 that all candidates who were entering freshmen beginning in the Fall of 1997 would be required to submit a teaching portfolio for state licensure. All candidates that were admitted to a teacher education program during or after fall 1997 were also required to complete the portfolio process and candidates that would complete certification requirements after September 1, 1999 were required to complete a portfolio. The control group in this study was the first group of students to be required to complete a teaching portfolio for graduation and certification. They were already in the teacher education program when this mandate was established. Thus, they received little or no mentoring during the development process. The experimental group was composed of the first students who had gone through the entire mentoring process, from their beginning education courses through student teaching. As a result, their perceptions of and attitudes toward the portfolio process were significantly different and more positive than of those students who had received no support with their portfolio construction.
Implications for Teacher Education
This study supports the need and value of a structured, well-developed program-wide implementation of portfolios. Portfolios should not just be a means of documenting what a student learns, but an important instrument for the development of reflection, self-evaluation, and professional development. University faculty and supervisors should provide the necessary support and mentoring to ensure construction of thoughtful, meaningful portfolios. This mentoring process should include faculty sharing information with students on the benefits of portfolios and their potential usefulness, as well as assisting students in the construction of the portfolios. The authors of this study agree with Meyer and Tusin (1999) who suggested that teacher educators need to assist elementary pre-service teachers in making links among their coursework, field experiences, and their pedagogical beliefs to build effective understanding and use of portfolios.
Attention on students’ initial understanding of the portfolio process, its purpose, and its role in enhancing reflection should be a focus of the teacher education program from the beginning of a student’s educational experience. The potential uses of portfolios need to be discussed early in elementary pre-service teachers’ programs so that they may be more likely to invest their time and effort in a product they think will contribute to their future teaching and employment. Student ownership, individual expression, and making connections between assignments and experiences need to be encouraged.
According to Shulman (1992), teaching portfolios do not achieve their full value if they sit in a box or notebook, but only when they become a focal point for substantive conversations. As productive as teaching portfolios might be for enhancing individual reflection and improving practice, their value in promoting teaching effectiveness are more likely to dramatically increase when they serve as the focal point for conversations with colleagues about teaching (Wolf, Whinery & Hagerty, 1995). Thus, the mentoring and social interactions in the recommended portfolio process should include opportunities for elementary pre-service teachers to not only share their evidence of teaching practices with their peers but also with university faculty.
Hilliard (1991) emphasized the importance of collaboration when he insisted that “Teachers need their own intellectual and emotional hunger to be fed. They need to experience the joy of collaborative discussion, dialogue, critique, and research” (p. 36). The authors of this study suggest that this is also true for elementary pre-service teachers. It is important to incorporate the exchange of ideas, whether with peers, colleagues, faculty, or supervisors, throughout the portfolio process. This mentoring creates a greater understanding of the overall process and potential value of portfolios as a means of authentic assessment.
The professional literature on both student and teacher portfolios is rich in rhetoric, but slender in empirical evidence (Herman & Winters, 1994). There is an abundance of articles in the literature defining portfolios, the process of construction and implementation, and the final product. Proponents of portfolios argue that they promote ownership over the learning process, foster reflection, enhance teaching, and provide a more authentic assessment of student learning (Wolf, 1989; Wolf, 1994). As for actual evidence of the effects of student and teaching portfolios, Herman and Winters (1994) found that most of the published articles on the topic were anecdotal or conceptual, and few reported research-based result. Finally, there is little research to indicate how university faculty should best introduce, mentor, and instruct with portfolios to promote student use, benefit, and learning. The following are suggestions for further research in the area of portfolio development, design, and usage in teacher education programs.
This study surveyed only those students in the elementary education program. Elementary pre-service teachers in other programs, such as secondary, agricultural, or early childhood education should be surveyed. Those results, as well as the portfolio implementation and mentoring techniques in each program area, should be compared to the results from this study. Additionally, mentoring strategies and techniques utilized in teacher education programs from various universities should be compared and analyzed for effectiveness.
Research needs to be conducted as to the effectiveness of faculty training and participation in the portfolio process and specific components of the mentoring process. The quality of the mentoring that faculty provide to their students should also be investigated. Further investigations of elementary pre-service teachers’ portfolio knowledge and understanding at various stages of portfolio development throughout the teacher education program are also needed. At what point in elementary pre-service teachers’ professional development is mentoring most effective or needed for conceptual understanding?
First year teachers who were graduates of this university should be interviewed about the impact of the portfolio process on their own teaching and assessment. Do they use portfolios in their own classrooms as a form of alternative student assessment? Did the portfolio process impact their understandings and perceptions of personal reflection as used in their professional development in becoming a reflective teacher? If they use portfolios in their classrooms for student assessment, have their perceptions and attitudes toward portfolios changed as their role from student to teacher changed? What portfolio mentoring strategies and techniques do our graduates offer to their own students and which of those strategies prove most effective to student learning and teacher assessment?
Oklahoma State University is extensively involved in working with area teachers pursuing National Professional Board Certification. A long-term study should be conducted to investigate the connection between the portfolio process now being required for teaching certification and the portfolio required for National Board Certification. Does a teacher seeking national certification have a better understanding of the portfolio process if he/she had to complete one for initial licensing? What impact does a mentoring program for teachers going through the certification process have on their success of obtaining national certification?
Dr. Christine Moseley
Dr. Christine Mosely is Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies at UTSA. Her PhD is in Environmental Science, with emphasis in Environmental Education from Oklahoma State University and research interests include issues of science teaching efficacy and teacher education. She can be reached at email@example.com
Sarah J. Ramsey, PhD
Sarah J. Ramsey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of
Reading and Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina at
Charlotte. Her research interests are inservice and preservice
teachers' reflective practice along with elementary science teacher
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