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How the process of creating an eportfolio has helped me understand the importance of teacher collaboration more fully

Magdalena Szwec

B.A.

University of Warsaw

 

 

This article concerns the process of creating a Learning Portfolio area during the studies in the Graduate Programme in Teaching English to Young Learners offered at the University of Warsaw and the reflection on how this process supported personal understanding of the importance of teacher collaboration. It describes the development of thinking about the teacher collaboration and how it evolved. The article is divided into three parts. The first part introduces and explains the Teaching Portfolio concept, what it consists of and the purpose of creating it. The second part concerns the process of preparation for creating an eportfolio. The third part consists of my experience of teacher collaboration. The last part is my reflection on the process of creating an eportfolio. This article can be a practical guide for student teachers who are planning to create their eportfolios. It gives a close look into the process of thinking, creating and reflecting while working on eportfolio.

 

Keywords: portfolio, teacher collaboration, reflection, eportfolio

 

Magdalena Szwec is a graduate of Teacher Training College at the University of Warsaw. Currently she is a student of M.A. studies: Graduate Programme in Teaching English to Young Learners at the University of Warsaw.

 

 

Introduction

The Teaching Portfolio is a record of materials and documented evidence of teacher’s personal development and achievement. It is similar to an artist’s portfolio, but a fundamental difference is that the Teaching Portfolio is not only the collection of works, but it is supported by a personal reflection on the material included that sets it in context (Kaplan, 1998). Reflections add a meaningful aspect as student teachers who work on their portfolios have to ask themselves essential questions while providing the evidence of their work and demonstrate their ability to be reflective practitioners. The Teaching Portfolio changes the focus of teaching from content and focuses on delivery and learning (Rodriguez-Farrar, 2008). The formative purpose of creating the Teaching Portfolio is to document teaching effectiveness and to demonstrate an ongoing process of inquiry and reflection for a personal improvement and self-evaluation. Moreover, it can be presented to people or institutions who might be interested in reviewing it e.g. colleagues, supervisors, institutions of higher education or potential employers. There is a considerable variety in portfolio formats. There are traditional portfolios in paper versions, however it is more and more common to create a portfolio online in order to increase its accessibility. This type of portfolio is called an eportfolio. The online form of a porfolio enables the use of videos, recordings and other multimedia documents that can be used as the evidence of person’s work. The Teaching Portfolio of student teachers of Graduate Programme in Teaching English To Young Learners offered at the University of Warsaw consists of two components: the Pedagogical CV and the Learning Portfolio. The Pedagogical CV includes student teacher’s resume, teaching philosophy, teaching context and portfolio areas, selected materials partly developed for the Learning Portfolio and it is designed to create one’s portrait as a teacher. The Learning Portfolio is an individual work, however it is developed in collaboration with other student teachers, cooperating teachers and course instructors during university courses and teaching experiences (teaching practice, study visits and others) in order to provide a relevant feedback, encourage reflection or review each other’s accomplishments. It is not a compilation of all student teacher’s works, but a scrupulous selection of the most relevant ones that captured the evidence of student’s knowledge quality and skills development. A set of carefully selected most representative materials that focus on quality rather than quantity is more valuable than unfiltered collection of all works. There are two key elements in the Learning Portfolio: personal statement, which is developed during the course ‘Tools of reflective practice’, and ten general portfolio areas: subject matter, pupil learning, individual needs and learner autonomy, instructional strategies, planning instruction, learning environment, assessment, communication, reflection and professional development, collaboration ethics and relationships. These are key areas identified as essential to develop for teachers who are going to work with children in different educational contexts. In the article I describe the process of creating one of the Learning Portfolio areas – Collaboration Ethics and Relationships. I believe this is one of the most important areas for preservice teachers to develop in training in order to become effective and collaborative teachers in the future. In the other parts of the article I describe the process of preparation for creating this portfolio area, my experience of teacher collaboration and my personal reflections from working on it. I believe this article may help students of the Graduate Programme in Teaching English to Young Learners offered at the University of Warsaw, other student teachers in training as well as experienced teachers, who did not have a chance to create their eportfolio before and took a decision to create it, to organise their work on the Teaching Portfolio.

 

Preparation for creating a Learning Portfolio area

In the article I describe the process of creating one Learning Portfolio area – Collaboration Ethics and Relationships. It is one of ten areas of The Learning Portfolio developed during MA studies: Graduate Programme in Teaching English To Young Learners offered at the University of Warsaw.

 

The first step in the process of creating a Learning Portfolio area was to to gather information about the Learning Portfolio. In order to do it I checked useful links and references suggested on the project’s educational platform entitled ‘MA in teaching English to young learners as a second and foreign language’ in the section ‘Portfolio’ (www.clil.pedagog.uw.edu.pl/portfolio/). Next, I visited the webpages of teachers who created their eportfolios to have a clear idea of how it should look like from the technical point of view. I noticed that there are no strict guidelines about portfolio sections or layout as it is a personal website that users organize in a way that suits them trying to make it look professional, highly organized and have a neat layout. Some sections in my portfolio will be related to the portfolio areas defined in the MA studies programme, so were the sections in the eportfolios of student teachers from different universities that I have seen. I chose to create my portfolio on weebly.com, but there is a wide range of other websites to choose from e.g. foliospaces.org or wordpress.org, which is widely used by many student teachers. Some students create their portfolios on the websites developed by their universities, but in my situation this was not the case.

 

Next step was to get familiar with the cyclical model of PDP (Personal Development Planning) adapted from The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and based on four-stage cycle of effective learning by Kolb. PDP is “a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development.” (QAA, 2009a, p.2). Being engaged in the process of PDP is supposed to help learners articulate their learning more explicitly and take responsability for it. Moreover, it enhaces the ability to plan and reflect upon lifelong learning. Personal Development Planning is a process that involves student teachers’ self-reflections, which allows them to establish connections between new and existing knowledge and experiences. There are four stages of PDP that are illustrated in the Figure 1 and they focus on concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation. PDP model helped me to think about the process of creating an eportfolio in a cyclical manner, as it is an ongoing process that continues.

 

Table 1

Figure 1: The cyclical model of PDP; adapted from the four-stage cycle of effective learning, based on Kolb (1984) (Adapted from QAA, 2009a).

 

The next stage was a preparation for gathering evidence of my knowledge development and experiences that will demonstrate what I have learned. The organization of the evidence should allow to consolidate a variety of documents under one theme, which in case of this article was Collaboration Ethics and Relationships. I read carefully the main descriptor and the list of additional descriptors, which provided guidelines for my development in this area of the MA studies programme. The main descriptor was: ‘A student teacher will be able to communicate and interact with school professionals, parents or guardians, families and the community to support student learning and well-being’. The additional descriptors that I selected to be the most relevant were: ‘understanding schools as organizations within the larger community context’, ‘supporting the cooperation with colleagues in order to plan and implement CLIL instruction’, ‘collaborating with other professionals to improve the overall learning environment for students’ and ‘consulting with parents, counselors, teachers of other classes and activities within the school, and professionals in other community agencies to link student environments’. At this stage, it can be helpful to brainstorm important features and items that are going to be used in portfolio and some ideas for good ways of providing support for claims in order to be representative. This is a stage that involves a careful selection and evaluation of knowledge and experience. Student teacher’s portfolio should contain a variety of materials organized in a clear manner. I made notes of what assignments or experiences helped me to understand teacher collaboration more fully. Taking into consideration the nature of a portfolio area selected, most of the knowledge came from experiences I had as a participant of the Graduate Programme in Teaching English To Young Learners in the academic year 2014/2015. However, for other portfolio areas such evidence as lesson plans, unit plans, assignments, videos, recordings, students’ works, feedback from students and others accompanied by reflections in order to provide context can be selected. The key to creating an effective portfolio is to shape both content and format for a specific audience, which means it is highly advisable to think about the person who is going to read it while working on the selection of the materials. It is also important to maintain a sense of continuity in the development of eportfolio and to make sure that various sections relate to each other. Reflection is an essential element to add to each evidence we include in the eportfolio as it  shows the process of knowledge development, provides the context, justifies the use of evidence, and makes it possible to the reader to understand the process more in depth. Before submitting the evidence and the reflection on it, it is indispensable to proofread the material incorporated in order to make sure it is written in an academic style, in English that is essentially free of errors.

 

My experience of teacher collaboration

          I decided to demonstrate in the eportfolio how my way of thinking about teacher collaboration has significantly changed and why it happened. I started with writing what I used to think about collaboration in the first semester of my MA studies. At the start, I was sceptical towards collaboration as I did not witness many examples of a good collaboration myself and I used to think that teaching is one of the most isolated professions. In my eportfolio I demonstrate how my way of thinking about collaboration has changed and how I adopted an attitude of collaboration and willingness to share my teaching and learning experiences with others. In order to organize the portfolio area in a structured and systematic way I came up with the framework of three types of collaboration I experienced: collaboration with my colleagues (peer-collaboration), with experienced teachers from different educational contexts (school teacher collaboration) and with experts in the field of teaching (international collaboration). Coming up with a consistent structure and having a clear and explicit division made it easier to move on. I began to match the experiences that I had to the categories.

 

As far as peer-collaboration is concerned, I had a chance to collaborate with other student teachers in joint projects as well as in working on the eportfolio. I found it very useful to ask other people’s opinions on eportfolio I created, as their comments and constructive criticism helped me to improve my work. Their extensive feedback helped me refine and edit my eportfolio. I also offered to read their drafts and work together to clarify some ideas. I discovered that it is a good idea to surround yourself with people who are open to cooperate, who really care and want to share the learning experience.

 

I had a chance to collaborate with experienced teachers from different educational contexts. The first context was The British School of Warsaw, an international school that follows the British National Curriculum. I was assigned an advisor, the class teacher of Year 2, and from March 2015 until June 2015 I have came to this school to observe and participate in the classes. My advisor shared her experience and knowledge with me and from the start involved me in all the activities. Collaborating with her I managed to do two guided reading sessions with children. In one session I used the book ‘The Woman who Fooled the Fairies’. Guided reading has a beneficial impact on word recognition, fluency and accuracy of students. A child reads out loud to an adult (or other proficient reader) and the adult provides correction, feedback and instruction on specific skill development. This way a child is assisted in decoding difficult words. Moreover, guided reading involves asking high order thinking questions to students. Both good and stuggling readers benefit from guided reading sessions. I worked with one guided reading group, my advisor worked with the other group and the teacher’s assistant with the third group. Each group read a different book (children were grouped according to their reading abilities) and before the session I prepared the lesson plan consulting it with the teacher. I included the lesson plan in my eportfolio. The experience of guided reading session with children was very satisfying and helped me to understand the needs of young English language readers. The collaboration with the teacher gave me the support and advice I needed and let me explore my own teaching skills as far as teaching literacy in the bilingual setting is concerned. Furthermore, I collaborated with my advisor on the topic of plants. I talked to children about the conditions plants need to survive and grow healthily and children described the growth process of a plant and the functions of different parts of a plant. Next, we grew cress seeds together working with 3 groups of children. In my portfolio I included the photos from the lesson and my reflections.  Thanks to the experience of collaboration with my advisor  I understood that collaboration builds a sense of shared responsability for students’ learning and it affects positively the learning environment of the school.

 

the woman who fooled the fairies cover

Figure 2: The book used for guided reading session in The British School of Warsaw

 

Another collaboration experience that I had was practicum in a public elementary school. From April 2015 until May 2015 I did my teaching practice in the School no. 109 in Warsaw. This school has introduced pedagogical innovations in a form of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) implemented in the English lessons in all first grades. I was assigned a mentor teacher. I started collaboration with my mentor teacher from observing her lessons, then I participated in the parts of the lessons and finally taught the sequence of 5 lessons of the CLIL unit I developed. I consulted the topic with her and selected the topics of single lessons creating one unit. I created an additional section in my portfolio about the CLIL unit and included details about the lessons I taught in this particular section. The experience of collaboration with my mentor teacher helped me to deepen the understanding of CLIL teaching. I had an opportunity to improve some areas that I struggled with or did not have enough practice in. My mentor teacher provided valuable feedback both in a written form of comments on every activity I conducted in the classroom with the suggestions for areas of improvement and pointing out good elements as well as oral comments after the lessons. Her advice helped me to a great extent in particular in lesson planning and classroom management. In my eportfolio I included the comments she gave me and my reflections after the lessons in order to demonstrate how the comments helped me to notice the elements that I have to improve and how I would like to work on them in the future. I believe that mentoring for preservice teachers during praticum is an invaluable experience for student teachers who are at the start of their career paths and need some support and advice from more experienced professionals. Furthermore, I observed a great model of collaboration in the school between two language teachers. My mentor teacher collaborates with another English teacher in the school as far as lesson planning, preparing and exchanging materials are concerned. Each of them teaches one half of the class, but sometimes they also have joint classes. While they are teaching, they divide tasks, give each other constant feedback and help each other. Being interested in teacher collaboration I observed this model with a great appreciation and I was truly impressed. I would like to develop such model of collaboration in the future workplace. However, not all the teachers in the school were eager to collaborate. The lack of collaboration between teachers in the school puzzled me. I believe the problem does not refer to this school exclusively, but there are many teachers who feel left alone in their profession and find it difficult to create a professional learning and teaching community in their schools or municipalities. Being inspired by a good example of teacher collaboration I started to think how to promote, support, improve and change the way of thinking about collaboration among other teachers in the school where I had my teaching practice. I decided to do an action research. I believe Collaborative Action Research gives opportunities for breaking down the isolation that many teachers experience through the collaborative work they undertake with others. I decided to present to other teachers in the school a good model of collaboration between me and my mentor teacher during the final meeting with my presentation summing up my teaching practice. I believe we learn from each other and such example may encourage other teachers to take some action in order to improve collaboration in the school. In my eportfolio I included the PowerPoint presentation on my action research puzzle with my reflections. Thanks to the experience of practicum I discovered that it is possible to develop a good model of collaboration between teachers in every educational context. It all depends on teachers and their willingness to do it. Moreover, I have learned that it is always worthwhile to show the other people good examples of collaboration. Teachers can make changes on a local scale, because what they do matters and if they want to change something, they should start from themselves and their local environments.
The next type of collaboration I experienced was international collaboration with experts – the researcher and university instructor Josephine Moate, whom I met during the study visit at University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and with school teachers from Finnish primary and lower-secondary schools. I have read two Moate’s articles before the study visit. She is the author of articles about collaboration between teacher community in Central Finland “A narrative account of a teacher community” that suggests the importance of mutual pedagogic relationships to support teacher development and “Voicing the challenges of an innovative teacher community” that draws on sociocultural theories of learning and activity theory to explore the challenges faced by an innovative community of teachers. After reading Moate’s articles I got inspired to explore the issue of teacher collaboration more in depth and to focus on the Polish context. In my eportfolio I included reflections that I had after having read those articles. Meeting and talking to her in Finland helped me to understand some characteristics of the Finnish educational context and how it influences the collaboration between teachers. I realised the importance of social trust in building professional teacher community. During the study visit in the city of Jyväskylä I had an opportunity to observe the lessons taught in English in two Finnish schools: Viitaniemi lower secondary school and Kortepohja Elementary School. I  met and talked to CLIL teachers and staff in both schools, teacher trainers, researchers, university professors and Jyväskylä university students. All meetings and discussions contributed to the development of my understanding of CLIL methodology, enriched my knowledge about CLIL teaching and the role of collaboration. Finnish teachers were very open to share their experience and answered all the questions.They create CLIL curriculum on the school level and municipality level collaborating with each other. Administrative decisions are not taken on the national level, but on the municipality level, which allows teachers to focus on the familiar context of local schools and adjust to the needs of the society. Implementation of CLIL differs between municipalities, as in the area of Helsinki there are numerous schools in which ‘hard CLIL’ is successfully implemented, whereas in the area of Jyväskylä the ‘soft CLIL’ model is the dominant one. Finnish teacher meet every day in order to plan lessons and share materials. They are encouraged to give each other written feedback using the special boxes in the staff room. In Finland teachers are not inspected or controlled, their students’ results are not being compared so they do not have to compete with each other. In my eportfolio I included a reflection on the study visit and what I have learned about teacher collaboration as well as some photos from the study visit. Thanks to the study visit to Finland I have learned that the culture of the country influences educational system and collaboration between teachers.       

 

 


                                                                                                                                      

Figure 3: The campus of University of  Jyväskylä

 

In May 2015 I participated in the study visit to the private bilingual primary school Smart School in Zamość. There are 160 students attending the school in the school year 2014/2015 who have approximately 2-3 hours of English daily integrated with the Polish curriculum of integrated education. The model of collaboration between teachers is unique, as teachers work in teams of two. Some integrated education teachers works in the same team with English language teachers, but there are also teams that consist of two teachers who are both integrated education teachers and language teachers and they teach parallel classes, so the collaboration is based on planning units and projects together and implementing them in the classrooms. Teachers are also involved in online collaboration by using E-twinning projects with a Spanish school. They use an e-board for joint projects with the school abroad. Thanks to the study visit I had an opportunity to observe a very interesting dual model of teacher collaboration that worked effectively in the context of the school. The model that I find innovative is the one in which a subject teacher and a language teacher work together. They plan the lesson together in advance, taking into consideration the Polish national curriculum, and divide who teaches which part of the lesson. During the lesson the English teacher interrupts the subject teacher in some moments and teaches the same content, but in English. This way students learn the same content in both languages within the same lesson. Thanks to the visit to Zamość, I understood that every school should adopt the model of collaboration that suits it the most. The SmartSchool adopted two different team models successfully and teachers have a lot of satisfaction from working in teams. Moreover, I realised how important is school headmaster’s attitude and support towards collaboration and if collaboration is rooted in the school policy. Instead of promoting competition, the headmaster is actively involved in helping them find new ways to work together. In the eporfolio I included reflections concerning teacher collaboration in the school.

 

 

 

Figure 4: Meeting with the teachers during the study visit in Zamość

 

 

 

 

Figure 5: Student teachers during the study visit in Zamość

 

Reflections on creating a Learning Portfolio area

Creating an eportfolio is not an easy task, especially for novice teachers. It takes time and requires both dedication and engagement. After having worked on one area of my eportfolio I would like to give some tips to those who are going to create their eportfolios and need support in planning this process.

 

First of all, I recommend to get familiar with ten portfolio areas that student teachers are asked to create as early as possible. It is good to be aware of and keep them in mind. Furthermore, a very important issue is to keep a record of all the portfolio assignments and tasks created during all semesters. My recommendation is to save those files on the e-platform. There is a possibility to make them public and available to all users, however they can be also kept in private files. I suggest to have a printed version of all of them in a binder as well. Obviously not all of them will be displayed in an eportfolio, as only the selected and most representative ones are going to be placed there. In the process of selection it is good to choose the assignments that the person is proud of e.g. the best and most relevant reflective essays that refer to portfolio areas and reflect teaching philosophy of a person, evidence from the teaching practice, advising or student teacher’s work when some changes were introduced in the classroom or feedback from students was given. It is also advisable to take photos of the materials prepared and students’ works in order to document it in the portfolio afterwards.

 

Another tip is to develop a positive attitude towards portfolio by treating the process of creating it as an adventure and a way to improve teaching skills, develop new ideas and techniques. Portfolio will change with every semester as new teaching challenges will be taken and new experiences will be illustrated in it. I believe it is good to think creatively about the content of an eportfolio and treat every experience as a unique way to learn something new about teaching. The experience of teaching practice is invaluable, as it gives a student teacher a possibility to establish relationships with mentor teachers and have contact with students. This is a great opportunity to introduce and try out new techniques and get feedback from learners, which can be placed in the portfolio afterwards and prove student teacher’s skills and abilities. Some student teachers also teach in language schools and they can document in their portfolios what they did with their students. New understanding and knowledge may come from practice, but also from observations of others, as people learn from each other.

 

A key part that needs to be well-prepared is adding reflections to all experiences and evidence incorporated. My recommendation is to have a reflective journal in which we take notes of experiences, reflections after having read interesting articles with comments, questions, mindmaps, notes, interesting ideas, inspiring quotes about teaching or anything that suits the person. Such journal may turn out to be a very helpful tool during the work on eportfolio.

 

Last but not least, I do not recommend to start to create an eportfolio short before the deadline of presenting it, as it is a long-term process that takes months or even years to prepare. It is worth to keep in mind that the portfolio represents the person and the person’s attitude towards learning, teaching and work in general.

 

 Conclusions

The Learning Portfolio created by the student teachers of Graduate Programme in Teaching English To Young Learners offered at the University of Warsaw is linked to the modules and courses offered by the institution. It is designed to allow student teachers document the process of learning and reflect on their past and present experiences.

 

The process of creating a Learning Portfolio area (Collaboration Ethics and Relationships) in online form of an eportfolio turned out to be rewarding and gave me the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. While I was creating it I truly understood the purpose of it. In my eportfolio I included the evidence of collaboration supported by reflections (advising, practicum, action research) and reflections only (study visit to Finland, study visit to Zamość) as they were based mostly on observations of other people’s collaboration. The eportfolio shows the process of my knowledge development and how my way of thinking has changed both by the practice of collaboration and by observing good models of collaboration. I analysed and reflected on what I really learned being able to show the evidence of the development of my knowledge. If we do not reflect on our own practice we might not be fully aware of what we actually have learned during the experience. Experiences supported with reflections become powerful tools and they can tell a lot about the teacher and his or her perspective. While I was creating my eportfolio I reflected and analysed how each collaboration I experienced or observed helped me understand better the importance of teacher collaboration. I came up with a new understanding of it and changed my attitude. I am able to justify why teacher collaboration is advantageous providing examples, explain how my way of thinking developed, document my knowledge by presenting tangible artifacts and elaborate on how I benefited from this knowledge. I can acknowledge that thanks to the multistage process of creating a teaching portfolio I keep discovering teaching over again and have a new perspective on it.

 

To me the process of creating an eportfolio is a metaphor of a journey into getting to know yourself and your teaching better. It shows the path that student teachers follow in their studies. It illustrates the directions they choose, their growth from the moment when they start a programme and when they end it and it shows the obstacles that they had to overcome to get where they are. Some of them follow the majority, while others choose the directions off the beaten path. For some student teachers the experience of developing their eportfolios will be ended with the moment they graduate, but others will maintain their motivation to build on them and they will continue their journey developing their eportfolios and becoming reflective practitioners.

 

References

 

Kaplan, M. (1998). The Teaching Portfolio. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. University of Michigan.

Rodriguez-Farrar, H. (2008). A Handbook for Faculty, Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows. The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Brown University.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2009). Personal development planning: guidance for institutional policy and practice in higher education.



Published: 2015-06-19