Additional Components of a Portfolio

Statement of Teaching Philosophy and Reflective Practice

The purpose of this statement of philosophy is to describe the individual’s general approach to teaching and learning and their changes in response to changing conditions. It could include:

  • How the individual views the instructor's role in a range of teaching situations and in general.
  • How the teaching methods typically used reflect that interpretation of the instructor's role.
  • How the teaching methods have been modified in response to changes in students, course materials, the instructor’s situation, curriculum changes, and other mitigating factors.

Centra (1993) reported a study on portfolios and found that the instructor's reflections on some key areas were helpful to evaluators. The six areas he recommends commenting on are:

  • questions of student motivation and how to influence it.
  • the goals of instruction, both for individual courses and in general.
  • the development of rapport with students as a group and individually.
  • the assessment of various teaching strategies as they related to the instructional goals.
  • the role of disciplinary knowledge in teaching and how students learn the discipline.
  • recent innovations in the content of the field and their effects on teaching.

Below we have included an example of comments given by an instructor from the study just cited:

Interpretations of Student Evaluations

Plotting Means of Course Instructor Surveys (CIS)

When working with faculty members who come to us for feedback we have found it useful to plot the progress of teaching in a given course over several semesters. By laying out general items along a time line, a professor can document upward (or downward) trends in student evaluations. (See Figure 1.) If a single data point is out of line, its impact is lessened by the overview, and the professor may choose to discuss factors in that particular semester that could have contributed to the deviation.

Analyzing Written Comments

In addition to plotting cross-semester results, an instructor can make an analysis of student written comments as well. We do this by laying out a matrix of groups written comments according to the overall course rating given by each student evaluator. (See below.) This provides a context for the comments. An instructor can see what kinds of comments were made by students who were in general satisfied with the course, and what kind were made by those who were dissatisfied. One can also sort comments according to overall student GPA or expected grade in the course or major status. This analysis of written comments sometimes helps to explain certain comments or to mitigate the effects of particularly strong negative comments, which might be confided to a small subset of a course. (See Figure 2)

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Figure 1: Bar Graph of CIS Averages

 

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Figure 2: Written Comments Analysis Grid

Peer Observation of Classroom Instruction

In providing this type of evaluation data, peers should follow some basic guidelines as noted below:

  • Prior to observing the class, the colleague should discuss with the professor the purposes of the course and the reasons behind the instructional choices the professor has made. The peer may also wish to receive some background on where the session to be observed fits into the overall course picture. This information places the class in context and facilitates evaluation of the session. For example, if the peer knows that this is a class period early in the discussion of a topic, he or she should expect more student clarification questions and a more basic level of content. Sessions later in the sequence should be pitched at a higher level and involve students more in analysis and other higher cognitive activities.
  • It is advisable to observe more than one class session if possible. If that is not possible, a post-observation interview with the instructor about how typical the session was of the course and the instructor’s thinking as the session progressed would help place the activities of the day in perspective.
  • It is preferable to be specific in comments or to back up general comments with examples. For this reason, the observer should record his or her impressions as soon as possible after the observation and should have used a format for observing that would facilitate noting instances and key points.
  • Peer observers should be aware that their own expertise will provide them a head start in understanding the class activities in comparison to the students in the class. Something that seems extremely clear to the colleague might not be clear to the students. In addition the peer’s own teaching style should not be used as the standard against which all other instruction is measured; there should be recognition of the validity of diverse styles. The focus should be on whether or not the style used is helping the students learn.

Hart (1987) has recommended that colleague observations focus on six interrelated categories, to which we are adding this first one in the list:

  • The cognitive dimension (the organization of the learning setting to achieve a variety of levels of complexity of learning, the use of questions and activities to stimulate deeper analysis of the subject or a more thorough understanding of the basics, the level at which the class is directed and its appropriateness for the students)
  • The socio-political dimension (the apportioning of roles within the class and their interaction, the use of authority, directions, commands, invitations, judgments, rewards and threats, the building or maintenance of rapport)
  • The classroom structure and procedures (instructional methods and materials used, their purposes and effectiveness)
  • The curricular context (the relationships between this class and the course as a whole, this course and the curriculum as a whole, this content and the notions of education in general and the field in particular)
  • The effects of teaching (how well students are learning as indicated by questions, activities, general attention level, specific assessments during class time, and the use of that information in redirecting the teaching from moment to moment)
  • The rhetorical dimension (the use of language, organization, forms such as expository, argumentative, persuasive, etc., sharing of talk-time, turn-taking)
  • The physical-temporal dimension (time of day, room size and shape, physical comforts aspects, seating, visibility, acoustics, and how the instructor is aware of them and compensating for them)

References

Centra, John A. (1993) Reflective Faculty Evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, Inc.

Centra, John A. (2000). Evaluating the Teaching Portfolio: A Role for Colleagues. In Ryan, K.E. (ed). Evaluating Teaching in Higher Education: A vision for the future. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Vol. 83, 87-93.

Hart, F.R. (1987) Teachers observing teachers. In J.H. Broderick (ed.) Teaching at an Urban University. Boston: University of Massachusetts at Boston.