Program Portfolios: Documenting Teachers’ Growth in Reflection-Based Inquiry

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 17, No. 1, February 2011, 149–167.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors examined whether critical reflections within the portfolio could provide evidence of teachers’ engagement in reflection-based inquiry as well as levels of development of reflection.

The following questions guided this study:
(1) What differences were evident in teachers’ critical reflections written at specified times during program coursework?
(2) Can levels of reflection-based inquiry identified in teachers’ reflections provide evidence of changes in teachers’ use of critical reflection during program coursework?

The study included 51 teachers enrolled to a graduate-level program in a a college of education situated in a large university located in a multicultural metropolitan area in the middle-Atlantic states. The program’s learning outcomes are aligned with the propositions of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The participants comprised of two cohorts of teachers who ranged in experience from 3 to 20 plus years of teaching in preschool through grade 12 settings.
Cohort 1 consisted of 28 teachers: seven males and 21 females; Cohort 2 consisted of 23 teachers: one male and 22 females.

Data collection and Findings 

Data consisted of sets of required prompted reflections that were written for the program portfolio. Specifically, each teacher wrote five reflections, four of which were written at specified times during the program following coursework. The fifth was written at the conclusion of the program as candidates were asked to review their portfolio contents and previous reflections when writing a final synthesis reflection.

Analysis of the reflections revealed that teachers’ incorporation of inquiry changed as they proceeded through the coursework.

Conclusions and implications

First, the content of teachers’ portfolio reflections written to prompts at specified times during coursework appeared to capture changes in the scope and depth of teachers’ critical reflection during program coursework. Through the analysis of these changes, the authors were able to identify specific patterns that were found in the participants’ reflections. These patterns revealed how the teachers engaged in inquiry as they compiled evidence from their classrooms searching for solutions to their puzzlements.

Second, as teachers progressed through the program, patterns analyzed in their portfolio reflections indicated that as they developed inquiry skills, they appeared to progress through five identified levels of inquiry. These levels ranged from awareness of the inquiry process to full engagement in inquiry, resulting in action taken within and beyond the classroom. Teachers who reached full engagement in the inquiry process seemed to view themselves as teacher-researchers capable of affecting changes that influenced teaching and learning in their classrooms and beyond.

Third, the study provided evidence to advance the authors' understanding about how portfolio data can be used as one tool to examine the effects of our coursework and learning experiences on teacher development.

The use of critical reflections found in portfolios in this study can provide teacher education programs with one way to study program effects.

Updated: Apr. 02, 2012