The use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case study

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Florida State University]On: 12 November 2014, At: 13:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary PerspectivesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crep20

    The use of portfolios as a reflectivelearning tool in initial teachereducation: a Maltese case studyDeborah Chetcuti aa University of Malta , MaltaPublished online: 19 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: Deborah Chetcuti (2007) The use of portfolios as a reflective learningtool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case study, Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary Perspectives, 8:1, 137-149, DOI: 10.1080/14623940601139111

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  • Reflective PracticeVol. 8, No. 1, February 2007, pp. 137149

    ISSN 1462-3943 (print)/ISSN 1470-1103 (online)/07/01013713 2007 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14623940601139111

    The use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case studyDeborah Chetcuti*University of Malta, MaltaTaylor and Francis LtdCREP_A_213842.sgm10.1080/14623940601139111Reflective Practice1462-3943 (print)/1470-1103 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis81000000February 2007DeborahChetcutideborah.chetcuti@um.edu.mt

    The paper explores the use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education usingqualitative case study data from Malta. In January 2001, the Faculty of Education, University ofMalta, introduced the professional development portfolio (PDP). The aim of the study was toexplore whether student teachers used their PDP as a reflective learning tool and what they learntfrom the process of developing their PDP. The study shows that for the Maltese student teachersthe PDP did help them to reflect on their practice and grow and develop a sense of identity of whothey were as teachers. However, they were also very aware that their PDP would be used for employ-ment purposes. The tension between the formative and summative aspects of the PDP was resolvedby carrying out small group tutorial sessions during which student teachers could voice their views,share experiences and obtain feedback in a non-threatening environment. The learning which tookplace during these tutorial sessions was then used to develop a final presentation document.

    Portfolios in teacher education

    Portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in all areas of higher education includ-ing teacher education. In teacher education the increased use of portfolios parallelsthe shift from a quantitative tradition of assessment to a more qualitative approach(Klenowski, 2002) and is a direct response to new societal realities, trends and needs(Sultana, 2005) in teacher education and assessment practices. Shulman (1998)describes a teaching portfolio as:

    the structured, documentary history of a set of coached or mentored acts of teachingsubstantiated by samples of student work and fully realized only through reflective writing,deliberation and serious conversation. (Shulman, 1998, p. 37)

    Implicit in this definition is the idea that the development of a teaching portfolioinvolves two aspects: the process and the product. The product in many cases

    *Department of Maths, Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Education, University ofMalta, Msida MSD 06, Malta. Email: deborah.chetcuti@um.edu.mt

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    includes written material based on reflection, collections of various forms of dataand, where appropriate, claims to professional competence and achievementssupported by evidence (Harland, 2005, p. 327). The process as described by Winsorand Ellefson (1995) involves the reflection, rationalization, selection and evaluationwhich is involved in the compilation of the portfolio. In this way, the development ofthe portfolio is dynamic and ongoing, and as argued by Wolf (1996), based ondialogue and deliberation which allow the richest portrayal of the teacher.

    In initial teacher education programmes, portfolios can serve a number of differentpurposes. They can be used by student teachers to make a statement about theirpersonal philosophy of teaching (Hildebrand, 2005); to document their experiences,thoughts, actions and subsequent learning about teaching (Loughran & Corrigan,1995); as an avenue for reflection on individual strengths and weaknesses leading topersonal growth and development (Klenowski, 2002); and as a showcase documentproviding a window into the teaching and learning achievements of the student teacherand valuable insights for a prospective employer (Andrews et al., 2002). Portfoliosencourage student teachers to document and describe their skills and competence asteachers (Mosely, 2004), promote student learning, professional development andreflection, and provide evidence for evaluation (Stone, 1998).

    The portfolio may be used in a summative manner to document performance andachievement for employment purposes (Andrews et al., 2002), and as a reflectivelearning tool to help student teachers understand their strengths and weaknessesand set targets for themselves (Richert, 1990). The evidence in the literaturesuggests that these two purposes may be in conflict and that the development of aportfolio for employment purposes hinders its function as a learning tool for studentteachers. Mosely (2004) argues that the students focus on the "showcase" aspectsof portfolios and presenting a favourable image to prospective employers is some-times in conflict with the goal of using the portfolio for professional developmentand assessment (p. 65). However, McMullan et al. (2003) note that while thesummative aspect of the portfolio undermines student ownership, student teachersdid not give value to the portfolio unless they were going to get some credit forhaving completed it.

    There is also conflicting evidence in the literature as to whether portfolios actuallyaffect or improve the learning of student teachers. Darling-Hammond and Snyder(2000) suggest that there is some evidence that portfolios have the potential topromote learning. Similarly, Vavrus and Collins (1991) found that student teacherswho used portfolios became more reflective and critical, and Kilbane and Milman(2003) suggest that reflecting upon their work during and after the creation processcan remind student teachers of their accomplishments, enhancing their self-esteemas competent learners. On the other hand there is also evidence which suggeststhat in some cases the development of the portfolio remained simply a selectionof artefacts and was not transformed into meaningful evidence (Delandshere &Arens, 2003). Mosely (2004) also reports that the student teachers in a studycarried out in a University in Ohio, found that the values of their portfolio were tooabstract and already existed in other parts of their professional education experience;

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    the student teachers therefore began to consider the portfolios as intrusive and justadditional busy work. McMullan et al. (2003) and Scholes et al. (2003) in theirreview of portfolio use in nursing education found that the extent to which studentsengaged in self-directed learning depended on both the students and the supportthey receive.

    The context

    In many European countries (EURYDICE, 2002) there has been a shift from compe-tence-based teacher training towards more professionally-oriented training. The newchallenges facing prospective teachers require them to assume a new role calling forskills other than the ability to teach a particular subject (EURYDICE, 2002, p. 19).Such skills include the ability to critically reflect, link theory and practice, the abilityto develop strategies to deal with the complex and unique situations of teaching andan understanding of what they actually did know and how that knowledge wasacquired (Sultana, 2005, p. 236).

    These trends in initial teacher education have also taken place in Malta which since2004 has formed part of the European Union. The Faculty of Education, Universityof Malta which to date is the sole agent responsible for the pre-service education ofteachers has slowly moved towards the reflective practitioner model, moving awayfrom a skills-based approach to teacher development to one of personal reflection asa means of teacher formation (Bezzina & Camilleri, 2001). With this move towards agreater emphasis on the professional development of prospective teachers rather thanon their acquisition of subject knowledge, the need was felt for the introduction oftools within the Faculty of Education, University of Malta, which would allowstudent teachers to engage in critical reflection and lead to further learning. Atthe same time, the introduction of a National Minimum Curriculum (Ministry ofEducation, 1999) led to a shift from an assessment system dominated by examina-tions for certification and selection to one which values formative assessment andindividual learning. This change in assessment practices in schools provided theFaculty of Education with the opportunity to review its own assessment practices(Chetcuti et al., 2006, p. 101).

    Following a number of debates and seminars within the Faculty of Education, theprofessional development portfolio (PDP) was introduced in 2001 for its B.Ed.(Hons.) secondary student teachers. The PDP was introduced in the Faculty ofEducation for two main reasons. The first reason was that following internationaltrends there was a strong move for assessment practices in the Faculty of Educationto change from assessment of learning and providing students with a summativejudgement in the form of a mark or grade, towards assessment for learning where thestudent teachers are provided with constant support from lecturers to help themimprove their work and their practice in schools (Chetcuti, 2006). Student teachershad often complained that they had nothing much to show for themselves when theywent for job interviews other than a transcript with marks and grades which did notreally reflect who they were as teachers. It was hoped that the PDP would provide

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    them with a tool containing tangible evidence of the skills and competencies whichthey had developed throughout the course.

    The second reason for introducing the PDP was to encourage the idea of thereflective practitioner (Schn, 1991). It was hoped that in the compilation of theirPDP the student teachers would engage in critical reflection which would lead tofurther learning and help them grow and develop as professionals. In Malta, themodel of initial teacher education is the concurrent model, where student teachersfollow study-units in content and general educational studies at the same time. Asargued by Sultana (2005) the fact that subject matter studies and professional studiesare taught concurrently does not automatically mean that the two areas are related inany pedagogically fruitful manner in the prospective teachers mind (p. 235). It washoped that the PDP would help to strengthen the link between the theoretical andpractical elements of the course and encourage critical reflection which would allowthe student teachers to develop their own philosophy of teaching and learning.

    The professional development portfolio (PDP)

    The PDP includes an introductory section which outlines the philosophy andpurpose. The introduction is followed by seven sections which focus on the areas ofprofessional knowledge, the teaching and learning process, management skills, infor-mation and communications technology, monitoring pupil learning, other profes-sional qualities and community involvement, and professional development. For eachsection the PDP identifies different artefacts which can be included and a number ofreflective tasks which encourage the student teachers to reflect on the selection of theartefacts, what they think they have learnt and allows them to also set targets forfuture development. The PDP was developed in a way that it can easily be compiledby student teachers on their own initiative. However, like the student teachers in astudy by Harland (2005), the student teachers found it difficult to compile the PDPon their own.

    Therefore, in order to help student teachers develop their PDP the Faculty ofEducation also set up a number of tutorial groups led by methodology tutors from thedifferent subject areas in the Faculty of Education. In these tutorial groups studentteachers would discuss the types of artefacts which could be included in their PDP,their reflective writings and the overall learning which they were engaged in through-out the course and their teaching practicum. The Faculty of Education also publishedA guide to the professional development portfolio (Assessment Committee, Faculty ofEducation, 2003). The guide outlined the objectives for each tutorial session, andsuggested student activities including tasks to initiate the process of portfolio devel-opment. Similar to the students in the study by Harland (2005) it was in this forumthat studen...

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