The pedagogical portfolio or commitment to professional development

Written by: Svetlana Dimitrova and Svetlana Tashevska, New Bulgarian University

Another portfolio? Why? What’s in it? Who is it for? Is there anything in it for me?

No matter if you are a university lecturer/methodologist or a student-teacher, a head-teacher or head of staff, a mentor or a practicing teacher – committed to professionalism and career development, the Pedagogical Portfolio can be an invaluable tool for personal growth and an informative record of professional achievement. Just read on and decide for yourself.

The Pedagogical Portfolio for Foreign Language Teacher Trainees has been created in the spirit of modern European tendencies in Foreign Language Teaching and the recommendations of the Council of Europe for unified, commensurable standards of teacher education and foreign language teachers’ work and development. It involves collection of varied evidence documenting professional preparation, acquired experience and level of pedagogical competence (Dimitrova & Tashevska, 2005 [1]). This is what distinguishes it from the number of European language portfolios, whose purpose is to reflect the language biography and competence of the different target groups learning a foreign language. This Pedagogical Portfolio is unique in its character in that it is directed at language teaching professionals – student-teachers, mentors, methodologists, practising teachers, directors of studies, heads of staff, experts from regional inspectorates of the Ministry of Education and Science. For everybody committed to professionalism and career development, it can be an invaluable tool for personal growth and an informative record of professional achievement.

The Pedagogical Portfolio is based on the substantial experience of a team of New Bulgarian University lecturers, including consultants from the British Council, Bulgaria. The materials in it have their roots in the best of Bulgarian and international educational traditions in teacher training and preparation of foreign language teachers and were tried out in practice for a period of over eight years. A lot of student-teachers, mentors, university lecturers took part in the piloting and contributed valuable feedback and suggestions for useful revision.

To the best of our knowledge, a portfolio of this kind (both in terms of content and format) is a pioneering initiative. One created by a team of professionals, with the support of the British Council, Romania, is for novice teachers (in-service). Another one was made for the purposes of teaching practice at Sofia University but it contains little support for its users.

This Pedagogical Portfolio is meant to assist teachers to:

  • regularly document and keep a record of the acquired pedagogical experience, both during their education at the university and while teaching within the system of Bulgarian education;
  • organize and present in a systematic way the evidence for their pedagogical competence and for the quality of their work in the classroom during internal or external forms of inspection;
  • develop skills for reflection, critical awareness and self-evaluation of their work and achievements;
  • define clear, objective aims and priorities for growth and professional development.

In order for the Portfolio to be used by teachers of different foreign languages, it has been developed in two languages. The first part, presented consecutively in English and Bulgarian, offers practical advice on the logistics of foreign language teachers’ preparation and/ or development and some guidelines for structuring the information included in the Pedagogical Portfolio in three sections:

  1. nature and content of the pursued and/ or obtained pedagogical degree or qualification, including any information on additional professional qualifications or professional development;
  2. university-based professional training;
  3. school-based professional training and work and/ or experience as a school practitioner.

In addition, “good” teaching practice, which should be the aim for each professional, is described in this part (see Practical Teaching Objectives). It also includes the criteria for assessing the work of foreign language student-teachers in the classroom (in the English version only). As these criteria have only been used in assessing the work of English language teacher trainees, and not piloted with other languages, they were not included in the Bulgarian version. This ‘deficiency’ will hopefully be compensated for by the outcomes of a current educational partnership project of British Council, Bulgaria and the Ministry of Education and Science. This project aims at producing a unified set of criteria for assessing the work of practising language teachers in the classroom (Dimitrova & Tashevska, 2004).

The second part of the Pedagogical Portfolio comprises a wide range of support materials – various sample structured classroom observation sheets, a lesson plan template, mentor feedback forms, self-evaluation questionnaires, etc.. These reflect the basic theoretical principles translated into specific questions about their realisation in classroom practice. All appendices are developed in such a way that they can be directly applied in practice – photocopiable and in two languages (one side – in English, the other – in Bulgarian). This offers flexibility for applying and taking into account the specific needs of different foreign languages, as well as of specific teaching context.

At the end of the Pedagogical Portfolio a list of contemporary methodology reference literature is provided to additionally facilitate (student-) teachers’ development.

Uniting various components of open-ended nature, the Pedagogical Portfolio contributes to the formation of an autonomous, reflective practitioner. In this respect, the figure of a puzzle can be a good metaphor of the complex construct of the foreign language teacher’s professional competence, as well as of the Pedagogical Portfolio as a tool for its reflection. In other words, pedagogical competence and a teacher’s work are difficult to adequately illustrate and/ or evaluate only through a single lesson, a certificate or a diploma for the respective qualification, or a paper from a professional forum. However, when these documents have been collected and arranged together, as in the Pedagogical Portfolio, the mosaic of various components begins to acquire more complete and tangible dimensions, presenting the multi-faceted character of this evasive entity in a fuller and clearer picture. The puzzle is also a metaphor of the incessant process of professional development and improvement, of the open-ended system of pedagogical competence in which the newly-acquired professional knowledge and skills integrate with the teaching experience gathered.

In conclusion, the application of the Pedagogical Portfolio could lead to:

  • increasing the effectiveness of foreign language teacher education (including the quality of foreign language teaching done by student-teachers during teaching practice);
  • contributing to the growth of autonomous, reflective practitioners, capable of continuous professional development;
  • increasing the validity, reliability and transparency of assessment through introducing measurable standards of work and unified assessment criteria of professional competence for the (student-) teachers of different foreign languages in response to current European Union developments and recommendations;
  • improving the relationship between the university and the school (tertiary education and the demands of full-time employment in teaching) through better information about the requirements to the student-teachers, the stages and methods of their education and assessment of the acquired professional skills;
  • optimizing the information for possible future employers regarding the content and the quality of the professional qualification of prospective teachers and their potential for professional development.

Some participants’ impressions of the Pedagogical Portfolio:

“I found using the Pedagogical Portfolio very useful for my teaching practice. First of all it helped me organise all the stages of my practice – from the observations to the teaching itself. Secondly, it was very useful and time-saving in terms of requirements, procedures and information needed for a successful teaching practice of a trainee without much experience. And last but not least, filling the portfolio I could see the results of my work, which was a rewarding experience.”

Radostina Vassileva, a student teacher at New Bulgarian University

“An exceptionally comprehensive and very apt tool for any FLT trainee.
In the light of mentoring principles it appears to be an indispensable guide which will lead FLT trainees to become mature, confident and creative teachers in an extremely demanding classroom environment. Moreover, it provides them with a compact overview of all their experience and accomplishments!  My congratulations to the authors!”

Margarita Papasova, a senior teacher of English and mentor

“What I find most useful is the set of criteria for assessment of teaching – it’s the first time I have seen such a document published in Bulgaria.”

Irina Uzunova, a school teacher

“An interesting idea and – in light of the Council of Europe’s recommendations for learners in the Common European Framework – necessary concept: to have teachers practice what they preach to students by documenting in a dossier their own life-long learning and professional development. I am impressed by your work.

Gary Anderson, international teacher trainer, Eurasia

In my opinion the Pedagogical Portfolio could be a valuable tool not only for the teacher-trainees but for practising teachers too. With a slight change, it could be a personal professional file for any English teacher and could be a lifelong record of professional experience and development.
On the other hand, the materials, developed by the NBU team, could be used in the language schools as well – in their systems for appointing new teachers, for teacher training and for appraisal procedures. The variety of samples of questionnaires, lesson plans, observation sheets, etc. could easily be adapted for the needs of any school.
I’m grateful to the team for sharing the results of their research with us.

Irina Nalbantian, a teacher of English and a director of studies

Bibliography:

  1. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Council of Europe, Modern Languages Division, Strasbourg. Cambridge University Press, 2003
  2. Dimitrova & Tashevska (2004): Димитрова, С. и Ташевска, С. “Единни критерии за оценка на работата на учителя по чужд език в класната стая”, Чуждоезиково обучение, кн. 5/2004, стр. 21-41
  3. Dimitrova, S. & Tashevska, S. (2005) Pedagogical Portfolio for Foreign Language Teacher-Trainees, Sofia: New Bulgarian University

[1] Copies can be ordered at “NBU-Litera” bookshop, 21 Montevideo blvd., Sofia 1618, litera@nbu.bg.

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