The development of the ability to think is widely acknowledged to be a primary goal of our educational efforts. By enabling learners to acquire and apply information, social studies educators aim to engage them in decision making and problem-solving about social issues, past and present (Adler 1994).
The concept of reflective thought provides a useful framework for curriculum and instruction in the K-12 social studies classroom as well as in the teacher education process.1 As John Dewey pointed out, reflective thought guides us away from routine activities and toward those that stimulate inquiry and consideration (Dewey 1933). The reflective teacher is concerned not only with the subject matter to be transmitted, but also with the activity of the mind.
For reflective teaching to be successful, it must be incorporated not only in a teacher's instructional methods, but also into the system of assessment employed by the teacher. This article explores the utility of portfolio evaluation as a system of assessment that can enhance reflective teaching. It is based on the experience of classes teaching methods to future teachers, but its basic principles can be applied at a variety of other levels in the educational system.
In recent years teachers and teacher educators have been experimenting with a variety of performance-based assessments, including portfolios.2 "Authentic" assessments of student learning strive to create natural or real-life settings and activities in order to document how learners think and behave over an extended period of time. The goal of authentic assessment is to reveal not only what students know and understand, but how those new understandings are developed.
Portfolios can take different forms. They are essentially a collection of artifacts documenting students' work and activities over time, either as an alternative to or supplement for testing. There is no standard portfolio format. Products labeled portfolios vary widely from collections of drafts at various stages of development to selections of a student's best work. Portfolios are not ends in themselves, but a means of reflecting the knowledge and activities of students. They resemble real-life tasks; reveal how students solve problems; value solo as well as community performances; recognize that there is more than one acceptable solution, answer or point of view; recognize whole performances rather than fragmented skills; and permit many forms of representation or communication of knowledge and skills (Mathison 1995). The literature on portfolios identifies a wide variety of benefits and advantages for their use in student assessment. Portfolios are generally intended to:
What follows is a descriptive account of the use of portfolio evaluation in a social studies methods course. My intention is to provide an illustration of how classroom evaluation practices shape the learning experiences of students, in general, and how portfolio evaluation can be used in social studies teacher education in particular.
Portfolio Evaluation in a Secondary Social Studies Methods Course
My decision to adopt portfolio evaluation was a departure from my practice early in my career, when I taught a methods course independent of field experiences or student teaching. In this case, I developed activities in which students created "generic lesson plans" or "modules" that could accomplish two goals. First, they should represent a varied repertoire of strategies for teaching, such as case studies, games and simulations, use of quantitative data, film and photographs, role playing, etc. The second goal of these assignments was the development of lesson plans that could "stand alone," plans that had a wide applicability, and thus could be potentially useful in their future teaching assignments. I was always troubled by the separation of the methods course from experience in the classroom and this second goal was aimed at increasing the authenticity of the assignments given in the class.
Over time three developments dramatically affected my thinking about activities and evaluation in the course. First, a field-based experience was coupled with the methods course. This provided students with access to a classroom in which to try out their plans and pedagogical skills. The field experience component of the methods course made the notion of generic, broadly applicable lesson plans irrelevant. There was now a real, authentic context for students to work in.
Second, I began to reconceptualize my understanding of the purpose and potential of a methods course. I adopted a more constructivist, experiential framework for understanding how people learn to teach. As my own perspective on learning to teach evolved, I became aware of the contradiction between the lesson plan paradigm (which was a major part of my pedagogy) and the inquiry approach to learning about teaching that I was attempting to enact. I was using various strategies such as action research, journaling, simulations and role playing, that were intended to aid preservice teachers in uncovering and developing their personal, practical theories of teaching.4 As I attempted to communicate an image of teachers as professionals who construct theories and knowledge about teaching, learning and schooling, I was also going in the opposite direction by framing my evaluation of student performance through the paradigm of lesson plans. Although I was encouraging prospective teachers to reconsider their own assumptions about teaching and schooling I was proceeding with teacher education in a business-as-usual way.
I then began to base my teaching on the assumption that all practical activities, such as teaching, are guided by some theory. The personal, practical theories that guide teachers' actions in the classroom became the focus of my work in the methods course. As I have argued elsewhere, teaching is practical work carried out in the socially constructed, complex and institutionalized world of schooling. The context in which teaching occurs influences the rationales and practices of teachers. It also provides specific contexts in which the logic of teaching is developed. Teachers cannot begin to practice without some knowledge of the context of their practice (e.g., cultural norms and expectations). Teachers' notions of what is possible and what is necessary are to a large extent (but not completely) shaped by the context of their practice. In this sense then, teachers are theorizers, actively constructing personal, practical theories that provide structure and meaning for actions.
The third development that influenced my decision to adopt portfolios was the tide of literature and activities surrounding the authentic assessment movement. If I were to address issues of authentic assessment in my methods class, which I felt was absolutely necessary, I had to adopt authentic assessment principles in my own teaching. This meant reconsidering how I evaluated preservice teachers in methods courses and student teaching.
Implementing Portfolio Evaluation in Teacher Education
During the semester I initially used portfolios, I engaged students in a discussion of what they thought the necessary knowledge, skills, and traits of effective secondary social studies teachers are. Over the course of several class sessions we developed four criteria that we believed captured the essence of what successful social studies teachers do. These four criteria are used to guide the development and evaluation of students' portfolios:
1. Identify, justify and recognize the implications of your practical philosophy of teaching, particularly as regards the selection of content, the development of teaching strategies, and the creation and identification of teaching materials.
2. Develop and conduct lessons/units that: (a) involve students as active learners; (b) employ a variety of teaching strategies, including at least two of the following: critical use of media (e.g., videos, film, etc.); simulation activities; and case studies.
3. Develop a variety of student assessment strategies that are consistent with your teaching goals and that incorporate the attributes of "authentic assessment."
4. Demonstrate familiarity with the wide variety of curriculum and instructional resources available for teaching secondary social studies.
In addition to submitting a portfolio each student is required to: (a) complete all of the reading assigned during the semester, (b) satisfactorily complete any other assignments and submit them on the date due, (c) participate actively and constructively in class discussion and activities, and (d) attend all class sessions.
No requirements regarding the specific content or organization of the portfolios are made. The students' task is to make decisions about the nature and presentation of evidence illustrating that they have met the established evaluation criteria. Throughout the course students participate in numerous small group discussions in which they discuss ideas about what types of artifacts should be included in portfolios and how they should be "packaged." In the presentation of the portfolio, students have used a variety of themes, including: an audio-tape museum exhibit guide; a newspaper documenting events, assignments and experiences in the course; "legaquot; documents along with a radio play of a trial in which the student teacher is the defendant; and a travelogue.
Over the past five years there have been additions and revisions to the portfolio assignment. Students must now demonstrate how they respond to the diversity of their pupils' needs, backgrounds and experiences and to demonstrate their ability to work cooperatively with other teachers (this has become part of criterion three, above). A fifth criterion that requires students to conduct a systematic study of their teaching through the application of action research principles has also been added.5 The action research project can be completed in conjunction with any of the other portfolio criteria.
Each student meets with me twice during the semester to discuss his or her portfolio. At mid-semester students discuss ideas about what they will include in the portfolio and report on progress. At the end of the semester students meet with me to discuss their completed portfolio and make a brief class presentation on it.
Each student's portfolio is critiqued by two classmates and myself. Each reader uses a form with the evaluation criteria to be rated on a four step scale from "superb" to "unsatisfactory." Ratings on each criterion are accompanied by a narrative assessment that presents the rationale for the judgment. The evaluative ratings by students and myself have typically been consistent. In cases where there have been discrepancies students receive an average of the three ratings.
How Changing Evaluation Practices Transformed the Learning Experiences in a Social Studies Methods Course
Since I have begun to use portfolios as the primary evaluation activity there have been a number of profound shifts in my pedagogy and in students' learning experiences as part of the methods course. Four of these transformations are discussed below.
Modeling Authentic Assessment Practices
The most immediate change in my own pedagogy produced by adopting portfolio evaluation was that issues of student assessment were moved to the center of the course's activities and discussions. The student teachers are not merely exposed to the principles of authentic assessment, but become participants in an activity built upon those principles. Modeling authentic assessment practices in the methods course is a powerful tool for encouraging students to seriously reconsider their own conceptions of student assessment. As the semester progresses, there is usually an increase in the number of alternative and performance based assessments student teachers use in their own classrooms. Student teachers have reacted favorably to portfolio evaluation, primarily because they have increased control over the evaluation process (an issue discussed below).
Delegating Responsibility for Learning
Adopting portfolio evaluation shifted the nature of my role as the teacher in the methods class. While I write narrative assessments on the various activities that students complete in the course, the portfolio is the only graded assignment for the course. The student teacher's course grade is a combination of the overall assessments of the portfolio by the two student-evaluators and myself. Students are expected to assume responsibility for their own learning and are delegated authority to make decisions about all aspects of their portfolio, subject to established evaluation criteria. The portfolio assignment becomes an instructional task, not just an evaluation activity. Students are free to accomplish their task in the way they think best, but are responsible for performing according to established criteria.
Delegating authority on this project frees the teacher from engaging in the more common practice of direct supervision, allowing him or her to adopt a less hierarchical role within the class structure. The teacher exercising direct supervision tells students what their task is and how to do it, monitoring them closely to prevent them from making errors. As Elizabeth Cohen points out in her discussion of delegating responsibility to groups:
If a teacher is in charge, regardless of the age and maturity of the students, the teacher will do more talking than the students. The teacher's evaluation of each [student's] performance will have far more weight than that of any other group member. If the teacher plays the role of a direct supervisor of group activity, members will talk, not to each other, but to the teacher as the authority figure who is overseeing the performance. Group members will want to know what the teacher expects them to say and will be mostly interested in finding out what the teachers thinks of their performance. (Cohen 1994, 2)
Delegating responsibility for learning to students increases their control over their own environment. After delegating authority to the students, I have found they are more inclined to turn to their colleagues for direction, evaluation and assistance. This has the dual benefit of freeing me from the necessity of controlling students' performance with the distribution of points (grades) on assignments and encourages students to work collaboratively.
Increased Student Collaboration
Increased student collaboration is the third important by-product of portfolio evaluation. The evaluation criteria for the portfolios place a premium on opportunities for teaching. By eschewing the lesson plan paradigm and focusing on performance, the portfolio assignment creates an impetus for more
participatory activities in the methods course. As a result, a wide variety of teaching strategies (e.g., cooperative learning, simulations, historical fiction) are presented and discussed in class via peer teaching activities in which teams of students become "experts" on a topic and then present a demonstration lesson and lead a session on the use of the strategy. The student teams then serve as a resource for their peers regarding a specific topic.
The organization of the peer teaching activities is similar to a jigsaw cooperative group that extends across the entire semester. The peer teaching activities provide an opportunity for student teachers to work in collaborative groups in which students can make differential contributions to their group (e.g., content knowledge, interpersonal or organizational abilities, and verbal or creative ability). Experiencing collaborative group work helps student teachers envision the multiple ability strategies that they can incorporate in their own teaching. After their own experience of breaking away from the narrowness of conventional academic tasks, student teachers can create learning experiences that are more responsive to the diversity of interests and abilities of their own students.
The Discourse of Learning to Teach
Perhaps the most profound change I have observed among students is in the language used to discuss social studies teaching and curriculum. The "lesson plan" is a nearly universal paradigm for introducing preservice teachers to the work of teaching. When I began teaching methods courses, it made sense to use lesson plans as a central construct in learning to teach (as well as evaluation of learning) because that was the commonly accepted practice in teacher education. The dominant model of lesson planning presented in methods textbooks and courses was and continues to be the Tyler (1948) rationale, which involves four steps: (a) explicitly stating objectives and aims, (b) choosing appropriate learning activities, (c) organizing and sequencing those activities, and (d) constructing evaluation procedures in light of aims.
One of the primary difficulties in using the lesson plan as the most concrete way in which preservice teachers are initiated into the discourses and practices of teaching is that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the Tyler rationale doesn't represent how teachers think and plan.6 Instead of the linear, objectives-first approach to conceiving lessons, the planning of experienced teachers is more recursive and cyclical, more learner-centered and structured around larger chunks of time and content than a single lesson.7 Even though it appears from the research evidence that lesson planning is a minor strategy in teacher planning, it continues to be the dominant element in preparing for and improving teaching in preservice teacher education.
It is troubling to consider the mismatch between lesson plan assignments in teacher education and the actual practice of experienced teachers when they conceptualize and prepare for teaching. Implicit within the lesson-plan paradigm of teaching are serious obstacles to the development of a reflective inquiry approach to teaching. Typical lesson plan assignments in methods courses represent planning and teaching as linear activities that move in a straight line toward a predetermined end. Tylerian lesson planning suggests that knowledge, curriculum content, and instruction are static and unchanging rather than socially constructed through interactions of teachers, students and texts. Writing and constructing lessons has typically been underwritten by the belief that mastery of bits of information and knowledge is the goal of every lesson. In this conception, teachers are the conduits through which information and knowledge flow rather than active inquirers and theorizers engaged in problem-posing as well as problem-solving activities.8
While teachers are central figures of authority in the classroom, they are left with little room for exercising professional discretion within the larger hierarchy of education and schooling, as a result of centralized curriculum frameworks coupled with strict accountability schemes. John Dewey (1940) observed that the model of educational management was to have one expert dictating educational methods and subject-matter to a body of passive and recipient teachers.
Dewey's description of the split in curriculum decision making reflects the concerns that many critics of recent educational reform have about the shrinking range within which teachers can exercise professional judgment.
The dictation, in theory at least, of the subject-matter to be taught, to the teacher who is to engage in the actual work of instruction, and frequently, under the name of close supervision, the attempt to determine the methods which are to be used in teaching, mean nothing more or less than the deliberate restriction of intelligence, the imprisoning of the spirit ... It is no uncommon thing to find methods of teaching such subjects as reading, spelling, and arithmetic officially laid down; outline topics in history and geography are provided ready-made for the teacher; gems of literature are fitted to successive ages of boys and girls. (Dewey 1940, 67)
Adopting a portfolio evaluation approach in the methods course opened the door for students to construct alternative conceptions of teaching. Discussions of planning, practice and evaluation moved beyond the notion of linear causality which underlies the lesson plan paradigm, and toward a conception of a teaching as co-agency. "These relationships are characterized by people finding ways to satisfy their desires and fulfill their interests without imposing on one another. The relationship of co-agency is one in which there is equality: situations in which individuals and groups fulfill their desires by acting together" (Kreisberg 1992, 85-86).
The cognitive task of creating a teaching portfolio requires student teachers to construct a more holistic image of teaching and curriculum decision-making. In many ways, constructing a teaching portfolio presents students with an antidote to the Tylerian approach to learning how to teach. In traditional approaches to learning to teach, beginning teachers are taught to see bits of information relating to discrete problems that can be understood through rational analysis. Traditionally, teacher education has taught them to presume that when problems are broken down into their various minute parts they can be dealt with successfully, one small, solvable part at a time (Oliver and Gershman 1989). This rationalist approach to teaching, which underlies the lesson plan paradigm, encourages the separation of means and ends in thinking about education and ultimately works to justify the notion of the teacher-as-curriculum-conduit (Ross 1994).
The language of teacher-as-curriculum conduit is based upon and perpetuates a problematic distinction between ends and means. This distinction fails to reflect accurately how the enacted curriculum is produced in classrooms, and it justifies the separation of conception and execution in teachers' work. In the latter circumstance, teachers' major tasks become: (a) developing lessons that aim to satisfy external curricular standards, rather than constructing more active roles for themselves in the curriculum development process, and (b) developing a repertoire of methods for getting through lessons by establishing order, keeping children on task, pacing, and keeping everyone on the same activity at the same time rather than focusing on how to understand the diversity of ways in which students construct meaning.
The discourse of teaching and teacher education determines the underlying rules for language use (what and how things are said as well as who can speak with authority and who must listen), educational practices and social relationships. The dominant discourse in education and the social sciences is "power over" or a relationship of domination. "The relationship of domination is described through the language of imposition. Its vocabulary includes words such as control, force, coercion, manipulation, sanctioning, obedience, and submission, and phrases such as overcoming resistance, getting others to do what you want, and gaining compliance" (Kreisberg 1992, 36).
There is no doubt that evaluation practices intertwine with our discourse and understandings of teaching and learning. The ways in which we conceptualize evaluation have a dramatic effect on pedagogy. My reflections here illustrate the dramatic transformation that can occur when we open the door for alternative conceptions of teaching, learning and schooling; ones that move toward "power with" instead of "power over" relationships.
Creating meaningful, educative experiences for students and approaching the work of teaching as a reflective practitioner are primary goals of social studies teacher education. Reflection is more than simply looking back, it involves reconstructing experience in ways that free us from merely unthinking action and reaction. Strategies such as portfolio evaluation provide openings for individuals to exercise four fundamental dispositions: intelligence (altering beliefs and actions based upon new information); curiosity (which compels one to seek new information for the sake of making better judgments); reflectiveness (the disposition to evaluate one's desires, beliefs and actions); and willfulness (the disposition to act on one's reflection) (Mathison and Ross 1992). All people are capable of being reflective; the challenge for social studies teachers and teacher educators is to create opportunities that activate the natural dispositions of our students.9
1 For a more comprehensive treatment of issues related to reflective thought and practice in social studies education see E. Wayne Ross, ed. Reflective Practice in Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994.)
2 Performance-based assessments or exhibits of learning are not a new idea. Prior to the rise of standardized testing, many progressive schools employed performance-based assessments. For descriptive accounts of teaching, curriculum and evaluation practices in early progressive schools see Mayhew, Katherine C., and Anna C. Edwards, The Dewey School (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1936) and Wirth, Arthur C., John Dewey as Educator, 1894-1904 (Lanham, MD.: University Press of America, 1989).
3 Most of the recently published work on portfolios focuses on their use in writing and English classes; however, social studies teachers interested in using portfolios should find this work useful. Good introductory sources include Belanoff, P., and M. Dickson, eds. Portfolios: Process and Product (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1991); Wiggins, G. Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993); and Perrone, V. ed. Expanding Student Assessment (Reston, Va.: ASCD). In addition, there is a small descriptive literature on the use of portfolios in teacher education. For one of the few empirical studies of the use of portfolios in social studies teacher education see Wade, Rahima C. "Portfolios in the Social Studies Methods Course: Documenting Personal and Professional Growth Through a Community-Service-Learning Project," a paper presented at the annual meeting of the College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix, November 18, 1994.
4 See: E. Wayne Ross, Jeffrey W. Cornett, and Gail McCutcheon, "Teacher Personal Theorizing and Research on Curriculum and Teaching" in Teacher Personal Theorizing: Connecting Curriculum Practice, Theory and Research, ed. E. W. Ross, J. W. Cornett and G. McCutcheon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).
5 Action research is presented as collaborative inquiry for the improvement of current practice in a classroom or school. Student teachers read and work from the model of action research described by Stephen Kemmis and Robin McTaggart in The Action Research Planner, 3d ed. (Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press, 1988).
6 The essential article on teacher planning in social studies is Gail McCutcheon, "Elementary School Teachers' Planning for Social Studies and Other Subjects," Theory and Research in Social Education 9 (1981): 45-66.
7 The most comprehensive review of research on teacher planning and thinking is by Christopher Clark and Penelope Peterson, "Teachers' Thought Processes," in Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3d ed., ed. M. C. Whitrock (New York: Macmillan, 1986). Alternatives to the Tylerian conception of planning and curriculum development are presented in McCutcheon, Gail, Developing the Curriculum: Solo and Group Deliberation (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman, 1995) and Ross, E. Wayne, Jeffrey W. Cornett, and Gail McCutcheon, eds. Teacher Personal Theorizing: Connecting Curriculum Practice, Theory and Research (Albany: State University of New York, 1992).
8 For more on this point see: Ross, E. Wayne, "Teachers as Curriculum Theorizers," in Reflective Practice in Social Studies, E. Wayne Ross, ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994): 35-41.
9 An abbreviated version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix, November 18, 1994.References
Wayne Ross is Associate Professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the State University of New York at Binghamton.