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Culminating Portfolio

The Portfolio, a cumulative and summative assessment and tool for synthesis, should reflect the purpose of the program: to improve teaching within the specific context of the teacher’s classroom and school.

Specifically, the portfolio should demonstrate that you:

  • Think in more conscious, strategic, and theoretically informed ways about teaching in the areas of teaching reading/literature, writing/composing, language, and an area of interest.
  • Think more reflectively about classroom practice, learning from classroom events and from students how to teach more effectively.
  • Have developed and use a wider repertoire (expanded toolbox) of teaching techniques in the areas of teaching reading/literature, writing/composing, language and an area of interest.

Portfolio procedures

You will create and collect portfolio contents over your whole course of study.  Some of the portfolio pieces may be created as course assignments.   The portfolio demonstrates your ongoing process of collecting your work, analyzing and reflecting on it, and culminates in a capstone sharing or and reflection about your learning.

To support your portfolio building, follow these steps:

  1. Near the beginning of your program, meet with your advisor.  Identify your main interests and goals.  Start your portfolio by writing about each course after you have completed it.
  2. About halfway through your program, select a faculty supervisory committee.  The committee should consist of at least one English Education faculty member and two other BSU faculty members of your choice.   You select one of these faculty members to be the committee chair, and that person also becomes your Advisor.  Turn in a form that lists your Supervisory Committee members to the Graduate College office http://www.boisestate.edu/gradcoll/0004.html .  You select and invite the faculty committee members, and together you set a committee meeting time.  During your meeting you share your progress and the portfolio materials your have collected so far.  (You might want to give your committee members some of your materials before the meeting.)  During the meeting, explain to the committee your plans or ideas for the various elements of your portfolio, including your inquiry project.  After your meeting, you inform the program director that you have met.  Email is fine for this.
  3. Consult with members of your committee whenever you could use their assistance, feedback, or advice.  Keep your chair apprised of your progress on your portfolio.
  4. Near the end of your Masters program, make a public presentation for which you select a portion of your portfolio work to share.  (Often, it is the Project.)  Pick something you believe should be interesting and useful to other teachers.  The presentation may be scheduled as part of a Night of Inquiry (Boise State Writing Project), a conference presentation, or other professional venue.  Invite your committee to the presentation.  (Writing a journal article is another option for professional sharing.)
  5. Enroll for ENGL 592 Portfolio credit after you finish your courses and you are about to finish your portfolio.  Enroll for the semester in which you intend to finish the portfolio.  You cannot register the usual way.  Instead, ask your committee chair for a Permission Number.  (Your chair may need to have the English Department open a section of ENGL 592 for you, and that might take a day or two.)
  6. When your portfolio seems complete, or as you complete sections of it, share it with your chair/advisor.  (Portfolio materials may be submitted in paper form, in digital form, or a combination.)  The chair will usually work with you on improvements.  When the work looks ready, the chair will ask you to share your portfolio with your whole committee.
  7. Schedule a Defense (committee meeting).  Give the committee at least two weeks to read your work.  (If you have only one copy for the committee members to pass among themselves, give the process more time.)  During your committee meeting you will discuss your entire portfolio and any additions or revisions the committee feels may be necessary for completion.  In academic terms, this part is traditionally called the “Defense.”  In our program, this meeting is a conversation that is a clarification of and reflection on your teaching and your thinking about your teaching.  In particular, the committee wants to see that you can talk about your coursework and your teaching in both theoretical and practical terms.  As a result of this meeting, your committee may decide your portfolio is not passing work, or that it requires some revisions to be resubmitted and re-evaluated, or that you need to do a particular project designed by the committee to demonstrate a questionable aspect of understanding, or that your portfolio passes with no further work.  (The defense may be scheduled anytime during the semester and need not conform to other Graduate College deadlines for defenses of theses or dissertations.)  Portfolio credit may not be re-taken.
  8. When the committee deems the portfolio to be passing, the committee chair (your advisor and nominal teacher for your portfolio credit) assigns you a completed grade for your portfolio. That should complete your degree requirements.You will also need to post parts of your portfolio in Taskstream, the College of Education’s web program for collecting evidence that our students are meeting professional standards.  Step one: If you have not done so before, create a Taskstream account.  Go to Taskstream.com.  At the top of the page, click on “Create/Renew Account.” Next, choose “create a new Taskstream subscription.”  They will then give you the option to pay for this subscription with a credit card.  Step two: After  you have created a Taskstream account, go into Taskstream by going to http://www.taskstrream.com and logging in with the user name and password you set up.  Next, find the Self-Enrollment area and click on the “Enter Code” button.  Enter our program code, which is: APTEachingELA2015.  Then click “Search.”  Our program pages should come up.  When they do, click the “Enroll” button.  Now you should be able to read the program’s standards and paste in the sections from your portfolio that provide evidence that your work meets each of these standards.  If it fits your situation, you may use the same part of your portfolio to meet more than standard.
  9. Apply for graduation.  (You can apply any time after your Admission to Candidacy form has been approved.)
  10. Celebrate Masterfully!  Then fill out a self-evaluation you get from the program director, and have your employer fill out an online evaluation form about your graduate program for the BSU teacher education program.

Portfolio Contents

Whenever it fits, you may use in your portfolio selected assignments or artifacts you create for your course work and/or for your classroom.  The required categories of contents of the portfolio are listed below.  For your convenience, two versions of the Portfolio Contents are included here: first, the Portfolio Contents in brief list, followed by the Portfolio Contents with explanations, so scroll down for those.

Portfolio Contents—brief list

Cover letter

Reflection from each class you have taken

Lessons that you developed as a result of coursework in the following areas:

  • teaching or reading strategies or literature/a literary work
  • teaching of language
  • teaching of writing/composing
  • teaching of correctness in writing/composing
  • teaching in a designated area of interest (e.g. reaching ELL students, technology, etc.)

A unit plan overview that incorporates various elements from the preceding items in this list

A case study of student growth in literacy

Three 15-minute video excerpts with written reflections:

  • a whole class discussion
  • small group work
  • an area of interest

Project

Portfolio Contents—with Explanations:

  1. Cover Letter

The cover letter introduces the portfolio and announces what it documents about your accomplishments and demonstrates your progress and growth as a teacher, general themes in your teaching trajectory, and where you intend to go next.  The items in the portfolio must be used as supporting data points for your discussion about how you have grown through the program and how the program has served your larger goals as a teacher.   Identify the major themes of your work, and trace how your thinking and pedagogy have changed over time, where you plan to go next, and how you will pursue that.  Cover letters are usually about five pages long and will serve as an introduction and guide for the reading of the rest of the portfolio.

The cover letter will be the first item in your portfolio, but the last item that you compose.

  1. Reflection from Each Class

A written reflection about each class you take in your degree program.  Explain how that course connects to and informs your teaching, and how you might use ideas from this course in your teaching.  (You should write these at the end of each class, while ideas are still fresh.)  Length varies, but the average is around a single-spaced page each.

  1. Lessons that you develop as a result of coursework in the following areas:
  1. teaching or reading strategies or literature/a literary work
  2. teaching of language
  3. teaching of writing/composing
  4. teaching of correctness in writing/composing
  5. teaching in a designated area of interest (e.g. reaching ELL students, technology, etc.
  6. a unit plan overview that incorporates various elements from the preceding items in this list.

Whenever possible, these should be lessons that you have created and taught.  Each lesson should demonstrate an explicit instructional intervention for a directly stated purpose, and should include student examples or other forms of data (e.g. teacher observations of the lesson) as well as your reflections upon the lesson.  For each lesson, include: your goals or objectives, what you planned, what you and your students did, and any assignments or assessments that went with the lesson.

Also write a reflection for each lesson.  (The reflection is usually the most important part.)  Your reflection should describe your students’ responses (including any assessments) and what you think the responses show, and what you will or could do next—perhaps to expand on this idea/technique in future teaching.  Connect your reflection ideas with one or more theories or ideas in literacy teaching; does it confirm a theory you have read about, or contradict one, or seem to offer a different slant from a theory in the field?  Also consider how this assignment is connected to your teaching story/trajectory of your teaching growth; how the design of each assignment demonstrates an area of growth in the areas of subject matter, pedagogy, or learners and learning for you as a teacher.  Each reflection should be approximately 3-5 pages in length.

Unit Plan Overview.  We usually think of “units” as coherent units of study over something like 3 to 6 weeks of instruction.  A unit overview gives the educator reader a good idea of what you plan to happen during the unit, or generally what did happen when you taught it.  Unit overviews usually describe what the unit is mainly about (e.g. the unit’s essential question or theme or main topic or object of study like a novel or type of writing), the intended learning goals and major assessments, and some of the most important activities, instruction, and student tasks involved, usually in sequence.  A timeline is helpful but not required; daily lesson plans are not included.  (But lessons from sections a-e may come from this same unit.)  Select a unit idea that reflects your best teaching, or a new approach to teaching that you are learning or figuring out (e.g. an Inquiry-Learning Unit).

  1. Case Study of Student Growth in Literacy

In the busy life of teaching, it is kind of possible to see all of our students and at the same time, none of them.  It is hard to find time to look really closely at the learning of individual students.  The case study asks you to focus on one or more of your students over a period of time (not less than a semester) in which you examine evidence of some kind of literacy growth and learning.  Case studies generally describe the student(s) and the learning context or circumstances (your classroom and instruction methods, for example); pose a question you have about the student’s/students’ literacy growth; and report the evidence or data you have collected and examined in order to answer your question.

Normally, like most effective writing, case studies combine generalizations with specific examples that support or illustrate the main ideas.  So once you have categorized and analyzed your data and at least tentatively figured out what the data tell you that seems interesting or important about the students and their learning as it pertains to your question, then select the pieces of data (usually short excerpts of student work or your specific observation notes or direct quotes) that seem to best illustrate or support that main points that you see.  Then as you write, you combine the pieces of data with your commentary about the significance of these items and how they go together with the other pieces or what they show.

  1. Three 15-minute Videos

Three 15-minute video excerpts depicting you teaching 1) a whole class discussion, 2) small group work, and 3) video of you teaching in any area of interest you have pursued in the program.  Take lots more video footage than you need, review it, and use a simple video editing program to select excerpts (clips) that seem especially indicative of something problematic, interesting, or important in your teaching.  In the whole-class video, try to include some of your students as well as yourself.  (Your committee will observe confidentiality and student privacy with your videos.)  For the small-group video, show yourself setting up the students for their group work as well as some footage of the students working.  What is in the third video is, of course, up to you.

Write a reflection for each video.  Discuss such things as your teaching goals or intentions or purpose; the context or story introducing your clips; what you did and what the students did; how you think the activity went; what you noticed in class and later when you viewed the video; what you think the video shows; what you will or could you do next, or do differently, next time; how the lessons or your observations connect to things you have studied in your grad courses, and/or new ideas about your teaching that the videos lead you to.

  1. Project

A special project that you create as part of your degree program work. This could be a teacher research project, a curriculum or unit development project, a special inquiry project you pursued in your classroom, etc.  The project idea should be negotiated with your advisor or committee.   It is usually larger in scale and more ambitious than a class assignment, though it could be built from an assignment from a class or include material you developed for a class.  The project should showcase your efforts to inquire into a problem or issue related to your teaching in order to reach a deeper or broader understanding of it in ways that impact and improve your teaching and expertise.

Projects ordinarily follow a traditional academic pattern of process and organization.  Typically they begin with a Question that arises from our teaching experiences (e.g. What can I do to engage my reluctant readers?  Why don’t my kids write very much? How might I make grammar seem interesting and purposeful to my students?  How could I make my class themes more personally meaningful to my students?  What assessments could I devise that would tell me what I need to know about my students’ learning?)  Next we find out what other teachers, researchers, and educators have had to say about our question or topic.  Such reading results in a Review of Literature where you report what you found out.  (The word “Literature” can be confusing to English teachers since in social science the word refers to anything that has been published, including research or teacher journal articles, books of education theories, or even teaching ideas from websites—not works of literature.)  The Lit Review need not be extensive (as it would be for a thesis), but it needs to set the foundation for how your work is related to the work of others in this field.  Typically, projects review something like 12-20 sources, but the number of references is less important than the foundational support they provide for your key ideas or how they help you understand your question and teaching experience.  Write about your readings less as a book report and more as an argument essay that leads up to your own idea and/or why you want to try a particular thing or do things a certain way in  your classroom.

Projects usually then turn to your first-hand work.  In a section usually called Method or Procedures, you explain what you did to try to answer your question.  Say what you decided to try, and why you thought that would be a good choice.  If you had a central question, put it here (e.g. What happens if I give kids more choices about what they read?)  And if you had a hypothesis, put it in this section (e.g. I think my students will spend more time reading if I give them more choices).  If it fits, include the timing or steps of what you did.  After that comes the Results section.  In this section you report on the data that you collected that seems best to answer your question or that gives you the most to think about.  Data could be lots of things, but often it means samples of student work, or assessments like test scores or grades or participation diagrams, or your observations of students’ behavior or reactions or comments.  Select the data that tells you something useful or important and report it.  Then comes the meaning you made from analyzing the data—where you explain the useful or important ideas you got from it.  Usually this section is called Discussion or Implications.  The Results section is like a report; The Discussion section is more like an essay where you share your thoughts about the results, or more like a literature paper where you finally explain your interpretation.  There are exceptions to this pattern of organization.  And while the description above usually describes a long written paper, other options for reporting may be available to you if they fit your project.  Check with your committee chair if you think your project should be organized or presented in a different way.

While project ideas and initial work on projects may come from any course, most often, project ideas and development come from the research course you take.  This is especially true for students who take ENGL 577-578 as their research course.

Presentation

Usually, the project is the part of the portfolio that students share for the public presentation.

You will have spent substantial time and effort learning more about something than most other teachers know, or working more than most at solving a problem common to teaching.  So, one purpose of the presentation is for you to share your new knowledge for the benefit of other teachers.  In addition, we hope our program nudges you toward being a teacher leader, and the presentation is one way to step into a leadership role.

The usual presentation mode would be presentation at a professional conference or in-service professional development meeting.  This presentation should provide evidence of your academic/intellectual work in the areas of research and theory partly by references to the literature that pertains to the project.  The project should also evidence your ability to connect this theory to classroom teaching practice.

As an alternative to a presentation, the project may be presented by a written paper of which you are proud and that could be published in a professional journal for teachers.

Regarding Revision

You should work closely with your committee chair by sharing drafts of the sections of your portfolio as you prepare them.  Your chair is likely to suggest revisions; the chair’s goal is to make sure your portfolio is ready to share with the rest of your committee and likely to meet most expectations for culminating graduate work.  One of these important expectations is to see evidence of reflective thinking—both for specific teaching situations and about specific students, and in overarching themes and principles that are academically cited theories, research results, or key ideas.  Embrace revision suggestions as opportunities to improve your work.  Consider that it is much better to recognize and address problems in the revision stage than to risk having serious problems emerge during the defense.  Think of the evaluation of your portfolio as “Not Yet” until your chair tells you that your work is ready to share with your whole committee.  Even after your defense, it is quite possible that your committee will ask for some further revisions to meet the standards of everyone on the committee.  Expect this revision to be a normal part of the process.

The Defense

The final requirement for your portfolio is for you to defend it.

The term “defense” comes down from the Middle Ages when candidates stood before their teachers and peers and defended their viewpoints in something like a raucous debate.  These days in English Education, we intend the defense to be a conversation about your work and your understandings of teaching at this point.  That’s why we check your portfolio for possible revisions before we get this far, so that we have already done some of the evaluating.  So in the defense your portfolio, in effect, has begun the conversation that your committee members take up in the meeting by asking some related questions, giving you the opportunity to further clarify or comment on topics in your work, and/or to extend your ideas related to but going beyond what you were able to include in your portfolio.  As part of the conversation, your faculty committee members are likely to conversationally mix in their own ideas as they connect to yours.  The tone is more conversational than formal, but you should be ready to talk about any of your Masters work and how it connects to your teaching.

After the questions and conversation about your portfolio and course work, again in the medieval academic tradition, you will be invited to step out of the room for a bit while the committee talks about your work in terms of the program standards.  After this you will be invited back in and the committee will let you know their consensus decision, which might involve some targeted revision, or might be the successful end of your graduate program requirements.