Teaching Portfolios: Who Needs One?

Updated:  July 17, 2013

Since starting my work as a Faculty Advisor for secondary pre-service teachers, I have learned something that surprises me.  Elementary teachers are often required to develop a teaching portfolio, yet secondary teachers are not required to create one.  Often the secondary student teachers go ahead and develop one, but it is their own choice; it is not an assignment in any of the courses they take, nor is it included in their practicum requirements.  Both programs require student teachers to complete a series of reflections, but these reflections are not a part of the portfolio package.

    In an attempt to understand what might be different between the two areas of teacher education, I decided to look at the typical contents of a teaching portfolio.  Some impressive examples can be found on the McGill University site:

The most common items found in a teaching portfolio are:  

  • A philosophy of teaching
  • Sample Lesson Plans
  • Sample Unit Plans
  • Classroom Management Philosophy
  • Evaluations of Teaching
  • Honors or Recognitions

Other categories of portfolio contents could be:

Roles and Responsibilties:   This category could include a list of courses taught with topics or themes that were covered during the practicum. Brief descriptions of class size and make-up could be added with anecdotes of challenges faced.

Representative Course Materials:  This section could contain a course outline with details of content and objectives.  Lists of texts and extra readings that are useful to course content could be kept here.  Methods and procedures for evaluating students would be helpful with examples of exams, quizzes or other samples of assessment strategies.

Descriptions of Teaching Experiences:  This section could be ‘rich’ with meaningful records of peak moments of the practicum.  Personal notes or letters from students, fellow teachers or administrators can speak volumes about teaching ability and this section allows  these keepsakes to be showcased.  Video clips of teaching or interviewing students could also be housed in this section.

Professional Development:  Much learning can occur during a Pro-D day, workshop or webinar.  This informal learning won’t show up on a resume, so it is advantageous to point out this learning in the portfolio.  Any participation or membership in teaching associations could be highlighted here as well.  This indicates a commitment to personal professional development which is necessary for teachers of all levels.

As I look over this list, I cannot see much difference between elementary or secondary teaching portfolio contents.  What I can see, once again, is that all teachers could benefit from developing a portfolio and the process would deliver rewards for many years to come.

Update:  There are many online guides to creating a teaching portfolio us1ng wordpress.com.

This site by Edwige Simon from Colorado  shows you how to create a teaching portfolio – step by step.  It even includes a printable handout. Thank you Edwige!

There are many great examples out there, I could add links all day.  Here is one last but lovely example by Amy Burghardt of Regina, Sask.


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Three Innovative Ways to Get Students Talking

I have recently observed some impressive strategies that have cleverly engaged every student in the classroom.  They have provided a comfortable format for students to participate in discussion with each other and become totally involved in the topic of the day.  Here are my three favorite:

1.  Think/Pair/Share

This first strategy is not new to the education scene; it has actually become common practice among many teachers. It has, however, become a bit watered down in some cases and the potential effectiveness of the strategy has often been lost.  By using all of the steps in the process, the use of this strategy can be maximized.

1. Student are provided with a key question and given a few minutes to think about, and write down their answer or their opinion on their own.

2. Students share their answers with one partner.  They see if they agree or disagree with each other.

3.  The pair then joins another pair, becoming a group of four, and shares their discussion or conclusions with the other pair. The four students compile their ideas.

4.  Each group of four presents their best ideas with the entire class.



This strategy has just recently come to my attention.  It may be a shortened version of the SMART Reading practices that English teachers have been using.  My fascination with the strategy stems from the effectiveness of the sentence starters that assist the more timid students to formulate their thoughts.

This method begins with a piece of literature or any article that students are reading as a class.  Students read only the first paragraph or the introduction of the document, then they pause.  In pairs, or in groups of 3 or 4, (groups of 3 would work well) students are asked to make a prediction about what is coming next. Then, they continue reading to a certain point and pause again for clarifications.  The third pause allows all students to ask questions, then at the end of the article, the groups try to make connections.

Sentence starters for Predictions:                                                      

  • I wonder. . .
  • I think this author is going to tell us . . .
  • The next thing that will happen is . . .
  • This article will probably . . .
Sentence starters for Clarifications:
  • This makes sense because. . .
  • This must mean that . . .
  • What the author is saying here is that . . .
  • What they said before makes sense now because. . .
Sentence starters for Questions: 
  • What does this part mean?
  • Why does the author say . . . ?
  • How does this part fit with . . . ?
  • Could this word/sentence be replaced with . . . ?
Sentence starters for Connections:
  • This reminds me of . . .
  • This part is similar to . . .
  • What’s different here is . . .
  • This article makes me think of . . .
The sentence starters above can also be put on card shaped slips of paper and the students can draw a card to choose the sentence they must finish. 


3. The Socratic Circle

There are various ways to structure a lesson using the socratic principles but the one that I recently witnessed used two circles. The Socratic method of teaching begins with a list of quality questions about the topic of the day.   All students are provided with a copy of these questions.   Students are divided into two groups, A & B.  To begin , group A must be placed in the inner circle; group B forms the outer circle.  Group A begins by discussing and attempting to answer the list of questions.

Group B is silent at this time, but actively observing what Group A is saying.  They are also keeping track of who is contributing the best answers and whether or not they agree.  When Group A has completed the questions, everyone in Group B must comment on what was said by Groups A.

The beauty of this format is that the teacher is merely observing, and can take note of the effort and quality of the participation of the students.

The students do all the talking.

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FIVE Strategies New Teachers Learn FAST

My student teachers in the Secondary Teaching Education Program at UBC Okanagan have just completed their first full week in the classrooms.  Their reflections on what they  learned last week have already highlighted some key aspects of good teaching practice.  The strategies that they discovered to be essential were worth repeating, so I  decided to compile their thoughts and share them.   Here’s the top five:

1.    Know Them . . . One by One

Get to know the students’ names a.s.a.p.  Everything goes smoother when you can call on a student using their name.  While you’re working at learning them, a seating plan is extremely useful and having one on hand is a lifesaver for any teacher who has to step in as a substitute.

Knowing something about them like their favorite sport or pastime can also make a difference in developing good rapport. When the opportunity is there, take the time to ask or comment on their unique skills, abilities and interests; this will help to achieve their respect and cooperation.

2.    State the Obvious . . . then Say it Again 

Even if it seems like common sense, assume nothing and tell students as clearly as possible every aspect of what they are expected to do.  Check for understanding and clarification before allowing them to start an activity or move around the room.

It may seem repetitious, but it’s beneficial to ‘tell them what they are going to do, tell them what they are doing, and then tell them what they did.’  This helps them to see the purpose and progressive nature of the plan for the class and their learning.

3.    Organize . . . Everything

A system of organization is needed for lesson plans, for unit plans, for hand-outs, for absent students’ handouts, for assignments turned in, for assignments marked, for assignments not marked, for graded assignments not yet recorded. . . . yikes!  The paper trail is endless! It ‘s essential to be able to find what you need when you need it.  Develop or borrow a system that makes sense and works.

4.    Start Strong . . . Finish Well

Getting the attention of the class at the start is not always an easy thing to do, yet it is important to do it well.  How the class begins sets the tone for later.  Expert teachers tend to do it so well, their strategy might be overlooked, but taking note of what works for them and adopting a personal version of that is the best way to tackle this challenge.

Allowing the bell to end the class leaves students without closure.  Whenever possible, it helps to recap the lesson, clarify homework, or simply comment on the topic of the day  (tell them what they did!) and set them up for next class.

5.  Discipline . . . on the Side

A common reason for inappropriate behavior in class often stems from a student’s desire to get attention.  When the teacher disciplines that student in front of everyone, the bad behavior is actually getting positive reinforcement.  Whenever possible, it is preferable to speak to the students one on one, or on the side, so that a purposeful conversation about the bad behavior can take place.  The best way to handle interruptions during a lesson, is to tell the student that they must stay after class for a private conversation.  This may cause some concern on the student’s part and end the disruptive behavior.

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Reflecting on a STAR

Writing a reflection can be a daunting task.  Where do you begin?  What should you write about?  What is the purpose of it anyway?

In my work with pre-service teachers, I have realized that the students are required to write a reflection for every week of their practicums, which will require at least 12 reflective writings.  In order to maximize this writing effort, I thought it would be a bonus if these reflections could serve a dual purpose.  It occurred to me that maybe these reflections could provide concrete examples for the students’ future job interviews.

The most popular type of questions used in teacher job interviews today are the behavioral style of interview questions. This demands the interviewee to recount a personal story or incident about a topic in question.

Here are a few examples of behavioral type questions:

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation.   What coping skills did you use?  Were those skills effective?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem. What did you do? What was your thought process? What was the outcome? What do you wish you had done differently?
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.

A format  used  to tackle these tough questions is known as the STAR technique:

Situation or Task 

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Action you        took Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did — not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might do, tell what you did.
Results you achieved What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

This same format can be use to tackle the request of writing a reflection.  Students can use the STAR format to frame their reflection:

Situation:  Describe a situation that went well or that didn’t go well in your                       class this week.

Task: Include an account of the task that your students had been requested                    to do at this time.

Action: Describe the action that you took regarding this situation.  ie.  Did you go ahead with the task as planned?  Did you stop and make changes to the task?

Result: Describe the result of your actions.  Did the students respond well?                      Why or why not?

Obviously students will choose reflections with a positive outcome for their interview answers, however, it is the situations with not-s0-positive outcomes that have the greatest learning potential.    Hopefully these reflections will not be ‘lost’ and the learning from the mistakes that has been recorded can be referred to in the future for continued growth.

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16 Outcomes of Reflection

What is actually accomplished by reflecting on a document or artifact in a


The conclusions below are based on  actual experiences that came from  12 reflective writings using the four dimensions of reflection. 

Thinking back to an experience may lead to the following upgrades in learning:

  • The learning is clarified.
  • Memories turn into specific outcomes of learning. 
  • Past learning becomes meaningful to present circumstances.

 Reflecting back may also lead to learning about one’s self such as:

  • A key element of personality that is a driving force in decision- making.
  • A recognition or affirmation of personal core beliefs and values.
  • A creation of a new learning or life goals

Thinking forward may lead to these implications of learning:

  • The learning is solidified through practice.
  • Gaps in learning are identified.
  • The learning changes previous behaviors.

Thinking inward about prior learning may open up the following new levels of learning:

  • The learning becomes more relevant and meaningful to the present.
  • The learning creates new perspectives.

Reflecting inward and connecting with emotions may lead to learning such as:

  • Recognition of life patterns, positive or negative.
  • Development of new strategies for dealing with emotional life situations.

Thinking outward may allow for these expansions of learning:

  • The learning creates a greater self – awareness.
  • The learning generates understanding of others.
  • New or different concepts can be more fully understood.
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Four Ways to Reflect

Four Dimensions of Reflective Learning

I.  Thinking Back

 Returning to a learning experience or recapturing a learning event some time after it has taken place may allow the learner to revisit the entire experience from a fresh and different perspective.  Learners may uncover previous knowledge that had been learned but was now buried or simply forgotten. 

 Questions that may help uncover learning from the past are:  

  • What was the original purpose of this project/experience?
  • What was my motive for completion of this project/experience?
  • What were the critical factors helping or hindering completion of this project?
  •  What specific skills/knowledge/attributes were necessary for completion of this project?
  • What did I actually learn from this project/experience?
  • When did the most learning occur? How do I know this?

II. Thinking Forward

     As learners reflect on how they would do things differently in the future, it is possible that an “upgrade” of learning could occur.  This deeper level of learning has been referred to as transformative learning (King 2002).

    Questions that may help the learner to understand future implications about learning are:

  • If I had chosen to do “x” or not to do “x”, what might have happened?
  • How significant are the outcomes of either direction?
  • If I had the chance to do this again, what changes would I make?
  • How might this project or experience shape the goals that I set for my future?
  • How might what I have learned affect my future learning decisions?

III. Thinking Inward

     Introspective reflections also bring the learner closer to emotions. According to James Zull (2002), reflecting on a previous experience will be meaningless unless it engages our emotions. A deeper understanding of one’s own feelings and emotions leads to a higher level of learning as described by several taxonomies of learning.

Questions that may lead to an intrinsic connection are:

  • Why was this project or experience meaningful to me?
  • What are my personal beliefs regarding this learning experience?
  • Do I agree or disagree with the way I learned this?  Why or why not?
  • What differences has the learning made in my intellectual, personal or ethical development?
  • What were the highest and lowest emotional moments in my learning experience?

IV. Thinking Outward

      Reflecting on the world around us requires an extended point of view.   Identifying the attitudes and opinions of another person, such as an author, a coworker, or a person from another culture leads learners to further consideration of their own belief system. The value in these contrasts and comparisons of beliefs is that it causes the learner to either expand their personal point of view or perhaps becoming more affirmed in their reasons for believing the way they do.

    Reflecting outwardly may lead to new ideas or theories that are used to explain or make sense of something.

    Questions that allow learners to think in an extrinsic way:

  • How am I looking at this topic?  Can I identify another point of view?
  • How might a person from another culture or religion look at this?
  • Which of these viewpoints makes the most sense?
  • Is my current concept about a topic causing problems for others?
  • Does the problem or question in my mind have historical, ethical, scientific,

      political or economic considerations?

It is my hope that the four dimensions of reflection will add to your body of knowledge about a learning experience and contribute to your general understanding of yourself as a learner and a uniquely gifted person (Max Lucado 2005).

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What to put into a Career Transition Portfolio

Portfolios are as unique as the individuals who prepare them. While there are no rules about what goes into a portfolio, it should represent the best of you.   It should also  demonstrate that you have thought through your experiences and gained a clear picture of what you have to offer.   Include meaningful, relevant items from all your learning to create a clear picture of ‘who you are’ and ‘what you know you can do’.

The following list contains ideas for the general ‘working’ portfolio.  You will want to select specific items from this larger collection for the ‘tailored’ portfolio that you would use in a job interview.

  • Career and professional development goals
  • Your work philosophy or description of your beliefs about yourself
  • A  current resume or curriculum vitae
  • Copies of cover letters
  • Letters of recommendation and references
  • Work and learning samples
  • A skills inventory
  • Evidence of knowledge and abilities
  • Learning narratives and reflections
  • Certificates, diplomas, degrees and awards (use photographs)
  • Records of community service/volunteer work (brochures, letters of recognition, etc.)
  • Transcripts
  • Professional memberships and service
  • Work term reports
  • Self-assessment records
  • Works in progress (activities and projects)
  • Newspaper clippings featuring you
  • Letters of appreciation
  • Photographs or other relevant media

The order of these items will depend on the categories or organizational system that you select. You may want to keep an ongoing Table of Contents to remind yourself of all that you have to choose from. Use a revised table of contents for the tailored portfolio that you show to future employers.

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Portfolios for Career Transition: Step 4 – Presentation

Step 4 – Selection for Presentation

The final step in deciding what to put into your Portfolio involves selecting items that will be appropriate for your audience.  Some questions to consider are:

  1. Who are the key people that will be viewing my Portfolio?
  2. What exactly will they want to see?
  3.  What is their familiarity with Portfolios? 
  4.  Will they need assistance in navigating through this item of evidence or through the organizational format used?
  5. How might they evaluate my skills?
  6. What questions might they ask?

 Preparing for the Presentation

 The best advice that can be given regarding the portfolio presentation is to follow the lead of the interviewer.   Some employers may be truly interested and actually ask you to show your portfolio.  This is not an open invitation to walk through every item in your collection.  Be respectful of time limitations and be ready with the top three items that say the most about you.  Then, pause and see if they are wanting to see and hear more.  Chances are they will have to move forward with the interview. 

If the employer does not invite you to show your portfolio, be ready with items that help you answer an interview question.  For example, you might say, “ I can explain that job experience more fully by showing you this. . . “  Keep your explanation short and simple.  Hopefully they will ask questions that will allow you to tell more about specific skills or accomplishments.

                          Final Portfolio Tips

 It takes time to develop a good Portfolio but the result                  will be  worth the effort!

             Think QUALITY not QUANTITY and keep your                  Portfolio simple.

       Make sure you can defend each item in your                        Portfolio.  Why have you included it?  What strength or skill does it demonstrate?

      Don’t skimp on your Portfolio budget.  Remember your Portfolio is a reflection of you.  Keep your Portfolio current; review it on a weekly basis and update as appropriate.

 You can customize your Portfolio for a specific job application.   Keep copies of everything in a general portfolio, then select specific items for a “tailored” portfolio.  

There is no law that says you can’t have more than one Portfolio!

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Portfolios for Career Transition- Step 3

Step 3:    Organization

The Portfolio tool that you choose may determine the organizational system that you use for presenting your evidence.  If you have a choice in the organizational framework, there are several approaches to consider.

  1. Chronological

The chronological approach is an effective way of demonstrating career progression by clearly showing years or time periods. Just like a chronological resume, it is easy to follow and shows career steps by positions, job titles, companies or organizations that you worked for. Evidence of skills used or developed in each time period can be displayed.

 2.  Thematic

The thematic approach is more commonly used for Portfolio organization.  Common categories that can be used are:


Education and Training

Professional Development





 3. STAR

The simple STAR format is great way to organize your documents if you don’t have a lot of evidence to display.





4.   S.T.O.R.Y

If you haven’t been able to find or request any documents (refer  back to step 1) and  you have to resort to creating everything, you may need to do more reflective writing.  I recommend the STORY format (Max Lucado 2005)  to guide you.

S – Strengths: What are your natural strengths and abilities?  Refer back to childhood times and previous work experiences when you were complimented on doing something well.  List the verbs. 

T –  Topics:  What are you interested in? What objects do you enjoy working with?  List the nouns. 

O –  Optimal conditions:  In what type of environments do you find yourself being most productive?

R – Relationships:  Recall moments of satisfaction and success; how were you relating to people in those situations? 

Y- Yes!  Identify moments in life when you felt you were in the “sweet spot” of life.  Describe them.

For the complete Sweet Spot Discovery Guide refer to Cure for the Common Life;  Living in Your Sweet Spot by Max Lucado published by Thomas Nelson 2005.

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Portfolios for Career Transition – Step 2


Step 2:  Reflecting

If  you had some success with the first step of Collecting, you now have a “pile” of evidence, or a long list of documents that you will consider uploading into your Portfolio.  Chances are good that you have far too much material to work with and you now have to begin the process of elimination. To help you determine just how useful each item will be for your Portfolio, you may want to use reflective questions to help you decide. Here are some valuable reflective questions to assist you with this process:

     1.  What does this item mean to me?

     2.  What does this item say about me?

     3.  What specific skills/knowledge/attributes are reflected in this item?

     4.  How does this item relate to my short/long term goals?

     5.  In what ways does this item demonstrate my strengths? 

     6.  What is the importance of this item/activity in relation to my  

          personal or professional growth?

     7.  What barriers or challenges did I have to overcome to realize this


 Take your time with these questions. They might tell you a lot about yourself that hadn’t realized or that you had forgotten.  Record all thought and ideas that come to you.

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Portfolios for Career Transition- Step 1

     The Portfolio Process 

A Portfolio will provide you with an organized electronic collection of materials, artifacts and evidence that summarizes, highlights and validates . .

–       who you are as a person 

–       what you know and can do

–       what you  hope to do.

It will be an evolving work in progress as you add or delete documents that demonstrate your most current skills.  With this in mind, you will want to follow a systematic process to help you identify what to put into your Portfolio.  The CROS (Collection, Reflection, Organization and Selection) system is a tested and tried system that has assisted many people with the development of their Portfolio. 

  Step 1:    C – Collection

Search through your file folders, boxes and computer documents for any evidence that says something about you and your skills.  Keep an ongoing list of what you have FOUND.  This will help you to keep track of what you have so that it is not forgotten later.   When you find something useful, it often reminds you of something else that you have somewhere that might also be useable.  Create another list entitled TO FIND.    This list will include those items that you know you have somewhere, but you will have to keep searching in other places (Mom’s basement?) to find it.

     Create another list of items under the heading:  REQUEST.   This list will include documents that you are not able to find, but you know that someone else may have this item.  This will save time when you begin writing letters or emails to employers or colleagues to request these documents.  You can do it all in one sitting, sending “copied” messages to several people, if necessary, to request the desired document.

     One more useful list will be entitled CREATE.  This list will include items that you know are lost or destroyed.  This may be a long list if you have experienced the misfortune of a computer crash.  The items destroyed may have to be recreated if you feel they will be a valuable addition to your Portfolio.

Reflecting on our lives in general allows us to gain a better sense of who we are, what we have done, what we know, and what our goals of the future are.  It may also help us to see patterns in our lives, and to evaluate professional and personal growth.  The reflection process is a necessary step in identifying what to put into an Portfolio.  Here are five key questions to assist you with the first step of the reflection process:

    1. What three words describe me best?

    2. What are my five top skills?

    3. What are my short and long term goals?

    4. What are my greatest strengths?

    5. What are my major accomplishments?

If you can find, create or request documents or artifacts that demonstrate the answers to these questions, you will have a great start on a useful portfolio.  
  Stay tuned for Step #2!

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Creating a Service Learning Portfolio

What is a Learning Portfolio?

A purposeful collection of student learning that exhibits the student’s efforts and achievements in a specific course or project.

How can Learning Portfolios be used?

Portfolios are gaining popularity in College and University education as a means for students to demonstrate the knowledge and abilities they have acquired from a specific activity (e.g. participation in service).  Proof of this can be found at http://www.aaeebl.org 

What goes into a Service Learning Portfolio?

Documents pertaining to the processes involved in the project, as well as evidence of the project’s outcomes. For example:  
–      Service training 

 –     Journals or logs

–       Relevant academic work

–       Media coverage (including articles in the campus newspaper or website

–       Evaluations by community members and instructors

 –       Organizational brochures or other information

 –       Plan for action research or other future projects, etc.

–       Reflections that document the learning process. This could include an understanding of service learning and the student’s philosophy regarding the experience.

Benefits of a Service Learning Portfolio

  • Allows the learner to demonstrate learning to the outside world; the Portfolio can become a life-long learning tool for the student’s own purpose or to showcase learning to future employers.
  • The learner becomes more aware of learning in the real world as they reflect and document the learning experiences that take place in the organization or business involved.
  • Learning in a social context is recognized; sharing with groups or doing collaborative projects is valued and documented.
  • Students have an opportunity to reflect on who they are as a person, learning lessons from their own experiences and seeing changes and growth within themselves. 

For more information on service learning check out:  The Complete Guide to Service Learning
Catherine Berger Kaye (2004)  Free Spirit Publishing www.freespirit.com

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Why Use ePortfolios for Assessment?

The eportfolio has been used successfully for assessment in K- 12 education as well as many faculties of higher education.  In addition to Education, it is often used in the Arts, the Humanities and Social Sciences; it is now becoming more popular with the faculties of Computer Science and Engineering. 

The Burgess Report (2007) concluded that assembling a portfolio allows a student to showcase a much wider range of achievement for assessment than traditional forms of assessment.

The use of ePortfolios for assessment fits well with the constructivist framework that has been emerging in education as the most effective teaching and learning experience. (Clark & Adamson 2009)  It provides opportunities for the formative assessment valuable to the constructivist approach.

The ePortfolio provides a tool that allows for assessment for learning since it is:

  • Student centered – The learner is involved and authorized to make decisions about their learning.
  • Student directed – Students can be involved in development of learning goals and in the development of assessment criteria.
  • Feedback from teachers and peers – Feedback in the form of comments, as opposed to marks, is the natural and appropriate manner to help students with self-assessment and ePortfolio decisions.
  • Recognition of individual learning abilities and preferences- The learners have the freedom to bring in their own interests or competencies into the assessment situation. (Hilzensauer & Schaffert (2009)
  • Demonstrates awareness of learning and  growth over time – Both student and teacher can note the changes or improvements in skills  from Sept. to June.

 The most valuable aspect of ‘ePortfolio thinking’ is that students are being encouraged to think about their learning and become more reflective thinkers in general. As students increase their metacognitive skills, they make progress towards the ultimate goal of becoming more skilled life-long learners. (Clark & Adamson 2009)

Personal Response

I have watched with great interest over the last decade as ePortfolio tools have advanced. The  efolio tool developed by Ray Tolley allows for users of all ages and purposes. I have noted that some of the issues around evaluation and assessment have disappeared, however, new and different challenges have continued to emerge. More efficient marking schemes for evaluating the product are currently being developed and tested. (Clark & Adamson 2009) Improvements and progress in innovative ways to use ePortfolios effectively are evident. (Barrett 2009) Dr. Helen Barrett is currently conducting an internet based action research project that examines the use of Google Applications for creation of ePortfolios.  Following the thread of blogs around this project indicate that many complications with developing the product still need to be worked out, but questions are being answered and progress is being made.

 It seems that similar to the ePortfolio always being a ‘work in progress’, so it is with the use of ePortfolios as an assessment tool.

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The Four Dimensions of Reflecting

girl thinking by laptop   The use of portfolios and critical reflections on the portfolio contents has become mainstream methodology in Education today.  Teachers of all grade levels and subjects and Professors in many faculties are asking students to reflect on their work. In many cases, the instructors are making this request of students without giving them instructions on how to begin. Many students do not naturally know how to reflect or why they should reflect.

To help students come up with meaningful reflections, I have developed the four dimensions of reflection.  It is an adaptation of the best ideas on reflection by Dr. Helen Barrett (2008) that I have found so far.  The four dimensions are:

 1.  Thinking back (connecting to past memories and experiences that relate to the topic)                                  eg. What prior learning or  previous life experiences come to my mind about this topic?

2. Thinking forward (considering future implications of the topic)                                                                              eg.  What aspect of this topic would I like to study further? How might this learning influence my future?

3.  Thinking inward (recognizing feelings and emotions about the topic)                                                               eg.  Do I have negative or positive associations with this topic?  Where might that be coming from?

4. Thinking outward (considering other’s point of view on the topic)                                                                       eg. How might a person from a different culture or religion view this topic? In what ways does that view differ from mine?

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Why Write a Memoir?

assorted puzzle game

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Why did that happen to me?

What was the purpose of that in my life?

Have you ever puzzled over those questions? If so, a memoir project is something that might give you some answers.

You may have noticed in the “About the Author” section that I have recently written my memoir. It was a most satisfying experience convincing me that writing a memoir can potentially address those un-answered questions about life. It has many other benefits as well, some of them unexpected. 

Countless articles, blogs and post-memoir interviews have described the positive outcomes of this genre.  I have selected the three benefits that resonated with me the most and described them here: 

1.      The Value of Remembering

As you begin to transfer your memories into words on paper, they become clear in your mind once again. You may be prompted to ask family members to recount their version of what happened and how they felt. As you re-share the experience with others, the memory is clarified and re-established in your long term memory bank. This memory is linked to other memories, and so it leads to another, and another. Key life experiences become fresh in your mind again and will never be forgotten when they are on captured on paper.

2.      The Reward of Re-framing

Not all revisited memories will be good ones.  Unfortunately, negative memories might emerge even before the positive ones. We tend to recall experiences from our past that are linked to strong emotions, and often those emotions are filled with disappointment, sadness or pain. It is not easy to face these negative memories again, and the last thing you may want to do is to live them all over again by re-experiencing them on paper.  If this can be accomplished, however, it has the potential of altering that memory. When we are able to face a fear and look that fear in the eye, it diminishes the power of that fear.  Facing a negative memory head on may change the impact of that former experience. With hindsight, a fresh perspective can be added to the former experience and the fear, shame or pain attached to it is shifted. What was once viewed as a failure or a weakness can now be reframed as a learning experience, and a much more positive version of that memory can be created.


3.      The Reveal of Your Fuller Self  

The varying roles that we play in our lives bring out different characteristics of our personality. Your role as a parent and the traits that are displayed while you are parenting  may be quite different from the traits that shine through you while you are at work. Your family rarely gets to see the You that emerges during the highlights of your career. Your colleagues rarely see the side of You that comes through as you parent or grandparent.

The beauty of the memoir is that has the potential of capturing all of You. It may show you in your various roles combined or it may show the big picture view of your life as whole. Even better than that, it may allow you to see God’s view of your life, His plan and purpose for your life, decided by Him before you were born.  All the pieces of the puzzle of your life may come together forming a less confusing, more complete picture of your life as whole. 

If you are intrigued, check out my new course on Writing a Memoir: Step by Step

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Writing Reflections on a Cancer Journey

Did you know that we have 50,000 to 70, 000 thoughts per day, and 35 to 48 thoughts per minute? Many of these thoughts are insignificant and fleeting, but many others are very significant and meaningful. They come from our values and beliefs, and form the core of who we are as a person. They guide our daily decisions. One of the best ways to recognize and capture the useful thoughts is to write them down. As soon as they are on paper, they are ‘trapped’ and can be edited and reframed. They can play a stronger role in helping us understand and make sense of our experiences in a positive way.

It is my hope that the four dimensions of reflective learning might inspire and guide you in reflecting and writing about your cancer journey. Perhaps it will assist you with the “why” questions and help you move forward. The ultimate goal of this reflection is that it will add to your body of knowledge about the experience and contribute to your understanding of yourself and the unique plan that exists for your life.


woman holding pen beside laptop

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The Four Dimensions of Reflective Learning

I. Thinking Back

Returning to an experience and reflecting on the full impact of that experience after it has taken place may allow the learner to revisit the entire experience from a fresh and different perspective. Learners may uncover previous insights that had been realized but are now buried or simply forgotten.

Questions that may help uncover insights from the past are:

  • What were your original thoughts at the start of your diagnosis?
  • What were the factors that helped or hindered your ability to cope with the diagnosis?
  • What specific skills/knowledge/attributes were necessary for helping you survive your treatments?


II. Thinking Inward
Introspective reflections also bring the learner closer to emotions. According to James Zull (2002), reflecting on a previous experience will be meaningless unless it engages our emotions.

Questions that may lead to an intrinsic connection are:

  • What are your personal beliefs regarding this cancer experience?
  • What were the highest and lowest emotional moments of your experience?
  • What differences has the experience made in your intellectual, personal or emotional development?


III. Thinking Outward

Reflecting on the world around us requires an extended point of view. Identifying the attitudes and opinions of another person, such as an author, a coworker, or a person from another culture leads learners to further consideration of their own belief system. The value in these contrasts and comparisons of beliefs is that it causes the learner to either expand their personal point of view or perhaps becoming more affirmed in their reasons for believing the way they do.  Reflecting outwardly may lead to new ideas or theories that can help to explain or make sense of something.

Questions that allow learners to think in an extrinsic way:

  • How are you looking at this cancer experience now? Can you identify a different point of view? (i.e. opinions expressed by your doctors or nurses)
  • How might a person from another culture or religion look at your experience?
  • Have others with a similar experience to yours affected how you view your experience? If so, how?


IV. Thinking Forward
The value of reflective learning is that it allows learners to “re-frame” their experience and use it to guide attitudes, perspectives and decisions more effectively in the future.

Questions that may help the learner to understand future life implications from an experience are:

  •  How significant are the outcomes of your experience with cancer to your future life?
  • How has this experience shaped the plans, goals and dreams that you have for your future?
  •  How might what you have learned affect your ability to cope with challenges that you might face in your future?




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Why does Learner Centred Instruction Matter?

I am asking myself some big questions these days.  It could be my age, or my phase of life, but all of these questions begin with “Why?”  Why am I on this planet? Why did I chose to the field of education for my career?  Why does education of all ages continue to interest and intrigue me?  Why am I teaching other teachers about learner centered instruction? Why does learner centred instruction matter?

I am still grappling with some of these questions, but I do have two good answers for the last question.

 1. Learner centred teaching leads to self directed learning.    It allows students to be active in learning decisions, rather than passively leaving all decisions up to the instructor.  It gives them a chance to make some choices about their learning and these choices lead to greater satisfaction with their courses. Students engage more when have a say in how the class will function, or have a choice in the format of a major assignment, or maybe even have some input regarding their mark.  The chance for this input sends the message that their opinions matter.  This bit of “power” can ignite a spark of passion for the learning and become the intrinsic motivator that instructors hope to see in their students.


2. Learner centered instruction fosters peer collaboration.  The instructors that participate in the LCI (Learner Centred Instruction) blended learning program at Okanagan College work as a cohort of 15 – 18 members.  Many assignments encourage sharing of best practices and ideas.  They teach a  mini- lesson to fellow classmates  midway through the program that allows for feedback and encouragement in many areas of instruction.  In the last two courses, all instructors are required to interview and observe another “seasoned” instructor at OC.  These learning opportunities further advance the sharing of resources and best practice and broaden the collaboration across all departments.

So, why does learner centered teaching matter to me? 

As an avid life long learner, I understand what is needed to create a positive learning experience.  I need to be engaged in the learning process and the content must be relevant to what I am currently doing in my work world.  When these two stars align, I am ‘hooked’ and can spend endless hours on a learning activity.  Time is not wasted, in my opinion, when learning is happening; the hours pass by in a satisfying and rewarding way.  Leading students to this ‘zone’ of learning is gift that learner centered instructors give to their students – a gift that will be meaningful to them throughout their life; it is a gift that matters.

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Three “P”s of Online Instruction

I was recently asked to share some tips for instructors who were new to online tutoring.   The research and documents published on this topic are impressive and maybe even overwhelming, so here is my very  simple summary that I hope will be helpful to someone.

  1. Be Proactive
  • Know your course – from the student point -of –view.
    Actually complete the assignments as if you were the student; you might be able to identify confusing instructions before you get bombarded by questions from everyone.
  • Seek information about your students. Send out a pre-assessment information request or include an information forum at the start. Knowing your students’ reasons for taking the course will help you to help them.
  • Day one – Be the first one “there”.  Post a welcome before the course begins.
  • Post regular announcements; due dates can be helpful for students to manage the work load and pace the submission of assignments.
  • Communicate clearly with students on missing or faulty assignments; encourage lagging students.

2.    Be Professional

  • Timely responses are expected; try to respond within one business day.
  • Establish “Office Hours” when you can be contacted via phone, skype or eluminate.
  • Create a standard of quality assignments and postings; model appropriate online communication.
  • Use professional language; avoid “texting” abbreviations.

3.  Be Personable

  • Choose your comments carefully and try to add inspiration or suggestions to responses.
  • Ask questions in your comments that might lead students to a new perspective.
  • Tailor your feedback to individual’s unique situations and level of understanding.
  • Recommend additional resources that might lead to a greater depth of study.
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The G.O.A.L.L.I.E Method of Lesson Planning

Working with UBCO candidate teachers and Instructors at Okanagan College has given me the privilege of viewing some very inspiring lesson plans.   I have seen many formats and templates, and I have realized that no  ‘one size fits all’  format exists.  It seems that over time, every teacher develops a system that makes sense to them and provides them with the guide they need to lead their classes successfully.  There are, however, some key elements that can turn a good class into a great class and help all aspects of the lesson  function more effectively.

One of most popular models used in the post-secondary world in B.C. is the B.O.P.P.P.S. model created by Douglas Kerr in 1978.  This model breaks down the lesson plan into six parts:

Bridge In – Introducing the lesson and bridging in to the learning   cycle.                                                                                                                                                           Objectives –  The learning objectives and overall purpose of the lesson.                                                                                                                                                        Pre-test – Determining what the learners know.                                                                                                                                               Participatory Learning   – Interactivity in the learning process.                                                                                                                                               Post-Test – Finding out what the learners have learned.                                                                                                                                         Summary – Wrapping up the learning experience.

Excellent information on the  B.O.P.P.P.S model can be found on most Canadian University sites.  There are many great pdf.’s, or power points available on this model.

My personal preferences in the use of these terms  has led me to the creation of my own model which I fondly refer to as the G.O.A.L.L.I.E  model.

(This acronym has nothing to do with the topic, but it has does have some personal significance.   My youngest son was in the net this semester for the UBC Vancouver Thunderbirds).

The analogy works if you think about all the equipment a goalie must wear and how each piece prepares and protects the goalie in all game actions.

Here are the key terms of the G.O.A.L.L.I.E.  model:

G – What is the GOAL that YOU have for this lesson?

O – What is the OBJECTIVE or learning OUTCOME that you have planned for the students?

A – How will you get the ATTENTION of your students, or “hook” them into a learning experience?

L – What LINK or connection to prior learning or  life experience can you provide that will make the learning relevant to your students?

L – What are the main LEARNING ACTIVITIES that will happen in your class to engage the students?

I – What types of INFORMAL (verbal checks) or FORMAL (quizzes, tests) assessments will be conducted to determine if students are achieving the learning outcomes for this lesson?

E – What EXIT plan is need for students to prepare for next class and be ENTICED to come back?

So, feel free to borrow this simplistic model of lesson planning if it makes sense to you.

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