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Portfolio assessment and teacher development.

Abstract

Teachers' professional development is being viewed as a key ingredient in improving U.S. schools (Stein, Smith & Silver, 1999). Analysis of program exit portfolios identified critical experiences, features and program structures that enhanced or diminished teachers' professional development. It revealed areas in which the program did not contribute to teachers' professional growth. A portfolio based upon authentic evidence and the use of teacher narrative can capture the complexity and realities of schools in conjunction with teacher development.

Introduction

In the current quest to improve instruction and schooling for all children, teachers are now viewed as significant leaders. As Stein, Smith, and Silver (1999) write, "More than any time in recent history, teachers' professional development is being viewed as a key ingredient in improving U.S. schools" (p.237). Unfortunately, we know that current professional development experiences for practicing teachers often miss the mark in creating lasting, meaningful learning experiences that support teachers' work with students. Practicing teachers' prefer professional development experiences that take into account their content knowledge, pedagogical skills and philosophical approaches in order to address student learning needs (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001).

Traditionally, most teacher professional development experiences take one of two forms: district-mandated staff development and elective participation in university/college courses, workshops, and summer institutes often provided by university teacher educators. Research findings suggest that staff development, in-service, and course work experiences have little long lasting impact on teachers' growth as practitioners. Current professional development models for practicing teachers are often criticized for being delivered out of the teaching context and disconnected from the realities of their school and classroom. In addition, research suggests that the professional development experiences are not connected, nor supportive of teachers' individual professional interests and needs. Stein, Smith & Silver (1999) argue that when teachers participate in these types of professional development experiences it can often "result in a disconnected and decontextualized set of experiences from which teachers may derive additive benefits, that is, the addition of new skills to their existing repertoires" (p. 240). The challenge is to find ways in which teachers can make connections to their daily practice and grow as informed, thoughtful professionals' working to make a difference in their students' lives, classrooms and schools. Stein, Smith, and Silver (1999) identify five components of a new paradigm for offering teacher professional development experiences for teachers:

1. Teacher assistance embedded in or directly related to the work of teaching,

2. Teacher assistance grounded in the content of teaching and learning,

3. Development of teacher communities of professional practice,

4. Collaboration with experts outside the teaching community,

5. Consideration of organizational context (p. 239-240).

This model acknowledges and recognizes that teacher professional development for practicing teachers needs to address and incorporate these components in order for lasting meaningful professional development to occur. In this paper I will show how these components have been embedded in the curriculum of a master's degree program for practicing teachers that seeks to enhance teacher professional development by providing a curriculum that is centered on teacher research (Ball, 1996, Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, Schwartz, 1988, Zumwalt, 1988), reflection (Greene, 1978; Giroux, 1988), collaboration (Friend and Cook, 1992, Goodlad, 1984, Lieberman, 1987, Lyons, 1998) and continuous improvement (Deming, 1995). Using data from reflective portfolios constructed by teachers at the end of this program, I will argue that professional development based in reflective practice in teachers' classrooms provides the kinds of growth experiences for teachers called for by Stein, Smith & Silver (1999).

Elmore, Peterson and McCarthy (1996) claim that understanding teacher learning includes attending to both the curriculum and the pedagogy of professional development, to what teachers learn and how teachers are taught. I will explore program effectiveness to evaluate what teachers report as meaningful to their professional development. Through portfolio assessment, program faculty gleaned the ways in which teachers intemalized program features of action research, reflection, collaboration, and continuous improvement as teacher self-reported--an authentic assessment of what teachers found meaningful. My purpose in this study of portfolios therefore is twofold: a) to explore the ways in which a two-year school-based Master's program influenced and shaped teachers' professional growth as self-reported through a review of the program's exit portfolio and b) to glean program features and curricular experiences that teachers identified as meaningful to their professional growth.

The Exit Portfolio

Recognizing that individual teachers would have flexibility and ownership of their professional growth in this program we needed an assessment model that would capture the range and depth of professional development experiences that promoted teacher learning and growth. The use of a developmental portfolio as an authentic assessment tool was a natural fit with program goals. The construction of a developmental portfolio focuses on continuous improvement, as teachers experience the dynamics and challenges of constructivist pedagogy and ownership of their professional growth. The incorporation of portfolio assessment served our program in two ways: a) to deepen understanding of an authentic assessment model and b) to open up ways to demonstrate learning. Teachers' professional journeys helped our program identify meaningful program experiences, curriculum and structural supports that fostered or hindered their professional growth. Developmental portfolios are well suited for reflective practice, critical inquiry, and collegial feedback as a means to strive for continuous improvement of classroom practices. A developmental portfolio provided teachers with a tool to systematically examine their classroom practices and capture the complexities of teaching within the classroom context. This portfolio might include representative samples of a broader range and time and offers benefits that traditional one-time classroom assessments cannot.

Portfolio requirements were kept relatively flexible to allow teachers ownership in the direction and development of their portfolio. Teachers were to identify an overarching theme and several sub-themes to represent their professional growth and include authentic evidence to support their portfolio narrative. We allowed teachers to construct their portfolios versus instructing the teachers on what to include. Portfolio reflection strategies and graphic organizers were provided as tools to help teachers identify and articulate their professional growth using authentic evidence for support as they reviewed their course work, journals, action research, etc. and categorized how they understood their growth. Teachers were provided time to participate in portfolio building exercises throughout the second year that supported meaningful portfolio implementation practices (Wolf, 1991). Trusting teachers to reflect on and represent their growth both honors their knowledge and spurs them to place their change and growth into a broader context of professional development and continuous change.

Methods

Participants

The participants in this study were the 108 licensed K-12 classroom teachers enrolled in a two-year school-based Master's program in Northern Virginia. Teachers enrolled in this program ranged from 2-23 years of classroom teaching experience and worked within a wide range of school contexts, from highly diverse urban schools to little diversity within small rural schools.

Exit Portfolio Data

For the purposes of this study, 108 teacher developed portfolios served as the primary data source for teacher identified professional growth and program evaluation. Portfolios were typically ranged from 20-35 pages long and included: 1) teacher narrative and 2) authentic evidence to document and discuss their professional growth as a result of program participation. Five teachers chose to compile an electronic portfolio that incorporated text and music.

The program faculty wanted to implement an assessment model that teachers could personalize to reflect individual styles and format as they crafted their exit portfolios. However, all teachers were to use a two-tier portfolio framework in discussing and documenting their professional growth. Teachers were to identify an overarching theme and sub-themes that pulled the entire portfolio together to make a rich representation of teacher-identified professional growth. The overarching theme was to serve as a framework or umbrella to discuss their self-identified areas of professional growth. For example, "Teacher and Learner: Opening of the Heart and Mind," "Pieces of the Puzzle," and "Change and Challenge: My Professional Journey" are a few examples of overarching portfolio themes that teachers used to talk about their professional growth. Sub-themes were used to identify and document specific teacher identified areas of professional growth that connected to their overarching theme or metaphor. What follows are examples of teacher developed portfolio sub-themes: "Confidence Establishes A Teacher Voice", "Student Voice Is A Vital Part of the Classroom," "Teacher Collaboration Is An Asset To Professional Growth." Through the use of a teacher-developed themes and sub-themes teachers were afforded flexibility and freedom to interpret, represent, and document their professional growth.

We asked teachers to include authentic evidence, such as student work samples, lesson plans, and photographs for support. The inclusion of authentic evidence closely connected to teacher narratives made explicit the types of work teachers' were engaged in while working in their classrooms. In addition, we expected portfolios to stand alone--meaning that evidence was to include a context and rationale as to why it was included in the portfolio. This expectation helped make explicit teacher thinking. They provided a rationale for the inclusion of each particular piece of evidence. It is through the use of teacher narrative embedded with authentic evidence throughout the portfolio that helped make visible the professional development work of teachers and provided information on aspects of the progress that teachers identified as helpful or meaningful in their professional growth.

Data Analysis

Using the constant comparison method (Bogdan and Biklen, 1992) the one hundred and eight portfolios entries were entered into a database and were analyzed to identify categories of teacher identified professional development. Glaser and Strauss (cited in Lincoln & Guba, 1985) describe the constant comparison method as following four distinct stages:

1. comparing incidents applicable to each category,

2. integrating categories and their properties

3. delimiting the theory, and

4. writing the theory (p. 339).

One program faculty member and one graduate student, both trained in the constant comparison method identified broad coding categories and sub-categories in order to create themes that captured teacher reported professional growth. According to Goetz & LeCompt (1981) "as events are constantly compared with previous events, new topological dimension, as well as new relationships, may be discovered" (p.58). These individuals served as a reliability check for the reported coding categories.

Three broad sets of coding categories emerged from the preliminary data analysis: 1) program features, 2) curriculum innovations and 3) teacher identified areas of professional growth. These categories provided an overall framework for additional in-depth analysis. Within each broad category, sub-categories were created to locate consistently identified topics within a given category. For example, under program features the sub-categories were teams, reflection/journal, electronic forums, action research, and collaboration. The sub-categories for curriculum were teacher identified course readings, curricular experiences during class days and course assignments. Teachers would often attribute professional growth to a particular program experience, assignment or reading. Teachers identified six professional growth categories: voice, confidence, language, valuing students, classroom practice and leadership. Based on this level of analysis four broad overarching themes were developed to organize relationships between program experiences and aspects of teacher professional development.

Findings

What follows next are four themes that emerged from the data categories identifying key areas of professional growth that teachers reported as meaningful as a result of participating within a teacher-centered Master's program based on reflection, collaboration, teacher research, and continuous improvement. During this two-year program, teachers were members of an educational community immersed in current educational literature and engaged in reflective practice, collaboration and conducting action research projects. These experiences were reported as avenues that introduced and supported the development of an educational language that teachers were comfortable using within our program and in their schools and classrooms.

A Stronger Sense of Self

A dominant theme that emerged from the data illustrates the ways in which practicing teachers attribute their development of "self" and the professional implications for that new found "self." Teachers wrote about their development of a professional voice and increased confidence within the classroom and schools. Class readings were identified as a major contributor to teacher knowledge and educational language development. For example, one teacher wrote, "I have read many articles and books that have helped to increase my knowledge of language of education. I now feel able to express myself with much more confidence as I have this added knowledge base."

In addition, teachers reported a willingness to explore alternative perspectives as a way to come to deeper understandings of self and others. Teachers reported class readings, electronic forum discussions, and in-class and team dialogue provided them with alternative perspectives. Teachers discussed how the process of articulating and listening to alternative viewpoints and experiences helped clarify and question their own assumptions leading to a stronger sense of self. One portfolio entry indicated how the program "gave me a great opportunity to interact with other teachers whose settings were similar and different from mine. The emphasis on ideas and reflective practice has been a challenge to me. However, I emerged with a new and stronger voice." Program experiences are designed to encourage and provide opportunities for teachers to share multiple perspectives. Teachers attributed these experiences in the development of their voice.

A deepened understanding of culture and the exploration of individual school factors that can positively or negatively effect school cultures was another area that promoted teacher confidence. One teacher wrote: "I became more self-confident to speak out for what I believe. I dared to look objectively at my school culture and how the administration shapes that culture. I learned that I could help influence the culture and co-hosted a book talk group to help form camaraderie and give us all a common language." Not only did teachers become advocates for their students and parents, teachers' became actively involved in their schools culture. For example one portfolio entry stated, "I now see myself as attempting to overcome the demands and constraints that are placed upon me. I now have the self-confidence and inner voice to reflect upon and question what is truly best for my students." Another teacher spoke of his parent advocacy this way, "the first thing I did was make it possible for every parent who wanted to participate to go on any fieldtrip offered. Rather than go by the 'first come, first served rule,' I simply ordered an extra bus. On our last field trip we had so many parents that we could have filled an entire bus just with them. Making parents feel a valued part of a school activity goes far in promoting home/school communication."

Teachers attribute a stronger sense of self with the development of an educational language that they were comfortable with, a willingness to explore alternative perspectives, and confidence to take on a more active role in their schools or classrooms. Whether is it to advocate for a student or parents, help shape their school culture or a deeper understanding of self and educational beliefs, teachers in this program conveyed having a stronger sense self.

Students' Voices Aid Teachers in Addressing Learning Needs

This theme directly connects to the ways in which teachers grew professionally when seeking out the voices of their students. Teachers indicted and documented their willingness to open up their instructional practices to the "voices of their students." For example, one teacher wrote: "I have learned a lot about being a more effective teacher from the students themselves. I look no further than the first year research paper where I conducted student interviews about making their physical education experiences more productive. What I found most interesting about the interviews were that the students provided practical answers.... This made an impression on me that if students were given the opportunity to make some classroom decisions that they may take more of an interest in their own learning." Another teacher reported that participation in the program led to "new ideas about practice and instruction that can only aid in bettering my communication skills in talking with and listening to my students." Others wrote about valuing students and what they bring to the classroom in this way, "I feel I have come to understand that students have a valuable source of knowledge of the world and that their experiences can enrich classroom discussions, which in turn leads to increased student understanding." Another teacher wrote in her portfolio about her students in this way, "giving [students] the opportunity to express opinions and to have a say in the learning process impacts the motivation and enthusiasm of the students. The children were permitted to choose their own books each week. They then reported to their classmates on the stories that they had read. The third graders in my group were eager to tell about the stories to their classmates. They were also able to make connections to the stories from their own lives, world events and other books that they had read. The research team concluded that opportunities to talk about the stories were more motivating than the actual written activities that went along with the books."

Teachers made modifications, adjustments and opened up curricular spaces for students' voices to be heard and created opportunities to more effectively involve their students in learning experiences promoting student ownership. One teacher wrote, "I entered upon this study [first year action research project] to try to determine which methods I could use in my classroom to develop critical thinking skills. My students were given autonomy to design their own projects related to their classroom curriculum." Teachers enrolled in the program often shaped their action research projects on crafting opportunities for students to become more active participants in the classroom. One teacher wrote, "During the time of my first year research I focused on the issue of student's having a classroom voice. While trying to engage my students I sought the strategy of letting students have more of a decision in what happened in the classroom. I felt that by including their student voice that this would hopefully encourage more student involvement." Not only were teachers working on ways to more actively engage their students some teachers worked to develop student voice as a result of their own new found confidence and voice.

Teachers made movement towards creating a more student-centered classroom and building community. One teacher wrote, "my classroom has become more student-centered, which has helped me become better equipped to meet individual students' needs this process has been empowered by collaboration between myself and other teachers/colleagues, with my students, and by the students themselves." Creating a sense of community and providing opportunities for students to develop the skills and attitudes needed to work collaboratively was identified as important in many of the teachers' diversely populated classrooms. "In class there were many social problems and conflicts between students. I had class meetings to help students solve their conflicts. It was apparent to me that these students lacked the skills to successfully interact with each other. They needed to be taught how to appreciate each other's differences. I began to build a classroom community." The notion of valuing students' voices and experiences helped shaped teachers classrooms in instructional and social ways. Teachers reported the value of having students more actively involved in curriculum and building a stronger community of learners.

Curriculum Interventions: A Common Link to Continuous Improvement

One emphasis of our program is on curriculum innovation. We pushed teachers to try some new things. We modeled new strategies and asked them to read, connected to their research, in fields that would support their research. From this and their action research they carried out curricular innovation. Because they were collecting data on their practice, there was a synergism among innovation, assessment, and reflection. These elements of interaction set into motion cycles of continuous improvement.

This theme that highlights the ways in which teachers grew professionally is connected to the role of action research interventions and student learning. As a result of the action research process teachers were moving towards continuous improvement in their instructional practices. Teacher portfolios were thick with descriptions, reflections, lesson plans, student work and photographs in documenting their work in classrooms. Teacher portfolios provided a richness of curriculum interventions focused on the ways in which they created opportunities for students to become actively involved in their learning and sharing in the educational learning process with classroom teachers. For example, student choice of assignments, student ownership in evaluation, co-creating behavior management models, peer editing, participation in classroom meetings are a few examples of the ways in which teachers engaged students and enriched their own understandings of teaching and learning and content pedagogical practices.

Teachers worked to adapt, implement and create alternative instructional practices, as a way to address students' learning needs. One teacher who was using cooperative learning as a strategy to increase understanding of mathematical concepts noted, "when students constructed knowledge they became independent learners. As students took ownership of their learning, they began to internalize the concepts they were learning because they had an opportunity to collaborate and personalize the learning process." Another teacher commented about how action research projects contributed to deepened understandings of student learning. One teacher wrote, "seeking student perspectives through collecting student work, conducting interviews, and giving student surveys, I could understand the connections to content material that my students were making, and could thus adjust the lessons to meet their needs." Teachers would attribute positive experiences when working with students as they began to tailor and develop curriculum to actively engage and meet students' learning needs.

Teachers enrolled in our program clearly valued the role of reflection in supporting their professional growth. One teacher wrote, "becoming more reflective as a teacher is the greatest lesson that I have learned in the past two years. It's like being able to open up a suitcase full of previous experiences from the past and make changes." Another teacher wrote about reflection in this way, "I have had the opportunity to spend serious time reflecting on myself as a person and as a teacher. I have reflected on my students emotionally, socially, and academically. I have thought about my classroom, my school, and my colleagues. It is a thought process that will not stop. I am constantly thinking about, talking about or writing about how to develop this "craft" of teaching." Teachers documented and included curriculum work they undertook as valuable and meaningful to their professional growth. Teachers identified action research projects, extensive readings and collaborative experiences as supportive in finding ways to better meet the needs of their students. Teachers' made connections within their portfolio entries that linked their professional growth to the curriculum interventions they implemented through the action research projects within a framework of continuous improvement.

Teacher Collaboration and Leadership

Finally, teachers' professional work made an impact inside and outside the classroom. Isolation and barriers often found in schools were broken down. The role of school teams, dialogue opportunities, seminars and learning community experiences were specifically implemented to give teachers a space and a place to share professional expertise and develop professionalism. Teachers clearly valued the opportunities to collaborate with their peers. One teacher wrote, "through the forums, I learned to respect another person's point of view without feeling threatened and to ask for help when I had run out of ideas or strategies. The forum provided me an avenue to vent and then problem solve with people who understood and could help."

Teachers also commented on program curriculum and features as supportive of teachers' professional development needs. For example, this teacher wrote, "the readings for the courses, the discussions, the writing, the research, and the rare and unique opportunity to interact with my peers about matters of education have given me much. All have helped me learn to listen, not just to others, but to myself, to evaluate, and to reflect." Another teacher wrote, "this program has given me the chance to express what I think, to listen to other voices and reflect on how it affects me, and to reflect on how I teach and how kids learn. I am still opinionated about things, but am more willing to discuss alternatives and find ways of meeting kids' needs in the classroom. I do realize that 'two heads are better than one', and by working with my teammates I have learned more than I expected. Mostly, I think I'm more sensitive to how I can help children who struggle and don't fit the mold. Teaming has given me the support as a teacher that I didn't really have before and it's because of the chances we've had to dialogue. I'm convinced that the more teachers work together and dialogue that positive changes can occur for children." Portfolio narratives were thick with descriptions highlighting curriculum experiences and program structures that supported individual professional growth.

Having opportunities to talk with other teachers, whether it was within a school team, cohort, seminar or whole class day was valued. Teachers reported on how this opportunity was unique and valuable to their own individual growth. Teachers gleaned ideas, exchanged instructional strategies, and were provided a sounding board and professional support. This teacher wrote, "the [electronic] forum gave me the encouragement I needed to use my autonomy to make decisions that would work for my students and me." Teachers were able to report on the interdisciplinary nature of the program and made connections of how each of the features supported one another in their professional growth.

Portfolio entries identified leadership roles, school-based work, peer interactions, community connections, conference presentations and publications as an outgrowth of their professional growth. It was not uncommon to find within teachers' portfolios letters of support, awards; newspaper articles that they felt documented their professional work outside of the program.

Teachers reported confidence, expertise and a willingness to share with others. One teacher wrote, "I have been provided a framework for me to begin to speak up about my convictions even though there remains the air of 'deafness.' This program has shown me that I have a voice worth listening to and to use it. Positive changes are bound to occur." It is within that spirit that teachers wrote about their professional growth as being hopeful that changes can and do occur in classrooms and schools.

Discussion

This authentic assessment model provided a richness of data that captured the often invisible interactive teaching and learning processes of classroom teachers as they struggled and grew as professionals. Using a thematic developmental portfolio model allowed teachers to construct and document the ways in which they grew as professionals when enrolled in a program that placed them at the center of their professional growth. Teacher developed themes provided a framework that allowed teachers to present visually and talk about their professional growth in personally meaningful ways. In addition, teacher narratives within the portfolios were imbedded with authentic evidence generated from program assignments, students' classroom work, etc. A careful examination of exit portfolios provided the program information on the ways in which its goals find their way into teachers' classrooms and what practicing teachers' work looks like within the realities and contexts in which they work.

Through the examination of teacher created exit portfolios our program was able to identify critical experiences, features, and program structures that enhance professional development. Programs of education need to pay careful attention to the readings and curricular experiences in which teachers are asked to engage. Text selection, curriculum exercises need to be designed and scaffolded for teachers to enter at a place where they can begin their own professional journey of growth. Teachers enrolled in our program reported meaningful engagement in professional work that allowed them to explore their own beliefs, assumptions and to systematically analyze the actions of their classroom practices. Teachers valued the expertise of others and gained a confidence to share and value their own knowledge and expertise. It is important that teachers have opportunities to explore and articulate their instructional practices and beliefs as a way to deepen professional understandings.

Allowing teachers opportunities to implement curriculum interventions and to seek out student experiences and ideas can engage classroom teachers and students in work that is valuable and meaningful. Teachers discovered the value of students becoming active participants in their own learning. Teachers opened the educational process to their students. Students became more active in their own educational learning and assessment experiences. Teachers began to build and enhance learning communities within their own classrooms as a result of program participation. Teachers exhibited professionalism by addressing individual learning needs, seeking out alternative explanations and acting as advocates in shaping classroom-learning experiences within our schools. One aspect of the program that didn't emerge in the exit portfolio was the role action research process played in professional development. While teachers did reference outcomes of action research (curriculum innovations) few teachers attributed action research in itself to be significant professional learning experience. Action research processes of data collection and analysis, a central feature, was not referenced as a "process" which enhanced their professional growth. It appears from these data, that teachers valued the curriculum implications of action research not the process itself. Only one teacher commented on how "the use of classroom-based research has shown me how much there is to learn by observing my students and other teachers." This finding is puzzling particularly in a program that hinges its curriculum on the role action research plays in reflection, curriculum development, and systematic inquiry as ways to connect and support teacher professional development.

Our Master's program creates supportive structures that promote reflective practice, continuous improvement, teacher research and collaborative learning opportunities among practicing professionals. We believe this validates the voices of teachers that have been sorely overlooked in teacher professional development models. In contrast to more standardized means of assessing teacher effectiveness, portfolio assessment demonstrates the value of trusting teachers as professionals as they work and document their professional growth. Providing teachers with an alternative assessment model gives teachers experience and confidence to use such methods with their students. This type of assessment can benefit teachers and clearly demonstrates the way in which classroom teachers can more effectively address the needs of their students and engage in individual professional development within the culture of schools.

Teacher education institutions need to make the often-invisible professional growth of classroom teachers more visible to other teachers and programs as a way to foster and expand the teacher knowledge base. Portfolio assessment embedded in reflective practice, action research and continuous improvement takes seriously the work of teachers and can begin to establish trust in teachers' ownership of meaningful professional growth to work towards the betterment of students' lives and program effectiveness. Practicing teachers need a supportive professional development model that integrates program features that are reported to support and sustain teacher professional development within the contexts of their work. Portfolios entries are assumed to be representative of areas of teacher identified professional growth. It is possible that there are other significant areas of professional growth that have not been documented within the exit portfolios. Program assessments at this portfolio level is based on the assumption that what teachers reference and connect to authentic evidence within their exit portfolios is important to their professional growth and are significant features that aid their professional growth. However, that may not be the case; they may not capture enough of how effective a school-based, professional development Master's degree program is.

We have looked at teacher professional development through the lens of portfolios constructed in one masters program. Further studies, using such similar authentic data, are needed if we are to fully understand the processes of professional development and continuous learning. Our data are self reports of teachers. From these data we conclude that the structures and experiences of this program have put into place processes of continuous learning and development. Confirming data would entail long term studies of teachers after they finish the program. Classroom observations, follow-up focus groups, and other such in-depth and on-site procedures may provide insights about whether teacher professional growth is sustained. We wonder: do teachers continue their professional growth after they leave the program when its supports and structures are no longer in place? Other questions that are unanswered in this study are: How and in what ways do portfolio sharing opportunities support teacher professional development? Would teachers learn from each other in examining their different constructions of the program? Teachers constructed individual portfolios and were provided with numerous opportunities for team sharing and portfolio entry construction. How did these interactive processes of construction support or hinder teachers' memories and understandings? And in what ways do teachers benefit from the exit portfolio sharing opportunity and dialogue about their instructional practices and growth? Further explorations of teachers' experiences in creating and compiling their thematic developmental portfolios would allow researchers to gain a better understanding of how teachers actually change their practice as a result of professional development.

Conclusion

Allowing teachers to construct their experience of the program--to name what mattered to them--deepens our understanding of professional development and change. It respects differences among teachers in their learning styles and needs. It encourages teachers to theorize their work--to point to significant aspects of change and consolidation and to attribute these to particular experiences and ideas. What we learned from this authentic assessment: teachers developed a stronger sense of self as they read, shared alternative perspectives and explored the cultures of their schools and communities, teachers discovered the value of students becoming active participants in their own learning as new curricular innovations were put into classroom practice, and teachers valued opportunities to collaborate and assumed leadership roles within schools and communities.

We open doors. Teachers enter or not. They make meaning of the experiences. They create new experiences and new meanings that we could never have anticipated or named. Developmental portfolios in this program provided an opportunity for reflection, construction of, and theorizing of continuous learning. Different experiences and opportunities affected individual teachers in different ways. This model of assessment made visible the interactive teaching and learning processes of classroom teachers and meaningful professional development experiences.

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Kayler, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education Initiatives in Educational Transformation program, at George Mason University.
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Author:Kayler, Mary A.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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