“Effective teaching statements and teaching portfolios” workshop notes

Below are my notes from another of UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies workshops, this time on the subject of creating an effective teaching statement and a teaching portfolio. The workshop was held on Thursday, February 20th.

A teaching portfolio = “a coherent set of materials including work samples and reflective commentary on them compiled by a faculty member [or graduate student] to represent his or her teaching practice as related to student learning and development.” (Hutchings, 1996)

  • a useful tool for…
    • identifying areas for improvement
    • developing your teaching methods/approach
    • documenting your teaching experience
    • preparing for academic interviews
  • focus today = preparing for the academic job interview
    • “the product of preparing a teaching portfolio may not be as useful to you in the long-run as the process

Portfolio content:

  • depends on the purpose
    • job search
    • awards application
    • promotion & tenure
  • varies across disciplines
  • linked to your goals for teaching & learning
  • three primary components:
    • roles & responsibilities
    • teaching statement
    • evidence of effective teaching

(1) Teaching responsibilities:

  • include: course number, course title, brief course description, course level (first year undergraduates/sophomores/juniors), date(s) taught, enrollment (number of students in course, maximum number allowed), description of your role in the course (recitation leader, instructor)
    • list these in reverse chronological order
      • be sure to update constantly, just as you would your C.V.
    • if haven’t taught courses, think about including very specific information on courses you would like to teach
    • a good option for your portfolio = to list these courses in table format (for easy browsing of your experience)

(2) Teaching statement:

  • need to get to the point where you can articulate “why you teach the way you teach” within a 30-second “elevator speech”
  • 1-2 page (single-spaced) statement that addresses:
    • What do you want students to do/learn? (learning objectives)
      • e.g. “I want students to become effective writers. I want them to formulate and articulate a stance through and in their writing.”
    • How do you help them learn? (methods)
      • e.g. “I use brief, in-class writing assignments to help students synthesize and critically evaluate information.”
    • How do you know if they’ve learned it? (assessment)
      • e.g. “I evaluate students’ blog posts in terms of content, synthesis, and relevance. Students are given examples of good posts and the grading criteria prior to the assignment.”
    • How do you measure your effectiveness?
      • e.g. “Every three to four weeks, I end the class by asking students to respond briefly to two questions: What’s the most important thing you learned today? and What questions still remain unanswered? Their responses help me identify what they understood from the discussion and what concepts are still unclear.”
  • NOT about telling your general “teaching philosophy” –> show, don’t just tell
    • the person(s) reading this statement are interested in what you’ve accomplished, learned, thought about more than simply what you think/believe
  • Keep in mind that a good teaching statement is:
    • concrete, personal/individualized, vivid, discipline specific, somewhat humble, all about student learning
  • Remember: Not all teaching takes place in the classroom. Think broadly about your contributions to student learning.
    • e.g. mentoring of undergraduate students can be included because it IS teaching; same for tutoring, for example

(3) Evidence of effective teaching:

  • include materials from:
    • oneself: syllabus, teaching sample, narrative reflection
    • colleagues: observation notes/summary, syllabus or material reviews/letters by recommenders
      • letters by faculty/other recommenders can be a particularly strong part of your teaching portfolio IF they are specific about your teaching
    • students: course ratings, comments, products/evidence of learning outcomes, letters, individual samples and aggregated summaries (anonymized & showing progress over the course of the semester)
      • offer raw data from course evaluations (to offer a fuller representation of your evaluations by students) BUT include samples that promote you as a teacher
  • other examples of evidence: list of courses taught, sample syllabi, sample assignments, sample quizzes/exams, teaching awards, evaluations by peers
  • when including student ratings/evaluationsbe selective:
    • choose items that link to your major claims
    • use a matrix/table to display and organize the evaluation questions you are using
    • provide mean (and median) ratings
    • include narrative commentary –> write about some of the feedback you’ve received to respond to criticism and/or illustrate ways you’ve responded to criticism and changed your teaching as a result
    • include selection of student comments that relate back to some of your major teaching goals
    • if appropriate, include complete evaluations in appendices (depends on the discipline)

Portfolio organization: (physical copy)

  • narrative description of teaching roles & responsibility
  • teaching statement
    • description of select teaching methods and strategies
    • highlighted teaching outcomes
    • insights/reflections and new goals
  • appedices (supporting data, documents, letters, etc.)
  • could maintain a physical copy to take with you to a job interview, although it will probably be infrequent that you will be asked to provide a physical copy

Qualities of a “strong” portfolio:

  • readability: format, headings, coherent, cohesive
  • storyline or “picture”: memorable fact/image, clear examples given
  • linked system of objectives, efforts, outcomes, adjustments: evidence that efforts do pay off or are changed

Revise, revise, revise:

  • remember your teaching statement = a work in progress
  • consider the suggestions of others and rewrite your statement over time
  • proofread carefully
    • remember that your statement is a writing sample –> you will be judged on the quality of your writing as much as the content

Final tips:

  • start now
  • be selective
  • don’t make any claims about your teaching you can’t document
  • don’t create your portfolio in isolation
  • consider it a work in progress
  • make cumulative tables & annual review narratives

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