The use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case study

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This article was downloaded by: [Florida State University]On: 12 November 2014, At: 13:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKReflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary PerspectivesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crep20The use of portfolios as a reflectivelearning tool in initial teachereducation: a Maltese case studyDeborah Chetcuti aa University of Malta , MaltaPublished online: 19 Feb 2007.To cite this article: Deborah Chetcuti (2007) The use of portfolios as a reflective learningtool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case study, Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary Perspectives, 8:1, 137-149, DOI: 10.1080/14623940601139111To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623940601139111PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. 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Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crep20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/14623940601139111http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623940601139111http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsReflective PracticeVol. 8, No. 1, February 2007, pp. 137149ISSN 1462-3943 (print)/ISSN 1470-1103 (online)/07/01013713 2007 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14623940601139111The use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education: a Maltese case studyDeborah Chetcuti*University of Malta, MaltaTaylor and Francis LtdCREP_A_213842.sgm10.1080/14623940601139111Reflective Practice1462-3943 (print)/1470-1103 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis81000000February 2007DeborahChetcutideborah.chetcuti@um.edu.mtThe paper explores the use of portfolios as a reflective learning tool in initial teacher education usingqualitative case study data from Malta. In January 2001, the Faculty of Education, University ofMalta, introduced the professional development portfolio (PDP). The aim of the study was toexplore whether student teachers used their PDP as a reflective learning tool and what they learntfrom the process of developing their PDP. The study shows that for the Maltese student teachersthe PDP did help them to reflect on their practice and grow and develop a sense of identity of whothey were as teachers. However, they were also very aware that their PDP would be used for employ-ment purposes. The tension between the formative and summative aspects of the PDP was resolvedby carrying out small group tutorial sessions during which student teachers could voice their views,share experiences and obtain feedback in a non-threatening environment. The learning which tookplace during these tutorial sessions was then used to develop a final presentation document.Portfolios in teacher educationPortfolios are becoming increasingly popular in all areas of higher education includ-ing teacher education. In teacher education the increased use of portfolios parallelsthe shift from a quantitative tradition of assessment to a more qualitative approach(Klenowski, 2002) and is a direct response to new societal realities, trends and needs(Sultana, 2005) in teacher education and assessment practices. Shulman (1998)describes a teaching portfolio as: the structured, documentary history of a set of coached or mentored acts of teachingsubstantiated by samples of student work and fully realized only through reflective writing,deliberation and serious conversation. (Shulman, 1998, p. 37)Implicit in this definition is the idea that the development of a teaching portfolioinvolves two aspects: the process and the product. The product in many cases*Department of Maths, Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Education, University ofMalta, Msida MSD 06, Malta. Email: deborah.chetcuti@um.edu.mtDownloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014138 D. Chetcutiincludes written material based on reflection, collections of various forms of dataand, where appropriate, claims to professional competence and achievementssupported by evidence (Harland, 2005, p. 327). The process as described by Winsorand Ellefson (1995) involves the reflection, rationalization, selection and evaluationwhich is involved in the compilation of the portfolio. In this way, the development ofthe portfolio is dynamic and ongoing, and as argued by Wolf (1996), based ondialogue and deliberation which allow the richest portrayal of the teacher.In initial teacher education programmes, portfolios can serve a number of differentpurposes. They can be used by student teachers to make a statement about theirpersonal philosophy of teaching (Hildebrand, 2005); to document their experiences,thoughts, actions and subsequent learning about teaching (Loughran & Corrigan,1995); as an avenue for reflection on individual strengths and weaknesses leading topersonal growth and development (Klenowski, 2002); and as a showcase documentproviding a window into the teaching and learning achievements of the student teacherand valuable insights for a prospective employer (Andrews et al., 2002). Portfoliosencourage student teachers to document and describe their skills and competence asteachers (Mosely, 2004), promote student learning, professional development andreflection, and provide evidence for evaluation (Stone, 1998).The portfolio may be used in a summative manner to document performance andachievement for employment purposes (Andrews et al., 2002), and as a reflectivelearning tool to help student teachers understand their strengths and weaknessesand set targets for themselves (Richert, 1990). The evidence in the literaturesuggests that these two purposes may be in conflict and that the development of aportfolio for employment purposes hinders its function as a learning tool for studentteachers. Mosely (2004) argues that the students focus on the "showcase" aspectsof portfolios and presenting a favourable image to prospective employers is some-times in conflict with the goal of using the portfolio for professional developmentand assessment (p. 65). However, McMullan et al. (2003) note that while thesummative aspect of the portfolio undermines student ownership, student teachersdid not give value to the portfolio unless they were going to get some credit forhaving completed it.There is also conflicting evidence in the literature as to whether portfolios actuallyaffect or improve the learning of student teachers. Darling-Hammond and Snyder(2000) suggest that there is some evidence that portfolios have the potential topromote learning. Similarly, Vavrus and Collins (1991) found that student teacherswho used portfolios became more reflective and critical, and Kilbane and Milman(2003) suggest that reflecting upon their work during and after the creation processcan remind student teachers of their accomplishments, enhancing their self-esteemas competent learners. On the other hand there is also evidence which suggeststhat in some cases the development of the portfolio remained simply a selectionof artefacts and was not transformed into meaningful evidence (Delandshere &Arens, 2003). Mosely (2004) also reports that the student teachers in a studycarried out in a University in Ohio, found that the values of their portfolio were tooabstract and already existed in other parts of their professional education experience;Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014Portfolios as a reflective tool 139the student teachers therefore began to consider the portfolios as intrusive and justadditional busy work. McMullan et al. (2003) and Scholes et al. (2003) in theirreview of portfolio use in nursing education found that the extent to which studentsengaged in self-directed learning depended on both the students and the supportthey receive.The contextIn many European countries (EURYDICE, 2002) there has been a shift from compe-tence-based teacher training towards more professionally-oriented training. The newchallenges facing prospective teachers require them to assume a new role calling forskills other than the ability to teach a particular subject (EURYDICE, 2002, p. 19).Such skills include the ability to critically reflect, link theory and practice, the abilityto develop strategies to deal with the complex and unique situations of teaching andan understanding of what they actually did know and how that knowledge wasacquired (Sultana, 2005, p. 236).These trends in initial teacher education have also taken place in Malta which since2004 has formed part of the European Union. The Faculty of Education, Universityof Malta which to date is the sole agent responsible for the pre-service education ofteachers has slowly moved towards the reflective practitioner model, moving awayfrom a skills-based approach to teacher development to one of personal reflection asa means of teacher formation (Bezzina & Camilleri, 2001). With this move towards agreater emphasis on the professional development of prospective teachers rather thanon their acquisition of subject knowledge, the need was felt for the introduction oftools within the Faculty of Education, University of Malta, which would allowstudent teachers to engage in critical reflection and lead to further learning. Atthe same time, the introduction of a National Minimum Curriculum (Ministry ofEducation, 1999) led to a shift from an assessment system dominated by examina-tions for certification and selection to one which values formative assessment andindividual learning. This change in assessment practices in schools provided theFaculty of Education with the opportunity to review its own assessment practices(Chetcuti et al., 2006, p. 101).Following a number of debates and seminars within the Faculty of Education, theprofessional development portfolio (PDP) was introduced in 2001 for its B.Ed.(Hons.) secondary student teachers. The PDP was introduced in the Faculty ofEducation for two main reasons. The first reason was that following internationaltrends there was a strong move for assessment practices in the Faculty of Educationto change from assessment of learning and providing students with a summativejudgement in the form of a mark or grade, towards assessment for learning where thestudent teachers are provided with constant support from lecturers to help themimprove their work and their practice in schools (Chetcuti, 2006). Student teachershad often complained that they had nothing much to show for themselves when theywent for job interviews other than a transcript with marks and grades which did notreally reflect who they were as teachers. It was hoped that the PDP would provideDownloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014140 D. Chetcutithem with a tool containing tangible evidence of the skills and competencies whichthey had developed throughout the course.The second reason for introducing the PDP was to encourage the idea of thereflective practitioner (Schn, 1991). It was hoped that in the compilation of theirPDP the student teachers would engage in critical reflection which would lead tofurther learning and help them grow and develop as professionals. In Malta, themodel of initial teacher education is the concurrent model, where student teachersfollow study-units in content and general educational studies at the same time. Asargued by Sultana (2005) the fact that subject matter studies and professional studiesare taught concurrently does not automatically mean that the two areas are related inany pedagogically fruitful manner in the prospective teachers mind (p. 235). It washoped that the PDP would help to strengthen the link between the theoretical andpractical elements of the course and encourage critical reflection which would allowthe student teachers to develop their own philosophy of teaching and learning.The professional development portfolio (PDP)The PDP includes an introductory section which outlines the philosophy andpurpose. The introduction is followed by seven sections which focus on the areas ofprofessional knowledge, the teaching and learning process, management skills, infor-mation and communications technology, monitoring pupil learning, other profes-sional qualities and community involvement, and professional development. For eachsection the PDP identifies different artefacts which can be included and a number ofreflective tasks which encourage the student teachers to reflect on the selection of theartefacts, what they think they have learnt and allows them to also set targets forfuture development. The PDP was developed in a way that it can easily be compiledby student teachers on their own initiative. However, like the student teachers in astudy by Harland (2005), the student teachers found it difficult to compile the PDPon their own.Therefore, in order to help student teachers develop their PDP the Faculty ofEducation also set up a number of tutorial groups led by methodology tutors from thedifferent subject areas in the Faculty of Education. In these tutorial groups studentteachers would discuss the types of artefacts which could be included in their PDP,their reflective writings and the overall learning which they were engaged in through-out the course and their teaching practicum. The Faculty of Education also publishedA guide to the professional development portfolio (Assessment Committee, Faculty ofEducation, 2003). The guide outlined the objectives for each tutorial session, andsuggested student activities including tasks to initiate the process of portfolio devel-opment. Similar to the students in the study by Harland (2005) it was in this forumthat students had an opportunity to develop different critical perspectives and testtheir assumptions and biases (p. 335). Loughran and Corrigan (1995) also suggestthat tutorial sessions offer student teachers a safe, trusting and non-judgementalenvironment in which to explore their views and to reflect on their teaching and learn-ing (p. 568).Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014Portfolios as a reflective tool 141MethodIn May 2005 the first group of B.Ed. (Hons.) students who started working on theirPDP in 2001, presented their professional development portfolios (PDPs). This firstgroup of students had developed a summative document for employment purposesand through the tutorial sessions they had engaged in reflective evaluation of theirwork. I was interested in exploring the extent to which student teachers used the PDPas a reflective learning tool for their own personal and professional development.The study made use of questionnaires which were handed out to the whole cohortof B.Ed. (Hons.) fourth year students (72) out of which 46 returned the completedquestionnaires (Table 1). Furthermore, individual interviews with a group of eightscience students were carried out. The questionnaire included a number of openended questions which tried to get as much information about the student teachersviews regarding the PDP. However, in order to get a more in depth view of the expe-riences of some of the students, individual interviews were also used. I chose to useboth types of data since as stated by Maykut and Morehouse (1994) human situa-tions and human beings are too complex to be captured by a static one-dimensionalinstrument (p. 27).In both the questionnaires and interviews the students were assured of anonymityand they were not asked to give their names. Of course since I knew the students whoparticipated in the interviews, I assured them that their names would not be disclosedand pseudonyms used in the text. I also assured them that their honesty would bevalued and that I was looking for their true opinion. In this case the relationship oftrust which I had already developed with the students ensured that the participantswere as natural as possible during the interview situation. Like Griffiths (1998) Ibelieved that working with the students in conditions of trust and safety would leadme to opinions which could lead to the improvement of the PDP.The purpose of the PDPThe majority of the Maltese student teachers who responded to the questionnairethought that the main purpose for which they were compiling their PDP was for theirgrowth and development as teachers, and for the improvement of their learningthrough reflection. As stated by a student teacher: Developing this portfolio has been a truly deep experience for me as a professional. It hasamplified my strengths and through reflection and questioning has brought me face to faceTable 1. Number of students who completed questionnaireSciences Arts and languages Total number of studentsFemale 12 10 22Male 13 10 23No answer 1 1Total number of students 25 21 46Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014142 D. Chetcutiwith my weaknesses. While giving me the opportunity to build on my strengths andimprove in particular areas this has also improved my skills as a reflective practitioner. Ithas given me a truly holistic vision of who I am as a professional teacher!Other reasons given were to keep a record of their work, to understand their futurerole as teachers and for empowerment (Table 2). This is similar to what is reportedin the study by Loughran and Corrigan (1995) who state that: the focus of the portfolio was for the student teachers to develop their own philosophyof what it means to be a science teacher. To do this they had to deliberately link a varietyof ideas from their experiences and make judgements about these ideas by thinking aboutand questioning their own learning; being metacognitive. (Loughran & Corrigan 1995,p. 573)In another study by Winsor et al. (1999), students found that preparing, creating andpresenting their portfolios fostered a spirit of inquiry within themselves and ledtowards clearer articulation and demonstration of their observations about them-selves as teachers (p. 18).Using the PDP for employmentWhen stating their views regarding the purpose of the PDP only three students (N =46) state that they think that the purpose of the PDP is to use in job interviews.However, when the student teachers were then asked how they thought that theywould use their PDP in the future, the majority of student teachers (23 out of 46)stated that they would definitely use the PDP for employment purposes (Table 3).Table 2. The purpose of the PDPPurposeNumber of students(N = 46)1. Growth and development through reflection 292. Record of work 83. For job interviews 34. Understanding of future career 25. For empowerment 16. No response 3Table 3. How student teachers think that they will use their PDP.How student teachers think they will use their PDPNumber of students(N = 46)1. For job interviews and employment 232. Further professional development 143. To relive the university experience 64. No response 3Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014Portfolios as a reflective tool 143A student teacher who responded to the questionnaire linked all three reasons inher statement of how she thought that she would use her PDP. She states:Definitely for employment reasons because it illustrates all my strong points. It will alsoact as a constant reminder in my future career to always combine theory and reflectionwith practice.Another student teacher stated that she had already used her PDP for a job inter-view and the prospective employer had used it to stimulate the discussion during theinterview. She says: For interviews when searching for a job. In fact, I already used it for an interview, andthe interviewer seemed to have liked my PDP as he went through it page by page andasked questions on it. Maybe Ill continue to develop my PDP as I gain more experiencein teaching A number of students (14 out of 46) also suggested that they would continue todevelop their PDP even after finishing the course and even after using it for a jobinterview. In an interview Simon states: It is an important part of the course as you can show what you can do as a teacher. I hopethat I will continue to use it as a teacher and not forget everything. I hope to continue tolook at it from time to time so that I can remember These priorities are very similar to those set by the students at Monash University.Loughran and Corrigan (1995) write: The primary role is to take to an interview, to show what they had learnt about teachingand learning in science and as a vehicle for reflection, useful in the future and they wroteabout continuing to develop and add to their portfolio and using it to look back over forreminders/ideas when teaching. (Loughran & Corrigan, 1995, p. 571)The PDP as a reflective learning toolLoughran and Corrigan (1995) argue that the ability to better understand the natureof an individuals learning is enhanced through the development of teaching portfo-lios giving access to student teachers learning about pedagogies (p. 566). They statethat for student teachers reflection on experience was a crucial aspect of meaningfullearning (p. 573). Current learning theories have shifted from a passive view ofknowledge transmission to a more active view of knowledge construction (Bruner,1990). For Klenowski (2002) constructivist views of learning see the learner as anactive interpreter and constructor of knowledge based on experiences and interac-tions with the environment (p. 123). The learner is actively involved in making senseof new knowledge and integrating it within previously held concepts and ideas.The implication of this in initial teacher education is that within a constructivistparadigm the student teacher learns by constantly examining and re-examining his orher practice, and through reflection in-action or reflection on-action (Schn, 1991)reformulating ideas about teaching and learning and using them to develop new waysof solving problems and new ideas about how to deal with situations in the classroom.Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014144 D. ChetcutiWithin this framework reflecting on experience is important so that student teachershave an opportunity to reconsider their point of view and to see the situation in differ-ent ways (Loughran & Corrigan, 1995, p. 568) and to discover new ways of respond-ing to situations as well as seeing and implementing solutions (Lee & Loughran,2000). This is important because when students engage in critical thinking theydevelop insights not only into the concepts themselves but also into the learningprocess itself (Thorpe, 2004). Harland (2005) suggests that the portfolio provides aspace in which ideas can be tested and new knowledge created through the systematicprocesses of examining relevant data, critical reflection and writing (p. 329).The initial path to reflectionInitially student teachers find it hard to understand the idea of the portfolio and howthey can use it to grow and develop as teachers. All eight student teachers interviewedcommented that initially they could not really understand what the portfolio was allabout and they looked at it as another burden which had to be completed but whichthey would get nothing out of. This reluctance was also observed by Groom andMaunonen-Eskelinen (2006) who found that in both the UK and Finland althoughstudents were generally positive about their experiences in collating their portfoliossome students reported an initial reluctance and some trepidation in beginning theirwork on it (p. 297).It was only as they went through the tutorial sessions, when they started to actu-ally compile the artefacts, reflect, select and evaluate that things started to makesense and it was only when they held the final PDP in hand that they could appreci-ate all that had been involved in its development. This is exemplified in the words ofGraziella: Before you start you say how am I going to choose the pieces of work but then whenyou start looking through the work you feel satisfied that at the end of four years you havesomething to show and you see all the good work that you have done and not only thebad you look over all the work from the first year until now and you say it was worthsomething I learnt something from it it helps you to stop and think about thingswhich usually just pass like that Harland (2005) also reports that the students in his study initially relied veryheavily on the introductory guidelines and initial writings were very descriptive. Hestates that the task took on deeper meaning only gradually and it sometimes took avery long time for evidence of critical writings to emerge. Similar difficulties are alsodescribed by Mosely (2004) who found that students needed assistance from Facultyon the reflection process of their work, extended engagement in the ongoing portfolioprocess and the understanding of how the portfolios would be used in conjunctionwith other forms of assessment. This lack of confidence and needing to actuallydevelop the portfolio before seeing its value is also reported by Scholes et al. (2003)who suggest that until students and mentors had the experience of this process andsome assurance that what they had done and the way they had done it met they expec-tations they did not feel confident (p. 601).Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014Portfolios as a reflective tool 145Engaging with reflectionWhen asked what they had learnt from the experience of developing their PDP, themajority of student teachers (36 out of 46) responded that the PDP had helped themto reflect on their practice and develop into professional teachers. The four mainaspects of reflection included: 1. Reflection in order to be able to tackle situations better. It makes you realize what aspects of teaching are important for example assessment Iused to think that it was only exams but the portfolio made me realize that there are otheraspects of it and it helped me to reflect on other things that I could do.2. Reflection in order to critically evaluate strengths and weaknesses in order toimprove. I critically reflected on my strengths and weaknesses and saw how much I have improvedand accomplished in these four years and this allowed me to continue to develop.3. Reflection to construct a personal identity. It seems that you are constructing some kind of identify and style of your own teachingachievements and it helps you to identify areas for improvement I learnt how to expressmyself and how to portray my current image as a teacher through reflective writing.4. Reflection to relate theory to practice. I have appreciated that theory and practice are inextricably linked. It is a must that theoryshould guide everyday experience in order to render it even more effective This seems to indicate that the majority of students who developed their portfolio didlearn from the experience. As stated by Banta (2003): Students learn from the experience of developing a portfolio. As they make selections forinclusion and reflect on what they have learned, they make connections between compo-nents of a course and among courses in their curriculum and thus derive new meaningfrom their educational experiences. (Banta, 2003, p. 4)The importance given by students to the idea of reflection is possibly a direct resultof the emphasis placed on reflection both in the PDP as well as in the Guide to the PDP(Assessment Committee, 2003) which are used by tutors and student teachers in thetutorial sessions. The importance of reflection is made explicit and skills of reflectionsare developed in the tutorial sessions. This results in the use of portfolios for identitybuilding (Dysthe & Englesen, 2004).The development of the PDP was not a positive learning experience for all of thestudents. Some of the students (3 out of 46) could not understand the idea of theportfolio. For these students the compilation of the portfolio was simply an exercisein the collection of artefacts and nothing more. Since they did not engage with thereflective aspect of the portfolio it was just simply a repetition of other assignments orthe compilation of evidence which they had already carried out for their teachingpractice. In an interview Roger states:Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014146 D. ChetcutiI did not learn much from it it is just putting things together. I learnt much more frommy teaching practice reports and feedback from students but this didnt help much.Clearly these students failed to engage with the reflective process embedded withinthe development of the portfolio and the simple compilation did not result in anylearning or modification of previously held views. As described by Winsor et al.(1991): In the absences of a deep personal understanding of the professional benefitsof the portfolio process students took on the task as a university assignment of uncer-tain value (p. 29)The majority of students however, gradually moved on from this disassociationwith the portfolio to a deeper understanding of how the portfolio processes bringuseful affirmations, insights and an inventing of their potential teaching styles(Winsor et al., 1991, p. 29). For these student teachers the PDP does make a differ-ence and as stated by a student teacher: The PDP helped me develop as a teacher. I think its the fact that you compare andcontrast yourself throughout the years that makes a difference. I have mostly appreciatedthe chance it has provided me to look back over these hectic years at University and witnesshow I have succeeded to tap on and develop my potential as I would have wished ithelped me to become more aware of myself and gave me a holistic view of who I am.Moving on to a community of shared practiceThere has been much debate in the literature regarding the private and public natureof portfolios. Jay and Johnson (2002) suggest that some aspects of the life of a studentteacher may be too distressing to share with others. Harland (2005) argues that port-folios should be a private endeavour and function as a critical space for the writer ratherthan a means whereby a teacher can gain insight into the life and processes of thestudent (p. 333). Despite his belief that portfolios should be a private documentHarland (2005) also states that learning can only take place if the portfolio experiencesare shared within small-group tutorials. He states that it was in this forum that studenthad an opportunity to develop different critical perspectives and test their assumptionsand biases (p. 335). Interviews with trainees in the UK and Finland indicated that theyrequired a supportive framework from tutors to feel secure in their use of the portfolioto develop and further their reflective practice (Groom & Maunonen-Eskelinen, 2006).In the Maltese context the PDP is a public document which is shared with tutorsand also with peers within small group tutorial sessions. Like Harland (2005) I wouldargue that it was these small group tutorials which allowed student teachers to sharetheir portfolio experience, discuss problem situations, talk through new ideas, refor-mulate these ideas and resolve issues or dilemmas which made a difference to the useof the PDP as a learning tool or not. The compilation of the PDP on its own wouldnot have been complete without the insightful discussions and without the feedbackwhich the student teachers obtained from tutors and peers regarding their experi-ences, and their reflective writing. As stated a student teacher: I believe that feedback is a vital stage in the process of development. Since were still inex-perienced and we need to develop as teachers feedback is essential. I used the feedback toDownloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014Portfolios as a reflective tool 147improve my insights and my writings. It helped me to produce something which I wasreally proud of in the end. It is very powerful to see how others view me and how I canuse these views to improve my performance.For Simon one of the student teachers interviewed, the group tutorials were thecatalyst which made the development of the PDP a worthwhile experience. He states: The group tutorials were very important as we shared ideas as a group it made me real-ize that my reflections were very descriptive and through the feedback in the tutorialsessions I learned how to be more critical.The supportive environment created in the tutorial sessions allowed the Maltesestudent teachers to feel free to express their views, describe all kinds of experiencesand use problematic situations to try and improve their practice. Through feedbackand interaction the PDP becomes an important tool for effective learning and allowsstudent teachers and tutors to grow in a community of shared practice (Elwood &Klenowski, 2002, p. 243).ConclusionsThis paper explored whether portfolios can be used to develop reflective practice ininitial teacher training and provide student teachers with a summative documentoutlining their achievements. Within the competitive examination structure of theUniversity, there has been a lot of initial scepticism about this both among tutors andstudent teachers in the Faculty of Education. The data presented in this papersuggests that the PDP does have an impact on the development of reflective practiceand the way in which student teachers perceive themselves.The PDP was developed following examples of portfolios used in other universi-ties (Loughran & Corrigan, 1995; Klenowski, 2002; Mosely, 2004). It was devel-oped in a very formal and prescriptive structure in order to help student teachersunderstand better what was expected of them. However, the student teachers whoparticipated in the study followed their own path of reflection and created PDPswhich departed from the structured format imposed by the Faculty of Educationleading them to their own personal expression of who they were as teachers. Thekind of support they needed was not a predetermined outline but a supportiveenvironment which allowed them the freedom to discuss their views and ideas andobtain feedback from their tutors and peers regarding their growth in the course.Through the reflective writings both the student teachers themselves as well as thetutors and future employers who review the portfolios get a glimpse into the life ofan initial teacher, their struggles, their initial beliefs, and the change which takesplace from their first year in the course until their final year when they emerge asbeginning teachers in schools. Within the Faculty of Education which constantlystrives to ensure that teachers at the start of their profession are fully equipped todeal with classroom and school situations the PDP becomes a powerful reflectivetool of professional and personal teacher growth and development (Lyons, 1998,p. 12).Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 13:52 12 November 2014148 D. ChetcutiAcknowledgementsThis paper would not have been possible without the collaboration of AntonCardona, Josephine Milton and Terence Portelli. I would like to thank them for theirconstant support and co-operation in collecting data from student-teachers andtaking the time to discuss and challenge the ideas which are expressed in this paper.Notes on contributorDeborah Chetcuti is senior lecturer in science education at the Faculty of Education,University of Malta. Her teaching and research focus on the use of formativeassessment in science, teaching science through storytelling and drama and theuse of professional portfolios in higher education.ReferencesAndrews, S. P., Ducharme, A. & Cox, C. (2002) Development and use of electronic portfolios inpreservice education. 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