Tag Archives: culture

Portfolio culture and empowerment: some Brazilian challenges

By Clarissa Bezerra, Brasília, Brazil

EdConteXts facilitator Clarissa Bezerra shares her reflections on the value of portfolios as an assessment tool – and potential cultural challenges for implementation in her home country, Brazil.

Portfolios are a formative assessment tool which looks to place the student in the center of his own learning. Isabela Villas Boas cites a classical definition of portfolio in her very instructive post The Power of Portfolio Assessment. As cited by Isabela (highlights are mine):

“A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection” (Paulson et al., 1991, p. 60).

Reading in between the lines of this definition one may find that a powerful learning opportunity arises in the process of compiling a portfolio, for it presupposes the development of complex habits of mind, such as self-reflection and constructive self-critique, the application of which yields deeper learning experiences. Intellectual and academic self-knowledge will therefore be natural byproducts of the portfolio process.

Isabela also writes about her feeling that teachers might not embrace portfolio assessment because they think it to be too complex and difficult to implement. I share that feeling with her, and I would like to explore yet another level of such “resistance”, one that is cultural by nature, and which involves all agents in Brazilian education: teachers, students, parents, and educational leaders. It is my view that we Brazilians generally tend to avoid overvaluing ourselves in front of others, in the sense that it is not culturally desirable to showcase ourselves as unique individuals with unique talents. Let me make it clear that this is my personal view, and one which I would like to explore in an attempt to find possible ways by which such resistance might be overcome, so Brazilian students and teachers may come to enjoy the deep learning experiences offered by authentic assessment practices, such as portfolios.

Examining the definition above, we see that some key terms come to the fore, such as ‘student participation’, ‘judging merit’, and ‘student self-reflection’. How do each of those terms relate to the traditional educational culture in Brazil? I have shared my view of the Brazilian educational context in EdContexts before. Brazilian high school students are exhaustively trained for national standards exams, as well as college entrance exams, the latter being the ultimate goal in their getting an education in the first place. The college entrance process in Brazil does not entail student portfolio appraisal, as is common practice in the U.S., for example. To the contrary, all they need to do is get a certain score on a test, which will get them a spot in university, preferably a renowned federal or state university, such as UnB and USP to name a couple. Which is to say that the main goal of Brazilian high schools is to get as many of their students into university; therefore, there will certainly be lots of teaching to the test. With such an enormous amount of pressure on both teachers and students for high scores, where does ‘student participation’ or ‘student voice’ go in the process? Fortunately, there are a few Brazilian schools and a handful of educators pursuing authentic assessment practices, such as projects and portfolios with their students, but that is far from becoming a trend, in my view.

The terms ‘judging merit’ and ‘student self-reflection’ are closely connected, in that they depend on one another in the portfolio learning process. Again, students need to feel comfortable and confident in judging merit, which will ideally entail the adoption of authentic, collaborative assessment practices, such as peer revision. This is a behavior which is not culturally natural for us, Brazilians. We have a natural tendency of being complimentary to others and will normally react quite humbly to praising from others. In other words, Brazilians are very self-conscious about coming across as feeling any type of superiority. If there is something Brazilians dread it’s looking entitled in any context. Such behavior might partly have religious roots, but I don’t intend to pursue that here. These cultural behaviors will naturally favor a hierarchical order in the classroom, with teachers being the authority figures and students learning what they are told to learn, whichever way they are told to learn it. It reinforces the current discussion around the type of education our youth needs in the 21st century.

Which takes me to the role of teachers. Having been students in the same context, Brazilian teachers will need to become prepared to facilitate that process, overcoming this cultural barrier themselves first. That is no easy task. Teachers definitely need support and modelling from educational leaders. It is my view that once teachers become better acquainted and more comfortable with collaborative, networked professional development practices, as opposed to a top-down approach to teacher training, their self-confidence in adopting such collaborative and formative behaviors in the classroom will certainly increase. Once teachers feel empowered by a portfolio experience themselves, they might feel moved to encourage their students to pursue that path, encouraging their academic and personal growth by cultivating a portfolio. Anyone who blogs, or who has a digital portfolio of some kind knows the feeling of empowerment which comes from being read by an authentic audience, as well as from exploring their own voices on matters that they are passionate about.

What it all comes down to is this: if we ever hope for our students to enjoy the richness in learning that hinges on portfolio culture, we need to enable our teachers to feel the power that cultivating a personal portfolio may bring them in terms of self-knowledge, personal and professional development. It is the duty of teacher trainers and educational leaders in general to bring together the elements that will make up collaborative, teacher-driven professional development frameworks. In my recent experience, educational technology has been a potential catalyst for teacher engagement in their own professional development. Innovative teacher training practices will model innovative teaching and learning practices. We need to inspire teachers to take back their learning, to claim their own professional growth, and in the process, gain the pedagogical expertise, as well as develop the cultural behaviors and habits of mind which might enable this new learning culture to thrive in and out of the classroom.

How do you view portfolio culture in your context? How might we encourage teachers to engage in self-reflection by creating a portfolio of their own, and how might that impact our students’ learning experiences?

Share your reflections with us in the comments below.

Writing New Paths

By Éllen Cintra, Brasília, Brazil

“[Lat.,=day], a daily record of events and observations. As distinguished from memoir (an account of events placed in perspective by the author long after they have occurred), the diary derives its impact from its immediacy, requiring each generation of readers to supply its own perspective....” Source: www.seadict.com/en/en/diary

“Diary” is one of those words whose dictionary definition is unable to suggest the intensity and importance of what it means in real life. As a typical adolescent, I wrote quite a lot of diaries, but never had I imagined how strong the feelings shared could be or how much impact diaries could have on people’s lives and bonds.

2013. That was one of my best years teaching Portuguese to freshmen in High School. I had officially started to work as a public school teacher in October 2011, and I was fascinated by everything. I had many plans. I was excited and anxious to be with students and arouse their interest in literature and reading and writing, and creating… And… And that was it. Sadly enough, it seemed like I was the only one in such a desperate and passionate quest for learning. Continue reading Writing New Paths

Behind “Something is Rotten in the State of…Twitter”

By Bonnie Stewart, Prince Edward Island, Canada

This post emerged from a conversation between Bonnie Stewart (@bonstewart) and EdConteXts facilitator, Maha Bali (@Bali_Maha) following Bonnie’s post “Something is Rotten in the State of…Twitter.” It is an explanation of the thinking – and context – behind that post.

My house is currently infested with fruit flies. I have hidden all the fruit in the refrigerator, but still they come. They are last gasp of summer where I live, the swarm that makes it possible to look ahead to six months of winter as almost a reprieve. They make me think about rot, and what it feeds.

I ended up thinking mostly about Twitter.

I’ve been on Twitter seven years now. Initially, it was a space for real-time banter and discussion within my blogging network: when I started out online, my life was far removed from academia. As my identity has shifted back towards education and career, my Twitter circles have expanded to reflect each new facet: fellow Ph.D students, educators, researchers interested in the socio-cultural implications of technologies, people with something to say about identity in the 21st century. But the bloggers and mombloggers remain, and the para-academics who first walked with me through thinking about what it means to be online, together, in networked environments. Continue reading Behind “Something is Rotten in the State of…Twitter”

A Chinese-Australian’s Reflections on Language and Culture: a response to Bland Culture

By Tanya Lau, Sydney, Australia

I was inspired to reflect on my own experiences of language and culture by Ana Carolina Calil’s EdConteXts post Bland Culture. As an Australian-born Chinese, I found that much of her story of learning English as a Brazilian kid mirrored mine, of learning Chinese: “I remember being dragged to class because we HAD TO learn Cantonese”. I don’t recall being told it was “important for our future”; the reason we were given was more along the lines of “because YOU’RE Chinese” – whatever that meant.

Like Ana Carolina, we were taught a language without context; and adding to the alienation was a pedagogy based on learning by rote and repetition. A regular homework assignment from Chinese school was to copy sets of Chinese characters into rows of specially designed grid books using a traditional calligraphy quill and ink pot. It was fun…at first. But for a 7 year old, writing the same Chinese character into a 2x2cm square every week gets boring by about character no. 5, week 1 –turning what could have been an inspiring learning experience into a dreaded chore. The historical significance of calligraphy in Chinese culture was never explained – we were simply instructed to do. That Chinese school was on a Saturday didn’t help either: while our friends from school were playing, we were reciting or copying Chinese texts.

Chinese school photo

Chinese school, where my sister and I spent Saturdays learning Cantonese. Continue reading A Chinese-Australian’s Reflections on Language and Culture: a response to Bland Culture