Rethinking Written Reports


I wrote the following post after our last reporting period, but never published it. Just found it again and thought it was worth sharing as another reporting period is approaching …

Yesterday my daughter got her grade 3 report card. As an educator it was a really eye opening experience to witness her reaction. As a teacher at her school I know first hand how much effort her teachers have put into redesigning her report card so that it truly reflects learning and gives her (and us) lots of information to help guide her learning. I thought it was awesome. She didn’t think so. On the first page was a very nicely written summary of her learning, written by her teacher. It said lots of nice things about her, but in the middle there was a sentence encouraging her to speak up more in class. I have written lots of those sentences, and I have always done it with the best of intentions. After all, we all have something we can work on and so it would make sense to put it in a report. However, as a result of this sentence my daughter started to feel bad about herself and was unable to process all the great stuff all the teachers said about her in the rest of the report. I am waiting for a bit of time to pass and then we will revisit the report.

At my end of the school I have been leading a charge for two years to move towards a system of assessment and reporting that does not include grades and reports. With my educator lens on I know that this is the right way forward. We have to get kids focused on their learning, not on getting grades. We have to teach our students how to be resilient when they don’t do as well as they wanted, and how to bounce back and use feedback they get to inform their actions moving forward. I am really proud of the reports we produced. They included detailed course descriptions, heartfelt personal comments and detailed feedback on learning focused through the different IB MYP subject criteria, They give the students and parents so much more information to go on. For the most part I think they were a success, but not in all cases, and that has given me pause to reflect.

In the old report system, where all the learning was crunched down to a number, reports were a lot less personal. A lot of things that a student did well, or could do better, were left unsaid. As a result a student could receive a report with lots of A’s and feel good about themselves and move on. With our new reporting system there is a lot more information, which from an educator viewpoint is great, but from the point of view of the student this means that there will be a few sentences like ‘she could speak up more in class’ that can make it difficult to focus on all the other good stuff in the report. When the messiness of learning is laid out in more detail the report gets a lot more personal, and as a result it can get much more difficult to absorb and process.

So I have started to wonder what the purpose is of written reports. Clearly it serves a beaurocratic role. But what role does it play in the education of a child. A big part seems to be about communicating to parents about how their child is doing. After all we are writing a ‘report’ on the child. But in terms of the child themselves I am struggling to see how it helps them grow more confident and take control of their learning. No matter how you try and frame it, when we write reports we are making judgements about children, and that takes the child out of the process. What this week has taught me is that if we are going to write reports that dig deeper into how a student is learning we have an extra responsibility to involve the students in the reporting process. There should be no surprises on a report card! The students should be working with the assessment criteria all term and should be regularly self assessing themselves. They should know how they are doing in the course well before the report comes out and be given a chance to try and show evidence of further meeting outcomes if they want to (note: this is different than bonus marks). They should be able to take the report home and give their parents a detailed explanation of the entire report based on a solid understanding of the feedback in it. There should be no shocks.

The reality is that around report card time teachers are exhausted and tired. There are final assessments to do, portfolios to mark, reports to write etc. As much as we all have good intentions about including students in the process it often falls by the wayside. If we are serious about revising assessment and reporting we can’t let this happen. If we do, we run the risk of our new, more descriptive reports actually demotivating a section of our student population.

So, after two years of working to change our assesment and reporting systems I am starting to wonder about the role of reports in our student’s learning process. The truth is that none of us like to read about things we could improve on. We need to hear about it in context from an understanding mentor who can read out body language and give us the feedback we need in the momet. A written report is too impersonal. I have just read a great blog post by George Couros in which he talks about how we often get caught up in teaching a subject or grade, instead of a child. It really resonated with me. If I were a child I would want to get my feedback from a person I trust who can help me figure out what to do with it. I wouldn’t want to read it on a piece of paper.

That’s it. I think I have run out of thoughts. Except that next reporting period I resolve to use the repot as a way to pump up my students. Maybe I will challenge myself to only write postive things, and I will give all the other feedback in person.

Thanks to Mark Gstohi on Flickr for the report card image


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