Monday, November 11, 2013

Report Cards-3 Do's and some Woes

It is that time of year, report card time. Ahhhh...the age-old report card. Our children are deemed worthy or unworthy based on that letter or numerical grade that you see while sitting in front of your exhausted teachers 3 times a year. I've written enough report cards to know that there is so much more to your children than a grade or a number, but yet we have never moved away from this system. Do I believe the system is flawed? Yes. Do I wish there was a universal way to express difficulties and strengths? Yes. However, here we are, still requiring teachers to submit grades. Here are some do's and woes of writing report cards.

1. Do-Be specific. Saying that Johnny is a "really nice boy" not only prevents the parents from intervening and helping, but it is essentially null and void to the teacher who ends up with Johnny in their class next year. Saying he is a "nice boy" won't help the teacher who tests Johnny the following year, and sees that he is 2 years below his grade-level, and has a D- in Reading from you the year before. Oh, Johnny is 3 grade-levels behind in reading? Well, being a "nice boy" should make up for that, right? NO!
If you are going to give a child a grade, be specific in your comments, so the parents and future teachers will have a clue as to how the child received that grade. It is a huge pain in the rear to be overly-specific, but it is a public service, really.
Here is an example:
Johnny is receiving a D- in reading.  Report card comments with some specificity benefit all stakeholders!
Johnny struggles with reading comprehension and fluency. His early assessments reflect that he is reading at a ______ reading level. Typically, students in our grade level read at a ____ to ____ reading level. He has performed poorly on tests, and in-class assignments, which resulted in a grade that does not meet grade-level proficiency. In the classroom, I alternate between reading whole-class, and in small groups. I have modified Johnny's reading by including the following interventions: (List any and all modifications). Johnny's reading proficiency would be greatly benefitted by being read to at home, as well as following along with an audio version of a text while reading. Please have Johnny read 20-30 minutes at home.
This gives the parent something they can specifically do, and also gives anyone else who views this report card a tangible idea of who this child really is, and what they struggle with.

2. Do-Start with a positive. I know it seems obvious, but it isn't. We as teachers loathe when your students use the word "nice" in writing, or "sweet", but teachers are the worst offenders! Try to find something redeeming to say, even if you have to search to the depths of your soul for that comment. Starting out with a "Peyton has always been there to lend a helping hand, and I truly appreciate that" goes a long way with parents. The parents who have a tyrant know it, and they know you're going to bring it up during the conference. Buy yourself some brownie points, and start out with a wonderful pat on the back. Then you can get down to the nitty-gritty.

3. Do-Be honest. I think it is important, as uncomfortable as it may make the conference, to be honest with parents. I want to go back to #1, where we talked about specifics, because I think it applies here. Saying that Michael "constantly disrupts class" is one thing, but saying "Michael disrupts class by throwing things, becoming physical with classmates, and defies authority" really allows parents the opportunity to understand what "disruption" is in your opinion. Allow the parents and future teachers to understand what is at hand. Elaborate on the reasons why the child is having difficulty at school, and why a "U" for behavior is justified. Saying Mark has difficulty "keeping things in order" is true, but telling the parents "despite repeated attempts to work with Mark on keeping his desk and notebook clean, and free of debris, we have been unsuccessful. I have used my time during lunch and recess to assist him in cleaning his desk, and folder out. Mark and I have discussed the urgency in keeping his desk and folder clean, and I encourage you to do the same with him. This has impeded his progress, and may account for the loss of points due to missing homework and classwork assignments."

Woe-The things you wish you could say are not listed on the report card.
There are no boxes to check for repeat offenses.
Messy Desk
Off task behaviors (a percentage may be helpful here 0%, 10%, 100% etc.)
Interrupts teacher (a percentage may be helpful here as well!)
Defies authority
Number of missing assignments______
Restroom usage per day (Parent: you may want to consider funding a classroom restroom for your child)
Number of notes parent has written to excuse assignments _____
Number of excuses heard for why something cannot be done this trimester ____

I love my job so very much! I wouldn't trade it for the world, and only now can I look back at my report cards (the terrible ones I wrote...hundreds!) and realize what parents should have been told, rather than what I really said. It is important at this time to laugh about some of the things that go on in our world as educators, and not allow it to break us. We are all learning together. It's what makes it a journey worth taking. That, and Thanksgiving break is just around the corner. 9 days to be exact. But who's counting?

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