To attempt to address some of these issues we overhauled our reports last year to try to emphasis reporting forward rather than backwards. (A sample report, minus cover page, formatting etc, can be found in the resources section)
The aim being for the report to provide a route forward for the student rather than closure on the period gone. In doing so it was hopped that teachers could use the report writing as more integrated into their planned teaching and learning for the students.
As with all initiatives we have been, I'm sure, only partially successful, however, I thought people might be interested in some of the thought processes we went through as they go through their own quest for the perfect report card:
1) What's the point of a report card?
Whilst the written report is just one part of the reporting process alongside regular feedback, 3 way and student led conferences, it has an important role to play and an inflated importance in the eyes of many parents and students.
One of the reasons why report cards are so hard to design is that they serve such a multitude of purposes:
- A legal record of attendance and performance during the reporting period.
- Information for parents as to their child's progress and current/future learning needs.
- Information for students as to their own progress and current/future learning needs.
- Information for future teachers and schools as to a students progress and current/ future learning needs.
- To enable the parents, student and teacher to work in an informed partnership to move the students learning forward.
We therefore made the clear choice that the primary purpose of the reports was to move the students learning forward, not simply to say what they have done. In fulfilling this primary purpose we felt that the others would also be met.
2) How do we make the focus of Learning Goals and how they can be achieved?
In order to use reports to move students forward we decided to have a box for each subject area which described the students Learning Goal and the strategies to achieve this. We decided to limit this to one goal per subject area to ensure that it was focused on the really key thing that mattered for a particular student.
One key decision we made was that goals would follow through from the second semester report onto the first report of the following academic year meaning that new teachers would need to be aware of the previous years report.
Following the reports many teachers had students have their learning goals clearly displayed and frequently had students reflect upon them thus linking the reporting process more closely with the learning process.
It was particularly interesting the feedback from some teachers about how having learning goals had really made them think about where to take the high achieving students next.
By attaching strategies to the learning goals we tried to ensure that there was a clear commitment as to how both school and home can help a student to reach their goals.
In addition to the goals and strategies students receive a narrative comment to explain the choice of goals. The nature of this comment linked to our third question.
3) How do we make the feedback in the report consistent with types of feedback students receive in class?
We know from Hattie, Wiliam and others that feedback is one of the most important drivers of student learning. How do we ensure that the quality of feedback in the report is equal to that given in class.
To this end the following instructions were given to teachers in regards to feedback on reports:
Your comment should include 3 elements:
1. Progress made towards previous goals (if there are goals) if not general progress.
2. The student’s work during this reporting period.
3. The observations that have led to the learning goal.
Try to ensure your comment fulfils these criteria for effective feedback
• Timely: Make sure you are commenting on things the student has done in a way that the student can use when they next encounter the task or apply that skill to a new task.
• Descriptive of the work: Make sure that the comments are descriptive of work or observed behaviours not of the student’s personality. It focuses on one or more strengths of the work and provides at least one suggestion for a next step. Be particularly careful to avoid words that imply fixed ability e.g. intelligent, clever, talented, potential, smart, quick, nice, etc.
• Positive: Show how learning is a journey forward, and it is honest about both strengths to build on and weaknesses to improve. Its tone makes clear that the student is an active participant in their own learning. Being positive should not be confused with giving praise. Be positive but avoid giving praise.
eg; X made good use of adjectives to provide detail about a character (Positive)
X is a good writer (Praise)
• Clear and Specific: It is clear enough that the student knows what to do next.
• Differentiated: Meets the needs of the student with respect to their current work and where they need to go during the next semester.
4) To Grade or not to Grade?
This is perhaps the hardest decision to make. Whilst as educators we are aware that having grades distracts from the feedback as parents we also know that we want to know is our child in the normal range?
Additionally at NIS we have a very high non English speaking parent population so we wanted to ensure could have an easy overview on the report.
We thus decided to go for a colour coded grid for each subject saying whether a student was:
R= Rarely Meeting SLO: Your child is rarely or never meeting grade level expectations.
S= Sometimes Meeting SLO: Although your child sometimes meets grade level expectations, they do not do so consistently in all aspects of
learning that make up that grade. A student who requires significant teacher support to consistently meet the learning outcomes will receive
also an S.
M= Meeting SLO: Your child is consistently working at the level expected of a student in their grade level.
E= Exceeding SLO: Your child is one of a few students who are consistently exceeding the level expected of a student in their grade
As our reports are electronic we are able to hyper link directly to the schools scope and sequence documents so parents can see what those expectations are if they wish.
Can reporting ever be part of the learning process?
To answer the question I set at the start of the blog. I think we moved some way to make reporting part of the learning process with our review of the reports. There are however many things still to do and the search for the perfect report card is something that will keep teachers busy and blogging for many years to come.