For many teachers, this time of year usually defines itself by way of report card writing and/or exam time. Stress levels vary.
A couple of years ago, one of my students asked me, “How long does it take you to complete report cards?” He had apparently picked up on my stress level. After breaking it down into an average time per student, it hit me, painfully. It had become this mechanical, tedious, time-consuming task, almost formulaic, devoid of all meaning to learning itself. It seems we’ve evolved from evaluating expectations and effort (from my childhood), to very systematic copy/paste reports, to now tapping into teachers’ ‘professional judgment’ in personalizing report cards as much as possible. For years I was trying to tell someone else’s story, but not painting a very clear picture. Sometimes I wonder about evolution….
This is a snapshot of what ensued following that initial question. Looking back, I wish I had documented the time, but there is something so moving about writing it now, as I continue to observe and wonder about students through my Student Work Study.
The conversation that followed morphed into a rich discussion. Some questions from the class included: ‘How do you know what to write? Is it hard to do? Why do you have to write comments when most of us just look at the marks anyway?’
An ‘aha’ moment to say the least…
Over the next few weeks, these discussions created the lessons – for reading, writing, critical literacy – across the curriculum. The lines that once divided subjects were suddenly becoming blurry. We dissected curriculum expectations, the Growing Success document, and past report cards (yes, even my own from many years ago). We focused on some of the language and meaning in Growing Success, as a starting point, beginning with the fundamental principles:
(Growing Success, p.6)
The first and last bullets resonated deeply. Even though students’ self-assessment skills were ongoing, developing at their own pace, it no longer made sense for me to continue writing about students, for students, without students.
I wanted to take a critical look at inclusion and learning:
(Growing Success, p.8)
What assumptions were lurking in my classroom? How were we approaching and communicating our learning? How could we support diversity and honour individuality on a ‘standard’ report card? We suddenly realized what would become the enabler…a collaborative, co-writing piece for the report card itself. Something ignited during this time. I remember one student asking, “Is that even legal? Aren’t we breaking the rules?”
I smiled, “Nope. We are simply going to re-think this whole report card thing.”
We looked at each of the Learning Skills:
(Growing Success, p.11)
This lead to many discussions and writing experiences (i.e., small/large group, partners, student/teacher conferencing sessions). Countless curriculum expectations revealed themselves throughout the process. Some mini-lessons were framed around perspective and bias in writing (who wrote Growing Success and why), word choice and meaning for each of the learning skills, predictions/debate of what might be included/excluded in the next Growing Success document, evolution of report cards, connections to the Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations, quick writes, mini-literature circles, etc.
Students’ Learning Skills on their report card ultimately included their perspective (Strengths & Needs), verbatim, as well as my own. We co-wrote ‘Next Steps’ after many drafts. I recall my principal’s comments after reading the reports, “The Learning Skills were my favourite part to read. By knowing your students, you helped them better understand themselves as learners – student voice at it’s best.”
I recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. He offers some strategies for parents and/or educators :
“Too many students walk through the schoolhouse door with one aim in mind: to get good grades. And all too often, the best way to reach this goal is to get with the program, avoid risks, and serve up the answers the teacher wants the way the teacher wants them. Good grades become the reward for compliance – but don’t have much to do with learning. Meanwhile, students whose grades don’t measure up often see themselves as failures and give up trying to learn…Report cards are not a potential prize, but a way to offer students useful feedback on their progress…a great way to get feedback is to evaluate their own progress.” (p.188)
I no longer hold the ‘red pen’. I learned that breaking the rules sometimes means challenging the status quo to create something even better. I was reminded how one student’s question can change everything….again and again.
Can’t wait for a do–over.