This morning, I started my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s recent blog post. Doug has started writing a Whatever Happened To … post every Sunday, and I quite enjoy looking back at some things that I remember and others that I can start to learn about. Today, Doug took on handwritten report cards, and his questions and comments —as well as a comment from another educator — gave me a lot to think about. Doug and I discussed different points about this post through the comment section on his blog as well as through numerous tweets. It was the comment by Mr. Mepham though that made me realize I needed to write a post of my own.
One thing that I didn’t include in any of my comments is that Doug’s blog post surprised me. When I saw that his topic for this week was “handwritten report cards,” I expected to hear about the personalized report cards of days gone by. When I started teaching, we were already into using electronic report cards, but I remember receiving the handwritten ones when I was a child. I even remember some of the comments. While there were some generic ones such as, “good job,” or “Aviva works hard,” there were also specific ones connected to skills I demonstrated and projects I submitted. I often thought about the teachers that spent so much time crafting these comments and writing them out with their perfect blue or black pens (I don’t think my trusty Sharpie marker would do 🙂 ) versus typing them on a computer. I heard colleagues talk about how there were “no comment banks back then,” so I guess that I took this to mean that the comments were more personal than they are today. But were they?
All of this takes me back to my first comment — and big question — on Doug’s post: do the format of the report cards need to impact on how personalized we make our comments? Just because we have a comment bank doesn’t mean that we need to use it. Even if we do use it, this doesn’t mean that we can’t change examples or modify words (something that I know is quite common for educators to do). Yes, we have space restrictions on our electronic report cards, and these restrictions also existed for the handwritten ones. As Mr. Mepham mentions in his comment, the look of our current report card is somewhat “sterile or uninviting.” This doesn’t mean that the content in it needs to be. In fact, Growing Success suggests quite the opposite. I also know though that a big part of the challenge comes from balancing personalized statements with limited room for sharing. This is something that causes me much stress during report card writing time, and sometimes leads me to settle on a comment that I don’t think tells the full story. This is never an easy decision to make.
As I read Doug’s post though and all of the comments that followed, I couldn’t help but think about this blog post by Kristi Keery-Bishop. While Kristi’s post discusses why we shouldn’t avoid inquiry just because we have to mark it, I think that some of the same logic holds true when it comes to personalized comments. Yes, we often need to get creative with our word choice, and we may not be able to include all examples in our finite number of lines, but we can still paint a picture of each child in each report card. I think about many generic comments that I’ve written in the not-so-distant past, and I wonder if we’ve all become accustomed to them (parents included). Is this why parents might stop reading the comments (as Mr. Mepham mentions)? If each report card was a learning story starring the child, would parents view the comments differently? Would we? We may not be able to get rid of the marks. We may always have space restrictions. The comment bank might always exist. But I would like to think that we can work past these problems to make a report card more than just a couple of pieces of paper that go home so many times a year. Maybe this is my Utopian ideal, but I’m hoping that it could happen — and I think that it already is happening in some cases. What do you think?