It’s report card season in Ontario. It’s also Communication of Learning time. There’s a significant difference between the two, and it’s this very difference that makes me always call what I’m writing, Communications of Learning, even if these longer words don’t roll off the tongue as nicely as reports. While I’ve blogged about the differences between the two before, this post is about more than that.
Not that long ago, I had a wonderful conversation with some colleagues about Communications of Learning. These educators are not Kindergarten teachers, and they mentioned the concerns that I actually blogged about last year during my first Communication of Learning writing experience. While I was overwhelmed with the amount of time it took me to write them in February 2017, looking back now I will say that the extra time is worth it when what we’re writing ends up truly reflecting the child. Imagine if you could write a report card …
- that doesn’t include edujargon.
- that doesn’t make you question if you used the right qualifier, or even need a qualifier in the sentence.
- that actually makes you picture the child in your head as you read it.
- that isn’t about what the child can’t do, but celebrates what they can.
- that can include examples such as climbing trees, finding worms, playing in the mud, and problem solving how to catch a bumblebee.
I know that our Kindergarten Program Document with the use of the Four Frames, and a Communication of Learning that does not include marks, allows me to easily put the child at the centre of the learning. It makes reporting truly about each kid. But what if I ever did go back and teach another grade? Could I come to love the Grade 1-8 report card format as much as I love the Communication of Learning? Maybe I’d be lucky enough to have some updated curriculum documents at my disposal, and maybe even less of a focus on marks, but even if I didn’t, I think that I’d have to find a way to merge the two formats. Nothing prevents teachers from personalizing comments, from including specific examples, and from making the wording parent-friendly. In fact, all three of these things are often encouraged. I realize that with fewer lines, smaller boxes, and more expectations, this is a challenge. What is possible though? We can let the problems prevent us from trying, or we can find a way to work past these problems. I’d prefer to do the latter. What about you? Imagine if report card time could truly become enjoyable for all educators.
I wish we could find the middle ground. But even more, I wish there were multiple ways to report. If a teacher is doing extensive documentation, and sharing that with parents all year long, and creating a digital portfolio of work and feedback that could be archived, why is there a need for a report card? If I bust my rear end to keep parents and students in the loop on what we’re doing, what we’ve done, and where each individual child is at, why do I have to type it up 3 times a year in a format that really, really, really only gets looked at for the number (which is often the least important piece of the information). At least in intermediate, I feel that as long as we are sending home that piece of paper 3 times a year, parents will have very little incentive to engage with our Twitter feed, our Edsby or Google classroom sharing, our blogs, our digital portfolio. As long as we feed them the information the way they’ve always gotten it, there is no reason for them to look for that information another way.
A friend with a new principal spent 80 hours (evening/weekends) on her first term reports (she does teach a split). That’s not okay, in my opinion. These things kill many of our lives, and “no sorry, I can’t, it’s report-writing weekend” is a normal response. I know very few people who enjoy this process, even the individualize gets. And please, please, someone explain to me why I am going to spend hours on crafting meaningful comments for Grade 8’s, when in Grade 9, thr student will be lucky to get 3 sentences which reflect very little information at all.
Oh, this is a soapboxer for me!
Thanks for your very honest, heartfelt response here, Lisa! I’m sure that many people feel as you do, and I’m not sure if anything that I’m going to say here is going to change that. (There can also be value in agreeing to disagree.) I wonder though, if to some degree, the report cards can also be for us. It’s truly a celebration of growth. Now I know that as someone that shares a lot of documentation each day, there are no big surprises in these documents. But the report card (or the Communication of Learning), puts this documentation together. It explores the growth over time. And maybe, as we look at this documentation day-by-day, we forget how far each of these children have come. Now can we capture all of this in the given number of lines and the reasonable amount of time we have to complete each report? Maybe or maybe not. But there is something about this process — this reflection, this story, this celebration of student learning — that I absolutely love!
I think about some of our students this year. We had a couple that started the year recognizing one letter of the alphabet. Just one. And no sounds. Now these children are reading, and writing, and confident enough to do both on their own. Their growth makes me want to cry tears of joy every single time that I watch them in action. I know that the parents see this growth each day through our pictures and videos as well as their own interactions with their child, but it’s so hard to sometimes remember just how far these students have come. The report card (or, in our case, the Communication of Learning), captures this. Maybe if we had marks, the comments that we write wouldn’t mean as much as they do right now, but I was overwhelmed with the number of parents last year that thanked me for these Communications of Learning. They brought some parents to tears. “We could really see our child in this,” one mom said. How can I not love this? For me, this thanks alone, makes it worth the time invested.
Maybe next year, the Grade 1 teachers will wonder how our examples align with their curriculum expectations. Maybe they’ll be overwhelmed with how much they have to read on each child. And maybe, a mark would make things so much easier. But who’s my real audience for this Communication of Learning? It’s the parents, and for them, I hope they appreciate this look at student growth. It’s also for me. For it’s so easy to get caught up in how much more we could do, or what didn’t work, or why today wasn’t the best day ever, but I’d prefer to get caught up in the good. These Communications of Learning do this for me … and at the end of the day, I can sit back and really say to myself, “We made a difference!”
So yes, this weekend, I didn’t see a lot of sunlight, even though it was beautiful outside, and my real world math involved 52 comments and 18 hours of writing, 🙂 but every minute was worth it! And maybe I need this little re-frame to remind me that at this stressful time of the year, what we do REALLY matters! Does this help?
P.S. It makes me sad to think that parents may not look at documentation before a report card. How much might be missed then? I wonder in Aaron Puley’s idea to add a question or an extension idea for home, might allow for even more day-to-day interaction with this documentation. It made a difference for our parents. What do you think?
I wrote about this a few months ago! https://voiced.ca/lcorbett/report-card-comments/
I do like spending the time to reflect on a child. Reports are an opportunity to really celebrate a child’s accomplishments. I don’t like giving marks. They become the focus for too many parents. My biggest complaint right now is the “next steps” business. It’s not a problem coming up with the next steps for some, but when it comes to subjects like art, dance, music, I want to write “pass” and then a bunch of compliments. 🙂
Thanks Lisa! I’m definitely going to read your post. Like you, I also like reflecting on each child. Reports can definitely be a celebration of children’s accomplishments, and the asset-based lens of the Communication of Learning certainly allows for this to happen. I also wish that there were no marks, but I do wonder if even more comments were personalized, would parents view them differently? (It wasn’t until I started teaching Kindergarten that I truly understood the value in these personalized comments, and really tried to do them for each child.) I must also say that I love the approach to Next Steps for the Communications of Learning. While I do tend to use them in each Frame, they’re not required in all Frames, and really are more at teacher discretion. Maybe another change that we can hope for in the coming years for 1-8 reports …