Saturday, November 28, 2015

Do Report Card Narratives Lead to Positive Change?

It's that wonderful (aka exhausting) time of year!

Trimester report card narratives were due to my administrator on Tuesday. My very quiet disclaimer: Self Science, the class I teach for all students in 5th -8th grade, does not have its own space on the report card, so I don't actually have to/get to write them.  In fact, I am very fortunate that I don't deal with grades in my classes. I spend a lot of time inviting students in reflective conversations on shared google docs where we share thoughts and observations.  How could I even begin to "grade" social and emotional skills anyway?

Asking questions about why and how we do it: 

Before I begin, let me emphasize that I am questioning the "system", not criticizing the work of hard working teachers.
My awesome, and exhausted after writing way too many narratives colleagues ask for input, so I  have the opportunity to edit, and sometimes reframe comments that need a bit of clarity.  Despite the fact that I work in a school where teachers are strengths-oriented and skilled at observation, I still wonder if narratives could be more productive and useful. Does the incredible investment of time pay off? Do parents actually find the paragraphs and paragraphs written about their middle schoolers helpful? Do the narratives lead to positive change?

Here's another main concern:  So much of what we write seems so subjective, more about "who" we think a kid is, instead of "what" they have done during the trimester.

What would happen if we made a more concerted attempt to avoid judgment oriented phrases such as:  Nicole is a conscientious and generous student..  and tried something more "action" specific: Nicole works diligently in class and often goes out of her way to help peers when they are struggling to understand.

Perhaps the key is in student voice: 

What if we ask students for their reflections on their performance before writing their narratives, so we can compare their view of their effort and improvement with our own perception? What if a student's reflection actually landed on the report card? Wouldn't it be a rich discussion for parents to compare and contrast the student's impression with the teacher's report? What if report cards included goals and action items co-created by students and teachers?

I'd love to hear from you..
How do you ensure that your narratives lead to positive change?


Fabiana Casella said...

Narratives definitely help and encourage!
What also has always worked for me (I teach English as a Foreign Lang in my country Argentina but also taught Spanish and ESL for the public school system in North Carolina) is weekly or monthly motivational notes,(sometimes the notes say I´m a bit worried about xx´s attitude or last grades etc etc, I believe hi-her potential will help to overcome etc etc) Does this make sense to you? Definitely having talks/conversation with Ss, notes to parents but indirectly "directed" to their children work very well(agendas which in my school here go out every Friday).
Just hoping I´ve answered part of your question.
Warm greetings from Buenos Aires!
Fabiana Casella

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Make total sense to me.More frequent conversation definitely makes the communication more growth oriented and helpful I think. Thanks again!

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