I’m a very visual learner, and I often make visual representations of what I read. I thought I’d share this one, based on several readings, about self-regulation, an important part of metacognition.
Please help us design the ideal report card…
This year, our elementary school is looking at a most exciting project – redesigning our report card. With the help of our fantastic consultant, (who specializes in math but is really a master at building consensus and empowering teachers to take initiative to create change), our goal is to create a standards-based report card that is effectively illustrates the profile of the learner at a given time. Whereas this seems like a most daunting task, it is also a very exciting one. As pedagogues, this is the start of a very stimulating professional dialogue. What’s even more fascinating in that our school information system is a home-grown program. That is, the person who created the program that currently helps us create and keep track of all information concerning students (enrollment, grade book for secondary students, health, report cards, curriculum mapping, etc) is sitting downstairs in the technology department! This provides us with the opportunity to design a report card with few, if any, format constraints! A blank slate!
So, what does the ideal report card look like? I’m hoping my treasured PLN can provide input on this question. Though there are literally hundreds of different report card models available, I have yet to see one that really hits the nail on the head. I think the challenge is to strike the perfect balance – providing sufficient information to be useful without overwhelming the reader. What do you think a report card should look like? What are the non-negotiables (must have), the important elements (should have), and the helpful (nice-to-have) elements?
Questions to ponder:
Who is the report card for? Parents? Students? Students’ future schools? Teachers? School admin?
I think there are several possible answers to this question. The problem is that each of these stake holders potentially has very different needs. Parents need information about how their child is progressing. Hopefully, the report card can also provide them with information about how they can help their child move forward. Students need feedback (which they should already get, daily, in conversations with the teacher) and ideas for next steps in the “story of their learning”. Future schools need clear pictures of where a student’s strengths and challenges lie, so that they can provide the most appropriate services for him/her. Teachers need to spend time thinking carefully about each student, where s/he is at the time, where s/he needs to go, and how the teacher can help guide forward progress.
Should there be many indicators, or fewer indicators and more anecdotal information?
Personally, I am very inclined towards anecdotal information – I write a page per student (8pt font!) every trimester. I feel that grades for indicators are not unlike some carrot and stick approaches some forward-thinking reform-oriented educators are trying to set aside. Though students in our school do not receive number grades (percentages) nor letter grades (A,B,C,D), but instead indicators are rated on a scale, I feel that in essence, these two approaches are not fundamentally very different.
C = Area of Concern
S = Needs Support to Meet Expectations
I = Meets expecations
E = Exceeds expectations
As a parent, I would like to know much more than “Comprehends when reading”. I would prefer to know what kinds of strategies my child has tried, where he has succeeded, and where challenges still lie so that I can help him move forward – this is something that only an anectodal comment can best describe. So, as I teacher, I try to provide the very information about students that I hope to read about own child. Yes, long anecdotal comments take forever to write (no release time for report card writing!) but to me, it is an opportunity to reflect on each student’s development, and consider what I can do to best serve that student’s needs. That said, though some teachers, like me, write long anecdotal comments, others, barely write three lines. So when were are considering report card design, how can we ensure that anecdotal comments are substantial enough to provide useful information?
Here, I think the trade off is quantity. More specific indicators can provide a very detailed profile of a student at a given time, but can also be overwhelming. Fewer general comments may be easier to read, but don’t provide the same depth of information. In my opinion, specific indicators not only provide detailed information, they may also help students (with the help of parents and teachers) formulate learning goals. Of course, as a parent, I love getting as much information about my child as possible, but I’m conscious of the fact that I’m an educator and that not all parents may feel this way. One route that our school is considering is to reword standards and benchmarks so that they are “parent-friendly” (less educational jargon).
Same indicators for whole school year, or different report cards every trimester?
Another consideration we are grappling with is whether or not to have the same list of indicators on all three report cards (i.e. everything on all report cards) or to have a different report card each trimester. Though some say that having the same report card with 3 columns (one for each trimester) allows parents to see progress throughout the year, some would argue that expectations change for each trimester and thus comparing the grades for different trimesters on a given indicator may not be a fair comparison. For example, a student who earned an “I” (meets expecations independently) one trimester may get an “S” (needs support to meet expectations) the next trimester, because the expectations change from one trimester to the next.
Theoretically, trimester-specific report cards would give teachers the possibility of selecting the specific benchmarks (reworded) that were targeted and assessed for a specific trimester, and assign them to the report card template for a specific trimester. Not only would it be an opportunity for teachers to reflect on how each child is doing, it would also serve the double purpose of requiring teachers to reflect on the benchmarks they have targeted and those they may need to place more focus on in the future.
Redesigning a report card is a process that we went through at my last school, though I moved long before the process was complete. Though a great deal was learned about assessment, and the pedagogical conversations were stimulating, the end result, a collection of rubrics, was unwieldy and inefficient.
However, I will say that one of the things I do miss from my last school is the fact that we had a full ped day for report card writing for every trimester. I would spread my students’ work around me using all the tables in the classroom, and spend the day observing, reflecting, and synthesizing. In my current school, we are given wonderful amounts of time for planning and collaboration, but no time is given for looking assessment, evaluation and, the main function of report cards, communication. The report card is an official document that is very telling of a school’s approach and philosophy. In designing a report card, the utmost care must be taken in taking into account all considerations.
If you were to design the ideal report card, what would it look like?
This post is dedicated to Cathy, Mandy and Nancy (it is through her that I heard about this) for dragging me from the summer heat-induced stupor and inspiring me to reflect and choose 10 picture books that I can’t live without.
Although I love every one of Byrd Baylor’s book, this one has a special place in my heart. I’m in Charge of Celebrations reminds me of how an educator’s passion can be contagious. I first heard it read aloud as part of a farewell celebration for one of the most passionate educators out there, Shelly Miller. Never have I encountered someone who was always so dynamic, so positive, so energetic and always smiling. This book reminds me of how important it is to celebrate the little things in life, to recognize that there are no small achievements. The words contain beautiful imagery, written in a unique style, can be used to inspire students to create beautiful descriptions of their own chosen celebrations.
A classic, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is both timeless and ageless in the theme it explores. A truth falls from the skies, breaking in two pieces when it lands. When a human picks up one half of the truth, it reads “You are Loved”. The human shares it with others who have similar features, and thus begins a downward turn towards anger, jealousy, and a fight to possess the the “truth”. It is only when a child, guided by an old turtle, embarks on a journey to understand and help resolve the conflicts that the other half of the truth “…and so are they.” This compelling yet accessible story is a powerful tool to spark discussion on fostering understanding and peace by seeing a bit of oneself in others, and celebrating diversity and multiple perspectives. A wonderful resource for Peace Day!
I love this book for the questions it poses, and even more for the deep-thinking questions it inspires students to ask. I challenge anyone who says that philosophy is too sophisticated for elementary students to read this book and see what kind of discussion it sparks! I learned of The Philosopher’s Club via Adrienne Gear’s Reading Powers, a wonderful resource (see “The Power to Question”). After reading this book, my fifth grade students asked questions such as: Does everyone have kindness in them? Would I be happy if I had all the things I wanted? How do futures start? Are we better off living so comfortably? Where to anger and hatred come from? Where does trust begin? Can one person make peace? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to freedom? Did the world begin in silence?
The North Star is a beautiful book by Peter Reynolds, available in print or online. It is about a boy who embarks on a journey only to realize that he must travel a path that is his own rather than follow others’ paths. The boy gets lost after following a path, and realizes that he is not where he wants to be. A wise bird tells him “Ask yourself where it is you want to go and then follow the signs you already know…” I have often used this book at the beginning of the school year with my students as a metaphor for goal setting. It is important to me that students pick both academic and personal goals that are important to them. These goals are “North Stars” that will guide their learning.
Another fantastic Peace Day resource is If the World were a Village. A wonderful way to connect mathematics, literature and social studies, this book makes world statistics accessible to elementary children by creating an analogy with a village of 100 people. Topics include access to schools, electricity, running water, world religions, nationalities, etc… From creating representations with manipulatives such as counters or graphing, this book provides a way to connect mathematics to the “real world”.
Another Reading Powers find, Rondo in C is simple and elegant. It is the story of an audience listening to a rendition of Beethoven’s Rondo in C. It is a glimpse into each individual’s experience with the music. Much like reading, listening to music conjures different visualizations and feelings for each. Not only is it a way to bring classical music into a language arts class, it is a great springboard for discussion how every person connects to art in their own unique way.
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, and One Thousand Tracings (Lita Judge) is a very compelling story that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. A family in the United States reaches out to another in Germany, in desperate circumstances after World War II. The family writes that they have only one pair of boots left, and that they must take turns wearing them. Using foot tracings sent to them from families in need, the American family endeavours to find corresponding footwear to send. As the story develops, a single family grows into a network of families reaching out to other families in Europe, sending shoes and boots but also hope.
I teach fifth grade, and so My Secret Bully is a book that has, several times, helped us address the elephant in the room.
Fifth grade is an age where some girls are getting wrapped up in stepping on others to create a sense of superiority, while others are able to remain true to themselves. I like the fact that the story doesn’t have a Disney-type ending, but rather a more realistic one, teaching kids that resolving a bullying situation doesn’t always mean that friendships can be repaired, but that it is possible to move on.
Piggybacking on this selection is One (Kathryn Otoshi), a deceptively simple bullying story involving colors. One color is picking on another (“Red is HOT, Blue is NOT”) and the power that bystanders have to change a situation. Encourages kids to become part of the solution!
Weslandia (Paul Fleishman) is a favourite because of how easily it helps launch in depth social studies discussions about civilization and culture. Wesley, who is an outcast at school, misunderstood by his parents, decides, as a summer project, to create his own civilization with his own staple crop. From his staple crop, he creates new forms of shelter, clothing, tools, number system, games, language, medicine, and more! Who hasn’t, at one time or another, dreamed of creating their own civilization? I remember trying to create secret languages when I was a child, and Weslandia speaks to those childhood memories. Surprising in how thoroughly it examines the elements of civilization, it is a great springboard for creating categories with which to compare and contrast different civilizations.
Movies like “Pay it Forward”, or books like Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together (Herb Shoveller) are very dear to my heart, because they remind me of my ultimate goal as a teacher: to empower and inspire kids to help make the world a better place. Last year, some secondary students in our school organized a venue for collecting funds for Partners In Health to go to the Haiti Relief disaster. My students decided that just hitting up their parents for cash wasn’t enough. They wanted to do more, and decided to hold a bake sale. At first, I wasn’t sure about the logistical aspect of it, but they were so adamant that it actually caught be a bit off guard. Coming to my senses, I finally recognized that this WAS the change I wanted to see, so I tossed curriculum aside for a while and gave them free reign to strategize. They divided into committees, planned, advertised, baked, and, in less than 48 hours, 16 kids managed to raise $300 (well over 2000 dirhams) for Haiti relief. It’s not so much the amount that was impressive, but the way they all came together as a group to become a force of change. They didn’t wait for adults to fix the problem, nor doubt for a minute that they could make a difference.
I went to school today. Does that sound strange? I guess it’s not what most teachers are doing in mid-July… Don’t get me wrong, we did make it to the beach later in the afternoon, but after yesterday’s #elemchat, I just felt like I needed to reconnect with my classroom. There were so many new and renewed ideas swimming around in my head, I just had to release them in the space where they will hopefully grow and flourish.
The #elemchat topic was Differentiation: What models, strategies, techniques and tools to deliver “just right” instruction? When the #elemchat community voted for this particular subject, I was elated. Differentiation is something that I have done to some extent but am hoping to be doing more of, in a more methodical and systematic way. That said, I must admit that I was really glad that the moderation of #elemchat is a team effort, as I am certainly no expert in that domain. Without exaggeration, the #elemchat team is the best possible team ever. Dynamic and forward-thinking yet modest to a fault, they have won my utmost respect and admiration in the very short time we’ve known each other. Nancy spearheaded the moderation of this particular topic, preparing a list of thought-provoking questions that only an educator with plenty of experience with differentiation could have come up with.
The chat was the coming together of educators who are dedicated to providing the best possible experiences and opportunities for students. The excitement stayed with me long after the chat was over. I look forward to helping to work on the summary (thank you for the head start Dorie!) as a way to revisit the wealth of ideas and resources shared and reflect on how I can improve my practice to, as Louise put it, “deliver ‘just right’ learning for students”.
It’s remarkable how quickly and profoundly Twitter has made a difference in my professional life. Through it, I have discovered a community of educators who share a steady stream of high calibre resources and ideas. For me, the most exceptional quality of building a PLN and using Twitter has been the tone – consistently positive and constructive, it shines in stark contrast to the negative venting and complaining that often takes place in staff rooms. I once read somewhere (can’t remember where, though would love to credit) that Facebook is for connecting with people you went to school with, whereas Twitter is for connecting with people you wish you’d gone to school with. Though I have the immense privilege of working on a beautiful campus with a great staff, I am also grateful to be breaking down walls to, as Eddie put it, “learn alongside” my PLN. I love teaching, and I love learning – it’s what I do, it’s who I am… and my PLN feeds that passion. Thank you.
As I walked through the magnificent campus that I call my “work place”, I met up with some colleagues who were on their way to the pool. When they asked me what I’ve been doing this summer, I found myself relating my experiences with recent Twitter chats (#elemchat, but also #mathchat and #scichat) with a degree of animation and enthusiasm that startled even me. One person even said to me “Wow, I’d like to be a fifth grader next year!” Then, to top it off, I walked into my classroom and found beautiful, new furniture (pictures to come!) tables, book display unit… Magnificent! So… how many days until we start? My heart is thumping with eager anticipation. Thank you, #elemchat team, community and PLN for being there when walls were broken and for fueling the fire that powers my teaching.