Today we gave out our report cards to our students. For me, this was a labour of love. My students are continuously being given feedback, and they have a fairly good idea of expectations and how they are doing so I didn’t expect there would be any surprises. Prior to giving out the report cards, I had One on One conversations with the students to let them ask any questions and really see how they were doing in their Core subjects. This was my way of letting them really see the grades since they rarely see actual grades, only final feedback on their tasks – that being areas of strength, areas of growth and strategies to improve on the skills (not the task). I prefer comment only marking because there no longer is a focus on the product but rather the skills and how the students might see improvement.
I had 3 questions, 1 adjustment and 1 positive surprise. There were no negative surprises. The students usually understood based on what assignments where were. The students with questions could easily answer them by looking at their work. I did have one adjustment. We looked at the growth over the task and the student really did use the feedback and match it to the criteria the best they could. We discussed and did adjust the grade based on where a grade 5 student should be at the first term. I was sure to clarify expectations for term 2 and I don’t think there will be any questions from that student next term. My positive surprise was from a student who was so used to receiving poor grades that with only comments and feedback they improved. Without actually seeing a number or level of achievement attached, the student worked harder because they were not constantly being told what was wrong, only how to improve.
On the day before, my co-teacher and I gave our classes chance read the actual report card, comments and all. Most students browsed through and double checked I didn’t make any silly mistakes in my edits of their comments – my principal was incredible at catching those. No questions left from my students as most of the comments were based on feedback already given. I did have one student who was grateful for my honesty. Apparently they have never had a teacher really explain the areas of growth or give individualized strategies. I looked back at the report cards from this student from last year. They were outcome based. Mine were mostly skill based and things that could carry on in other units, tasks or learning. All were very personalized.
I don’t like comment banks because no two kids are exactly the same. Even repeated comments were slightly changed to personalize for students. This falls under my dislike of the phrase “there is not need to re-invent the wheel”. There is a reason to do so, and I should write about that another time, however in the terms of the report card, re-inventing the wheel, so to say, is to give specific, constructive and helpful feedback. This is something we are trying to teach the students, so why shouldn’t I practice the same thing. Here are a few examples of the kinds of comments I write.
Areas of growth in Math for a student who struggles at communicating their understandings:
In order to improve their written answers and reflections, [Name] would benefit from adding more details to express their reasoning by answering “How” and “Why”. [Name] needs to ensure that they are showing all their work when doing their calculations to avoid small calculation errors.
Areas of strength in Social studies for a student who put in a fair amount of effort into her inquiry and was genuinely curious about the learning they were doing:
[Name] has demonstrated fairly good organization skills for their information. They are able to reflect on their learning and skills and find areas to improve. They are eager to learn about their family history and are curious about Canada and its identity. They has shown a good understanding of the geography of Canada. Overall they have shown fairly good basic research skills. They have developed a valuable resource in building and completing their Google Map.
Strategies for improvement for a capable student who is struggling to apply their abilities in their work:
[Name] would benefit from listening carefully during our Read Aloud and putting aside distractions to help with making connections and improving their listening skills. Support and exemplars will be given to support them in making connections. [Name] needs to take the feedback from his teacher and peers and implement it in their work so that they can improve the content of their writing. Using and completing the provided planners will help [Name] to improve their writing overall.
Strategies for improvement for a very strong writer and good reader in Language Arts:
By adding more detail to their connections and explaining specific details from the text in their connection, [Name] will improve the quality and strength of the connections they are making.
The last comment is possibly the most generic yet one of the best pieces of feedback to give to that student. They are a very strong student who push themselves and are intrinsically motivated to find success. Their writing is often better than my own exemplars. When you have a strong student like that, I feel it is important to find at least one very specific piece of feedback to provide that will allow them to bring the area that isn’t as strong as the rest up to what their level is, not just a grade 5 level.
Pushing kids to succeed at their own levels rather than a grade 5 level of achievement is key. I will grade them based on the expectations of a grade 5 student at that specific point in the year, however I will give them feedback to push as far as they can go. It is all about knowing your students and building a culture of feedback. In a perfect world, I could give comments only on a report card. Reality is a little bit different and I have a level of achievement that is expected.
My first set of report cards is done. It really was not as bad as everyone said it would be. A few minor glitches and a couple of mistakes I found after the fact, however, I am proud of the work, passion, and dedication that went into my report cards.