Tips for Report Card Writing, Part Two
The second part of a two part series with tips for report card writing.
Familiarize Yourself with the Curriculum
Sometimes, as teachers, when we're given a new teaching assignment or asked to teach unfamiliar content, or simply have too much on our plate, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of "winging it." This may make our lives easier at some points during the school year, but the midterm and year-end stress of reporting on outcomes we never got around to teaching isn’t usually worth it. To avoid these curricular gaps, make it a priority to review the curriculum in its entirety at the beginning of each school year and generate a year plan so that you have a comprehensive understanding of the skills and achievements expected of your students throughout the grade. Then, as the year progresses and you approach each outcome, you'll have a framework in place to keep track of your students' successes -- and, when it comes time for reporting, you'll have the information you need at your fingertips (and no surprises!). A widely used framework for organizing units of study and establishing key understandings is "Understanding By Design" (UBD), which identifies essential questions and helps teachers structure year plans to reflect curricular expectations.
Back Up Your Reports with Evidence
Parents want to know and see their child's successes and areas for improvement. For some, it's not enough to read marks on a page; they want to celebrate their child's work or better understand where their child needs to commit more time or attention. Throughout the school year, keep a file of completed work for each student, and when reporting time comes around, sort out the best examples of growth, achievement, and opportunities for improvement so that you can give parents tangible evidence of their child's success in school.
Keep it Simple
Don't overwhelm parents, or yourself, with too much information during report card writing and conferencing. Use only a few examples of student work to illustrate the content of the report card, and don't add too much extraneous information to the comments or discussion. Set yourself a game plan -- decide on the salient points and evidence that will best illustrate and support the information provided in the report and try to avoid muddying the waters with unnecessary or repetitive information.
As well, try to avoid terms used specifically within the teaching profession. The goal is to make students and their parents feel included in the reporting process; alienating them with unfamiliar language or terminology can set a negative tone and impact the ability of all stakeholders to work together for the betterment of the student.
As teachers, we know that forming solid, mutually respectful relationships with our students can be the make or break of a successful school year. Building trust and honesty in the classroom prepares both the teacher and the students for more open communication, which is of utmost importance when it comes time to present report cards. It is great practice to use "Assessment As Learning," where students set their own goals throughout the school year based on formative assessments and performance data. Not only does this show your effectiveness and organization as a teacher, it also has positive impacts on student outcomes. If your students are informed and aware of their progress in the classroom, and parents are also brought into the dialogue, a "team" can be built to approach any learning gaps or educational difficulties together.