School Reports are full of bad words
This is vent piece, one that has been building up for ages, but necessary.
As an educator, some things take up an inordinate amount of time. Time that could be used to actively engage with students, build plans to make your learning environment pop, or at the very least restore a little bit of personal well-being. Maybe connect with your family, who knows?
Instead, we are driven by systemic mores to create pieces which I see as having fairly trivial meaning to the educational process of a kid: their report card. And people care about it. Way too much.
Imagine for a second if you are a 9 year old, and after a period of time you are thrown an assault of comments directed at you and your actions. There is no context, as the feedback happened weeks or even months ago. Your parents scrutinize this like it is scripture, and then lay on praise or punishment. In the case of praise, sure if feels good for a second, and you may be able to connect your past actions to it (don’t even get me started on the praise side of things). When it comes to punishment, you are confused and frustrated. You may be able to recall some behaviour, but memory is tricky and does injustice in helping you internalize it. The cause and effect are completely segregated in this experience.
Now look at it from the view of the educator. A buildup of evidence, constructive breakthrough moments, miserable days, times of fatigue, absence, and boredom boiled down into a few sentences and in some cases a letter or number grade.
Multiply that by however many individuals an educator meets and engages with, times the number of different disciplines they see the student in. It gets to be a lot of data.
In my previous school, I generally had 120 report comments each term. I admit there were some names of students whose face was a challenge to recall, and when asking other educators this was a common experience. Yet the system puts value in a comment written about them.
These days, I am down to a more sane 15 individuals. However, if you take 15 individuals over 3 subjects, and multiply it by the 60 days I have with them each term, I am being asked to make sense of 2700 moments.
It is little wonder that the common practice is to use a comment bank. This is a series of prewritten statements that when combined equal a report to an individual. Here is what you see when you enter one of the comment bank sites as an educator:
Nothing about authenticity, accuracy, or learning. Just SAVE TIME!
As with many systems in education, this one just reeks of wrongness. I have firsthand stories of how IB graders use internal systems to cheat the system set up to avoid inauthentic feedback. Many school boards actually forbid educators from straying from the comment bank, in an effort to save face and avoid conflict. This to me sounds the opposite of authentic learning.
So why do we go through this silly dance? I have tried to make reports that reflect a more fun-loving project based nature, and realize that it was only because I had the luxury of good amount of additional time that it was possible. The outcome… parents were grateful, said thank you, and then lost the email after a one time reading. Many of the students when asked about it had no idea what I was talking about…
“Report card? Oh yeah… I saw it. It was cool.”
Meanwhile, I have labored long and hard to provide this piece of rough toilet paper to the parents so that they can feel connected to their kids learning for a moment.
Seriously parents, if you are learning something in a report card, that means you are not paying attention to your kids.
This is not to say that reports have no value. They have a little value. veeeery veeery little value. It can provide the next teacher a glimpse into the relationship between the kid and their teacher. If done well, it may help to build a student’s portfolio. However, throwing this one into a learning cost-benefit analysis would make a clear argument:
Can the report card!