At times, writing comments for school reports seems to be one of the most futile endeavours facing teachers. Often, we attempt to condense an extended period of time with a student (at least a term if not more) into a confined space of a limited number of characters. We decide which behavioural qualities of a student were significant enough to prevent them from learning some snippet of information or a particular skill. Then, (sometimes) we devise ways in which to word a comment as not offend either the student or their parent but still send a strong ‘message’ about the behavior which is preventing them from achieving. The ‘Ctrl C’ comments are also popular. We write a few generic report comments and zealously employ the Ctrl C (copy) & Ctrl V (paste) functions. Write a comment, copy, paste and change the name.
These methods, particularly in secondary school, of writing comments for reports reflect larger issues in the profession around time and pressures for a single teacher to respond to increasing numbers of students.
However, it is irrelevant that comments are ‘creative masterpieces’ or ‘cloned’ if what they say exerts no positive influence on a students learning.
In many cases, students (and their parents/whanau) will receive two ‘written’ reports a year, especially in Years 9 and 10 (reporting is usually part of a bigger picture which will be covered in future blog posts). These reports tend to be formative in nature and come at the end of a term. At which point, feedback about behaviour that has been ongoing, seems a little redundant if issues have not been resolved beforehand. In addition, report comments often reflect the incapability of a student and lack any focus on their abilities and how to build on these.
Who are report comments for? Is it the incompetent parent who needs to improve their parenting skills? Is it the delinquent child who needs to improve their behaviour in society? Is it the school, under pressure to meet demands of a relentless education system? Certainly none of these fit the intended audience for report comments. Most likely, the intention is that report comments are written for the child with the child in mind. In other words, a student can easily understand their learning progress, know what they need to do next and their parents and whanau can easily make sense of the report so they can help learning to move forward. Therefore, the way in which we frame comment on a students progress should enable a student (with the help of their parents and whanau) to change something in order to progress or improve their learning.
Changing the way we write comments may seem like a trivial thing however, as part of a bigger approach to student centred learning, how we feed back to students about their progress, in whatever form it takes is hugely important.
At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we are attempting to develop a framework for writing report comments that is informed by Growth Mindset thinking, which is directed to students and provides clear direction of the next steps in learning. The example below illustrates how we view writing comments for reports.
Undoubtedly there are other ways to offer feedback about behaviour and certainly more efficient ways rather than writing about it in a report comment. In some way the misbehaving or absent student contributes something and can contribute something more to their learning. It is simply not enough to say they have behavioural problems and that they were not present (‘so and so is never here’). In the case of the absent student, obviously they know they were not at school so what good does it do to tell them that they were absent? Even offering a solution like “you need to attend more regularly in order to achieve” does little if anything to help a student see value in their learning. Surely, timely communication with whanau/family is far more productive in addressing these issues?
When we think about communicating with students, parents and whanau, report comments tend to be relegated to the back benches. However, they offer a significant opportunity to contribute to the learning discourse of each student. The key is in reframing how we view reporting and maximising the opportunity to effectively communicate about learning with our students, their parents and whanau.