School Reporting. What’s to keep secret?

After my previous post on report comments, I have been stuck on how to approach a blog post on the process of reporting and design of reports. Then I was pointed to a gimmicky piece on Stuff.co.nz, “Busy teachers share report-writing secrets”.  I was slightly bemused by the whole thing, though I was reminded of the need to raise teacher expectations giving students the confidence, skills and understandings they need to exceed their own expectations. The question I was left pondering most was whether the ‘secrets’ talked about were worth knowing? While, I don’t have any reporting ‘secrets’ to share, I do have some thoughts from our work at HPSS:

  • Reporting is an evolving process. There is a genuine willingness to adjust the reporting process to meet the needs of our students.
  • Reporting is about learning AND personal development. Students are at the heart of the reporting process. Reports are written for and directed to students.
  • Different modes of reporting are used, none of which is a secret to students or their whanau. There are four main ways that we communicate progress. This is through Individual Education Meetings (IEMs), Progress Reports, Formative Reporting and student-owned Learner Narratives.

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  • Reports are shared with students and whanau electronically using the KAMAR web portal.

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  • ‘Formative Reports’ are learning-focused and directed to the student. Comments are on student progress in relation to the learning objectives from each learning area. This report is a snapshot, signposting learning habits and strategies that are going well which students can transfer within or across learning areas and/or learning objectives.
  • ‘Progress Reports’ are completed 4 weeks into each term. These are a snapshot, signposting learning habits and strategies relating to key learning dispositions. The learning dispositions encompass our Hobsonville Habits. Progress reports are published in a timely fashion to capitalise on the reporting opportunity. Unlike the traditional 4-6 week delay between, printing, proofing and mailing there is very little time lost between report creation and it reaching the student and their whanau.

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  • Students are provided with opportunities to reflect on learning dispositions prior to reports being issued, and reports are informed through teacher/student input.  The indicators in this report will not be a surprise for students and by extension, their whanau.
  • The Progress Reports are an opportunity to provide a high level overview while encouraging students to dig deeper into areas for improvement. These reports indicate ‘Always’, ‘Mostly’ or ‘Not Yet’ in all areas of their learning. (Learning Modules/Classes, Learning Hubs and Big Projects).
  • A ‘Not Yet’ is used to indicate areas a student may need to improve and a comment provided. Comments are focused on helping students to improve by developing dispositions and encouraging reflection.

Progress

Not Yet

  • Initially, our progress reports included the indicators ‘sometimes’ and ‘concern’.  These indicators were replaced with ‘not yet’ in order to directly draw students away from the negative. Embracing a Growth Mindset attitude means that it is not a about whether or not the student has achieved. The focus is on helping students to improve by developing dispositions, reflect on their learning and employ strategies to support growth.
  • Opportunities are provided for students to undertake pre-report reflections and to make comparisons with actual reported indicators.

Compare & Reflect Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 1.47.04 pm Hattie explains that students are incredibly accurate about predicting their performance. What students often do is set safe targets. Our job as teachers is to disrupt that. Understanding what targets students set is only part of our job, the other part is to inspire them to do better. The way we write about our students should be beneficial for them. If a student can’t understand what has been written about them, does it make a difference if anyone else can? The child is at the heart of education. We so desperately want them to take more ownership and responsibility for their learning but refuse to acknowledge them directly in this part of their learning experience. The Stuff article talks about the idea that teachers would not tell a student they are “thick” because “if you tell people they’re thick, it stops them from learning.” Would it make a difference if telling a student they were thick helped them in their learning? No. I wouldn’t tell someone they’re thick because it is plain rude.

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Growth Mindset and Writing Report Comments

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.

HPSS guideline for writing report comments.

HPSS guideline for writing report comments.

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.