Report Cards – Writing the Narrative of Student Achievement

Although it seems like the school year has just begun a few weeks ago, it’s actually coming to a close next month. Yes! You read that right. School’s almost out for the summer – despite the fact that summer seems to be taking its sweet time to arrive with the weather feeling more September-like rather than spring. With all this mix bag of weather and perhaps emotions concerning the close of one school  year and the horizon of another, there is still one thing on every teacher’s mind: report cards! Gasps for fear; leaps for joy; however you reconcile this extremely important process of formally reporting student achievement, the narratives we write have the potential to impact our learners in very significant ways.

Though the Report Card tends to be written with parents/guardians in mind, it really has a wider readership that includes the students themselves as well as a host of future teachers who have access to it through the Ontario Student Records (OSR). Knowing this, how might we be more intentional when writing the report card since the contents have far reaching implications?

Firstly, the report card is meant to be meaningful. As teachers with teaching degrees and constantly immersed in “edubabble” (terms that are usually commonplace for educators), it is important that the things we say in the report card are communicated in the most effective way so that our message comes through with intention. Keeping the use of educational terminology to a minimum will ensure that the audience can arrive to its intended message with ease. This might mean rewording the curricula using reader-friendly terms. Remember this revised versions of K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple […and Significant]. Report comments should serve as a window to student achievement in ways that demonstrates both the scope of learning that took place as well as the degree of success students experienced within it. Teacher jargon can inhibit this very clear message which can be then deemed irrelevant to parents/guardians and students.

Next, embrace a positive tone. The rhyme, “Sticks and stone may break my bones but words may never harm me,” proves false as words have the power to either build one up or tear them down. When writing the narrative of student achievement with a focus on both their strength and next steps, it is important to frame students’ areas of need from an asset-based approach rather than solely iterating deficits. “Karly constantly talks during independent work time” tells a very different story than “Karly is beginning to regulate his behaviour during independent work time.” Mere semantics? Maybe. But the impact of one semantic can birth a positive outlook or reinforce a negative one.

Finally include feedback that will matter. This is particularly true for the final report card of the year as that the content that will be learned in the new grade will differ from the grade-specific content that the student is graduating from. In this case, next steps should serve as feedforward  as opposed to feedback. What might be the skills or habits of mind that will be salient in future learning opportunities? What concepts will form the foundation for future understanding? These are the next steps that will prove useful if articulated well. Including student voice in this aspect of report card writing is a great way to value the person who is set to internalize the feedback given. Imagine the partnership that can be developed when students remain accountable to themselves as well as previous teachers for their commitment to improving their outcomes.

So my few suggestions, though not revolutionary, can alter the ways in which the report card serves out its function. Families are notified of students progress and achievement, students are empowered with meaningful next steps and future teachers read the narrative of a student from an asset-based approach. Happy writing!

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Updated: May 11, 2016 — 12:12 pm

The Author

Tisha Nelson

Tisha has taught in five schools in the Greater Toronto Area over the past seven years. She has experience as both an Occasional and Contract teacher teaching in Primary, Junior and Intermediate grades. Tisha is a workshop presenter and blogger for The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning. She also is an AQ instructor and an author of the book Rights and Equality published by Rubicon Publishing (The Sankofa Series). Tisha’s passion for teaching and learning can be summed up in her six-word philosophy of education, “Love and ingenuity commands sustainable transformation.”

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