Report Card Feelings

Last post, I discussed mental health activities and one was discussing report card feelings. I went further into the topic with my class and thought I would share the results of how that went.

Today was the day that report cards went home with students so I took a moment to re-read their brainstorm list of ideas about how they felt regarding report cards. I also asked today that if they felt comfortable, they could raise their hand to show how they were feeling. I thought it would be important to look around and see who was raising their hands for the positive feelings vs. the negative ones. It was not what I expected. Students who put up their hands for the negative responses were not necessarily the students who had reason for concern. We cannot always assume that the students who participate the most/ try the extensions etc. will feel positive about seeing their report cards. They may have the highest expectations for themselves of everyone and with that, their parents may share those expectations.

It will also be important to talk to my class Tuesday after they have read their reports, discussed them with family and have had time to reflect on them to see how they feel. One number/comment to summarize all their efforts in a subject can often feel defeating so I want to address those feelings next week.

I thought it would be meaningful for all educators to see the results of the question “How do report cards make you feel?” My class sorted all of the feelings into either positive feelings or negative feelings.

Positive Feelings:

  • I feel good
  • I feel okay- I like knowing my grades
  • I love them
  • It’s okay
  • I get proud of myself to see how I did
  • Exciting
  • I feel proud of myself when I get good marks
  • I like reports because it shows how good you have been doing
  • BEST THING!
  • Decent
  • I feel excited to see what to improve on
  • I feel good about it
  • I feel okay seeing my marks
  • It’s okay I guess
  • I feel good and alright

Negative Feelings:

  • I feel bad
  • I feel nervous
  • I hate them
  • I do not care about them
  • I am scared
  • I feel terrible, it’s scary
  • I am scared about when I get my report card
  • It is horrifying because I do not want my grandparents to judge me

We agreed as a class that we were happy there were more positive feelings than negative. We know that these feelings resulted from past experiences and could change based on what to come. But, as their teacher, I need to think about where to go from here. There are so many great podcasts, inservices, articles and books about how to approach report cards. The negative stigma around them will always be hard to shake because so many students struggle with feelings proud of their efforts. I hope this year to help shake those feelings and help students feel proud of what they are doing, regardless of what it all averages out to be.

Mental Health Activities

January 25th was an important day to talk about mental health as each year, “Bell Let’s Talk Day” reminds us all that conversations are such an important part of our day as educators. As educators, it is our duty to ensure the mental well-being of each of our students is thought about daily. Some students keep their feelings inside and some claim to be happy 24/7. How do we dive deep into these important conversations and make sure that we are providing opportunities for our students to speak out? Here are some ways to get talking about mental health without making it the central focus. Starting small to get kids talking.

Math Activity

My students were looking at topics to create an infographic about and as a class, decided the most important infographic that should be on display in every intermediate class was one about mental health. So students looked for statistics related to youth mental health in Canada. They found fractions, percentages and various facts that told a story about the mental health of youth in Canada. They shared these infographics with their peers and discussed many important facts. Then, yesterday I pulled up the website about “Bell Let’s Talk Day” and students found many statistics on this page that they had used in their own infographics. We looked at the resources available and then talked about resources to help within our own school (Positive space groups, social worker, clubs, talking to teachers, etc.)

Drama Activity

I wanted to try an activity with my grade two and three students yesterday that connected to their mental health and it went very well. I encourage you to try it out with any grade in a future drama class or just as a class activity. Here is how the activity worked:

A student would be selected to be the actor and that actor would have some sort of problem that they were needing help with. Some examples are:

  • Getting a bad mark on a test
  • Getting into a fight with their best friend
  • Their best friend was moving
  • They felt sad but did not know why
  • Their goldfish passed away

It was actually challenging to think of situations that would not be triggering for students. I made sure that the actor was okay with the situation and then they proceeded to act out their feelings towards the situation. Then, they would pick three friends from the audience who would one at a time come up and try to make them feel better. It was incredible to hear all of the solutions that their friends had. Students who had not participated in drama class in the past put up their hand for the first time. They were excited to come up and comfort their friend. After the lesson, I asked the students if they could use these strategies in real life and they all agreed that they could. I know this activity comes with a risk of students having to be vulnerable but I think it was useful. I even heard a student say, “I wish I had gotten that advice a month ago!” I loved this activity and hope to try it with my intermediate students in the future.

Language Activity

As report card season is in the midst, I decided to try a different reflection activity this term. I asked students to write one word or sentence  on a cue card that best described their feelings towards report cards. This was an anonymous activity as when I collected the cards, I did not ask them to write their names on them. I then handed out a random card to each student. I asked them to think about why the student had written down that word/sentence. What could have been going through their head? Can you relate to what they wrote? Why or why not? I often hear grumblings about report cards around this time of year so I thought this would be a good chance for students to get it all out. An optional part of this activity could be having students share their word at the end if they felt comfortable doing so.

Art Activity

Last month, we were lucky enough to have someone from the Art Gallery of Hamilton come in to our classrooms. We were involved in a four week program working with watercolours with a focus on mental health. Students completed watercolour techniques in a very relaxing environment, using tape, string and tissues to create different looks. This was my favourite part of the day as every student felt connected to their work and rarely left to access a different space. Students were proud of their work and loved the simplicity of this. The arts have a way of making everyone at peace and I look forward to incorporating more periods to just create without a given set of rules.

These activities are just a few I have tried over the last month or so and I am always looking for new ways to get my students feeling comfortable around their peers and with themselves. I would love to hear about more if you have some that have worked in your own classrooms. I hope to include some photos once I am back in the classroom next week so stay tuned.

tracked and filed

My reports are completed. One hundred and ninety (190+/-) days of teaching, tasking, note taking, tracking, and now OSR filing are completed. If you are like me, then this time of year seems bittersweet.

Bitter because the act of writing report cards can be onerous. I am the first to admit that I love teaching, but hate putting a mark on things. To me, each time that happens creates a rift in the educational continuum. Regardless of rubrics, success criteria, and descriptive feedback, like on my most recent set of reports, the eyes of the reader will only be trained to the letter or percentage grade earned.

The time accumulating data, sorting through work, providing feedback is such a big part of our jobs. Yet, all this work, collaboration
and relationship building with students is distilled to a single letter or percentage grade.

When it came to the hybrid and emergency online learning many students struggled to complete work efficiently and effectively which would have been completed otherwise without issue in the classroom. Funny how computer tabs giveth and taketh away from one’s attention and abilities to learn as well as in person. In many ways, the past 2 and half years have shown us the value of being in our classrooms regardless of what consultants might have sold the powers that be in the current government.

Students received copious amounts of formative feedback that the summative result was an earned and culmination of their hard work and growth. Imagine if we could do that at every grade level. Perhaps that is the luxury I have had as a grade 4/5 teacher these past two years. Since there are no provincial assessments to ruin students lives in these years, they can really focus on the sheer joy of learning, making mistakes, unlearning, and trying again. I know this year has been a year of confidence building as much as it has been curriculum delivery, but it is important that our assessments match our students needs as their purpose is to improve student learning.

I am afraid we are still being forcibly blinded by a system incapable of seeing the brilliance of its youth each and every time we file another set of report cards. “We’ve always done it this way.” cannot be the next cliché in any of our minds if we truly want to support our students.

Reflecting on assessment at this time of year needs to be the call to action for each of us for this coming September. How can you create a space to track and file the learning that occurs in your classroom? What will be the first thing you change? How will you create the safe place for a do over or a retest or a late submission? How will you assess the strengths of your students’ abilities and needs?

Happy summer.

Reframing our mindsets around pandemic learning and reporting

Now that the busy-ness of progress report season is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on my reporting practices and the big picture of how reporting looks for us this year. I know I’m not the only educator in my school building who struggled to write progress reports this year, but I did find it interesting how these struggles looked different for many of my colleagues. My biggest strife? The reporting structures we follow reflect narratives of “learning loss” and “achievement gaps” when, in fact, my virtual students show up and try their best every single day. 

When I think about the big picture of how teaching and learning has looked since March 2020, especially as a 100% virtual teacher myself, I struggle to accept the fact that our reporting structures have not been adapted to consider the effects of trauma, isolation, and deterioration of mental health on students. Should we be writing traditional report cards at all? How can we provide meaningful feedback and assessment that considers the context of teaching and learning through a pandemic?

In spite of barriers maintained by the traditional report card, I try to make a concerted effort to always understand individual student experiences and contexts to adapt to pandemic learning. To push myself further, I remind myself to look at some of the dualities that exist in online student engagement to reframe my mindset:

  • Students are desperate for socialization as they learn by themselves from home—behaviour that is usually considered to be disruptive in the classroom is actually a courageous effort to build friendships.
  • Students are always willing to be their best selves in online school, while also feeling unable to bring themselves to complete work some days. 
  • Students choose to keep their cameras off, resulting in them feeling like they can be their truest selves—independent from their physical appearance.

When we only use learning skills and grades to evaluate student character and academic progress, we are sure to miss their best and bravest moments as learners. How might we include a reframed mindset around pandemic learning within current structures of reporting? There are countless conversations to be had about assessment and reporting from a critical perspective, and I’m looking forward to building on these reflections and connecting with educators who are asking similar questions. 

Moving forward I’m thinking a lot about how I can push my gradeless assessment practices even further and look at the ways that character education and learning skills can be an inequitable way of understanding student achievement. I can’t wait to share these thoughts here! 

Note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. ETFO will continue to demand action from the government, school boards and public health units to ensure in-person learning can resume quickly and safely.