education, Teacher

A Grown-Up Report Card – How many A’s would YOU get?

report_card picImagine, if you will, that it’s a week before Christmas but instead of your head being filled with visions of sugarplums and rum and eggnog, you were pacing the floors worrying about your upcoming report card.

Yes, you. A grown-up. With a real grown-up job. Imagine that three times a year someone marked you and put their thoughts and opinions about you on paper for all to see.

“Oh,” you may say, “That happens to me. I get evaluated at my job all the time.”

Ah, yes. Your job. Presumably that thing you are good it. The thing that you chose to do for a career because you have some aptitude for it.

But what if you were evaluated on everything in your life? Not just the things you are good at but everything.

How do you think you would fare?

Report cards went home at my school this week. There was excitement and tears, joy and frustration. Some children were thrilled and others were terribly disappointed.  Teachers put a lot of effort into writing detailed, well-thought out comments, but those were often skimmed over, as parents and students zeroed in on the ABC or D.

Everyone has strengths and challenges. As adults, we have learned to stick with what we are good at and avoid our weak areas like the plague. Children don’t have this option. They have to be good at EVERYTHING. Art, science, math and writing. Sports, music, geography and reading. And if they aren’t? If they don’t get an A or a B on their report card? Sound the alarm bells!!! It’s a national crisis.

As adults, we don’t expect ourselves to be good at everything across the board, so why do we expect this from our children? Why can’t our  kids have strengths and challenges just like we do? If you were to get a report card right now, how do you think you would do? Check yourself against this list.

report card2THE ADULT REPORT CARD

Reading – Are you reading the classics and discussing them regularly and in-depth with your friends? A+! Or do you limit your reading to text messages and Star magazine? Poor effort. C for you.

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Writing – Do you regularly write long stories with proper grammar and perfect spelling? Bravo! A for you. Is your writing limited to misspelled Facebook posts with no punctuation? So sad. You get a C.

Math – How are your budgeting skills? Do you pay off your bills regularly and never overspend (even at Christmas)? A again. Are you generally good but occasionally overspend on really, really nice boots? B, but with caution. Are you living paycheck to paycheck? It’s a D for you.

music_notes-1z5rh82Music – Do you play multiple instruments perfectly and with great gusto? Perfect marks for you. Do you sing off key to top 40 songs on the radio? Maybe a C. Try expanding your repertoire.

Art – Are you a Pinterest person with a houseful of crafty crafts? A+ for you! If you are more like me and all of your drawings involve stick people, sorry, you get a C.

Physical Education – Can you sink a basket, run a mile, and hit a ball? Are you a team player? The gym’s your thing! A+ If the only time you run is to catch the bus or get the last maple donut, you might need some remedial classes.

And don’t even get me started your behaviour! Are you nice to people? Not just the people you like but everyone? Are you helpful? Do you always get your work done on time? Are you kind, courteous and reliable?

We can’t all excel at everything. It’s just not possible. (Unless you’re Martha Stewart and even then, look what happened to her!) If your child brought home a report card, good or bad, or you just finished writing report cards, good and bad, make sure you put things in perspective. We are all gifted and we all struggle. It’s called  being human. And kids are just little humans. Let’s cut them some slack.

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education, Teacher, Uncategorized

Report cards – Who are we writing them for?

In response to a request for feedback put forth by Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education, I wrote the following letter which I forwarded today.

writing117Dear Minister Jennex,

In a recent letter to The Chronicle Herald, you invited families, students and educators to offer feedback on the report card system.

In my experience, teachers are often extremely reluctant to speak publicly on matters of education for fear of being seen as insubordinate or disrespectful. They often worry that speaking out will affect their current teaching position or their future job prospects. This fear silences teachers and keeps valuable information from being shared.

As an active teacher currently working in the Nova Scotia school system, I am taking you at your word that my feedback will be accepted in the manner in which it was requested. I expect that you will consider my comments to be neither disrespectful nor insubordinate. My only intent is to pass along my experience with the current report card system with the hopes that this ‘insider information’ will help to improve the current system.

My concern is that there appears to be a disconnect between what is being said and what is being done.

In your letter, you stated:

Comments on report cards should provide clear, straightforward information to parents about how their child is achieving and progressing in relation to program expectations and learning outcomes.

The HRSB policy on assessment states that report cards must be written: “using language that is based on learning outcomes and is easily understood by parents/guardians.” 

What we have here is an oxymoron.

To ensure report cards are easily understood by all parents/guardians, we need to use clear and straight-forward language. But, when we must deal exclusively with learning outcomes, we are forced to use eduspeak.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do both at the same time and have anyone, other than other trained educators, understand what you ‘really’ mean.

In your letter you also stated:

It is important for families to know that teachers are expected to produce individual report cards for students. The idea that they must use only “canned” comments is not true. Teachers are encouraged to include personalized comments.

While I don’t presume to speak for all teachers, the ones I know, myself included, have not been encouraged to include personalized comments. In fact, most personalized comments have been discouraged and crossed out by administrators only to be replaced by general outcomes-based language.   

As a former teacher, I know you are aware that teachers spend hundreds of hours writing report cards every year. And while it is true that we are not given “canned comments”, it is true that we have been specifically told by our administrators what we may and may not include in these comments.  Over the years, this list of what is permissible to say has been whittled down to such a narrow point that often all that is left is what you might call a ‘canned’ comment.

All Nova Scotia schools (as far as I am aware) require teachers to submit their report cards to be proofread and edited by an administrator before they are sent home. This helps to pick up on most of the inevitable typos that occur when you type 100+ pages of reports, but it also ensures that all comments are outcomes-based and do not include any information that strays from this focus.

HRSB policy states that teachers are required to develop accurate report cards by always relating grading and reporting to the learning outcomes and excluding characteristics that are not linked to learning outcomes (such as effort, behaviour and attendance). 

As well, individual student achievement will be measured against defined curriculum outcomes rather than compared to other students or measures of individual academic growth (and is) not be based on measures such as students’ social development and work habits, bonus points, student absence, missed/late assignments, group scores, neatness.

How is a teacher supposed to personalize a comment for a student when all personal information has to be excluded?  Once again, we have ourselves a paradox.

There are many different ways for teachers to communicate with parents outside of report cards. As we used to say at my school, “No parent should ever be surprised by what they read on a report card.” Yes, we send home completed tests and projects and samples of work, we write newsletters, we make appointments to meet with parents and we call them when specific issues arise. We also have board scheduled parent-teacher interview times. Unfortunately, in the HRSB at least, parent-teacher interviews are no longer scheduled to follow the issuance of report cards. Any parent who is confused by their child’s report card must make a separate appointment to meet with or speak to their child’s teacher. For a variety of reasons, not all parents are able or willing to do this. Many of them rely on their child’s report card to be self-explanatory, as they should be.

In the end, it’s simple.

Parents want to know how their child is doing in school. They want to know what their child is good at and what they struggle with both academically and socially. They want to ensure that their child is a happy, independent learner. They want what’s best for their child. And students, even the little ones, want to know when they’ve done well and how they can do better.

We need to improve our current report card system so that parents and students understand what we are saying. Otherwise, what is the point of having report cards at all?

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Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

10 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Your Child Get a Better Report Card (and lead a happier life)

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year…report card time!

I jest, of course. Report card time is often a stressful time for children, teachers, and parents alike.

After report cards come home, the question parents most often ask is, “What can I do at home to help my child?”

They think the answer is going to be complicated and involve expensive tutoring support. And sometimes these things are necessary.

But in many cases, there are some simple (free) things you can do at home that will make a positive difference in the classroom. They aren’t based on rocket science and they’ve been proven time and time again by people way smarter than me (people like scientists and psychologists).  They don’t just help kids get better grades…they help them to become healthier, happier people. And in the end, that’s really what we want, isn’t it?

Keep in mind that these suggestions are designed for parents of elementary school children. Once your child hits middle school, you want to have good habits and attitudes ingrained.

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Get the TV and the game system out of their bedroom. If they have a phone, have them turn it off and leave it in the kitchen at bedtime. You want your child to have a restful sleep so they are ready to learn once they get to school. Kids can’t focus on learning when they are tired.
  2. Get your child to school on time. It’s disruptive to everyone when kids arrive late. And it’s often the same kids who arrive late every day. I get it. You’re saying, “Oh, but it’s just so hard to get out the door on time.” Uh, yes, it can be. But you need to make it a priority. By consistently allowing your  child to be late, you are teaching them that punctuality is not important when it is.
  3. Help your child with personal hygiene issues. Check them out before they leave the house. (I often do the sniff test with my kids.) Body odor, dirty clothes, bad breath, basically anything that involves bad smells, is going to make your kid a social pariah and a target for bullies.
  4. Teach your child that everyone has strengths and challenges. Your child may be good at math but struggle with reading or vice versa or both. Make sure they know that this in no way measures their worth as a human being or anyone else’s worth, for that matter.
  5. On that note, make sure your child understands that neither their self-worth and nor your love is tied to a grade on their report card. Remember: no one will be checking their grade four math mark when they are applying for college or their first job.
  6. Teach your children that popularity comes with both power and responsibility. If your child has been blessed with a leader-like personality, help her to use this power for good, not for evil.
  7. Keep an eye on what your child hears, sees and reads. There is a reason movies and video games have ratings. Movies that are rated R are not for children. Video games that are rated mature are not for children. Grow a spine and say no.
  8. Sexy lingerie is not for little girls, it’s for grown women. Even though they make thongs and lacy bras for the pre-teen set doesn’t mean you have to buy them. It’s not cute…it’s wrong. Same goes for Playboy t-shirts and sweatpants that have “Juicy” written across the butt. If she begs, see #8 for advice.
  9. Healthy food makes for healthy minds and bodies. If your child is coming to school already jacked up on a sugar-fueled breakfast (or worse, no breakfast) we are already at a disadvantage.
  10. Finally, don’t trash your child’s teacher in front of your child. The fact is, unless you can negotiate a class change, your child and his teacher will be spending more daytime hours together than the two of you. Be part of a team – your child’s team.

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