Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Report Card Comments from a Can?

At my former school, report card writing was an easy task: calculate the grade and check the boxes for the corresponding canned comments. I could write report cards for all 150 of my students in just a few hours, and I thought I loved the system. Not because it was in the best interest of my students, mind you, but because it was easy and required minimal time commitment. Selfish, I know, but not illogical. Coming up with all of those comments from scratch would have been a laborious and time-consuming process.

My first year at USM, I was introduced to writing report card comments from scratch. No template, no prewritten quips to copy and paste, just a blank, ominous computer screen. I sought the advice of my peers, and while they were exceedingly helpful and offered useful advice, I was overwhelmed. Other than my master’s action research project, that first set of comments was the most challenging thing I had ever written. But, I was rewarded when I finished. As a result of the reflective process that was necessary to creating a thoughtful and accurate comment, I knew my students comprehensively. And, while looking at kids individually, group patterns started to emerge as well. It became clear where my instruction had been effective and where it had fallen flat. I had no choice but to reevaluate my methods, and I became a more contemplative teacher because of the process.

Since that first year, I am more intentional in the way I gather data about my students. Each child has a digital folder in which I save notes from our one-on-one meetings, copies of written feedback that I have provided on their writing, and examples of their most recent work. This has improved the efficiency of my comment writing. What’s even more important is a side effect of creating these digital records: As I gather information, I am able to analyze it, meet individual needs, and adjust my instruction on the fly.

While comment writing may never be easy for me, it will always be valuable. It has made me a more reflective and purposeful teacher, not just for two weeks in October and February, but for the whole year. And, though I’m relieved each time I finish another round, I don’t miss the canned comments. Frankly, they don’t do a student justice.