Do report cards provide parents and students with meaningful feedback that enables them to improve their learning, personal development, and overall achievement? We have recently started discussions with staff regarding the feedback provided to students and parents with our report cards. The discussions have been precipitated by questions regarding how effective this feedback is with respect to enhancing student learning, having clarity on learning outcomes understood, and the character traits that contribute to the overall success of students in their classes. Furthermore, we have questioned what it means to a parent or student when we tell them they have a “B” or a “C” in a course. While we may not have a choice in providing letter grades (this is a Ministry requirement), we do have a say in the type of information we might supplement with these letter grades to provide insight into how a child can improve and how we (parents, child, teacher) might support the learning. Moreover, when we provide information on work habits, how does a “G”, “S”, or “N” give parents enough insight into their child’s curiousity, zest, social intelligence, self-control, grit, gratitude, or optimism (Character traits identified in “How Children Succeed” by author Paul Tough). How might we assess and provide feedback on these traits? How are these traits influenced by culture, gender, societal or family circumstances such as poverty, mental health, or relocation?
The Ontario Ministry of Education has been working with some interesting reporting practices with respect to Life Skills and Work Habits. The document presents a fairly clear idea of what skills they believe are important for student success and development. For the full document, visit their web-site at:
Page 11 of this document outlines the sample behaviours associated with the Learning Skills and Work Habits so that students have a better understanding of what is important when we talk about Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative, and Self-Regulation.
It is important that if we value these traits that lead to employment, academic success, and personal success, then we must find ways to develop these traits in our children and provide them with feedback so that they can improve. More importantly though, it’s essential to depersonalize the feedback given to students so that they focus not on the ways they might define their identity, but on the characteristics that contribute to their identity. In other words, when a child receives a “C” in a course, they often interpret this as, “I am a C Student”, as if to say that I am average or mediocre. This interpretation often leads to the development of their identity. In a recent workshop with Damian Cooper, an expert on assessment, he introduced a tool (Tomlinson, 2001) that can be used for teachers when differentiating work in a classroom. I found this tool intriguing in that it uses a scale, much like a toggle switch for a volume control knob, to indicate where a child may be functioning on a spectrum. While the intent of this tool is for creating differentiated lessons in a mixed or diverse classroom, I believe the structure of it
may be useful as an assessment tool. We could imagine changing the headings for each scale and the actual indicators so that they reflect character traits, work habits, or learning skills. What I like is that it is easy to use and easy to understand. It helps me see where my child is on a spectrum and, if combined with descriptors, I might get more insight into how my child could improve. My point here, is that regardless of whether or not we use some version of these tools above, we need to find feedback mechanisms that are easy enough for teachers to use, given the number of students they teach, and effective enough for parents and students to understand how to improve.
More recently, I have been intrigued by the Reggio schools, specifically in the ways that student learning is documented. At a workshop this year with Mara Krechevsky, Director of the Making Learning Visible Project, she presented on how we use documentation to extend and deepen learning. Projects are organized for learning groups in which documentation becomes the process used to reflect feedback on demonstrated learning (observations, recordings, interpretations, and sharing through media). This type of documentation not only shows what students accomplished, but it provides insight into the thinking behind what they accomplished. We can see through recordings the ways that they are analyzing a problem or offering possible solutions. In some ways, this is like taking a screencast of a student working through a math problem. Students are responsible for finding ways to document and communicate what they learned. They must determine what is important to share with others, why, and how. They must also see this documentation process as an opportunity to deepen the learning of others. Teachers and students in these classrooms recognize that each child has unique skills and abilities. In fact, children with special needs in these classrooms are referred to as children with special rights. The language in essence says that we are all different and that the adaptation we may require is a right, not some kind of subjective or debatable intervention. With the technology we now have, I believe that we have tremendous opportunity for gaining valuable documentation and examination into the thinking and learning of students. Perhaps, this is even more powerful than any feedback we may provide on a report card.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next phase of our report card here at Riverside. While there are structures that will act as barriers (such as the reporting requirements in BCESIS, post-secondary requirements that still require a percentage), I believe there is a desire to improve the learning and achievement of our students. Feel free to share with us your report card stories or thoughts as we move forward with our revisions.