As I plug through this year’s final reports, I think back to an article that I read a few months ago. As I was eating breakfast and getting ready to go to school, I heard Aviva Rubin speak to Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. Matt was asking her about a piece that she wrote for the New York Times called My Son’s Grades Are Too High. Since the interview, I have re-read the article numerous times. Now, as I write my last reports for the year, I’ve got Aviva’s article on my mind again. (I might also be procrastinating on my workload.)
Every time I write report cards I wish that that the time that I spent writing them was spent in conversation with parents and students. The amount of time that teachers put into a document that could potentially go unread boggles my mind. I’m not going to lie; I think that report cards (as we currently do them) are a bit of a waste of time. I really wish that the time was spent face to face with the readers (students, parents, admin), discussing learning successes, needs and next steps.
Aviva comments on reports being “impersonal, prefab, nondescript and jargony”. In terms of the reports being impersonal, this is going to happen. Reports of any kind are not meant to be personal; they’re meant to report. In terms of being prefab, I think that’s fair. Having said that, there are only so many ways that a teacher can describe learning in a small amount of space. Copy+paste happens for survival purposes. As long as the message is the same (and you will get repetition in a whole class of students learning the same material), then I think that it should be permissible. "Nondescript" and “jargony” are the two that I think that we can improve upon by talking more. Both are true, but both can be solved with “can you explain what this means?” type questions.
The problem is that we (both teachers and parents) need to have the time to talk through reports. Ten minutes during parent-teacher interviews is hardly enough time.
I really think that as teaching and learning slowly morph through this period of rapid change in the world, reporting will also change. I for one would advocate for reallocating and redistributing the time that we spend on report card writing. Documentation is necessary, but it doesn’t move learning in the same way that effective conferencing does. Good parent/teacher conferences are personalized to students. They explain learning and de-jargonize reporting. Most importantly, they are conversational. Both parties listen. Both parties speak. Both parties learn from each other.