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We got our children’s report cards today. One was wonderful. The teachers clearly know him. They wrote kind things, “His contributions to class discussions have enriched the learning experience of his peers” and precise things, “He is happy to practise throwing and catching with accuracy while playing Ethiopian dodge ball” and clear suggestions for the future, he “is still working on socializing less in the hall and in the washroom.” I feel confident that the report card is a reflection of his learning at this moment in time.
My other child’s report card was less effective. There aren’t even really any good phrases to share. Apparently in reading he “interprets context clues and uses several reading strategies.” Well. There you go. I’m an English teacher, for pity’s sake, and I’m not 100% sure what that means for grade 4. The whole report card is general phrases that were almost undoubtedly lifted and used from one child to the next. I know the teachers have a LOT to do, but this report card feels very sterile, and I have no faith that it tells me anything at all about my child.
So… what was I doing today? Writing report cards. Exam period ended this morning; report cards are due tomorrow morning. It’s a brutal turnaround. For each student, I enter marks for 6 learning skills in addition to a numerical mark for the course and, of course, comments. For the comments, the school board provides teachers with a list of codes, organized by subject, that we are supposed to use. Each code links to a specific approved comment. Every student should have one comment from each of three categories: Strengths, Needs, Next Steps. The comments are grammatically uneven (some use second person verbs, some use third), general to the point of uselessness, and older than our curriculum (“new” in 2007). I hate them.
We are allowed to write narrative comments, but we are strongly encouraged to use the codes. Usually I split the difference, turning the codes into complete sentences, inserting student names, stringing multiple comments into one sentence. I aim for some personalization, some sense of the student on the report card. I want something better than “uses reading strategies”. This semester, for my small class of “Applied” level students, I managed personalized narrative comments, but for the large class I took over 2/3 of the way through, I’ve had to stick with the drop downs. Here’s an example:
Creates superior products
Uses creative thinking skills very effectively
Continue to explore creative ways to apply language and symbols
Continue to increase your personal reading
I know there are real limits to report cards (460 characters to be precise), but I wish I could send students off with something better than “creates superior products.” I wish my report cards could reassure the students and their parents that I really did see them, I really do know what they learned. Maybe next year I’ll get closer, but for now, here’s what I wish I could say instead:
Your child’s eyes light up when she talks about writing. She loves to try new things – once she stops being scared – and she’s learning to be confident that what she says matters. Even when she was half-asleep on her desk because school just started too early, she was still polite and she mostly managed to wake up enough to try the writing prompts. The day she cried, she had friends to comfort her. The day I needed her to step up, she did it. When she writes, she puts her whole self into it, and sometimes what she creates is breathtaking. And sometimes it isn’t, but she’s learning to handle that. There is no numerical score for “this child is doing just fine and my heart swells to think of her growing to adulthood.” Nevertheless that is her final mark.