When students read report comments, can they see themselves?
When parents read the comments, can they see their child?
How will our practice and culture shift when students construct and publish their own academic reports?
These questions were posted recently on Twitter by Rooty Hill High School as part of an inquiry into student agency (h/t Michelle Anderson). The questions resonate with me because they mirror concerns I have about the purpose and effectiveness of my school’s narrative reports. For too long, I’ve invested time and effort into grading and reporting that failed to drive learning forward, didn’t communicate growth and achievement effectively, and stole precious time from my young family. So this year, I decided to do something about it.
This past semester, my class self-reported achievement and effort grades in English, Maths and the Arts, and used Google Forms to select or create sentence stems they felt best-reflected growth and achievement for their report transcript. My goals for this shift included increasing student ownership of learning, improving the accuracy of effort and achievement grades, and displacing some of the toxic time burdens back into the classroom.
But before I get to that, a quick note about what this post is not.
On John Hattie’s updated list (2018) of factors related to student achievement, self-reported grades place second with a 1.44 effect size. In a 2016 article, Kristen DiCerbo investigated the studies used to get this effect size and found that they only looked at the correlation of self-reported to actual grades.
It is clear that these studies only show that there is a correlation between students’ expected grades and their actual grades. That’s it (and sometimes not even that). They just say kids are pretty good judges of their current levels. They do not say anything about how to improve achievement. These studies are not intervention studies.
Even under the guise of “student expectations”, I’m not sure what educators are supposed to make of this “influence”. The only actionable takeaway appears to be a recommendation that teachers not aim to meet the needs of kids, but instead help them exceed what they believe is possible. The self-reporting in our class has no link to Hattie’s meta-analyses.
Before I get into how we self-report, I’ll share a little context. I teach the only year 6/7 class at my primary school. Our reports are not high stakes; their primary function is communication. We are mandated to report an A-E grade for all subjects, twice a year. Our classroom is completely gradeless; the only time grades raise their ugly head is when students use a “select and defend” model to arrive at an overall grade for semester reports.
I Want My Thirty Hours Back…
Historically, my school’s reporting process has been a summative sinkhole of time, effort and teacher wellbeing. Depending on class size, I usually spend 30–40 hours at home writing end-of-semester reports, around 90 minutes per student. I know I’m not alone. The way I write necessitates locking myself away for a couple of full weekends, much to the angst of a two-year-old I’m pretty fond of who is always keen to play with his Papa. It’s an unwritten expectation of the job that this work is done at home, and it sucks. It’s little wonder some teachers resort to using online “robots” to save time.
Once you hit the 8-10hr threshold of report writing for the day it is entirely appropriate to replace the coffee with alcohol, right? Asking for a friend. pic.twitter.com/KnUtXPRbd5
— Abe Moore (@Arbay38) June 23, 2018
It’s 2018, why only aim to communicate growth and achievement with parents and guardians twice a year? I liken it to staying fit by running a marathon twice a year, rather than pounding the pavement on a 5km jog a couple of times a week. Ongoing reporting with families is agile, formative and allows for small redirections when needed. My son’s daycare is an excellent example of this.
Like many Early Learning Centres and kindergartens, my son’s daycare use learning portfolios to document his interests and development. Parents can access portfolios whenever is convenient, no secret teacher business, and they are chock-full of observations, photos, and examples of growth. Notably, nobody is grading my son’s finger painting ability.
In a system without grades, parents would need more communication from teachers (and their child) as they’d be focused on “what did my child learn today?” rather than “how is my child doing?” — which are important philosophical differences. — Chris McNutt, What Really is an “A”?
In place of grades, parents need and deserve greater communication. Perhaps that is my biggest problem with our current system. My gradeless classroom model requires me to maintain regular contact with families but our standardised, lockstep school reports demand that I do that too. Surely we can do better than two vague narrative reports a year?
It’s a little cheesy, but my #OneWord for this year is “impact”. If I’m asked to do something that doesn’t impact learning, it goes directly into the circular file. As a contract teacher, I’ve already been fired, so pushing back against a little administrivia is the least of my worries! I’m done investing so much time into something that delivers so little. In fact, I don’t even want the 30 hours back. What I want is the flexibility to spend this reporting time in a way that genuinely impacts learning.
If not this, then what?
The million dollar question. I email parents two or three times each term using Alice Keeler’s “parent email” add-on which allows a private and personalised comment to be written for each student alongside a general message. We hold student-led 3-way conferences with parents twice a year and use Seesaw as a digital portfolio to collect evidence of learning and show understanding. In lieu of grades on individual pieces of work or a gradebook, this is an important feature. Like my son’s daycare, interested families can access their child’s portfolio and our shared blog which features learning highlights from the entire class. We use Seesaw to:
- Share drafts, revisions and use of feedback in writing.
- Collect evidence of self and peer-assessments.
- Reflect on lessons and share thoughts & opinions via podcasts.
- Visualise thinking for low floor/high ceiling Maths tasks.
Earlier this year, Teachers Going Gradeless co-founder Aaron Blackwelder shared a post titled A Better Progress Report: Using Google Forms to communicate learning. In it, he created an explanatory video on how to compile and publish progress reports using Forms.
To do an effective job explaining how each student is doing in all of my classes would take me days. However, we now have the tools to do so much better job, thus making the traditional report card obsolete. Now, students can share their progress, their thoughts on their progress, and links to their work.
I love that the impetus for sharing progress and notable examples of learning has been given back to students. From my own experience, the meta-cognition and critical thinking associated with self-reporting more than justifies the “loss” of learning time. It propels students to evaluate multiple facets of their learning including their growth and achievement. Aaron’s approach goes a long way towards addressing the questions posed at the top of this post.
There is a learning curve involved in using Google Forms and Form Publisher, but it has been well worth the time investment. For reporting this semester, I exported the comments below as a spreadsheet which I manually entered into our report template. My next step is to create individualised “reports” using the something like the document below. These will include student comments, goals and links to student work samples. You can see links to these document HERE and HERE. For an example of the Form that populates this template, click HERE.
My role in this process has changed from “gate-keeper” of the grade to fact-checker. Responsibility for collecting evidence has shifted back to the students; I merely monitor portfolios and suggest work samples to include as the year unfolds. Some kids respond, others don’t and are forced to scratch around for evidence come report writing season.
On my first attempt, this process shaved about ten hours off my workload at home and transferred it back into the classroom in the form of conferencing and evidence collection. Moving forward, I can imagine using this process at the end of the term or significant units of work to share progress and achievement and to complement evidence collected in digital portfolios.
I would argue that, despite my best efforts in the past, this style of reporting is also more accurate. With 25+ Ss, 8 subjects areas and many discrete areas within each subject, it is optimistic to think that I can “know” where all my Ss are at all the time. But they do.
— Abe Moore (@Arbay38) June 16, 2018
Importantly, students have been, for the most part, spot on with their assessments and reflections. If anything, they are harder on themselves than I would be. By the time we reach “select & defend” conferences, I’m normally riddled with fears and insecurities about whether students have “done the work” and if we’ve covered enough content. But these fears are almost always completely stripped away when students present evidence of their growth and understanding.
While we aren’t there yet, this is the start of a culture shift towards students constructing and publishing their academic reports. I don’t feel like there is anything particularly innovative about what I’ve outlined here; educators have been using student voice in reports for eons. Perhaps how we are collecting data and self-reporting grades might be of interest to others.
What would your reporting practice look like if you were given a blank slate?
I’d love to get your thoughts on this and hear about your reporting practices in the comments section or on the Tweeter. I don’t have an answer to this question yet, but one thing is sure, I wouldn’t be maintaining the status quo.