Teaching is the best job in the world, but it is also the hardest.
It is a demanding profession at the best of times, and in the middle of the school year and at the end, the demand goes up a few notches again. The reason is report writing.
Too often reports take a long time for teachers to write and are quickly discarded by the intended audience.
Educators and schools need to invest significant time into curriculum and assessment design that allows for depth, student agency and responsive teaching. By doing so it will drastically shorten the time taken to complete reports, and it makes the process more meaningful for all parties.
This is a guide in best practice on how to write student reports.
There are two aspects to writing a report:
· The teacher’s comment, and
· The teacher’s judgement (a progression point to demonstrate where the student is in relation to where they are expected to be according to the curriculum standards).
The image above is the report for a grade 2 student in Victoria. The black dots are the progression points.
When thinking about curriculum and assessment design, it is best to start with the knowledge and skills you want your students to have gained upon completing the unit/topic, and then working backwards. Next, decide how you’re going to assess the skills and knowledge. Importantly this happens throughout the unit, not just at the end via a test.
By doing this it allows teachers to be transparent with students as to how they are going to be assessed from the start and be included throughout the unit. At the completion of the unit there are multiple pieces of assessment that are used to arrive at the progression point, and it’s crucial that students are included in this process. This way, students are motivated and accountable for keeping track of their best work throughout the unit that forms a portfolio.
Guiding questions for students to reflect on when compiling their portfolio:
What have I learnt as a result of this unit and what is my evidence?
What is an area for improvement for me at the end of this unit?
The answers to the questions above are what should inform the student’s report. The teacher highlights successes from the portfolio and suggests future areas for improvement.
Other things to consider when writing comments on student reports:
· Less is more
· The content needs to be professional and grammatically correct
· The comments should read as a conversation with a parent/student
· The focus should be on how they have grown as a learner, reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, historian, etc.
The ideal way to arrive at a progression point is to collaborate with colleagues using all the available information, not just from one summative assessment. In other words, to engage in moderation to ensure our judgements are as accurate as can be.
When moderating it is important to be selective on which students you will look at. Due to time constraints it is impossible to engage in moderation that looks at every student in every curriculum area. Choose students (rough guide of 3) that you find the hardest to assess and use the collaboration to support you. This process will help you make informed judgements on the rest of your students.
Despite moderating, the decision will still be subjective, but can easily be justified.
Note this is for F-10, although there are elements of this that can be built into years 11 and 12.
Some schools in recent times have moved to digital portfolios as a key feature of their reporting. As a result of the pandemic there is a lot of capacity among students to do this independently, efficiently, and effectively. When students graduate, what a powerful memento for them to take with them.
There are obvious implications for leaders to bring about the ideal reporting system. The main one being the allocation of time.
Teachers need to be provided with time to both design curriculum and assessment, and moderate. Many schools also provide their staff with a no meeting week to complete their reports, which is good practice.
As a principal I would read every student’s reports. This might not be realistic depending on the size of your school, but leaders should all be reading a selection from each class as a minimum (rough guide of 5).
By reading every report I was able to:
· Get an understanding of what each student was doing well and what their areas for improvement were
· Gain an insight into the thinking of my teachers in relation to their students
· Identify areas for whole school improvement
· Edit any errors before they went public
The school year is rapidly coming to an end in the southern hemisphere, which means it is report writing season. If you find that the process used in your school is not reflected in this piece, use some of the ideas outlined in this article to fuel positive changes for the next school year.
If you’re doing this well, kudos to you. Keep looking to refine and improve.
By investing in both time and the reporting process, there is more reward for all the hard work that teachers put in. The rewards being numerous, but include increased engagement, transfer of learning, depth of learning, and responsibility.
All of which go to the heart of why teaching is the best job in the world.