You’re an Individual … just like everyone else!
Phew! The end of term is fast approaching and the pressure of report writing is almost over.
Throughout my teaching career the biggest debate about report writing has always centred around the obsession with making each report individual to the student. The most recent discussion along this line was in our office last week, as we proofread the year 8 reports.
I have always taken a methodical approach to report writing. When I started teaching we hand wrote reports on duplicate paper … my reports were almost always two pages long. I was encouraged by the Assistant Principal of my school at the time to use my reports as a way to promote my subject content, my expectations of students and to comment on student achievement. I developed a ‘blurb’ for each subject and, over time, developed a collection of phrases I liked to use. This was especially useful when commenting on a student’s lack of achievement or when offering suggestions for future improvement. The idea was that this was an important means of communication with parents about what happens in my classroom.
It was not long into my career that computers became a teacher’s friend and we moved to typing our reports. This transition suited me … especially as I could now copy and paste my ‘blurbs’ and phrases. I was able to tweak them to show more variation of expectations and achievement. The recent transition to ‘Report Writer’ has been a welcomed natural evolution … I was creating comment banks before the concept was introduced to our vocabulary. Last week I introduced one of my office buddies to comment banks as she struggled with time management and linguistic inspiration.
As I pause to reflect on the process of report writing … I still fail to see ‘comment banks’ and ‘individual students’ as mutually exclusive concepts. The tasks I set in my classes are the same for all students … the solutions, expectations and work output might be different but all students set out with the same basic problem / challenge … so it stands to reason that the descriptive comment about this task will be the same … it doesn’t make sense to waste time trying to say same thing in different ways. The way in which students complete the tasks varies and this is where I love comment banks. This is where I focus on the individual student but over time I have tweaked my comment bank to mean I often already have an appropriate comment ready … I don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time I sit down to write reports.
The other important reflection is that I don’t start by classifying my students as high, medium and low and then set about writing the report for each level. My comment bank covers a range of attitudes, behaviours, levels of achievement and as I think about each student I select the statements that are appropriate to them and their performance over the semester. If I can’t find a comment that is right then I need to add another variation to my comment bank. Even when I have twins or siblings in the same class it is rare to write exactly the same report (although it could happen).
Given the limited time we have for report writing, using comment banks wisely means we don’t make those pesky errors like spelling names incorrectly, putting in the wrong pronoun or missing full stops and adding too many spaces. Comment banks allow me to use my report writing time more efficiently and effectively.