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 on Twitter by Rooty Hill High School as part of an inquiry into student agency (h/t Michelle Anderson). For too long, I have 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 recently, I decided to do something about it.
Over the past few years, my class has self-reported achievement and effort grades in English, Maths and the Arts. 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.
Hattie’s Self-Reported Grades
On John Hattie’s 2018 list 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. We don’t use grades or tests in our day-to-day learning, 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. In the past, this required locking myself away for a couple of full weekends, much to the angst of a couple of little people who can’t understand why Papa won’t come out of his cave to play.
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. It’s 2020, sharing student progress should be agile, formative and most importantly, be owned by the learner. I think we have much to learn from early learning in this regard.
Like many Early Learning Centres and kindergartens, my son’s daycare use learning portfolios to document his interests and achievements. Parents can access portfolios when is convenient, 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”?
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 on things that genuinely impact learning.
If not this, then what?
The million dollar question. I email parents two or three times each term using an 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.
Teachers Going Gradeless co-founder Aaron Blackwelder has 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.
Peer feedback and Assessment For Learning are a big part of the fabric of our class. The meta-cognition and critical thinking associated with self-reporting more than justifies the “loss” of learning time. Aaron’s approach goes a long way towards addressing the questions posed at the top of this post.
A Better Progress Report: Using Google Forms to communicate learning
The purpose of a report cards is to explain progress to students and their parents. However, they do little to…
There is learning curve involved in using Google Forms and Form Publisher, but it has been time well spent. Students fill out a Google Form and select options which populate a template document which provides far more detail and reflection that I can include in a standard report.
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 monitor portfolios and suggest work samples to include as the year unfolds.
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. Recently, I managed to complete this task in just a third of the time it has traditionally taken. Time I have reinvested into projects and learning that truly drive learning forward.
In my experience, ninety percent of the time, students are spot on with the grades they assign themselves. If anything, they are harder on themselves than I would be. By the time we reach “select & defend” conferences, I’m often concerned 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.
Educators have been using student voice in reports for eons, but perhaps how we collect evidence of learning and shift culture towards students constructing and publishing their academic reports is overdue for inspection.
What would your reporting practice look like if you were given a blank slate?