Saturday, January 11, 2014

Effective Report Card Comments

Though hard to believe, the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year is over.  Last week, we sent our second round of report cards home with our students.  As I reviewed our students' report cards, my main objective was to review the teachers' comments.  As an administrator, that is the most useful information to me when I'm looking at a child's progress report.  Sure, the grades/standard ratings are important, but I find much more value in the written feedback provided by the teacher.

Comments provide an opportunity for teachers to give an overall "big picture" of a child's progress.  When I read report card comments, there are several things that I believe are essential in determining the strength of the teacher's feedback.  In addition to looking for the proper use of grammar and that the comments are free of spelling errors, the following items are "must-haves" in my opinion.

  1. Comments should begin with a positive statement.  I believe all parents want to feel like their child's teacher has a good relationship with their child, and beginning with a positive statement sets the tone for parents to be receptive to the feedback. 
  2. Comments should include specific strengths the student has exhibited during the grading period. For example, the student may have improved in reading, but instead of simply stating, "John improved in reading this quarter,"  I want to know what his specific improvements were.  "John improved in reading fluency (which is the rate at which a person reads and the expression that is used while reading).  His reading rate this quarter improved from being able to read 20 words per minute with proper expression to 45 words per minute." 
  3. Comments should include specific challenges or areas of need.  Rather than reading, "John is struggling with reading," I would prefer to have the teacher be a bit more descriptive.  "John is struggling with reading comprehension (understanding what he reads).  After reading, when asked "wh" questions such as who, what, when, where, and why, he often struggles with recalling the information from the text."  A statement like this leads right into the fourth item I look for when reading report card comments.
  4. Comments should include specific goals/next steps for the student.  Using the statement from above regarding John's struggle with reading comprehension, the teacher could set a goal.  "Next quarter, John's reading goal will center around improving his comprehension by using the strategy of checking for understanding.  I will meet with him frequently to help him practice this strategy during reading and document his progress."
  5. Finally, I look for the feedback to be as jargon-free as possible.  When using educational vocabulary or abbreviations such as WPM, fluency, comprehension, etc., it is important to explain what these terms mean.  Not all parents are educators.  Therefore, they may not have the background knowledge to decipher some of the terms that we, as educators, use on a daily basis.  
I appreciate the amount of time and effort that all elementary teachers put into providing effective feedback on their students' report cards.  As a former second grade teacher, I recall the hours spent writing comments each quarter.  And, while it does take some time to provide effective feedback, it is time well-spent.  Not only are parents more informed about their child's progress, the students' future teachers also have a road map of progress that they can use as reference.  As we get busy with instruction during the third quarter of the school year, it is exciting to me to think about all of the progress our students will make.  I can't wait to read all about it in March!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Word: Commitment

"Every New Year, 87% of adults--more than 206 million people--create new goals and resolutions, only to experience the same frustrating results:  false starts and failures.  In fact, 50% of resolution makers will fail by the end of January."  This is an excerpt from  One Word That Will Change Your Life, by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon.  I recently read this book, and I have to admit that I have been on the failing end of several New Year's resolutions.  I really do enjoy this time of the year--the beginning--where we get the chance to "start again" so to speak. However, my resolutions usually begin like gangbusters and then quietly sneak off to the never-world.  This year, I needed to seek something different, so I downloaded the aforementioned book, and I have to say that I was instantly hooked.

The authors share with their readers their personal journeys and how the selection of "one word" to live by is a much more attainable goal.  They share how powerful words can be--"they have the power to inspire, encourage, appreciate, heal, and turn the impossible into the possible."  So, could I really do this--choose just one word to sum up an all-encompassing goal I have for myself in this new year?  I took the authors' advice and followed their three-step process:

1.  Prepare your heart by looking in.
2.  Discover your word by looking up.
3.  Live your word by looking out.

What I discovered along the way is that there are many powerful words out there that I could choose for myself.  How on earth would I know which word was my word?  I began a list of words that I felt were things I wanted to achieve in the new year--strength, health, fitness, energy, motivation, action, willpower, commitment...

On the morning of January 1, as my husband and I were watching the Today Show, I was stunned to see Jon Gordon introduced and a segment about One Word appear before my eyes!  My husband thought I was crazy, because I shouted, "Oh, that's the book I just read! I was planning to do this!"  I guess there was no turning back now--I HAD to select my "one word."  I needed to commit!

Funny how the word found me!  I ended up not choosing it so much as it chose me.  Commitment.  There it is.  In 2014, I look forward to all of the ways I can show my commitment.  First and foremost, I am committing to this word!  It is my word, and I'm going to own it.  What word will define you in 2014?

Check out the "One Word" website for additional resources.