Sunday, June 15, 2014

Report writing again.

Couldn't move my fingers much this morning when I woke up. Tendonitis had flared after two days' solid typing of student reports. Old age sucks. (And why am I typing again today??)

Proud of those reports though; proud of myself for refusing to use 'comment bank'.

For the past few years, as directed, I've used the school 'comment bank' when reporting. Using the 'comment bank' supposedly cuts down on errors, providing there are no mistakes in the rubric, in which case errors are multiplied. The comments in the bank correspond with the descriptors in AusVELS, the Victorian version of the Australian curriculum. They've been simplified to some extent, but they're bland and generic. Furthermore, students can end up with the same comments from year to year, depending on their progress along the AusVELS continuum. Oddly, there don't seem to be any complaints from parents or students.

Reporting on students is agonising. Lots of data entry. (Love Mr Fill Down, BTW.) Lots of writing. I'd estimate it's taken me 20 hours to create reports for 75 students. Would have been much quicker using the comment bank.

Then there's the proofreading meeting after school. About 80 of us print off our report comments and we swap and check. Last year, some of my comments were checked by a colleague who pointed out some really poor expression. 'It's not me. It's the comment bank,' was my lame response. It wasn't the first time I'd been ashamed of what the comment bank, with my assistance, had produced.

The comment bank may produce uncohesive, bland, generic descriptors of 'what the student has achieved' but it won't allow making even slightly negative remarks about a student. Negative remarks are verboten in these days when a few aggressive parents rule the school and we quake in fear of their wrath.

Reporting what some students have achieved is challenging. What to say about a student who has done nothing all semester except disrupt the learning of others? Who has resisted all my canny efforts and encouragement? "X enjoys contributing to class discussions, often in a racist mock-Indian accent. He has successfully resisted attempting any reading, writing or formal speaking and listening tasks." Suppose that's an achievement.

About 35 years ago, when I began teaching, it was perfectly acceptable to write this in a report: "X is an excellent student in every respect." Done. Too easy.

My first student reports were hand-written in a rectangular box - about 6 x 18 centimetres - on a piece of plain foolscap with the texture of blotting paper. Under that was a sheet of royal blue carbon paper and another sheet of foolscap for the second copy. A metal paperclip held it all together. After you'd written your little comment you passed the pages back to the coordinator who'd pass it to the next teacher of that student. Depending on how early you'd done your reports, you'd be able to see comments written by students' other teachers. 'Good' kids' reports glowed with superlatives. 'Bad' kids were described as disruptive, distracting, talkative, hopeless.

Unacceptable, of course. Even at 22 I knew it was inappropriate to take one's frustration and vitriol out on a student, even if they had caused it.

We moved to 'goal based descriptive assessment' at our school in the early 1980s. No grades, if memory serves. (No exams for 'junior' students either.) We also received our own 'no carbon required' report pads, designed to fit about four hand-written reports on each A4 page. Had to remember to put a sheet of cardboard between the reports so you didn't accidentally write extra copies

Didn't mind those descriptive reports. If necessary, you could still be honest about a kid's tendency to subvert learning in the classroom. Parents tended to support us back then. (Think that's a fair generalisation too, based on my experience teaching in three state secondary schools.)

Those reports were probably issued three times a year to correspond with three school terms. Don't remember anyone ever criticising my hand-written reports.

We thought we were working hard back then getting those reports out. Now we have computers and the internet you'd think it would be simpler.

At our school, as well as semester reports and two parent-teacher meetings we issue six interim reports.We're also expected to phone and email parents regularly so they 'don't get any surprises' on reports.

In the words of Redfoo , let's get ridiculous.

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