C’mon… who has the guts to get rid of reports?

I’m sitting here next to my wife. We are both full-time teachers.

I told her about the way I responded to an interview question about meetings recently. I told her that I has said that leaders should always remember this fact when about to call a meeting – “I am about to take time away from people”. I told her that I has said that leaders should try to ensure the two following things:

  1. They, themselves, are very sure that the meeting is necessary and timely.
  2. That  the participants at the meeting are totally aware of why the meeting is important and why their attendance is crucial

And then… guess what we find ourselves sitting here doing at 8:30pm on a Tuesday night, just like all of our colleagues. That’s right. Writing reports.

This process will take us a month. We will all spend a minimum of two to three hours per student. We will work very hard not only during the day, but also at night. It is beyond doubt that we will be less effective teachers – for two months of the school year. It is beyond question that learning can only suffer. It is a fact that vast quantities of paper will be used.

So. If we are going to take away so much time from teachers’ lives, shouldn’t there be a similar level of clarity? Consider the following:

  • Are reports actually necessary two (or more) times a year?
  • What is the input: output bias in terms of time? 3 hours per student of writing: 5 minutes of reading?
  • Has anyone actually studied the declining quality of learning during report-writing time?
  • What do parents actually do with them? Can we be so sure they really want them?
  • Has anyone calculated the financial and environmental cost of all the paper?

If I sat here for the next two minutes and used at least 6% of my mental capacity I could write at least 10 more creative, innovative, empowering, inclusive ways to give educational feedback to parents and students than the reports most of us find ourselves trudging through every year.

Why do we do it? Um… because we have to. Errr… because we’ve always done it.

C’mon. If we used the same response every time we questioned the way things are done in education we’d be… well, you know what we’d be doing.

So. Who has the guts? Which school will remove some reports and replace them with something better and less time-consuming? There must be somebody out there with the cojones to rid us of this utter pointless formality. Give me hope!!!

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5 comments

  1. Cindy G.

    Hi Mr Sam,

    What do parents do with the reports you ask? We nervously open them. We read every line twice, and then we read between every line. We try to form the words into a portrait of our child as a learner. We try to get a glimpse of their personality in the classroom. We sit on the sofa with our child and look over the report together, we talk about it at the dinner table and while lying in bed at night. It prompts us to pull out her past reports and our old school reports (yes, we still have them) and compare grades and comments. The school report gets moved, along with the conversation, from kitchen to dining room, to living room until it gets put away in the big box…with the ‘baby scrapbook’ and favorite drawings.

    Absolutely, revise the process, streamline the form, eliminate ‘grading’, but don’t get rid of the report. Because no matter what you give us, even a scrawl on a scrappy paper we will still read and reread it, and it will be the center of conversation for days.

    If you want to get rid of something, I vote for saying good-bye to homework, uniforms, and long division 🙂

    Cindy

    • Mr. Sam

      Wow! Wonderful to get a parent’s opinion on this issue… thanks so much for commenting, Cindy.

      Your comment has really given me something else to ponder – the power of our words. Your description of a report’s life once it goes home is very powerful. It is critical that schools ensure they really are giving parents a portrait of their child as a learner – even changing the name from “reports” to “Learning Portrait” may help!

      We need to look for creative ways to make report-writing more enjoyable, more ongoing and anecdotal and less driven by deadlines. Then, perhaps, we can really honour the needs of parents like yourselves.

      I love your other suggestions too!

      Sam

      • Dan Fahy

        Hi Sam and Cindy,

        I loved reading both your post Sam, and your response Cindy. Love the idea of “Learning Portrait”, would they be like Learning Journeys used in the Early years? A Snapshot of ongoing portfolios?

        Are home visits practical within a certain context? The reporting process then becomes more real, ongoing, and goes a long way to breaking down the perceived barriers between school and home.

        Thanks again for the thought provoking post.

        I am also struggling through reports right now!

        Dan

  2. Gareth

    Ahhhh… Something I have felt for years Sam and here is why –

    1. As professionals we all know that formative assessment drives student learning and progress, it is endemic to all teaching and learning, when it is authentic it reaches all learners and therefore, it is what we put our time and energy into because we know it works.

    2. We all know that feedback needs to be timely, we practice this on a daily basis and we see the results.

    3. We all know that technology has the potential to make learning transparent and understood by all stakeholders in diverse and exciting ways.

    ANSWER = Channel energy into making all assessment timely, transparent and educative for the school community; use technology to empower parents to understand that capturing learning and academic progress “in vivo” is a much more valid form of assessment and involves much less cut + paste :-). In this way reports could be reduced to a simple snap shot summary.

  3. Pingback: A lesson in effective communication | Teaching the Teacher

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