Principles For Crafting Effective Report Card Comments

Words Fitly Spoken

Proverbs 25:11 reminds us that a “fitly spoken” word is a beautiful thing!  Nowhere does this hold true more than in report cards comments.report-card

Teachers often find writing report card comments to be a daunting and dreaded task.  And, certainly, there are some pitfalls to avoid.  However, a well-crafted report card comment can bless our students and families.

Here are some principles for crafting effective report card comments.

Say something specific.  General comments like “Johnny is a good student” or “Sally needs to focus more” are too general to be helpful.  Be specific with comments, such as “Johnny consistently does his work and engages in class discussion” or “Sally is often distracted by extra materials on her desk.”

Keep it simpleKeep your sentences short and your word choice intentional.  If you haven’t conferenced with parents before, you should shortly after they read this comment.  Allow you comment to summarize a previous conference or set the agenda for a future conference.  A report card comment should not explain concerns in detail.

Compliment thoughtfully.  Comment on what makes the student different from other students.  Parents are encouraged when teachers share what they see in their child.

Choose one or two “opportunities for improvement.”  Word your comment carefully to help students and parents recognize weaknesses as opportunities.  For example, “Sixth grade offers Suzy the opportunity to strengthen her organizational skills.”

Make a target suggestion or goal.  Give parents and students hope by offering specific suggestions.  The sentence above about Suzy might be followed by “Getting her daily agenda initialed by teachers every day would be a great place for her to start.”

Keep comments student-focused.  Don’t refer to yourself too often.  A well-crafted comment often never contains the word “I.”  Instead of “I enjoy teaching Ralph” (too general and too teacher-focused), try “Ralph’s curiosity makes him a joy to teach.”

If in doubt, don’t.  Report cards follow students throughout their educational career.  If you are in doubt about the content or tone of a comment, don’t use it.  Seek advice from a colleague or administrator and try again.

Do you find writing report card comments daunting?  What have you learned as you’ve undertaking this challenging task?

 

What is an Educator?

“EDUCATION” – WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

If, as educators often do, we resort to the dictionary to find out what a word means, we find that  “education” is a combination of two Latin words: the prefix ex (out of) and the verb ducere (to lead).  This is the same verb which gives us “induce”, “reduce”, seduce”, “produce”, keep-calm-teach-on“deduce”, “conducive”, etc.  “Education”, then, means literally “to lead out of”.

From this rather dry information we can deduce 🙂 that “education” consists of four elements:

First, we must have someone who does the leading.  In education, this would be the teacher.  Second, we must have someone whom we lead, which would be student.  Third, the teacher must have something to lead the student out of, which we assume would be ignorance or misinformation.  Fourth, the teacher must have something to lead the student into, which we would again assume to be knowledge.

Biblical Perspective

Christians see the teacher as the depository and model of the Proverbs trilogy of knowledge-understanding-wisdom.  As for the student, we know that he bears the image of God but that it is marred almost beyond perception.  We understand his basic need is to be led out of rebellion against truth and authority.  And we embrace the Biblical goal of transformation into the image of Christ as the result of growth in knowledge-understanding-wisdom.  Otherwise, as Luther predicted, we will simply educate clever devils.

Does the previous paragraph immediately strike you as politically incorrect?  As a whole as well as in the four elements?  Unbelievers see each of these in ways diametrically opposed to those of Christians.  They see the teacher as a facilitator.   They view the student as inherently good.  They consider his problem to be an undeveloped intellect.  And they set self-realization as the goal.

Different worldviews produce vastly different perspectives.

In a previous article we established the intuitive point that “education is inherently religious” and that “religion is inherently educational”.  Here we have defined what “education” is and have identified its essential parts. Following these two introductions, we will address the components of education in four future articles.

Next: What makes a teacher a great teacher?

The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013)

Have you ever considered how much you use technology? If it were taken away, wouldthe-digital-invasion you be devastated?In The Digital Invasion Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd explore how technology changes people. This is a very helpful book when considering how technology should be used in the home and at school.

 

Purposeful Technology

Have you ever considered how much we rely on technology for screen-shoteveryday tasks? The phone rings on the night stand to wake you up, a notification pops up on the screen reminding you to bring the ice cream to grandparent day, and a text from the school principal pleads with you to arrive early at school to unlock and turn on the lights. The only break that you get is at the traffic light where you finally get to check Facebook. Sound familiar? Our lives are so busy and technology makes it easy to multitask. Even in the classroom we are bombarded with technology. Schools are pushing for the newest and greatest from Apple. Is technology really helping our students? Is it possible to use technology too much? As the teacher, it is your job to determine what will best help your students.

Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd co-wrote a book called The Digital Invasion. In this book Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd explore how technology is changing individuals and their relationships with other people. Consider how technology has changed how we spell. You laugh because you know that it’s true. Do students see a need to know how to spell words correctly? No. They rely on their devices to correct their quickly written message. “Once we have lost the art of spelling, we may never be able to retrieve it” (p. 60). Technology has also changed how we communicate with our students and with their parents. Face-to-face meetings with parents are now a last resort. “God has created us for authentic connection and meaningful attachments – the kind of connection that has the power to secure, grow, free and transform us” (p 92). Keeping a personal relationship with both students and with parents is very important.

We are told in 1 Corinthians 14:40 that everything we do should be done decently and in order. This applies to the classroom. Everything that is done, from lesson preparation to the use of visual aids, should be done with a purpose and in good order. As you prepare your lessons, think about how you can use technology to its fullest potential but not beyond its usefulness.

~ First, calculate how much technology you use in your classroom. Is it well balanced with your other visual aids?

~ Second, consider the purpose for using the technology. Many educational apps are really cool, but your reason for using them in your classroom needs to be purposeful and with a goal in mind.

~ Third, think about your time spent in the classroom. Time is one of your most valuable resources. Don’t waste any of it!

~ Finally, consider your students. You are the teacher. You know the individual needs of your students. How many of them will benefit from using technology?

My purpose for writing this blog was not to make you hate technology, but to ask you to consider why you are using it. Make technology, like everything else you do in the classroom, purposeful.

Author

~ Kara Carroll ~

Reference:

Hart, A. D., & Frejd, S. H. (2013). The digital invasion: How technology is shaping you and your relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Look under the “Books” tab to find out more about The Digital Invasion!

Recipe for Effective Assignments

ˈresəˌpē/

“a set of instructions . . . , including a list of the ingredients required; something that is likely to lead to a particular outcome.”

baking

Effective assignments are an integral part of the educational process.  Astute educators design assignments to achieve particular educational outcomes.  If assignments are to be effective in achieving this desired outcome, a recipe should guide the process.

Now I must confess that I enjoy being creative in the kitchen.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy experimenting with new taste combinations.  And while this may make for an enjoyable time for the cook (and sometimes for those eating the meal as well), following a recipe is a good idea.  Even if the cook tweaks the recipe a bit, the guidelines provided by a recipe make for effective (and safe) meal preparation.

So what goes into the development of effective assignments?  I recently read an article that discussed the qualities of effective learning assignments.  The author offered criteria to “provide a universal recipe” for educators to follow in developing effective assignments.  It got me to thinking!

What are the ingredients for developing effective assignments?

  • Focus on learning goals

Make sure that the assignment is designed to accomplish the educational goal for the students.  For example, if the learning goal is to contrast plants and animals, the assignment should require the student to produce two sets of artifacts.  If in the same unit of study, the learning goal is to identify the characteristics of mammals, a different set of criteria will be needed.

  • Align learning goals with the lesson

Effective educators begin with learning goals that can be described in terms of student outcomes.  Learning goals are written in terms of “the student will . . .“ or “the student will be able to . . .“  In other words, the educator defines what the outcomes will be before developing the lesson or the assignment.  Effective assignments then become tools to achieve the learning goals.

  • Require higher-order thinking

Effective assignments should require students to do more than simply memorize and apply information.  Do assignments students to analyze and synthesize?  Ultimately, assignments must teach students to evaluate.  Assignments may include low-order thinking skills; however, the recipe for effective assignments must also include some higher-order thinking as well.

  • Include writing

The recipe for effective assignments includes the integration of writing.  Whether science or language arts, history or bible, effective assignments include various methods to help students compile and articulate their thoughts.  Effective assignments “lead to more frequent and higher-quality writing” (Varlas, 2016).

  • Identify expectations

Clearly communicate to students in advance the performance criteria for assignments.  Rubrics are a great tool for letting students know how their performance will be assessed.  A good rubric will include criteria for content, critical thinking, and writing.

This list of ingredients is part of a good recipe for developing effective learning assignments.  As an educator, we must constantly check to make sure that we are including all necessary ingredients in our development of learning assignments.  Perhaps we need to include a pinch more of some ingredient and a smidge less on another.

 

Does your classroom recipe card include these ingredients?  What adjustments have you made to improve learning assignments?

 

 

Varlas, L.  October, 2016.  Assignments that measure up.  Education Update.  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.