I always dread report card season. I do not find it to be a terribly difficult task, actually after eight years of teaching the same grade it has become quite easy. The issue for me, as I am sure it is for many teachers, is how to summarize the progress, highlight strengths and make meaningful suggestions for future learning for each of my unique students in one small box? Do parents actually read the report card and have a discussion with their child? Do parents or students feel informed in a way that would benefit future learning? I honestly do not know but I have never been satisfied with the current reporting system as a parent or a teacher. This year when my children brought home their report cards for their first term in grade two and one respectively I realized how much our current reporting system falls short.
Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. Again this is not about his school or his teacher rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.
This is the reason I decided to take on the opportunity to formally report in a different way in my own classroom. I teach grade one at Pacific Heights Elementary in Surrey, BC. I am privileged to be part of a forward thinking school district and thankful for the freedom to explore a new approach to connecting with and informing parents. As my first attempt I decided to host a student led conference during the school day and I am thrilled with how successful it was.
Although student-led conferences are not new this was my first experience facilitating them during the school day and using the experience as a means to report student progress. The first step for me was to let my parents know that I was interested in sharing their child’s learning with them in a new way. I had no idea if parents could or would commit to spending 30-45 minutes of their day in our classroom. I had a discussion with my class and they all agreed that bringing their parents to our classroom was a great way to share our learning. I drafted a letter and sent it home. The next day 15/21 students returned the notice with a commitment from their parents. It was amazing to see how excited the students were to return this notice to me. Within three days of sending the notice home I had a commitment from all of my parents. The kids were absolutely thrilled! The last notice I received was from an ESL student who shared with me that her parents were nervous to come as they did not speak English. I talked with the student and her older sister and explained the concept of students leading the conversations. I was very touched by the enormous smile on her face when both of her parents, who had never been to our classroom, showed up for the conference.
Parents were invited to come to our classroom in the morning, after recess or after lunch. It was nice to know in advance when to expect parents so students could be prepared. I booked our school iPads for the day and organized my students for a day of independent work with our literacy and math centres. I really wanted to give parents a glimpse into grade one and make this a very natural meeting. With the class functioning as per usual when they arrived, parents could also see how their child works in a class setting. For me a few moments watching their child move about the room or work at a table is much more meaningful than one sentence about work habits on a report card. When a child’s parent arrived at the door they would stop what they were working on, greet their parents and take them on a QR code scavenger hunt visiting five stations throughout the school with their iPad. I decided to use QR codes and iPads to make it more fun and highlight some of the students skills using technology. Some of the stations asked students to share projects on their iPads or take pictures of completed tasks.
I had five stations set up: science, math, language arts, physical activity and student choice. Students randomly scanned QR clues until they had taken their guest to all five stations. Once completed they found me, returned their iPad and I gave them a 3 stars and a wish form to fill out with their parents and with my support if required.
The science station was an example of a typical grade one activity where we might make and test predictions. At the fitness stations students demonstrated some of the yoga poses and exercises we practice as part of our daily physical activity. The final station was a student choice activity. The day before the conference students were invited to choose what they would like to share. Most students wanted to share their scrapbooks and poems duo tangs. As part of this stations students invited their parents into our classroom. Yes I had parents floating in and out of the classroom all day while students went about their learning. It was not as distracting as one might think, the student leading a conference would simply walk their guest around and show them our classroom. Everyone else went about their business as usual. This was a great way for me to see how articulate some of my shy students can be when they are surrounded by the comfort of family. A favourite moment was watching one girl have her parents sits criss cross at the carpet at she rang our chime and taught them about mindful breathing. It was very interesting to see what parts of the classroom or activities students were excited to share.
At the math station I simply placed the various games we play at Math Centres and invited parents to play one with their child. It was incredibly informative for parents to see the value of dice and card games in building number sense. I connected with parents at this station to answer questions and ensure they understood their child’s understanding of the math concepts we were learning. Students also shared various math apps and math projects on their iPads at this station.
As Language Arts is so critical in grade one I included performance standards and other points of reference for parents at this station. I think that as teachers we often forget that most parents really don’t know what it looks like to be reading or writing at grade level expectations. The feedback I received from parents was very positive and the opportunity to compare their child’s reading level and writing abilities was much appreciated.
Overall I feel that the student led conference was an excellent way to involve parents and students in the reporting process. I feel that parents left much
more informed than with the traditional report card. This process was informative for me as well as I observed students with their guests. When I sent report cards home I did not fill out the comment box but simply referred to the student-led conference. I did attach the prescribed learning outcomes as I honestly did not have time to adjust them this term. In the next term I intend to look at an alternative to the exhaustive list of PLO’s. Many of my parents have thanked me for the experience and were very happy to have student-led conferences in lieu of a comment box. All I know is that this was my first attempt at something new and I am very pleased with the result. The only problem I have now is I don’t know if I can go back to the old way of reporting. There are so many ways to make assessment meaningful, to involve parents and to engage students in their learning journey, I am excited for the possibilities.