Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Shift Report Card Comments Over to Your Students

So you don't want to go "without grades" yet, but you do want to BEGIN to go that route...

One way is to incorporate REFLECTION into more of what you do in class.

At the end of the quarter, why not let students choose their own comments for the report card / progress report?

Here's how I give this responsibility over to the students...

We currently have 100 comments from which teachers can choose. Many of these do NOT apply to ELA class, such as "Needs to study harder for tests" (we don't have "tests" for students to study for in ELA) or "Does not meet minimum class standards" (because if THAT happens, I'm not doing my job!), or "Shows all steps in math work." So I share with students the comments that DO apply - and there are still about 60 from which to choose!

Sixty comments is a bit much to look at. I go a step further. I separate them into "Comments that show room for improvement" and "Comments that show what you do well." I ask students to find one of each, and then explain WHY they chose those comments.
Feel free to make a copy of this document and edit your copy to add the comments your district uses.

What I can NOT tell from the choices students make is if they truly believe this is true or not. I often wonder... Did he put that comment on there because other teachers have chosen that one for him? Did she choose that comment because she truly believes she "contributes positively to the classroom atmosphere?" What I CAN do is ASK. I ask for students to chose one comment from each side (with a possible third comment thrown in if they'd like it), and then I TALK with them about the comments.

Here's what I find...

  • There are miscommunications I can clarify, such as when one student chose "Is easily distracted" along with "Is attentive and a capable student." I don't have to ask how he thinks he can be both distracted and attentive, because I see the answer in his reason why... He wrote, "I attend class every day, and am capable." Ahhhh... Here's a great opportunity for him to learn what "attentive" means. 
  • Some students are so very hard on themselves, and some think they are the best students ever. They are in 7th grade, so not everyone is good at reflecting yet. One more reason to do this!! 
  • Other students are spot on. Check out these comments, and what students said about why they chose them, just from this past quarter alone...

Student-chosen comments, and their reasons why...
Is doing satisfactory work, but could do better.
     - "You can always try more."
     - "I am okay in reading, but I could look back in the text more."
Is not working up to ability.
     - "I could do a little extra."
Needs to listen and follow directions.
     - "Sometimes I need reminders to stay on task."
Needs to be prepared on a daily basis.
     - "I always forget my binder."
Is easily distracted.
     - "Sometimes I don't pay attention."
     - "I get distracted and off topic a lot."
     - "I just get off track. I have a short attention span."
Needs to improve organizational skills.
     - "Sometimes I can't find things in my ELA binder."
     - "My binder is a mess."  (So she took the time to organize it right then!)
Work is satisfactory, but could improve with less socializing in class.
     - "I sometimes talk a lot."
     - "I do talk in class, but my work still meets expectations."
Has some difficulty concentrating in class.
     - "Sometimes I get off task."
     - "Sometimes I zone off. I think I would do better by not getting distracted."
Greater care with assignments would improve performance.
     - "I know I can do better with some things."
Has weak grammar skills.
     - "Sometimes I rush through things and don't use my grammar skills."
Completes own work well, but is disruptive to others.
     - "I'm disruptive sometimes."
     - "I do complete my work, but I sometimes distract others when I'm done."
Completes work satisfactorily.
     - "I could do better."
Is attentive and a capable student.
     - "I know I can do anything if I try."
     - "I can do better, but I don't try."

Now these comments and reasons why are sent home to parents, so they can see their thinking and ask them about it, as well. They are not surprises to students when they get their report card, and they are not blown off... "Is a joy to have in class - I always get that one." (In fact, only a handful of students chose "Is a joy to have in class" this quarter!) Some parents, however, still think that I chose the comments, and sometimes I get an email that says, "Why would you say this about my child?" I cringe, and ask them to talk to their child or read what I sent home (the paper that shows the child's reasons). When a child says, "Is doing satisfactory work, but could do better," that actually means he or she is reflective. One parent said that comment should be reserved for a "B" student. I disagree.

And then there's Jimmy.* He chose comment #80 - "Maintains on-task behavior." In ELA, Jimmy does all his work, participates in class, revises his writing, reads at home and at school... and he chose this comment, which I think is quite boring. I went through the list and checked off about twelve other positive comments from which he could choose. He tells me, "I was trying not to be too narcissistic." Gotta love seventh graders learning how to reflect! (I had to look up how to spell that one, too!)

*Jimmy is not his real name.

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

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