Month: January 2016

How to Write Report Cards

If you’re like me, you’re in the thick of report card writing.  And if you’re like me, you probably didn’t start as early as you told yourself you would because, you know, you still had that whole regular full-time job of teaching to do.  Priorities.

But now the priority is getting that sh*t done, because your principal wants it on his or her desk by Friday, already printed and edited and re-printed and signed and wax-sealed.

But I think I’ve perfected the art of report card writing so I’ll share the process with you now in case it helps.

Step 1: Procrastinate.

This is essential, because your procrastination will be very productive in other domains of your life.  During this step you can basically do anything you want other than start your report cards.  My personal favourites are vacuuming everything, dusting everything, washing & folding everything, and Netflixing everything.

Step 2: Procrastinate more.

You really can’t start until you have a clean slate, so it’s important to take care of every single unattended detail in your life.  Take those clothes to the Goodwill.  Make those appointments.  Clean out your car.  Change the water filter in the fridge.  You need a clear mind, after all.

Step 3: Think about starting.

Now you should deeply reflect on the fact that you are ready to begin.  Take as long as you need.

Step 4: Gather your resources.

Get your mark book ready, locate old examples of report cards, open your bank of learning skills comments, and make some coffee.  BUT – you should probably clean the coffee maker first.

Step 5: Panic!

Flipping through your mark book you will realize that you probably didn’t mark enough crap.  One mark for Media Lit and everybody got a level 2 – that’s probably your fault.  One lonely, questionable measurement mark from an assessment that you don’t even remember doing.  Oh, and of course there’s that one kid who just has no marks anywhere because he or she is never at school or never finishes anything, or both.  There’s a sad parade of empty boxes beside their name on your class spreadsheet.  You can’t fill them all with I’s… can you?

Step 6:  Plan some kamikaze assessments.

You’re going to need to hammer out some last minute marks before you feel confident enough to assign a term grade for some subjects.  You need to think of some quick & dirty assessments that you can make happen this week with enough time left to mark them and input the comments.  You may even need to fully teach and assess a subject, and it’s probably Health.

Step 7: Begin, sort of.

Now you can begin your reports, but as soon as you do you’ll discover that there are hundreds of loose ends you still need to tie up before you can actually finish them.

Step 8: Write a blog post about writing report cards.

Step 9: Tie up those loose ends.

This involves suddenly becoming the most organized and on-top-of-it teacher in all the land, and your students will barely recognize you.  Class lists go up with names highlighted for missing work.  Recesses are usurped for unfinished summative tasks.  Learning skills reflections are dolled out en masse.  Who is this teacher?

Step 10: Finish your first drafts.

Assign some marks that you feel semi-confident about and write some comments that sort of capture what you did in as many words as will fit in the box.  This will take some clever re-wording of things to either a) make the comments fit or b) make the comments look longer or c) make the comments sound like you did something.

Step 10 b: Get creative with your Learning Skills.

You’re gonna have to be really creative to make those sound kind.

Step 11: Revise.

Print your reports and read through them.  You will realize how awkwardly worded and full of typos they are.  Students will be assigned the wrong gender pronoun all over the place.  Some sentences just won’t make any sense at all.  Go through and make revisions with a red pen.  Input your corrections.  This will require several Facebook breaks.

Step 12: Hand in.

Close your eyes, hold your breath, hand in your reports, and pray to the old gods and the new that your admin goes easy on you.

 

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(Clearly, I am on Step 8.  Hopefully I don’t stay here all weekend.)

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A Brief Rant About Inquiry Projects

As I write this I am still at school.  We’re going to see an 8 o’clock movie, so instead of going home in between I stayed to conquer my pile of marking.  It didn’t quite get conquered but I did manage to make some new signs for the classroom, update the calendar in the staff room, and go for coffee with a co-worker.  After 3 pm I’m just not very effective.  Anyway, it’s almost seven and I’m giving up on work for the day.

In my class we’re in the middle of a social studies inquiry project, and it might just be the end of me.  My grade 6’s have to research Canada’s involvement in a global issue.  Let’s take a minute to discuss how ambitious the grade 6 curriculum is, keeping in mind that these kids are eleven going on twelve and today I had to ask them not to throw salami at each other.

Just listen to the absurdity of the first expectation:

“Students will explain the importance of international cooperation in addressing global issues, and evaluate the effectiveness of selected actions by Canada and Canadian citizens in the interntional arena.”

Really?   Really?  Have the people who write this stuff ever met an eleven-year-old?  I’m pretty sure that some of them think Ontario is a country.

To make it worse, we have to do it in French because we’re an Immersion program.  I learned the hard way, however, NOT to force them to research in French in my first year of grade six.  So we have been researching in English, and next week I’m going to have the daunting task of guiding them in translating it to French, even though they’ve all taken notes in complex government website jargon that they barely understand in English.  I might need to pre-book a mental health day.

Even in English, I still feel like I’m single-handedly doing twenty-five inquiry projects.  The idea in inquiry is that the students guide their own research questions and pursue them independently.  Yeah, ok.  We managed to get to that point (sort of).  And their information needs to be current and relevant so books are no good, therefore I have to let them loose in the world of Google.  Chaos ensues.  Each class, I have a line-up of Chromebook-clutching children who have no idea how to sift through web sites and decide what information is relevant. Today a student who is researching terrorism in Afghanistan wrote down, “They are making attacks on the Canadian troops because they want the President to know how bad it is to take the troops out of Canada.”

Um… what?

The same student also wrote, “Canada sent its first element of Canadian soldiers secretly in October 2001 from joint task force 2, and contingents of regular troops arrived in January of 2002.”  Leaving the blatant plagiarism aside I asked the student, “Do you know what this means exactly?” and without shame or hesitation she said, “Nope!”

Sigh.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the theoretical value of inquiry projects.  In an ideal world, it gives the students control over their learning and autonomy in their decision making.  It fosters motivation by letting them pursue their interests.  Yeah, it’s really great on paper.  Or in a class of five.  Kind of like differentiated instruction. (Don’t get me started.)  But in the classroom, it’s another nightmare for the teacher, disguised as “individualized learning” so the Ministry of Ed can boast how our system caters to each student.

I wish the higher-ups who come up with these lofty ideas would actually try them out on a classroom of living and breathing tweens. Then they’d realize that maybe these ideas are not all that realistic for a group of people who can’t even locate a pencil half of the time.