During a recent #edchat on Twitter, we got into an engaging discussion about grading, report cards, portfolios and what each of them illustrates or shares about a student’s progress. Right off the bat I jumped in with my personal opinion which I feel pretty strongly about which is, just letters tell numbers, not strengths or weaknesses of a child.
Now, I am both an educator and a parent which, for my own children’s teachers, makes it pretty difficult for them to please me since I know what I would do if I was in their place (or at least, what I would try to do). I have been in the position of teaching large classes and multiple sections of children and I certainly understand the constrictions of curriculum, standards, IEPs and time so I really do understand it when teachers say that they just do not have the time to add one more thing because honestly, I could have stayed in school from 7AM until 7PM and still would not be finished. However, one thing that I always tried to do was communicate with my students’ parents in a meaningful way .
So, it bothers me when my personal children come home with report cards that have letter grades occasionally followed by a number for which I need to go to the key to see which comment that particular number represents. These letters do not detail the effort my child put in, the creativity s/he used, the quality of the comments during a class discussion. These letters do not tell me if my child is able to analyze a text, make meaningful connections or take part in a topical debate. These letters just tell me that my child was able to do enough to make a particular grade.
Additionally, unless I go through my children’s laptop or binders, I do not see what they are doing in school.
I am fortunate enough to work in a school that values the whole child and as such, twice a year tries to capture that child in the form of narrative reports about each child’s strengths, weaknesses and efforts in a particular curricular area, including a social emotional picture of each child. These narratives, though extremely time-consuming (did I mention these take weeks and weeks to write?) offer the parent or guardian what letter grades alone cannot: a lens through which they can see their child as the teacher sees him. These narratives can show the parent that after 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, 38 weeks a year this teacher knows that child as a person and a learner.
But a narrative alone, though eye-opening, should only be part of the child’s story. What should follow along is an online portfolio of the child’s work that the child can build upon as she moves throughout her school career. Allowing time at the end of each project, area of study or unit for the child to reflect on what he learned, what he could have done better, what he did well, and then share this with his parents would give a fuller, more complete picture of this child as a learner. And, just going through the selection and reflection process helps the child to see areas of progress as well as areas where more growth is needed. Imagine what a child will be able to learn about herself as a learner after a few years of gathering materials for her digital portfolio! Think about how that student will become better able to objectively evaluate their work once they become used to taking the time to do this.
Now I have told you what I think; what do you think?