report card comments

report card comments

The Importance of Effective Report Card Comments

1. The Role of Report Card Comments

The most obvious form of involvement by teachers is showing interest in the student’s work and progress. It is difficult to argue that marks alone are an adequate reflection of exactly what the student has attained. Using comments, teachers can demonstrate support and encouragement for the student’s progress in addition to communicating to parents what they perceive as important about the student’s performance. Effective comments supply parents with information on where their child excels and where their child may need additional support. Because comments communicate the same message as the grades given, the student is also able to identify their strengths and weaknesses. With this information, they can set goals for the next term and make plans to further develop in the areas they are doing well or improve in the areas they are not. An often overlooked aspect is that it is very fulfilling for a student to read comments about how well they have been doing. Students’ attitudes are greatly shaped by what teachers perceive of them and expect from them. If the comments are positive, the student will feel reassured about their potential and want to continue to do their best.

2. Characteristics of Effective Report Card Comments

Nearly all respondents, regardless of profession or social class, universally stressed the importance of effective report card comments in terms of providing guidance and direction for student improvement. The difference between effective and ineffective comments, as stated by a teacher in one focus group, is the difference between building bricks and throwing chickens. Ineffective comments, participants argued, often disregard results from classroom assessments and seem to offer general feedback in an informal and passing manner. Most agreed that report card comments can become low-priority tasks in the face of larger deadlines and stresses, and thus often completed in a rush. When students and parents read these vague and hurried comments, they are often left uncertain as to how well the student is actually doing and what can be done for improvement. A clearer picture of student achievement often derives from scores and grades, but this can be misleading. Citing the example of a child narrowly failing an assignment, a teacher described that this student could receive the same grade as an even poorer performing student who never attempted the assignment. In this situation, detailed comments can clarify why each student earned the same grade and would make the decision on future actions for each student more informed and equitable. This close assessment of student performance may be discouraging for low-achieving students and parents, but comments offering criticism will be taken with a more positive attitude if followed with suggestions for improvement. High-achieving students and their parents also often expect to receive more detailed feedback, feeling cheated of their efforts if comments reflect only the level of performance implied by the grade.

Guideline 1. Use a persuasive tone in your response.

3. Strategies for Writing Impactful Report Card Comments

There are many different strategies for writing effective report card comments. Before considering some of the specific guidelines, it is crucial to have established a purpose for the comments. Many teachers have several purposes, including letting students know what their achievement level is and providing them with ways in which they can improve their learning. It is a good idea to involve the students in this process. One way to do this is by having the students complete a self-evaluation. The teacher can have the student complete a simple checklist that outlines their achievement in various areas of the curriculum. This can then be compared to the teachers’ evaluation. Another way students can be involved is by having a class discussion on what should be included in the report card comments. This can create a list of criteria that teachers can use when writing report card comments. A final way to get students involved is by having the report card comments form the basis of setting learning goals for the next semester. This can move all the comments into a forward-looking focus. Whichever purpose is selected, it is essential that report card comments are clear and informative regarding the student’s progress and provide future goals for improvement.

4. Addressing Strengths and Areas for Improvement

Addressing a child’s weaknesses provides a delicate challenge. Many parents will notice any negative comments and may become defensive or upset. An effective way to communicate areas for improvement is to point out the child’s strengths, then identify potential areas for growth. For instance, “Your child is very cooperative in class. He or she is a real asset to the classroom.” “Your child has formed strong peer relationships which are clearly a positive asset to his/her schooling.” This sets a positive tone by letting the parents know you are a supportive ally in their child’s education. Starting with a simple positive comment is the best way to start when providing parents with information on their child’s progress. A choice of a few words can make the parents more receptive to your constructive feedback. When pointing out weaknesses, it is best to focus on the behavior, rather than the child. Comments such as “Your child is very impulsive” often get a negative response from parents who do not see the behavior at home. A more effective way to word this type of comment would be to say “At times, [child’s name] has difficulty thinking before acting on a decision. This can lead to behavior that is not always well thought out.” This way, the parents are less likely to feel you are attacking the child, and it provides a clear example of how the behavior is affecting their learning. It is important to identify only one or two areas of potential improvement. Any more is likely to overwhelm parents and the child. Focusing on too many negatives can also lead to a ‘pigeonholing’ effect where a teacher only sees the child’s future behavior through a negative lens. A strategy for identifying areas for improvement is to discuss the child’s learning behaviors. This can give parents a clear explanation as to how certain behaviors can help or hinder their child’s learning. An example could be the best way to curb a child who lacks concentration and is frequently calling out in class. His parents may be pleased to know that he is disrupting learning for his classmates, and a united effort between teacher and parents can often improve specific behaviors. This can ensure that the child does not feel alienated due to being singled out for negative behavior.

5. Conclusion: Enhancing Student Growth through Thoughtful Feedback

To that end, report cards, regardless of time of year, can be seen as a type of ‘feedback’ with the potential to greatly influence student motivation and effort. While the initial report card comments in some provinces have been criticized as ineffective, and often too onerous to inform teaching or learning, several provinces are now engaging in work to improve the quality of report card comments. Given the limited space, comments on a report card represent a challenging task. However, the principles discussed in this paper on effective feedback can certainly inform the best approach to writing report card comments. A targeted, specific, and encouraging comment is certainly more valuable to a student and parent than a general statement or a low mark that gives no indication of how to improve.

Reflecting on the various perspectives offered in this paper, it is clear that regardless of context, feedback is most effective when it is timely, ongoing, and targeted to a student’s specific needs. Effective teacher feedback also has a motivational impact. It influences students’ beliefs about their competence. When teachers convey the message, “We haven’t finished yet, there’s still more you can do,” they foster incremental beliefs about ability. This in turn leads to increased effort and engagement and ultimately, increased achievement. Given the power of feedback to enhance student achievement, assignment grades and comments should not be viewed as the end of the teaching and learning process in a classroom. Rather, teachers should see the return of a student’s work as an opportunity to reflect on their own teaching, to track their students’ progress, and to diagnose student learning needs.

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