Build School Culture With Reporting – Learning Skills

Interesting Ideas

While reading and signing hundreds of reports cards is not always the most pleasurable task for an administrator, reading excellent report cards can and will restore your faith in what happens when excellent educators work their magic with students and families.

I remember spending time in Australia and seeing an elementary report card.  The entire first page was a photograph of the child and organizational information like age, grade, teacher name and school.  On the back side of this first page was a section on work habits and goal setting, prior to page three and four which had all the subject grades and comments.  I always felt this was such a great way to highlight the student, emphasize them as an individual and illustrate to families and the child the importance of their work habits and life skills before showing grades in subject areas.

In Ontario we call this work habits section of the report card “learning skills” and it is also prominently displayed front and centre.  It is a great opportunity for thoughtful, talented educators to illustrate they care for and understand the child and think of them as a unique individual with talents and skills that are noticed and appreciated.  As a leader, emphasizing the importance of assessing and commenting on learning skills will aid in your desire to build and maintain a wonderful school climate.

Assessment is provided in six different learning skills on the report: responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative and self regulation.  These six areas of development are so key to student learning that they are placed at the beginning of the report in order to be read first and understood prior to looking at subject grades and comments.  It is not uncommon to hear families say, it is the only section of the report card they truly read and discuss with their child.

Learning skills and work habits are not included in subject grades unless there is a clear link to the achievement of curriculum expectations.  Achievement in subject content areas is based on the knowledge/skills categories and could be the topic of an entire blog as its own discussion.  Let’s just say I am old enough to remember having items such as organization, and responsibility included in my grades and as a teacher including marks for behaviours and skills unrelated to subject content.  I am so glad we now see the error in our ways and keep these two aspects of evaluation separated and discussed on their own as unique important sources of information.

One way to think of the evaluation of learning skills is to consider they are always work in progress.  We have a responsibility as educators to assess and assist!  Since these are life long skills, we should be constantly goal setting with students, helping them develop these traits in order to have full and productive lives.  Therefore we are assessing for and as learning based on the age and stage of the child.  Learning skills should never be consider assessment of learning.  It is never summative.  This work is never done.

If we are going to elevate the importance of these learning skills then students should receive explicit instruction and feedback about these skills.  Students should be involved in co-creating success criteria for each of these learning skills to know exactly what they mean and how they can recognize success for themselves in relation to these skills.  It all starts as a teacher’s responsibility to instruct and assess these skills, and to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate these skills in a context where students understand what is being assessed.  The criteria can be updated and revised into student friendly language as children are given tasks where peer and self assessment are utilized.  Continually working towards self assessment would be an important target in all classrooms.

It is essential to have both process and product assessment during classroom time.  While assessing a subject specific expectation integrate one or more of the learning skills into the assessment.  At the end of the assignment or task, students should receive feedback on both the subject expectations as well as the learning skills on the same rubric or assessment tool.

Setting and monitoring goals within these learning skills is therefore a key role for the teacher. Illustrating to students how this is done is an important focus during teaching and while conferencing with students.  There are numerous ways to create learning skill data for students to use: peer assessment, self assessment, rubrics, teacher observations, checklists, conferencing, descriptive feedback, rating scales (smiley faces)

There is great research on the importance of goal setting for students.  Setting personal goals and monitoring these goals while receiving feedback help students gain a greater understanding of who they are as a learner.  And isn’t that what is is all about?

As far as how the learning skills are written within the report, we have from the Growing Success Document

Teachers should strive to use language that parents will understand and should avoid language that simply repeats the wordings of the curriculum or the achievement chart. The comments should describe in overall terms what students know and can do and should provide parents with personalized, clear, precise, and meaningful feedback. 

~ Growing Success, p. 64

At our school we asked our staff to incorporate ‘Boyne’ language with specific examples of how and when the child demonstrate these skills.  Our school mantra was, “work hard, be nice, make a difference.”  Our staff were asked to connect this wording with the learning skills and make connections on how the child is illustrating our key school beliefs when they, for instance, ‘work hard’ on their organization, with an example that is unique to them.  It is easy to see how the six learning skills fit into our school mantra.  It was lovely to read about and hear parent’s comment about how their child was ‘making a difference’ through their behaviours in school.  

Does your school motto/mantra fit into your assessment of work habits or learning skills?  Build your school culture by including aspects of your mission and vision within your assessment comments.

We asked staff to make sure the comments were individualized with specific evidence.  Therefore the child could speak to the work being referenced or the family may be familiar with the task.  We want the use of the child’s name!  The comments should vary from student to student as they are all unique individuals and this is one part of the report card where that is abundantly clear.  Here is an opportunity to really show the family that you recognize their child as a unique individual with their own talents, needs and attributes.  It would drive me mad when I saw repeated comments used for numerous children in this section of the report.  Yes, a template is beneficial when you are writing numerous reports, but the goals, the activities, the examples and student voice in each must be differentiated.

It goes without saying that it is going to be written using asset language, positively phrased for all students highlighting what they can do, and not what they are not able to do (YET!).  There will be an opportunity to highlight goals for the remainder of the school year and this should be done in a positive, and confident of success manner.

Learning skills provide an excellent showcase for student voice.  And, if student voice is one of your hallmarks in your school,  you say you are going to incorporate student voice, what better place to show this than in the assessment of learning skills? Considering the age and stage of the learners, student voice should be included in the learning skills.  Use quotation marks and have the exact words of the child sharing with their families what they are working towards for the next term.  Making our goals public not only increase our chances of success because they are known, it also provides the opportunity for others to get involved in helping us. (there you go, parent involvement!)

Even if you don’t include direct quotes from the student’s voice in regards to their goals, the making of an action plan is an important growth opportunity and having a student work on it in collaboration with the teacher is another wonderful opportunity to strengthen this important relationship.  Students should be assisted with identifying their own strengths and needs as a learner and how to select the strategies that will assist them.  Throughout the term there should be opportunities for monitoring and discussion.  All of this process can be captured in the learning skills comments and/or shared with families during conferencing.

A comment could be as clear as:  (name) has identified an important goal in the area of independent work, she stated, ‘…….’  This is a wonderful goal for (name) and she will be supported with….in order to reach her goals

The next steps within the learning skills comment can focus on the child’s goals for next term, the teacher’s professional judgment on what is required for future success but must focus on the concept that learning skills are not an after thought, they are continually taught and students are provided with lots of opportunities to know and understand them. Therefore next steps indicate to families that there will be continued attention given to the development of learning skills, and the strategies that will be taught, practiced, and monitored 

So much time is invested in the creation, development, and writing of report cards. Work with your staff to create a document that every one can be proud of, that further supports your school messaging but most importantly a document that will truly benefit your students and their families.

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