The periodic task of writing end-of-term reports is like the visible ‘tip of an iceberg’ that comprises many layers and processes in school. Beneath and beyond the blue booklets with compilations of concisely written comments on white sheets of paper lies an ethos of education, a substratum of beliefs about children and growth, and multiple ways in which teachers formulate their experienceswith children. The raw material for reporting on children’s learning and growth is drawn not only from experiences in the classroom, but also from thedormitories (in a residential school), games fields, dining hall, hikes andexcursions, and a range of activities that the school offers. Teachers engage withand observe students in these areas as well as various interstitial spaces throughthe school term, and the reports are an attempt to distil and capture a ‘workingportrait’ of the child.
The writing of reports serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it serves as a necessary written communication for the parents who need to know about their child’s learning and growth during the several months that she is away at school. The report also serves as a means of drawing the parents into a joint process of supporting the child’s development along various dimensions (and this is often a vital factor in the middle school years). Finally, the act of writing reports also provides an occasion for teachers to take stock of their own purposes and sense of engagement with the growth of students in their care.
How do we put together an overall picture of the child as observed over a school term?
The reports in our school take the form of a booklet containing two overall reports written by the class teacher and house-parent, and individual reports written by the subject teachers, arts and crafts and games teachers and teachers involved with activities. The formats for these reports vary across areas and over the middle-school classes (classes 6, 7, 8)—some use sheets with an open, freereporting format, others contain printed sub-headings where the teacher fills out the child’s profile through relevant comments. In still others there is a tabular column of categories for various areas of learning and the teacher uses ticks or a letter code to indicate the child’s level in each area. Taken together, these reports are intended to convey to the parents a multi-dimensional view of their child’s learning and growth.
How can reports serve to draw in parents as joint partners in the development of a middle school child?
Since the middle school years are often a period of rapid change and development, writing reports at this age requires particular care. As teachers who live and work with a wide range of children, we have access to a broad understanding of children’s development. We need to keep in view, and be able to share with parents, an implicit understanding of the special characteristics and needs of this stage of a child’s life. This can then help parents to respond appropriately to specific aspects of their own child’s growth.
For instance, children in this phase begin to explore their interests and feelings more intensely. They seek out a sense of autonomy and begin to form an individual identity that is less governed by adult expectations, but is often more subject to peer expectations and peer group norms. This can lead to insecurities and inexplicable changes in behaviour patterns. It is hence important to become aware of the causes of a particular behaviour in a child, and to recognize individual efforts towards finding a ‘place’ for oneself. The teacher also needs to be attuned to the interests and concerns that a child is discovering and in general to discern aspects of her learning and growth at school—especially in the less measurable non-academic areas—that can be encouraged or even celebrated. Highlighting these in the reports, rather than focussing too much on specific shortcomings, helps in preserving a wholesome sense of self-worth, which can otherwise soeasily be undermined at this stage.
In terms of academic learning the portrait we convey should include our sense of her learning style, her response to classroom discussions and challenges posed, and a profile of her developing skills. The awareness that students’ learning and growth is not a linear process, that it may pass through ups and downs, that movement may happen across various dimensions, needs to be reflected in our manner of reporting. The focus should clearly not remain on final performance in tests, though an indicator of potential and achievement in specific subject areas need to be introduced as the child moves up to the 8th class (to enable an informed choice of subjects for the 9th class or remedial measures where needed).
It is also part of our responsibility as teachers to clearly identify general aspects of a child’s growth that need attention or specific problem areas that need corrective measures. Occasionally, a more serious dysfunctional situation with a particular child—for example, blocks in learning or problems of relationship—might need a more carefully-worded report or even a detailed letter, where the behavioural symptoms are described, possible causes explained and steps that need to be taken suggested. When such reports are written keeping in mind a broader perspective, they can become a part of the learning process of the parents. The parents can reflect on the comments in the report and work with their child. They may then be able to promote significant shifts in the child’s attitude and growth.
Here is a sample set of reports for a middle school child. Her class teacher and house-parent write two complementary ‘portraits’ as covering reports.
Her class teacher writes:
- T comes across as a happy, excitable girl. She is very open and forthcoming, sharing her thoughts and feelings readily with her class teacher. In some ways this has been a difficult term for her, as she has had to deal with issues of friendships, and also confront some of the traits in her personality. She has met all these in a positive way, struggled to understand herself better and worked at changing herself wherever she felt the need to.
- As the term progressed, she became more focussed and interested in her academic learning and was doing well in most areas. She must sustain this momentum during the holidays by setting aside a regular time for some academic review or project work. She should also work on her physical fitness during the holidays.
Her house-parent has this to say:
- T is an independent, helpful and affectionate girl. She gets along well with her housemates and is well liked by others. She takes good care of her belongings and her personal hygiene has been very good. She is regular in doing her house duties but needs to learn to take up extra responsibilities in relation to the younger children in the house.
- T also needs to spend her spare time a little more on general reading and reviewing her lessons. She should be more regular in going for morning PT and games.
- T participates enthusiastically in all house activities. She eats well and has kept good health. It has been a pleasure to have her in the house.
For the same girl, a subject teacher writes:
- T is a well-travelled person, whose interest in learning geography as a subject has gradually awakened. Over the term, she has become a more committed student and has begun to do all her work regularly. She has been more attentive in class and quite communicative with the teacher.
Concepts and skills:
- T’s general awareness of the world is quite good and she has begun to make links between what she knows and the concepts introduced. She is capable of visualizing spatial processes and writing imaginatively, while also using correct geographical terms. Her maps and diagrams have shown a steady improvement. She has of late made an effort to develop her note-making skills.
- T should build on her growing interest in the subject by reading good illustrated reference books, visiting an appropriate museum, and watching relevant programmes on television. A geographical study of her city or even neighbourhood might also prove an enriching experience.
How can teachers use the act of writing reports to reflect on their own work and perceptions of students?
Sitting down to write a profile of a student inevitably brings up various impressions in the mind. These have to be coherently organized to convey what the teacher wants to say. Notes and records kept through the term (even if brief) are needed, if one is to evoke a fuller sense of the student’s growth and help concretise one’s perceptions; else one may be left with only the impressions of the last few weeks or the performance in the last couple of tests. In formulating one’s sense of various students, one may also gauge one’s own purposes over the term, become aware of the quality of one’s own involvement, and recognize the part one might or might not have played in specific areas of a particular child’s learning. Each report is thus best seen not as an objective documentation of a child’s progress, but one that contains the imprint of the concerns and style of engagement of the teacher, through which are filtered his perceptions of the child. A critical self-awareness on the part of the teacher is crucial not only to a reporting that aims at promoting an overall development of the student, but also in alerting the teacher to his own need for learning and growth.