Learning

To properly look at and talk about the future, it is important to look back at the past. If you are an educator using social media for your own professional learning, or if you are leading professional learning around any current issues, it is important to know a bit of history and to recognise that you are moving along a path that has been forged by others before you. I haven't always been so quick to recognise that myself in the past - and I see some of my own naivety and self importance from a decade ago manifesting itself in others in the present day. I will try to provide an example.

I first joined my local edtech professional association back in 2005, being encouraged by a mentor from the Technology School Of The Future named Yvonne Murtagh. It was through one of her workshops that I became really interested in the potential of Web 2.0 (as it was called back then) and I embraced the concept of blogging for professional learning. The association was CEGSA (known now as EdTechSA) and through various channels I met a high school teacher named Bill Kerr. Bill was working in the area of computer science and digital game making (amongst other things) with his students, and was an advocate of programming well before the recent push that sees coding as an important skill that students need. I am sure that he would view the latest push from experts with a wry smile and just a little frustration that so few educators (myself included) could see the value of this work eight years ago. Bill ran some great presentations at the annual conference where he would buck the trend of what was being offered, and showcase some interesting things. One year, he managed to get his hands on a OLPC laptop - and another time, he gave a talk about Alan Kay, a contemporary of Seymour Papert that seems even more relevant in today's STEM and Makerspace frenzied edusphere.

Gary Stager has also worked in this space for many years, working with the acclaimed David Loader in Melbourne back in the early nineties on a pioneering one to one laptop program. He has been and is still a leading advocate of the maker movement for learning. I have had the privilege of seeing Gary on several occasions and he always challenges my thinking because he can take what is accepted as good practice in the wider education community and turn it on its head. He also must be frustrated and relieved in equal parts that his message and work over such a long time is now gaining mainstream acceptance. But education and schools are slow moving beasts - so slow that messages and ideas that seem new are often reincarnations from the past. But the latest generations promoting edtech quite often think they are the pioneers and the innovators when in fact, with a little bit of digital literacy, they can find that they are the benefactors of less heralded but more important work and thinkers from the not so distant past.

Like I wrote earlier, I too have suffered from the delusion that I was travelling a new path that the majority of educators had to eventually get on board with. But being an early twitter user or maintaining a blog for over a decade or doing interesting things in the classroom doesn't qualify me for anything but being a learner who can still learn from others and share a few things along the way with others. Bill critiqued the read/write web I was in love with back in 2007, and at the time, I felt offended and a bit misunderstood. So I am sure that some more recent voices on Twitter and other online spaces would likely be unresponsive to my plea to "know your history" a bit more before you put yourself up on a pedestal as a progressive educator or a changemaker. But if you are pushing makerspaces and don't know who Gary Stager is, you need to look back. If you think you are being cutting edge with games and have never heard of Marc Prensky, do a bit of homework. And if you think you're cool because you're a self professed connectivist or have a PLN, but have never read Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Nancy White or Leigh Blackall, then get in touch with the recent past. I'm not bothering to link those names because Google will lead you down as many relevant rabbitholes as you can handle.

Don't be like George Bush when he said, "The past is over."

So, a couple of teacher have approached me about some help with their buddy class project - they want to do Stop Motion videos. Now, being the resident Learning Technologies leader does not mean that I have my finger on the pulse of all things edtech but I said, yes, of course I will help. I figured that I would just learn ahead of time, on the fly so to speak, modelling being a learner. Stop Motion has been around for years in classrooms, with Plasticine models being a popular choice paired with web cams and stop motion software. With the advent of iPads and a rising popularity in the use of Lego, I thought that I would try to see if I could whip something passable using the Lego Movie Maker app.

One Day On Tattoine from Graham Wegner on Vimeo.

My son has plenty of Star Wars lego around the place so that was easy, getting the iPad to stay still was solved by building a Lego cradle for it, and the background was printed off the web from a fan image from DeviantArt. It was difficult to get the whole set in shot and I am still not happy that the background takes up more real estate than the foreground - it would probably be easier to use my iPhone but the kids will have to use iPads so I needed to foresee issues from that perspective. There are plenty of videos on the web on how to improve the way it hangs together and my character voices are pretty terrible (except for Obi-wan / I think I do a passable job there). I might have another go over the Easter weekend but I can see the key will be sourcing plenty of mini-figures for the fifty odd students who will be creating their own stop motion masterpieces. Not that is - a masterpiece, that is. Wow, starting to type like Yoda already.

The first week of school has just finished, and at my site that has meant some new staff, a number of new students and a heady mix of excitement and trepidation. I spent some time this morning with my new principal trying to describe the scope of and the idiosyncrasies of my role at WGS. I am really lucky to work in a role that suits me and challenges me at the same time. I am always fretting about whether I am prioritising and making correct decisions, and am probably my own harshest critic. Being at a disadvantaged school does mean that I have access to funding to really be able to provide quality technology options for our students, and I really try to think through the best way to use that tax payer funded money.

I am very conscious of the responsibility of being accountable as an employee of the public education system, and I wouldn't want to work in any form of school. I turned down an invitation to showcase some of our technology at one of Adelaide's more prominent private schools because I just couldn't bring myself to even indirectly contribute more to the already well advantaged. It felt traitorous to the system to which I am loyal. I am aware that religious institutions helped to popularise education well before public education became an essential public good. But in my eyes, so much of private education is about maintaining class divisions, gatekeeping against the wrong sort of people, or lavishing even more opportunity on the most privileged within Australian society.

I have heard the cries before from private school teachers and supporters before about catering for the disadvantaged and being inclusive - and some are, but only to a point. I had the privilege of hearing Lynne Symons speak last year at our EdTechSA AGM. Lynne was, at the time, the principal of Mark Oliphant College, the biggest of the government super schools founded just over five years catering for over 1500 students from Reception to Year 12 in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in the state. As she said in her speech, and I paraphrase here, you might have some poverty in your school or have some disadvantage in your school, but our government disadvantage and complexity eats any private school's for breakfast. And I know it's not a competition about who is serving the neediest or who has the most families under stress, but only the public system takes all comers in and is more concerned about the progress and journey that each student takes, rather than if their students can get their Year 12 results on the front page of the state newspaper. No school gets it right for all of their students all of the time but I am proud to work for a system where that is the goal.

 

2015 has been a very busy year for me from a work perspective and although I have learned heaps, not much of that learning has ended up here of late. Part of that has been the fact that a lot of my steep learning curve has been in the people management aspect and the collaborative leadership part of my job, all of which have confidentiality issues that limit me from sharing too much too readily. There have been moments of high challenge when people's futures and relationships were quite fragile, and where I have had to work hard on diplomatic solutions that still haven't left everyone happy with the end resolution. However, there are a few things that I can reflect on.

We tried a new product called Class Creator when constructing our 2016 classes. This was definitely a worthwhile investment as after all of the teacher data was inputted, it created classes that were a good starting point for further negotiation. Whenever someone considered shifting a child to a different class, I could look them up and see who they needed to be separated from, what a move would do to their friendship options and whether they had students who were conducive to their learning success. The company themselves were quick to help out with any technical hassles. Our school certainly still tested the outer limits of what the software could do - for instance, we found you couldn't program in separations from students in different year levels. Class Creator said that would require an even more complex algorithm!! But because we knew about the limitation, we could work around. But avoiding that first initial bunfight of getting teachers to put names out onto class sheets was avoided. When someone said, "Can't we just have straight classes in this year level?", I could run it through Class Creator, create the scenario and people could see for themselves whether it would work or not, or what were the compromises that would need to be made to make it happen. So, a big tick for this product.

I ran a Sphero workshop for EdTechSA in Week 7 of all times and that was pretty successful. I'm due to do another one early in 2016, and I am seeing more teachers becoming confident in using the robots themselves. Another teacher has discovered another robotics product with potential called Ozobots, and is keen to enlist my help to explore their potential for learning in 2016. I am confident that more teachers will get on board, especially as I have already seen some of our teachers get involved in a DECD Digital Technologies project focussed on the use of Makey Makeys in buddy class projects. Mel, one of the teachers involved, has been leading out in the area of robotics as can be seen in the video below.

Along with three other colleagues, I attended training for the Microsoft Peer Coaching course, led by my line manager and acting principal, Marg Clark (who happens to be one of only two qualified trainers). Karen Butler from DECD also helped lead some of the training as Marg's "apprentice" but essentially it was about becoming familiar with 21CLD and then rehearsing the required skills and techniques to facilitate professional conversations about planned learning with peers. I am hoping that some of my Green Building teachers who I line manage will be keen to participate and have me as their coach in 2016. We have also been working with Tom Barrett from NoTosh on Design Thinking, and looking to develop that more within our school in 2016.

Speaking of 2016, we are welcoming a new principal to the school. Having a new person at the helm is always going to mean that things are about to change but we need to embrace the opportunities that will come with this, while highlighting to our new boss all of the great stuff that goes on and makes the school such a great place to work at where staff feel like they are making a real difference to the students from our increasingly complex community.

At the moment, I am enjoying the time to recharge my batteries, spend time with the family and get in a few games of golf. At the moment I am enjoying a patch of improvement in this area, and have even started a blog to capture some of my learning and experiences in this area. The audience for that particular niche could be very small indeed!! I am having fun playing a few games on my son's new PS4 and even reading my way through the PC Grant novel series by Ben Aaronovitch. We'll see how 2016 develops soon enough.

 

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My blog had its tenth birthday last month. And probably, as I treat my actual birthday, I didn't really pay it much attention. I had thoughts about doing a post on the actual day but didn't really have something to say. I even thought about doing a give-away or a competition, but I have a feeling that the days of readers numbering in the hundreds (probably down to single figures now) are long gone.

But ten years is a significant slab of time. I started writing here because my school at the time had just installed interactive whiteboards and I figured that blogging might have been a good way to connect to others to get ideas and advice in their best use for learning. What I did stumble into was networked learning, exposure to innovative minds and a handy ringside seat into the broader development of educators delving into social media.

I don't blog now nearly as much as I did back then. But I have been able to interact with many great thinkers and innovators - some who still influence my thinking to this day. Certainly, there were many well established edubloggers around when I started this journey so I am certainly no pioneer. Along with Michael Coghlan and Mike Seyfang, I was one of the earlier South Australian bloggers flexing our developing social media muscles. When I think about the early edubloggers I was reading, many were well established in their craft - if you aren't aware of Stephen Downes', Nancy White's and Alan Levine's amazing bodies of work, then you need to take the time meander down their well established digital paths. George Siemens may well be hailed as the mind behind Connectivism as a learning theory, but Leigh Blackall deserves as least as much acknowledgement as an active mind developing awareness about Networked Learning. If you don't believe me, check out the Revision History tab on the Wikipedia entry to see how much time he has put in there. He (along with Alex Hayes) was the first to expose me to the concept of "free ranging" showing how one's learning can be stored in a range of digital depositories. This was a concept that he continues to use - it might explain why his work isn't cited by "experts" because he actually practices his ideas rather than just theorise from a traditional academic viewpoint. I strongly believe that Leigh's name and ideas should be more widely known and acknowledged in the Australian edtech community. But I suppose he isn't founding edtech Twitter hashtags, or being an "edupreneur" so the importance of his ideas are somewhat neglected.

Speaking of Twitter, I was an early educator user, signing up for my account back in March 2007. No #hashtagchats, no "Welcome to my PLN" autoreplies, no inserted ads or "while you were away" reminders. Not many Australians in the first few years either - and my Twitter connections were basically bloggers who I was already reading. After a year or so, I did start to see some clever Twitter only educators start to leverage the tool in new ways which has led to the massive info-stream that you get nowadays. I've always thought that you only add a connection that adds to your learning so I have never felt the need to follow back. And if I don't add much to your learning, then perhaps I should be cut loose from your Following list as well.

It is pretty cool that I can look back at my state_of_brain over the period of ten years. I have engaged with so many digital learners and my own learning has been super fast tracked that I take the connection for granted. Even in 2015, I encounter adults who are amazed at how quickly I can find what I want online, how I can reference some many other great thinkers so quickly - and I am amazed that what I do isn't just commonplace in educators anyway. It should be - I am no one special. If I can be connected and learning, anyone can. Ten years here at my favourite Edublogs haunt proves it.

Last year, I compiled a virtual version of EduTech for my staff, hunting videos that were close to the presentations that we saw live. It is over on our staff blog but seeing I've done the hunting and embedding, there may be readers who might like a look as well.

2015

This year, the WGS attendees included Kellie, Julie, Bianca, Vas, Jayne, Mel, Tamsin and Graham. This year we had our own Twitter hashtag #wgsET which helps to collate all of our resources, insights.

Here are some links and videos from some of the presenters:

Eric Mazur,  Assessment - The Silent Killer of Learning

Super Awesome Sylvia, 13 year old maker expert

Nick Jackson from Adelaide spoke eloquently about digital Leadership and ended his talk with this jawdropping conclusion.

Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High

Eric Sheninger, Digital Leadership

EduTECH 2015: Eric Sheninger from EducationHQ on Vimeo.

Sylvia Martinez, The Maker Movement: A global revolution goes to school

Ted McCainTeaching for Tomorrow - teaching as facilitating, learning as discovering

EduTECH 2015: Heidi Hayes Jacobs from EducationHQ on Vimeo.

dllanyards

Tomorrow morning at the Primary Years Assembly, I will be presenting six more Digital Leaders lanyards bringing the number of newly qualified Leaders up to twenty two. My photo shows the pile ready with the badge grid showing badges earned so far complete with the glamorous purple lanyard (called the forgotten colour of our school uniform by our Music teacher!) with teal custom printing.

The cost for each lanyard is around five dollars. The plastic sleeve is worth about fifty cents and the printing is a few cents extra. A modest investment considering what the students and the school get in return. We are not talking about privileged students here - far from it.

For that price, I get enthusiasm and dedication. For that price, students get opportunity and a shot at showcasing their skills. For that price, the school gets expertise, hosted lunchtime activities and teachers get access to student experts who can help get their learning programs running smoothly. For that price, students get a chance to feel special, to feel pride in helping others, in having fun and getting to learn something new. For that price, I get to build new relationships, I get to re-engage some challenging kids and I get to push this whole idea along to become something that is a positive, embedded part of the school.

Worth every cent, I say.

For someone who likes technology, particularly for learning, I have never been that interested in the field of robotics. For all of this recent focus on coding and programming in education, I haven't really got swept up in becoming personally skilled or knowledgeable in the area. I recognise its importance but have to admit to putting things like Lego MindStorms in the "too hard" basket. My interest has always been in the internet and like many self taught learners, it's easy to play to my own strengths and steer away from might be a steep learning curve out of my comfort zone.

The recent release of the Australian Curriculum for Technologies (pending final endorsement) has renewed the focus on specific ICT and digital technology skills. The Technologies curriculum is now split into two specific subjects - Digital Technologies and Design & Technology. The latter of these contains much of the SACSA Design & Technology curriculum and its focus on Design/ Make/ Appraise so in general, most of my primary school colleagues feel comfortable with the expectations of that subject. The Digital Technologies curriculum is a more specific focus on skills and knowledge that our previous state curriculum spent time integrating throughout the curriculum. So it feels a little bit like subject matter that is making a comeback even though we know that digital technologies work at a more sophisticated and lower cost point in our daily lives than even ten years ago.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ocg_bilder/8571558534/

We held one of our student free days as an Australian Curriculum focus, and had two DECD consultants spend half of the day focussing on the Digital Technologies curriculum. 2015 is a familiarisation year and we looked at several of the key concepts like computational thinking and programming. We looked at and used BeeBots and one of our talented upper primary teachers showed how her work with Lego MindStorm robotics was giving students opportunity to program. This teacher has been totally self taught after recognising the need within the upper primary students and led the way in overhauling our resources for Lego Robotics. She has spread her expertise across the whole five class unit, and even fostered interest through a lunchtime club. So, again, I know her work in this area is good but I have never dabbled using these tools myself. The BeeBots are great - simple in terms of setting out a sequence of commands and very accessible for early years students. After the day, I had a lot of teachers requesting that our meager supply of these robots be replenished. I've ordered them and they are on their way.

So, Beebots filled that need for the programming part of our new curriculum nicely for our Early Years students, and MindStorms is targetted at the Upper Primary area so I asked the consultants what would be best for the Middle Primary Students (Year 2, 3, 4) and their suggestion was the Probot. I then remembered that there were four of these sitting in a tub in my office! These were from one of the closing schools (my school was formed in 2011 from 3 smaller sites) and hadn't been touched in four years. To my mind, they weren't that much more sophisticated than the BeeBots, and when I went to purchase some, the price for each was over $160. That was $100 more than a BeeBot - withe major differences being that it was larger (not really a plus) and had an input screen so that instead of pushing > four times, I could key in 4> for the same result. Not exactly a quantum leap forward in extending programming skills, and potentially could have students complaining that Probots were boring and they were doing the same stuff as they would have with the BeeBot.

So sitting at my desk, I was hesitant to buy the fleet of Probots for the school because of these concerns. So, I turned to my trusty ally, the internet, as I was sure that there must be a better alternative to the Probot. Something to bridge the gap between BeeBot and Lego Robotics - but unique and engaging in its own way. I remembered that I had something that might be useful in my neglected delicious account - and found Romo. This is a neat idea where you plug an iPhone into a robotic base and interact with it. This was promising but not quite what I was after. The school isn't flush with iPad Touches and iPhones so I went looking anew.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/karasutech/14150146105/

Then I found what I was after - Sphero. Basically a ball shaped robot, controlled via apps on a tablet or device. The site was informative and I liked the fact that it linked into its own Education section. One of the Apps where I could imagine potential was MacroLab where users can create macros; basically long lines of commands in order to get Sphero to perform a particular action or routine. I could see the programming aspect coming into focus - but unlike MindStorms where the robots being built are very sophisticated, the ball robot was conceptually very simple. I watched some videos, and went to see Marg, my line manager, who has a deep background in digital learning to see whether her impressions matched mine.

My original thought was to buy one and play with it myself to work out the potential. Marg was more confident. "Buy a class set if you think that they are what you want," was her reassuring reply.

So I did.

I ordered them from the Sphero US store, and they arrived in under a week. (I am still waiting on the BeeBots, ordered from an Australian company!) I paid the GST import duty and bought power adaptors as they shipped with the US version. I bought covers for the Spheros and several Terrain packs which have click and hold pieces to create obstacles and barriers to manouevre the Sphero through. I also purchased an original Sphero on eBay (I ordered Sphero 2's for the school) for $46 as an investment in my own professional learning.

So, they are pretty cool and I think that they will serve the purpose I envisage. I had a search through my blogging connections to see if I could find anyone I knew using them for learning - my only link was to Wes Fryer's STEM resources as part of his after school Maker's club. He had four of the beasts and was feeling well resourced - but I had ordered fifteen!

How does Sphero work? Basically, the ball needs to be charged prior to use on its own induction stand. Three hours charging gives the user an hour's worth of constant use. I've downloaded about nine apps to try but the first one I have had students start on is Drive, a simple app that gets them to use the tablet as a remote control for the Sphero. They can control direction, speed and colour within that app. The standard Sphero app is wrapped up in a gaming interface where points accumulate for Missions and can be exchanged at the Core Exchange for pre-programmed Macros or tricks. This app is the one that gets users thinking beyond just getting it to move around and crash into things. An example is the Frog macro where Sphero turns green and jerks forward with a timed croak from the app. There are many others but these "tricks" then can lead to using MacroLab, where users can then create their own - the actual programming!

I'm only in the beginning stages of this all. I have been using my Digital Leaders at school to become the student experts using Spheros, and I have had to think through many logistical issues when using then ranging from charging to security, from sourcing enough iPads to dealing with multiple Spheros trying to connect to their iPad via Bluetooth all at the same time. These devices could suck up a lot of my time if I allow it, but I also still have to introduce them to staff, provide support in their use in classrooms and in planning for the coverage of the Digital Technologies curriculum. But this is still the first robot that I have got seriously excited about. We'll see how it progresses.

We have a significant number of students from African background at our school. Now that in itself is too broad a description as the students we have enrolled hail from over twenty nations and cultures across the African continent. Two of the more major groups include Somali and Kurundi families, and our Community Development Officer has been working with some of our parents in playgroups and parent group meetings on a weekly basis. The Kurundi group meets with her, along with one of our multilingual BSSO's (Bilingual School Support Officer) offering translation support, on a weekly basis to explore things of interest in the areas of health, support services, cooking and so on. Many of these mums have had little formal education prior to arriving in Australia, or had to make do with whatever was on offer in the refugee camps. Many are keen but lacking in confidence in being highly involved in their children's education, and one of the aspects they feel out of touch in is the area of ICT.

Through our Community Development Officer, I have been approached to help address this need with this group this term. Many of the parents have phones or cameras but don't know how to get the photos from the camera onto a computer or into printed form. They don't feel confident in navigating their way around a laptop so we have decided the way to cross the barriers between what their kids know and their own skills to via Family Photos. I suggested that we work on making Snapfish printed photo books with the parents where they take photos from their phones or cameras, and use the Snapfish interface to create something they will really treasure. They can learn how to use cables to download photos into folders, how to find and look through photo files, how to use the internet to look up images they might want to include (country flags, images from their homeland) and how to use web technologies that involve drag and drop, typing in text, making choices from menus, making changes to a template and a whole bunch of skills that don't necessarily need a strong command of English in order to be able to achieve. I'm looking forward to it- and hope that our hunch about the common connections that can be made through family photos can help these parents feel more empowered about the technology that is so commonplace in Australia and in our classrooms, and they can engage with their kids more easily. I'm looking forward to receiving my demo Snapfish booklet soon to help tune these adult learners in!

 

Here in South Australia, it is that time of year when mid-year reports go home to parents. I know there are a number of schools exploring and implementing better ways of reporting to parents using online technology but for the majority of South Australian primary schools, the reporting process is fairly uniform and consistent. Of course, things have evolved over time. When I first started teaching in the mid-80's reports were hand written before then being drafted by hand and then typed up by skilled teacher aides. Eventually about over the last fifteen to twenty years it has evolved into a digital template (often as a Word document) where teachers allocate grades, evaluate social skills and dispositions towards learning and then write several paragraphs addressed to the parent / caregiver about the child's progress thus far in the school year. Every school I've ever been at has had its own template, and more often than not kept tinkering with layout and sections to try and improve the final product. I can remember writing a five to six line paragraph for four core learning areas and then add a twelve to fifteen line summary that drew all of the observations about the student to a fitting conclusion. I suppose it says a fair bit about the slow pace of change in schools that I am still seeing a similar end product for reporting purposes now as from when I started my teaching career.

It is the written component that many teachers find difficult and laborious. I have seen teachers who have copies of books titled "Great Report Writing Comments and Phrases To Use" because they lack confidence in their own ability to construct sentences of quality. I have met teachers who openly admit that writing is a process that they dislike immensely, which leads me to wonder how they inspire their students to embrace and enjoy the art of writing in their classroom. I have been lucky. I actually quite enjoy the process of writing and reflecting on a student's progress, and I thought I got pretty good at it. I know this from positive feedback I have received from parents over the years, from the fact that my proof reading colleagues have rarely corrected or changed any of my paragraphs and how when I look at other teachers' reports (as I do now in my role as a leader / line manager) I know straight away if they are of a high standard and if not, I start mentally rewriting them as I read, drawing my own knowledge of the student into play.

So, I think that there are several components to successful report writing and a few definite issues or practices to avoid. The end goal should be that after the parent has read the report, their reaction is that the teacher really knows their child. Statements that are bland and wide open leave the parent wondering if the teacher really does know their child, and if they don't, how can they trust any of the assessment judgements made elsewhere in the report? So personalising the comments is essential. Saying the child is "a good student" is meaningless. I really like it when teachers offer examples to back up their observations - Johnny has shown great leadership skills within our classroom as he demonstrated when organising the Red Nose Day for our class. I don't mind teachers outlining some of the topics or content covered as long as they are also commenting about the child's learning within that.

I think it is important to strike a balance in terms of the amount of information offered. A general comment that goes on and on and flows beyond the allocated space means that the writer is struggling to be succinct, and if I look closely might also contain doubled up phrases, overly descriptive language and use of meaningless cliches. The flip side is when too little is written and tactics like excessive paragraph breaks and a larger font are used to disguise the lack of written reflection. When editing reports, I would rather deal with the former as excess can always be tightened up and pruned back. I have generally found that these teachers really do know their students but struggle to contain everything they have to say neatly into the space provided. Too little gives an impression that the teacher does not see fit to elaborate about this student or that maybe they haven't taken the time to really get to know that student.

Some teachers' solution to the report writing blues is to adopt a formula. This can be helpful when used as a guide of things they want to cover within the report but the extreme version is where a cookie cutter report is written and the names of the students are just swapped in and out with some slight variations in choice of adjectives. The give away for these is when gender pronouns do not match the student, where another student's name is still present or just the gnawing feeling of deja vu as I plow through the class set. (Really, every student in this class is a pleasure to have in the classroom and completed their mid term book report to a reasonable / good / great / amazing standard!) Following a formula is smart as long it isn't copy paste and again, I can tell if the teacher is really reflecting on what the child has achieved:
Polly has structured her written texts well this semester. She frequently makes very strong connections between her experiences and the texts she is exposed to and writes about them with clarity. Ways for Polly to continue to promote improvement in her writing include elaborating her points further, explaining her position in finer detail and reviewing her usage of apostrophes of possession.
You can see that this sequence of sentences can follow a similar pattern for every student in the class BUT they have to be written individually. After all, each student has different strengths, abilities and ways of approaching learning, and will also have very individual goals to focus on moving forward.

Then there is also the power of positivity. I agree that sometimes parents need to know the plain unvarnished truth about their child's efforts towards learning but there is still a way of doing it that avoids insulting or straight out negativity. Take this example:It is important that Harold understands the value of asking for help or clarification as he often waits for the teacher to notice his errors or uncertainty, while a more pro-active approach will see him getting help sooner and making better use of time.
This points out the issue but instead of laying blame at the student's feet, offers a productive way forward. Parents will appreciate that.

Finally, a lot of teachers like to address the student directly in the last sentence or two. I don't mind this tactic even though the report speaks to the parents as a focus, and I have done this myself on a regular basis. But as it finishes up what you are saying, make it strong and make it count. Don't write something insipid: Good luck - I know you can do it! Be personal and memorable: Fergus, do not settle for average. Use your diary, apply yourself and see the change. We wish you the best for high school.

So if you've been writing reports, proof reading reports or are still to tackle them, remember that in many households, these documents are hoarded and treasured. You should feel proud of what you have written and want it to stand as a high quality example of teacher assessment of learning. Remember that this post is only from my perspective and should not be held as a definitive set of standards, more as food for thought and a plea to keep the quality high.

oldreport

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc