Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Don't Show My Own Children Their Report Cards!

I really don't! So yes, perhaps I am a bit crazy. But I must say, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. Yes, they have ways of finding out this information, but...

Grades have always been a key topic at the professional development presentations and workshops I give. But before getting into a detailed discussion of all the questions and frustrations that go along with grades, let me start here. This is the abridged version of the keynote address I gave at our school's National Honor Society induction ceremony two years ago. I was honored to be asked. I know it's long, but again, it's my way of sharing just how off-putting it is to report a grade.

"...I have two daughters, one is in fourth grade and one is a freshman in high school. At the end of first semester this year, my oldest daughter and I were driving home from school and she said, “Hey Mom. I think you need to call my school.”
I asked, “Really, why is that?”
She said, “Well, everyone has been talking about their report cards for a couple weeks now and we haven’t gotten mine yet. So I think we should call the school and ask for a new copy to be sent.”

I said, “Oh. Your report card? We got that a couple weeks ago.”
"What? We did? Did you look at it?” she asked.

“No. I haven’t opened it. I’m not even sure where it is. I think I recycled it.”
She gave me her disapproving “here-we-go-again” look and said, “Mom, you know you’re crazy right? I don’t even know how to explain you to my friends. I’ve gone all these years without looking at my report card. Can I please look at it this year?”

Before going any further, you should know that I haven’t shown my younger daughter her report card either. So I’d like to provide some self-defense, however off-the-wall it might be, for the torture I put my daughters through by not showing them this certain piece of paper.
When I was younger, my parents told me that it was important to find a balance in life between academics, athletics, a social life and a spiritual life. Every day at the dinner table we would have conversations that touched upon all four of these areas. “What did you learn today? How was basketball practice? Did you enjoy playing piano? How is your friend doing? What did you do today to make somebody feel better?”

So after getting married and having children, I decided to teach my children similarly—find a balance. When my daughters were about 2 or 3 years old, they really got into the whole talking thing. And everything out of their mouths was a question. "Mommy, what’s that? Where did she go? How do I tie my shoe? Why do I need to say that? Who was that person and why was she here?" Etc.
As I began to focus on these questions, I found that they all fell within the categories my parents had shared with me. My children were NATURALLY finding a balance. I thought, “Geesh! Parenting is gonna be easy! All I have to do is to continue to nurture what they’re already doing!”

And then a few years later, I went to my first parent-teacher conference as a PARENT. I had conducted a number of conferences from the teacher’s perspective. But this was the first time I was the parent. So I asked questions about my daughter. How is she behaving? Does she treat her peers well? Is she respectful to authority figures? What is she interested in? Does she ask a lot of questions? Is she too quiet? Too loud? And I found it interesting that the teacher kept bringing the conversation back to the grade sheet. This is completely understandable; it was her comfort zone. Being a new teacher myself, the grade printout was typically the focus of the conversations I would have with parents, as well. But now that the tables were turned, I realized how little I cared about those things and how little that piece of paper actually communicated about my daughter. And I realized at that moment that keeping that natural balance would be more challenging than I thought. The institution of school was going to tip the balance in one direction, academics. I now needed to provide the counterbalance to keep them well-rounded and grounded in the other three areas. I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that academics was necessarily more important than the other three. Nor did I want them growing up believing that their report card dictated their intelligence. So, I decided then and there that I would never show my children their report cards in an attempt to provide the counterbalance.

Perhaps you are now all in agreement with my daughters in that you think I’m a bit crazy. Please know that I do believe that doing well in school is very important; I’m a teacher, after all. And all of you have obviously done well in your classes here at GBN and are therefore being recognized for that this evening. Congratulations. You should be proud of yourselves...

(I then shared three points with the students that I thought were worth thinking about. I've left these descriptions out to narrow this post to the "grades" issue. If you're interested, I can always add the details later!)

...So how has my not showing my girls their report cards panned out? Magnificently well, thank you very much. They have learned to not use a grade as motivation for learning. Of course we have those normal conversations in my family about tests and projects once in a while. And of course there are more variables than just not showing them their report cards that have played a part in who they are as students. I have simply tried to help them keep the balance. For the most part, I like to think that our family focus is, “What did you learn today? How was practice? How is your friend doing? What did you do today to make your tiny segment of the globe a better place?”
I think my children know that learning and education are extremely important to me. I’ve dedicated my life to it, as has their father, who is also a teacher. But I also think they know it is not a means to an end. Formal education is one small fraction of ONE facet in their lives. As I purposefully try to tip the scale in a direction that illustrates four areas being equally important in life for my children, I’m challenged to do the same in my classroom. And it drives most of my students nuts! I’m sorry for that, but I know no other way. I wish you well and I congratulate you on all you’ve accomplished. I am excited for you as you grow through life’s adventures...

I was thrilled at the reception to the above story. Parents loved it. I wonder how many of them still reflect with appropriate measure on the assessments and report cards in their lives.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I have grappled with the idea of grades—the philosophy, the mechanics, the influence, the meaning of grades. Grading is an incredibly complex issue, one that I don't believe is given enough reflection by the education system, in fact by society in general. But that's understandable. I just wrote my longest blog ever and have not even begun to scratch the surface.

Suffice it to say, it's a complicated issue.
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Randy said...

If report cards used a more formative model and we stressed student growth versus performance, I think they would be more useful. Thinking from a parental end, by the time I get a report card, it is too late to correct 9 weeks worth of work, plus it doesn't "say" anything other than performance.

If parents received a more qualitative form dealing with what the student has done well, how they have grown, that would be much more beneficial. Especially with the ease of information access we see now, getting something for over the summer that may outline topics the student struggled with would provide information to really help the student, as an individual, have the potential to grow.

An issue seen with grades is they generally rely on a performance based assessment, mainly a test due to their ease. But, not all students really show their knowledge on the same way. Some would do fine with tests, for others a project building on concepts would fit best. Others may even like to show what they know in a PodCast or a subject-based "TV Show" where they demonstrate their knowledge that way.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Thanks for sharing it with others verbally and with us virtually!!!

Lindsey said...

I feel like whenever I read things you write or listen to you speak- I want to take all your ideas! I agree with so much of what you say but I have trouble articulating it and expressing it. What a great blog! Thanks for sharing :)