It’s report-writing season again! Despite it being something dreaded by many, report-writing is an excellent way to reflect on your students’ progress – and the miraculous transformations you have brought about!
For me, report-writing has always a very satisfying experience; the sense of achievement is always guaranteed! It could simply be the achievement of completing all the reports, or the appreciation for everything you have managed to experience with your students in their journey of exploring another language and culture.
As every school has its own requirements for report-writing, the guide below is designed as a set of principles that are worth keeping in mind, rather than technical details that need to be adhered to. I will be discussing these principles from the perspective of the readers (the students and parents) and the writer (the teacher).
For the Readers
1. Keep the language simple
Not many parents are experts in the Languages discipline – or the report-writing genre! –but are nonetheless keen to stay informed about their child’s progress. Keep your comments jargon-free, and structurally obvious. For example, in your first paragraph you might write a sentence commenting on each of the skills you have focused on (writing, reading etc.), or you might discuss these skills in the context of the student’s strengths and knowledge gaps. Then in the second paragraph, you might offer ways forward.
2. Always start with the positives
Every student is progressing, regardless of how evident their progress has been. Remember, even stagnant progress is progress, and worth reporting. Structurally, it is always more calming for the reader to know that things are traveling well before being confronted by something that requires improvement. This is important to keep in mind at all times, from thinking about the structure of the comments as a whole, to which sentence should come first in a paragraph, and even what to mention first within a sentence.
3. Give concrete and constructive suggestions
The best report comments should allow you to walk away with some feeling of reaffirmation, while also presenting ideas for concrete things you could try for next time. Offering practical suggestions will help to make the tone of the commentary more constructive, allowing parents and students to appreciate that it isn’t the case that the student has failed to master certain areas altogether, but that they have not yet achieved what is required. There is still time to do so, provided they are willing to take on your suggestions for improvement. Lastly, tailor your suggestions for each student. The reader needs to feel convinced that the suggestions offered will be effective to maintain progress or fix what hasn’t been going well.
For the Writers
1. Develop some templates
Report writing is not a test of creativity. A basic level of mass production style templating is needed if you are ever to get through the task in the little time offered to you outside of your face-to-face teaching. Individualisation is not about writing a brand-new piece for every student. What ultimately makes the most difference, which I define as the perceived stude of the report and the potential for seeing a change in behaviour by the student, is whether the parents and students can see from your comments that you really understand the student, and that you are in agreement with their honest self-assessment of their own progress. So start with a few templates for different types of students, and then edit them for each xstudent. It's also a good idea for everyone to get their templates peer-checked by their colleagues before applying them – a second pair of eyes never hurts!
2. Be pedantic about stylistic conventions
Many readers believe that being able to use the appropriate stylistic conventions correctly says a lot about a writer (teacher) and how credible their judgement might be. To avoid a situation where you are being evaluated rather than the student, make sure your report is completely error-free. Make sure you always refer to the student using the full version of their first name, and that there is no mix up between he/his and she/her, especially when you're working with a template.
3. Improve your data collection process
While you may already feel completely exhausted after writing reports for all your students, there is one important final step which you will be very thankful for. Think about how you can make your life easier for the next round of reporting. Teachers commonly report that the most stressful part of report writing is not the sheer volume or length of the reports, but the fact that they have to brainstorm what to say for each student and how that is incredibly time-consuming. This shouldn’t be the case. Reporting is simply about verbalising the summative data you have collected throughout the semester, whether it is quantitative or qualitative. It is a translation job. So if something was particularly intellectually taxing, then it must mean that there was a mismatch between your data collection and the templates. In this case, either your method of data collection has to change, or you may have to re-design your templates next time for a smoother process.
Best of luck with the end of Semester 1, especially for those of you who have reports. I hope that by adhering by the principles above, this round of reporting can be a reflective (and hopefully satisfying) experience!