SOL 9: I learned I don’t want a faster horse.
It was at the ending of the last school year and throughs this Summer Of Learning which led me through BCPVPA/UBCs ShortCourse and I to a variety of books, tweets and thinking that I have finally “moved past” my previous looks for a ‘better report card’. Henry Ford is noted for saying “if I asked people what they wanted, they’d ask for a faster horse”. Jobs is noted for saying “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.
This summer came to a close with me sharing out my schools experience shifting to eportfolios at an edcamp at our PVP summer session. There I got to reflect that after a decade-and-a-half of “tweaking” report cards to make them better, I have come to the realization (rationalization?) that report cards are good at doing what they do: report student achievement. I (and others) tried to force the 100+ year old report card to do something it wasn’t designed to do: communicate learning.
But….What about the pride that students take in getting letter grades? I know too well how too often letter grades are too heavily influenced by behaviour and task completion. Neither of which really measure or show how much learning has been done.
But…how will students get into university? Already I know that alumni (such as myself) of UBC have been contacted to help with a methodology used by other universities such as MIT & Harvard: looking at the entire body of learning of candidates to help determine if they are a good fit for university learning.
But….%s? Which are often based on imprecise measurements including homework (raise your hand if you ever copied or were copied off of) and unit/chapter tests (how many are norm referenced, analyzed, etc?) not to forget how attendance & ‘laters’ play a role (but shouldn’t).
When questioned by a colleague about ‘liking to see how their child “measures up” to others in the class’ I was able to share out my belief that a “B” or 77% does not (can not) communicate specific strengths & areas for growth for the learner. Also, we try not to ‘compare students to each other’ but rather focus on showing student samples compared to provincial learning standards exemplars which communicate specifically on what ‘typical’ grade learners should be doing.
The closest I ever got to “repurposing” report cards was my final year as a full-time classroom teacher (just accepted my first VP assignment) where I used a report card template our school was proud of, but I put photos of student work instead of subject feedback in the comment boxes. My principal (a +ve disruptor in his own right) said “we” (district) weren’t quite ready yet. 6 years later, the eportfolios my school community are using do so much more than just ‘show students work’; they reach the goal of “communicating student learning”.
But….accountability? I feel our ‘feet are closer to the fire’ because samples of student work has to be archived and shared. It’s not about ‘bonus marks’ or ‘doing more work for extra credit’ it is about the learning that has been done. It also enables better communication: as one parent said after seeing her son play guitar, ‘he plays so much better at home’ and the challenge was issues: record him at home and we will add that to the archive to show what he is able to do.
But…more work? I won’t say it’s less work than report cards, but it is spread out throughout the week (throughout each day) instead of an artificially created “due date for learning” and options (such as the app our school community is using: freshgrade ) enable easy archiving with a variety of feedback methodologies, including/especially descriptive feedback.
A better report card? I know there are still teams working on them, but I have learned to accept report cards as devices that worked well for what they were designed for, but schooling and learning today is so very different from then. It is easy to get caught up in the ‘game of school’ but strategies such as “descriptive feedback instead of marks/letters/checkmarks/etc” and “communication tools” such as eportfolios enable the focus to be on learning (not scoring). But I also know that I didn’t know that I wanted eportfolios (liked real portfolios but didn’t love them) until I saw them in use by teachers, parents and students – the. I finally knew what it was that I wanted! (And it wasn’t a faster horse/better report card despite my searching for one).