Effective Practices : Report Writing and Documentation
Report Writing in the Grades
Report Writing and Documentation Section 1
1. What are the key elements of a year end report for students in grades 1 through 8?
2. Does your school have any written guidelines for report writing? Attach a copy if available and comment on the most important aspects of these guidelines.
3. Describe the format of your school’s reports. What are the key elements that should always be included in a well written report? Excluded?
4. In what ways do you ensure that what parents read and what teachers intend to communicate are the same?
5. Do your reports include indications that a student is performing at, below or above grade level in a subject? When and how are these indications included?
6. Does your school have written benchmarks for learning/teaching? Attach a copy if available. How are these benchmarks used in relation to report writing?
7. Are grades ever used in lower school reports?
8. Do reports include information about the non-academic aspects of the student’s performance at school (e.g. classroom behavior, social ease and interaction, etc?) How and when are these issues included?
9. Are reports generated more frequently than once a year? Describe when and why additional reports are written.
10. How and when are any issues or concerns regarding eligibility for transfer into the high school addressed?
11. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to report writing in the lower school.
12. What about your report writing in the lower school is particularly effective?
13. If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s report writing in the lower school what would you change and why?
What are the key elements of a year end report for students in grades 1 through 8?
At the simplest level a year end report in the grades is a characterization of the student’s thinking, feeling and willing. However, the approach that is used to address these three aspects of the child’s development changes as the child goes through the grades. A year end report contains several key elements including:
- a characterization of the whole child,
- block descriptions and reports that describe a student’s work in a class,
- subject teachers’ reports, including a course description and the student’s performance in the class, and
- a cover letter to parents.
In the early grades the student characterization will mention the child’s temperament, often described as choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic or melancholic. At some schools this focus on temperament is replaced by comments on the student’s soul type, or psychological disposition, as it begins to manifest in the upper grades. (Editor’s note: For additional information on soul types see Seven Soul Types, Max Stibbe, Hawthorn Press, 1992)
In the lower grades the student will be characterized in regard to how he/she comes into the class, his/her relationship to the teacher and to peers, and how he/she is meeting the subject matter. The characterization looks at how the student embraces the environment - the class and the world around him/her.
In the middle grades the report looks at how the student is integrating socially, his/her likes and dislikes for certain subjects, and includes recognition of the student’s challenges. By 5th grade it is important to identify real strengths and areas where the student is really confident about his or her own capabilities. Calling out areas of particular strength for a student allows him or her to more easily wrestle with challenges, as he/she feels that strengths have been properly recognized.
In the highest grades the focus of the characterization is on personality, the student’s ability to receive another’s perspective, respect for authority, and a thirst for learning. Success in high school is dependent on the student’s desire to be a life long learner, so this quality is the focus of the characterization in the 7th and 8th grade report.
Block Descriptions and Reports
Most schools do not report on a child’s progress in individual blocks in the earliest grades as an emphasis on academics is misplaced at this time. In the lowest grades a teacher asks, “Does the child love numbers, stories and drawing?” In the middle grades the teacher asks if the student is gaining discipline in various areas of academic work. Then in the highest grades the question is if the student is able to apply these wonderful strong habits and use them to serve others.
Typically the block report is used as early as third grade, but not before that. Instead the report in the early grades addresses the student’s progress with language arts, mathematics, artistic work and social activity. For example, in the language arts section of the report, the teacher will speak about reading, writing, speaking and listening - skills that will be evident in all the work a student undertakes. There may be references in the early grades to work a child did in a main lesson book, but these references are used to illustrate the characterization of the child.
As the child matures the report shifts from a developmental approach to one that is more intellectual and subject oriented. Accordingly, the main lesson blocks are spoken about separately beginning in 3rd or 4th grade. The block reports will include comments on the main lesson book, and should note whether there has been an improvement over the previous book or if the student has perhaps slipped back into old patterns. The report can also note whether the student is working up to his/her capability or if additional effort is required.
It is important to be specific about which academic abilities the student possesses, and where shortfalls lie. Equally important is the need to avoid sentimentality, and to be clear about where the baseline for achievement lies. These comments can be stated in a softer way in the earlier grades, but must be increasingly specific as the child matures.
While not a separate section in the report, many teachers include in the report comments about the relationship of a student’s progress at school to his or her home life. Comments may address whether parents encourage and model reading at home, ask if they provide support for math work, and suggest they find appropriate chores for the student to perform at home. Many times the report will encourage parents to consider what goals they are setting for the student at home for the coming year.
Subject Teacher Reports
There is a separate section in the year end report for comments by each subject teacher. These comments include a summary of the information presented in the class, and about the student’s performance in the class.
Cover Letter to Parents
This letter describes how the class did as a group, assigns summer homework, and gives a preview of what is to come in the next school year.
Does your school have any written guidelines for report writing? Attach a copy if available and comment on the most important aspects of these guidelines.
Frequently schools have practical information in their employee handbooks about report writing. The focus of these documents is on the operational aspects of report writing; they do not typically provide much detail on aspects of effective report writing. This information includes when reports are due, how to get them typed, who is responsible for proofreading, and so on. It also includes the requirement that all reports that go out must be read and co-signed by a College member. These guidelines help keep everyone on the same page regarding general expectations and the report writing calendar. (See: Sample Employee Handbook Excerpt) The handbook may also include the general suggestion that reports be written as each block is completed so that the child’s performance will be fresh in the teacher’s mind as she writes her comments. It will note the school’s expectation that reports will be objectively descriptive of the child, and will not include a lot of judgments about the student. (It is appropriate to say, “Johnny did not do the quality of work in this block that he has demonstrated in the past,” but it is inappropriate to add, “Johnny just isn’t good at math,” or “I’m sure this will change in the next block.”) Reports are expected to use quality writing and good grammar, and should never contain any surprises. Any concerns should have been communicated to the parents well in advance of the report.
Two other documents are often available in schools to support the teacher in his/her report writing - a curriculum scope and sequence guide and an assessment rubric. The curriculum scope and sequence provides an overview of the instruction provided in a particular grade, and the skills that a student should be able to exhibit in the areas of language arts, mathematics, science, and sensory-motor development. (See: Scope and Sequence Sample) The assessment rubric is a categorized listing of expected skills by grade and category, with boxes after each skill that allow the teacher to indicate for a student whether this is an emerging skill, one that student still needs to practice, one that has been achieved or is in use, or one that is a real strength of the student. There may also be a place in the rubric for a teacher to indicate that a student needs additional instruction or support in this area, or that concerns are such that a special assessment of the student’s needs is warranted.
The curriculum scope and sequence and the assessment rubric are resources available to the teacher to focus and sharpen his/her thinking about the student and whether he/she has been taught/learned the expected material and skills. It can also aid the teacher in ensuring that a year end report is complete and thorough. Some schools send the assessment rubric home in addition to the written report beginning in 7th grade. The rubrics can also be used by teachers in the upper grades to help students highlight the particular skills they would like to learn in the coming year, and what they are willing to commit to for that year. This allows the older student a means for self assessment and to see his/her own progress. (See: Assessment Rubrics)
Describe the format of your school’s reports. What are the key elements that should always be included in a well written report? Excluded?
The basic elements of a report are described above in question 1. In the past there was a strong preference in schools for handwritten reports. While handwritten reports are no longer required, most schools still permit them and encourage their use. A few schools allow only typewritten reports so that information from all of a child’s teachers is produced in a standard format that is easy to read. One school even provides each teacher with a preformatted disc so that all reports will follow a single format with regard to margins, font size and style, placement of the student’s name, and information on tardies, absences and detentions. This school asks teachers to use a modified block style format, and suggests that the information that is particular to a student be shown in italicized bold type.
In what ways do you ensure that what parents read and what teachers intend to communicate are the same?
A teacher’s insight into the child is the key to a clear report. This is why regular child study is so important, as it allows the teacher to practice skills of observation and explanation.
It is important that the report be honest, and that it doesn’t try to disguise what is happening. Clear language in this area is helpful, and parent conferences during the year are an opportunity to ensure that parents understand how their child is developing.
Many schools have a buddy system so that all reports are read by another teacher. The reports are read for grammar, content, and punctuation. It is preferable when the buddy is someone who knows the students in a class well, allowing an independent perspective on whether the report matches the perception of the student.
Another important key is that schools emphasize a “no surprise” policy with regard to reports. This helps ensure that parents fully understand the information being communicated in the report.
Frequently schools issue mini reports in November and March in conjunction with the parent conferences. At one school this mini report includes a half page of commentary from the class teacher, and then a check the box form from each subject teacher, supplemented by a comment or two. Subject teachers who wish to meet with parents indicate this on the mini report. This school has two days set aside for parent teacher conferences, and all teachers are on campus those two days. This allows parents to start by meeting with their child’s class teacher and then to meet separately with any subject teachers that have requested a meeting.
In the upper grades the block reports are sent home soon after each block is completed, again helping ensure that parents are fully informed about a child’s development and providing opportunities for questions early on if something is unclear.
The year end report is best understood when there is regular communication with parents. It helps enormously to have personal conferences, to have parents in attendance at class meetings, to share regular phone calls, and to have the parents’ participation in classroom activities. The report must do more than appease the parent and give them some information about the child. The parent’s participation in the school transforms him/her from being a consumer to a co-owner of the child’s educational development. The report must be well written, but it must be looked at in the context of the whole communication process. Does a report inspire a parent to be more involved and active with the child’s education? This is one important criterion for an effective report.
Do your reports include indications that a student is performing at, below or above grade level in a subject? When and how are these indications included?
The reports at some schools include indications that a student is performing at, below or above grade level. Comments on a student’s performance might say, “Suzy has challenges in her academic learning and she is not working at grade level,” or, “Johnny has made many strides in the year, but there is still a gap between his progress and that of the class.”
It is far more common though in Waldorf schools for a report to speak about whether a student is living up to his/her own capabilities, and whether he/she has reasonably mastered the material. Most schools seem to prefer language that states whether a student “exceeds expectations”, “meets expectations”, “needs more effort” or “needs support to progress”. The report will speak to situations where a student needs additional support by suggesting tutoring, testing, summer school, extra lesson or remedial work. Students are never rank ordered and indications are not given as to whether a student is at the top or bottom of the class.
In one school surveyed grades are given in 7th and 8th grade, further allowing a parent to see how a child is performing relative to expectations.
Does your school have written benchmarks for learning/teaching? Attach a copy if available. How are these benchmarks used in relation to report writing?
More and more schools are developing detailed scope and sequence documents for the curriculum and creating rubrics for learning expectations. These documents are often a byproduct of the school’s accreditation process, and are a healthy sign of the school’s ability to be conscious and clear about its expectations for students and teachers.
These documents are used to help teachers organize their comments for the report, and to assist them in determining whether difficulty lies with the acquisition of a particular skill or with a broader area of skill development. For example, one student may have difficulties with the rules for comma usage while another has challenges with many areas of punctuation, grammar and spelling. In this example a good rubric can help a teacher quickly focus on the size and scope of a child’s challenges in the area of language arts.
Most schools do not include the assessment rubric in the year end report, although this is occasionally done for students in 7th and 8th grade. These rubrics can also be helpful at the beginning of the year in helping an older student to identify personal development goals for the year ahead, and then in monitoring his or her own progress toward those goals.
Are grades ever used in lower school reports?
Several schools surveyed indicated that there is discussion from time to time in their faculties about whether to include letter grades in the 7th and 8th grade year end reports. Only one of the schools surveyed reported that it issues grades in 7th and 8th. At this school grades are issued in all subject classes and main lesson blocks; this practice has been in place for some time. This school only goes through eight grades, and the faculty there feels that the use of grades helps students in the transition from lower school to an outside high school. Grades encourage the student to become personally accountable for his of her performance. They allow students to see how they are held accountable while still in a known, supportive environment, rather than postponing this experience to a time when the student is in the unfamiliar world of an outside high school. In addition, grades are a requirement for all students applying to area magnet high schools. This school feels that grades are an awakening of consciousness for the student, while also giving a student an affirmation that he/she is in a “real” school and that the Waldorf education they are receiving is also “real”.
Most schools surveyed do not include grades in their year end reports. These schools all believe that the awakening of consciousness and self accountability can be stimulated without the use of grades in the 7th and 8th grades, and choose not to issue grades until a student is in high school. (Editor’s Note: One Waldorf high school surveyed does not issue grades. For more information See: Report Writing in the High School, Section 2-5) However, every school noted that it includes a fair amount of quantified information in the reports of 7th and 8th grade students. It is common to include quiz and test scores, points and percentages in these reports so students and parents get a quantified measure of progress to supplement the detailed information included in the narrative report.
Do reports include information about the non-academic aspects of the student’s performance at school (e.g. classroom behavior, social ease and interaction, etc?) How and when are these issues included?
The non-academic aspects of a student’s performance in the class are always included in the report from grade one on. This information is included in the section that characterizes the child, and in the characterization of the child as a member of the class. Comments might include observations of the child’s play at recess, his/her ability to take care of belongings, whether he/she offers to help put things away, or how he/she lines up for a drink at the water fountain.
Teachers strive to be tactful but honest in these characterizations, and may include comments on classroom behavior, consistency and timeliness of homework, and any detentions served by older students.
Are reports generated more frequently than once a year? Describe when and why additional reports are written.
Year end reports are generated just once a year. Block reports are written soon after the completion of each block, although they are not typically sent home earlier than year end until a student is in the 7th grade.
Most schools generate some sort of midyear report, often delivered in conjunction with the parent teacher conference. These reports are typically shorter in nature than a year end report, and are generated once or twice during the school year. These mini reports are considered progress reports, and are meant to indicate to a parent that a student is making fine progress or that there are concerns that require additional attention. Some schools have midyear reports that are fairly structured in their format, ensuring that teachers cover all subject areas without requiring an undue amount of preparation time. (See: Sample Mid-Year Progress Reports)
How and when are any issues or concerns regarding eligibility for transfer into the high school addressed?
In good year end report writing the teacher speaks about the child’s development and progress continually throughout the years. Waldorf schools that include a high school often have a separate enrollment committee that manages the transition process for lower school to high school. This committee typically includes teachers from every level at the school, and this group provides a place to sound concerns and to hold students consciously if there is a concern about eligibility for transfer into the high school.
The reader is encouraged to read the information included in Enrollment Section 4: Transitions from Lower School to High School.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to report writing in the lower school.
Write as you go through the year. Don’t save it for the end. Write anecdotes, make notes, find ways to remind yourself of what has happened through the year.
Never make predictions such as, “This was a tough year, but I’m sure it will be better next year.” Confine your report to observations of the child’s progress.
The report is about the children, not about the teacher’s angst or enthusiasm.
It is really helpful to read reports from other schools, and get a good picture of what is possible.
Good child studies build the observational qualities that the school is looking for in reports.
It is helpful to share observations with other teachers. Putting observations into clear language is a skill that takes practice and benefits from repeated attempts to articulate them.
Schools have strong extra lesson programs and Care Groups that do additional child study, providing important extra sets of eyes to observe the child. Teachers are encouraged to use all of these extra resources in writing reports.
It is helpful to call a teacher meeting when a child is having difficulty so that everyone teaching the child can meet to build a shared picture and a consistent response.
Make report writing a focus in faculty meetings by having frequent child studies or by having discussions about the importance of clear language and good grammar in reports. The school benefits when teachers have an opportunity to increase their observational capacities and develop the ability to speak about these observations.
The report focuses on characterization. It is essential that teachers sharpen their powers of observation and the ability to describe what they see and experience.
Teachers must discuss concerns in person before including them in written reports.
Teachers are well served to work with a simple outline that gives a picture of the child’s relationship to the curriculum, teachers and peers. The report is most effective when the focus is kept on those simple points.
Always have a second person read and critique the report. Faculty collaboration on reports is essential so that the faculty can stand behind what is sent home to parents.
The importance of rhythm, routine and ritual must be reinforced in the report. Children do not learn in a vacuum, and need support in these areas in the home life, especially in the early years.
The report is not a sales or marketing tool for the school or the teacher. It is a journal of how the child is growing and developing in the course of the year.
What about your report writing in the lower school is particularly effective?
The report writing process raises teacher consciousness. It lets us see what we know about our students, what we don’t know, where we’ve succeeded in our teaching, and where we need more work.
The school has other teachers read each other’s reports. It is inspiring to read about the work of other teachers, and provides a second opportunity to ensure that reports accurately and completely reflect the achievements and challenges of a particular student.
The school tends to review its approach to report writing every few years. This keeps the approach fresh, and the process is a living one.
We strive toward economy. We want to be thorough and accurate, but believe that brevity can be helpful in ensuring that the picture is clear.
The reports are done on time, and the document has a professional look. The students are really present in the report.
The reports are positive, even when something is a challenge. The school emphasizes the need to be clear and honest about difficulties.
If reports are not submitted on time the teacher is not rehired for the new year, and summer paychecks are not generated until the hiring process is complete.
Writing reports on a computer is great. The computer allows the teacher to cut and paste and speeds the process by avoiding rewriting.
The school’s emphasis on ensuring that difficult news is shared early on prevents unwelcome surprises at year end.
Teacher’s comments on the thinking, feeling and willing aspects of the block for each child are particularly well done and helpful to the parents.
If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s report writing in the lower school what would you change and why?
Because report writing occurs at the end of the year it seems like it is more of a monologue from teacher to parents. It would be great to find a way to make it more of a dialog, and to get feedback from parents on the quality of the report and the steps they will take as a result.
Teachers receive very little feedback over the years from parents about the reports. It is easy to assume that if there were problems we would hear about them, but it would be nice to find a way to encourage feedback.
We are wondering whether it might be more helpful to require two parent conferences in first and second grades, rather than one parent conference and a short form mid-year report as is done today.
The faculty would be served if we could engage more frequently in high quality child study. This provides teachers with the experience needed to be able to observe and characterize a child clearly.
It would be great if the class teacher and subject teachers could gather one evening and do all the reports on a class of students. Then the teachers would discuss the students and compare notes. This activity could benefit the students and would connect the teachers as a group in holding the class.
The faculty handbook could be amended so that it also includes information about the content of the report, rather than just the administrative and operational aspects of report writing.
The school has an ideal of having teachers write reports as each block is completed. This should be enforced, particularly in the 7th and 8th grades, with the report being sent home along with the main lesson book.
We have just started having small reports from the special teachers for parent teacher conferences.
It is important to always have another teacher read your reports. This is not a mandatory part of our school’s report writing program.
It would be helpful to have more conversation about how each teacher approaches report writing to ensure we have consistency in format and approach, and agreement on what we think is important in the report.