One of the greatest challenges in my job is writing comments three times a year. Each one has to be about a half of a page and is supposed to capture that student in my class. What was it like to teach her? How did she respond to the variety of activities that we did? Was she helped or bored by them? Was she willing to tackle the tasks before her or did she shun the work? And the most important part of all, what did I learn about that girl that is different from all of my other students? How is she unique?
Every trimester, I work on new strategies to record the events to the day, so that I have an effective record of what actually went on. I have done everything from writing extensive notes after each class and assignment to copying every piece of paper each girl produces. I’ve had charts and grids, folders and files. And while all of that is important and a good jog for my memory, it is really not what I focus on when I sit down to write.
At those times, I simply close my eyes and remember. I try to picture that specific student in front of me. When I can see her, then I can write. In truth, most parents are less interested in whether or not their child can organize information to build an argument – a skill that I teach them – and are more focused on whether or not I know their unique and individual child. It is capturing that special spark that is always my goal. Sometimes I can get it, finding the phrase that freezes an instant that somehow epitomizes that student. Those are the comments that make me smile.
This year, to help me understand them better, I added a Reflection piece at the end of the term. As part of each students reflection on the term, I had them tell me what they wanted and did not want to hear in their reports. It was so interesting, because they could so clearly identify the areas where they heard the same comment over and over.
“I know that I need to speak up in class, but everyone says it, and I am trying. If you would not say it, I would be really grateful.” It was easy to write for her, “Annie is working hard on sharing her ideas in class and should be proud of her efforts.” By asking for each student to help in the process of showing their parents who they are, I learned so much more about each individual. It made it possible for me to avoid areas that would have led to increasing frustration and negativity, and it allowed me to communicate that I wanted to hear them and to partner with them on this learning journey. The process became more about affirming their actions, small and large, and letting them identify what they had accomplished and what they needed to make as their goals.
For those of you who read the post about the students giving me a grade, I took one more step and told them that I was going to let them grade me again at the end of the year. They get told that they have to grow and change every trimester, so I am holding myself to the same standard and am going to try to change along with them. I am reviewing their comments to me and starting to adapt what goes on in my class. More on that later!