Reporting is one of the most time consuming, laborious tasks that a teacher must complete every semester. But say If I told you that there are steps that you can take to:
Produce higher quality reports and
Finish your reports faster than ever before
Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?
I’m not saying that writing reports isn’t a lot of work; however, with these eight reporting hacks I have managed to save myself a lot of time, time which I have been able to spend elsewhere. So, in this week’s blog as part of my #weeklyblogchallenge, I’ll be sharing with you ‘8 Reporting Hacks for Teachers’.
Let’s get started shall we!
Start the process early
An ideal time to start writing reports is just before the end of term one. Now, this statement doesn’t mean you have to have all your comments completed by the end of term one but starting them early pays off enormously. A good place to start is with your general comments since they are usually the hardest ones to write but can be started the earliest. Even having a rough outline with dot points for each student’s general comment is a great start to make before commencing term two!
So why start this early? Well, it takes me about a week or two before I get into the groove of writing report after report.
Think of starting reports as a steam train. A steam train takes a lot of time and energy to get going but once it establishes enough momentum then it’s nearly unstoppable. By starting the necessary prep work earlier means you’ll have established the momentum you need to get the task completed sooner.
I know of some teachers who start their general comments as early as week 8, term 1 and they’ll have these comments completed by the end of term one’s school holidays. I am not as organised as these teachers but starting your reports earlier makes a lot of sense. The worst thing that could happen is that a student’s behaviour changes and you’ll have to rewrite part of the comment. In my experience I’ve only ever had to change a maximum of 1-2 general comments per reporting cycle.
Imagine all of the stress you’ll avoid if you consistently use this strategy!
Use batching during the writing phase
One of the best strategies you can use during the writing phase of reports is to pick a subject area and then write all your students’ comments for this area over a few days. For example, if you are writing Maths comments then stick to writing Maths comments. This strategy is known as batching, which is completing similar tasks one after another. Once you have completed a couple of reports then it won’t take you long to hit your writing groove for this learning area.
So why should you write your reports in this manner?
Getting into the creative space to start writing comments takes time and energy. Remember the steam train analogy I spoke of earlier? Don’t write your reports by following your classroom’s attendance role in alphabetical order. This means that you will be writing a general comment, then an English comment and finally a Maths comment in one go. This reporting style is no different to driving a manual car in the first two gears then going back to the first one when you should be cruising along in fifth at 100km/per hour. Teachers who do this are denying themselves the chance to make any momentum on their reports!
So, start batching those comments and save yourself some time!
Develop a reporting structure
Another way to build momentum is to develop a reporting structure and stick to it. Let’s use my Maths reporting structure as an example. Please keep in mind that my school asks its teachers to keep their learning area comments to a maximum of 600 characters and that I am an upper primary school teacher (year 5/6). I did not like this change to begin with, but it makes a lot of sense because the grade does most of the talking and writing long comments for each student is a workload issue.
I like to use the following structure:
A comment about how they are generally going in this learning area
Two sentences about how they have progressed in the number and algebra strand
A sentence (or two) about how they have progressed in the measurement and geometry strand and in the statistics and probability strand.
Maybe a sentence of encouragement at the end.
Here is an example of a typical Maths comment:
Joe has understood most of the concepts that were taught during Maths lessons. His recall of basic multiplication and division facts have improved and he has worked well during Room 14’s mental Maths routine. His understanding of how to correctly use the multiplication and division algorithms have improved and he has a strong understanding of place value into the millions. He can create bar graphs and line graphs to a very high standard and he can correctly measure the perimeter of 2D objects such as rectangles and triangles. Keep up the good work Joe Bloggs!
If you write your learning area comments to a common structure and then batch them, then you are onto a winning formula and can crack open that bottle of champagne earlier!
Draw upon your own comment bank
Once you’ve completed several reporting cycles, you’ll have built up a collection of comments to draw upon from your comment bank. For example, I might cut and paste a previous ‘A’ level Maths comment or aspects of it into one of my current student’s who is operating at an ‘A’ level for Maths. All you need to do is to:
Change the name
Change around a couple of words/sentences to match the work you have assessed against
Change the pronouns if required
Why should you work harder when you can work smarter?
While you can easily do this for English and Maths comments your general comments should predominantly be pieces of original work to reflect the unique nature of each student.
Use text to speech when editing your work
I cannot speak highly enough of text to speech and how much time it has saved me during the editing phase of reports. If you don’t know what text to speech is, then click here to read my blog about this innovative editing procedure. Nearly all Word Processing applications have text to speech inbuilt within their programs. So, if you have MS Word or Pages then you have access to this.
So why is this my top strategy to use? Well let me tell you about how I used to edit my reports.
Once I had finished my drafts, I would print off a paper copy of my reports and correct them with red pen. I’d make sure there was double line spacing and that the paper copy was double sided. Despite editing my reports on a computer screen beforehand I would always find mistakes within my paper copies. It usually took my 3rd paper edit until I was happy with the final product but even then I would still find mistakes. This process would take 4-5 days of boring work and each day would leave me with a serious case of brain drain.
But no more.
Having used text to speech for the first time with my reports I have reduced the time it takes to edit them by 66% and I completed all my edits within two days. You read that correctly, I saved myself three days of editing.
Amazing isn’t it and I know some of you are saying right now …
‘WHERE WAS THIS BLOG BEFORE I STARTED MY REPORTS’.
Sorry about that ☹
Look at your reports with a different lens
The problem with writing our own reports is that we tend to look at them with our own, biased lens. A good strategy to get used to using is to try to look at your reports from the lens of the parent. I like to ask myself the following questions about my own reports:
Would a parent be happy to read this comment?
Would I be happy to read this report if this was my child?
Does this comment reflect well on my school’s brand?
Have I provided the parent with information about what their child can do?
Is there more positive feedback than negative (if possible)?
By using this strategy, you might hold back on some of your more savage comments that you’ll probably end up wishing you didn’t write.
Use a peer to edit your reports
The problem of proof reading your own work is that you are relying on your own internal voice to help with the editing of your comments. What we read in our head does not always match what is written down on the page. This is where a critical friend comes in handy as they can only go off from what’s on the page, not from what you intended to write about.
While text to speech does make this strategy largely redundant for spotting grammatical errors, a critical friend is still important for providing us with the necessary feedback we need as to whether we are actually providing an accurate snapshot about what the student has achieved throughout the semester.
I don’t think this sort of specialised, contextual feedback could ever be replicated by a machine.
Provide your line manager with a sample of your reports
My final recommendation is to provide a sample of your reports to your line manager a week or two before you reach your submission deadline. The benefit of this strategy is that you can gain an insight into the reporting style that your administration prefers, this is especially important if you have a new deputy principal or new principal who might expect a different reporting style that you are used to. I suggest showing your line manager the following:
A comment where you have made an accurate but potentially contentious statement
A range of comments from your brightest student to your weakest in both English and Maths.
Six comments, two from your General, Maths and English should suffice
The deputy principal’s job is very different to that of a teacher AND this is what makes them perfect for providing the feedback that you need. They are going to see the things that we might miss because they are going to be held responsible in the event that a ‘terrible’ report is released to a parent.
If they make a change, then I suggest that you take it on board. We’re human after all and we’re not always right. We ask our students to be teachable, but can we say the same of ourselves?
Thank you for reading this week’s blog and I hope one of two things happened to you:
Reading this blog confirms that you are adhering to best practice OR
You wish you read this blog earlier and feel like crawling into a ball and crying about all the time you have wasted with inefficient reporting procedures.
If you have any feedback or comments of your own then feel free to send me an email or leave a comment for me on social media.
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