Could design-it-yourself report cards work in schools?
Today was devoted to parent-teacher interviews at my school here in Nanjing, China. As a parent of two children, my wife, Neila Steele, and I attended both of our boys interviews with their teachers. As well, as an educator, I have been visited numerous times throughout the day by parents in the school. A great chance to sit and have an informal chat about how their child is progressing in my PE program.
As my wife and I sat for 15-20 minutes with our son Eli's grade 5 homeroom teacher, we had an excellent discussion with her. She shared with us our son's impression of how he was doing in 4 different areas in school: Math, Language, Unit of Inquiry, and Transdisciplinary Skills. We read through the comments he had written about what he does well and what he needs to improve upon. His teacher, Ms. Nadine, made a comment that she couldn't say it any better herself had she written it for him.
I couldn't help but think once again of Daniel Pink's work from 2 of his books, Drive and To Sell is Human. In Drive, Pink gives examples of schools that have successfully implemented something called 'Design-it-yourself' report cards. There is a lot to be said about this approach and its effectiveness. I've toyed with this strategy a few times in the past allowing kids, as an option, to essentially report on themselves at the end of a unit. I blogged about it here last school year. I must admit that my students were pretty much spot on with how they had showed what they had learned. I enjoyed allowing my students this option and will do so again.
However, is a DIY approach even more doable in the long run in our programs? When we saw our son's comments about his own strengths and weaknesses, we knew for a fact that he was spot on as well. I'm left thinking about what is more valuable for our learners; us as educators checking boxes, writing comments, and passing our professional judgements on to students who aren't really going to remember much of it at all OR students having a hard look at themselves and honestly writing about their own strengths and weaknesses. You may think this is just simple reflection, but I believe it holds a hell of a lot more power.
Would our world come to a fiery halt if we allowed our students, for a full unit in PE, to completely assess themselves? Or could something very valuable be gained? I'm certainly not implying that we are not actively involved in giving our students important feedback and being there for them during this process. Quite contrary, we are with them every step of the way, but the ownership is in their hands. We are there to guide and give them direction on their journey making all important student learning outcomes explicit. Breaking down the big ideas for them into understandable chunks that are achievable. We will fail miserably in the DIY approach if students do not have a very clear understanding of what is expected of them in regards to important learning outcomes.
You may ask, "What happens if what the student writes about themselves is totally off the mark when compared to what the teacher has observed?" Well, as Pink suggests, this is the time when teacher, parent, and student really need to sit down and have a discussion about it. And what about those students who are incapable of writing these DIY reports? Well, in these cases, the teacher is even more present for them helping them along the way and teaching them how to do it. Over time, a culture would be created where DIY reports are common practice.
Have a look at what my son Eli wrote about himself below. As a parent, I don't really need to know much more than this. Will a bunch of checked boxes make me feel as though I'm getting more personalized information about my son that will help springboard him forward? Absolutely not! However, having said this, I do NEED to know that my son's teacher cares for him and is doing her best to help him thrive.