Learning Stories

Towards the end of last year I mused over the nature of teacher reporting to parents.

My thesis (ooohhh, fancy word!) was based around the extremely stagnant nature of reports. That is, because we are only reporting to parents every half year, most of the time what we are putting in our reports is already out of date. Often by many months.

My post was inspired by this tweet from Miss D:

My post was also inspired by my son’s kindergarten and their regular posts on his Educa profile. Anyone with preschool children at an early childhood centre using Educa will know how fabulous it is when you read another story on how your child is learning on their own and with others.

Anyone who has seen Point England School in Auckland knows how well their students use blogging to record their learning. I was first shown these at a professional learning day back in the Easter holidays. As soon as I saw Blogger I started musing.

After musing on this for a few months and deciding on going down the Google Apps / Hapara route, I’ve also decided to begin using Blogger to report to parents in a similar way as my son’s kindy reported on his learning (he’s now at school so his next report is his 4-week one… I think…?).

Blogger allows parents, or anyone for that matter (brothers, sisters, grand-parents, overseas relatives etc), to sign up to follow the blog. Every time there is a post, they get an email alert. Alternatively people can subscribe via their RSS reader.

What’s in a learning story?

How I’ve structured my learning stories is very similar to how my son’s former kindy did.

  1. Outline what was observed.
  2. Point out what learning was happening.
  3. Suggest next steps for my teaching.
  4. Link the learning back to our school curriculum.

I am in my very early stages of this form of reporting to parents; it’s only been going this week! I do, however, feel rather enthused by the whole thing. What it’s done is made me really hunt out the authentic learning moments my students are having.

I’ll share today’s learning story with you to see what you think.

So far that’s four stories I’ve done this week involving eight of my twenty three students. We’ll see how this pans out.

I’m picking I’ll still have to churn out 23 old-fashioned reports come November…

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Reports and Reporting

Last Thursday I was most interested in the #EdChatNZ discussion on reporting to parents. Unable to attend in real-time due to another engagement, I dutifully rattled off my answers in quick time upon my return home at 10pm.

There were some salient points raised during the debate. Most importantly it left me wondering this: how is the traditional written report relevant in this modern age of smart gadgets, 24 hour news cycles, constant Facebook cat updates and 21st century learners?

Once again, Miss D got cracking. We were only on question three and she was already asking us to put in the hard yards and create some solutions!

Reporting has long been the bane of many a teacher’s weekend time mid-way through and at the end of the year. How helpful is telling a parent little Billy can add two 3-digit numbers using part-whole strategies? Particularly when Billy questions the logic of learning these tasks when, “I can just use a calculator,” and my spluttering attempts at explaining we need to know these things because the calculator might not be working is countered with, “but it’s solar-powered.”

I’ve been grappling with the question of reporting long before I lost several weekends part-way through the year. Mainly due to how incredibly filled with teacher jargon reports tended to be. Does decoding unknown words using his knowledge of phonemes actually mean anything to parents? Or more importantly, are parents ending up having to decode unknown report comments using their knowledge of teacher jargon?

My eyes were opened and my wonderings increased even earlier this year more following my son’s shift from the local pre-school to the local kindergarten. They use a reporting system called Educa to record my son’s learning using pictures or video. Along with the media files there is usually a brief, or occasionally quite comprehensive, learning story telling me (the parent!) what learning has take place while at the bottom of the posts are links the post has to the early childhood curriculum Te Whariki. Admittedly this last bit could be construed as “jargonny” – see previous paragraph – but being a teacher I quite like that aspect, and I’m sure the Education Review Office will as well.

When there is a new post I get an email. I can click on the email and get taken to the website or I can open the app on my phone. If I wish I can add a comment, something I always do. It’s so damn simple I am much jealous. On a couple of occasions I have sat down with my to write a learning story of our own with pictures taken on holiday or the time I went to kindy with him.

I want this for my school.

I could record learning using video or pictures, write a brief description and then hit the upload button and viola! Parents are instantly reported to instantly. I used the word twice because this would be the exact opposite of the current system most schools use where parents are reported to twice in any given year.

I imagine there will be a few out there asking the obvious question: I don’t have time to faff about all day with an iPad taking pictures of my students and then writing an explanation of what’s happening. If you’ve got time to tweet or like a Facebook cat, then you’d totally have time in the day to send out a couple of learning stories. I maybe get one a week, possibly one every two weeks. Either way that’s between twenty and thirty learning reports in the forty week year – quite a lot more than I would be getting under the old system.

This is where I believe reporting to parents should head. Real time reporting on learning that’s taking place now, not 16 weeks ago. It needs to be as easy as sending a tweet. Take a few photos or a bit of video, write a brief comment then hit send.

Click, click, send.

How much time and effort would be saved if we just did our reporting in little bits like this rather than trying to do a whole class of students over the course of a couple of weeks? How many teachers would get their term 2 and term 4 weekends back? How many principals would be so very thankful they wouldn’t have the thankless task of checking the correct personal pronoun was used because every teacher in the school uses cut & paste to save their precious time?

Reporting needs to be revolutionised. Let us lone nuts be the ones to do it.

Mr B.