Report Writing That Says a Lot Without Saying Anything

It’s report time again, which means the long nights and deep frustrations have arrived.  Many will think I’m strange, but when I first started in  teaching, I was looking forward to writing reports. I saw it as an opportunity to inform the parents about how well I know their child. Communication with parents has always been very high up my priority list, and I saw reports as the centrepiece of good quality communication.

But since I became a teacher the rules for report writing has changed, and we are all worse of as a result.

The Government has legislated that reports all feature the same grading system and the same essential sections.  Two such mandatory inclusions include a list of skills in every area that the students need improvement in and what the school will do to address these needs.

Sounds good, right?

Wrong. Schools across Australia are so terrified that if the teacher doesn’t end up addressing the needs of the students as promised in the reports, then it will open them up to litigation. So schools have quickly searched for a loophole, a strategy designed to be seen to guarantee things to parents without actually guaranteed anything.

And out of that think tank came every teachers new buzz word – ‘encourage’.

“The school will encourage Max to underline key words when reading worded questions.”

“The school will encourage Rita to use rubrics before planning a piece of writing.”

So in the end, the school is offering no actual response to the child’s needs, just some “airy fairy” words that don’t actually mean anything.

And then there’s the “education” words that don’t make any sense to most parents.  Because many teachers are expected to leave out hard truths like, “Max doesn’t behave in class” and “Rita doesn’t apply enough effort”, teachers have employed words that the average parent wouldn’t understand.

For example, teachers love using words that start with “meta” like “metacognitive”, “metalanguage” and “metabolic steroids” (OK, maybe not the last one).  As the custom is to spare the school of angry or dissatisfied parents, teachers have become great at writing reports high on words and low on substance.

It’s actually harder and more tiresome than it sounds.

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4 Responses to “Report Writing That Says a Lot Without Saying Anything”

  1. Carl D'Agostino Says:

    Near the end of my career they were so far behind in reading level they sent us all to dreary waste of time workshops to address skills and remediation. I bought into it, however. Didn’t care if they learned any history. Goal to get them functionally literate. Less is more means learning 4 pages very well instead of learning nothing from an entire chapter. Tested open book – you don’t need to know the answer, you need to be able to find the answer. This is better than giving half the class F’s as most teachers do. Find something at which they may succeed at some level. All teachers are reading teachers and makes sense to me for non college bound. But now they have created mandatory lesson plans (daily lesson plans) for each high school subject. They have taken all creativity and diversity and joy out of the profession. By the way I have a humor blog you may care to visit. You won’t be disappointed. carldagostino.wordpress.com

  2. John Tapscott Says:

    If my child was misbehaving in class I would sure want to know about long before the half yearly report. However, I think reports rell parents a whole lot of stuff they know already. I think parents most want to know whether their child is making progress in terms of the basic skills of literacy and numeracy and the fundamentals of other disciplines. I like Carl’s point about “less is more”. Every teacher has to be a reading teacher. I would rather get 3 well written simple sentences from a student than have to decipher 5 pages of gibberish. We have to teach all these high falutin text types in lower primary school, which are better left till the child is older, having sufficient cognitive development to make it easy, than to struggle with the distinctions between a recount and a narrative. Teach them to write sentences correctly in the lower grades so that in the higher grades (5-7). They will be better equipped to understand and appreciate the nuances between text types when they don’t have to struggle to get their thoughts down on paper. Believe me there is a significant and increasing cohort of students in our schools who have no idea how to write a sentence by year 9. This is scary. I think the basic problem is that the lower school syllabuses have become such that there is time to treat the material only in a superficial way, and little time for thorough consolidation. Consequently there is much skating over the surface as the education process moves at the speed of a factory, instead of un fattore (It.=farm). Too many kids are being left behind in a mad scramble to fill their heads with material for which even the bright children haven’t the necessary cognitive development.

  3. Fatima Abdulkareem Says:

    Of course it must be tiresome. How do you encourage or write a good report on a child that needs discipline and not encouragement.

    Teachers are reduced to telling parents what they want to hear and not what they should hear.

    To my mind’s eye it’s the child that will ultimately suffer the consequences.

    What a pity!

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