Parent Report Cards

For years I’ve asked my students to write progress reports about how I’m doing as their teacher, but I’ve never thought to ask my students’ parents for their feedback as well.

…until this year!

One of my goals, heading back into the classroom, was to create more of a learning community that involved, valued and respected the parents’ voice. So as part of that goal, I asked the parents to write a short report card for me about how I’m doing so far as their son or daughter’s teacher.

In order to collect their feedback I used the Visible Thinking RoutineCompass Points” and created a Google form where they could share their honest feedback.

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I’m so glad I asked! I learned tons of valuable information and had much to reflect on in order to improve:

Needs

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Excitement

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Worries

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Suggestions

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It was such an enriching experience that I’m looking forward to going through this process again later in the year, hopefully improving in the areas identified in this round of feedback and then finding new ways to improve even more!

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An inquiry into homework…

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It comes as no surprise that the issue of homework in elementary classrooms is quite the hot topic these days. In thinking about starting my year back in the classroom I decided that I – like many other teachers around the world -was going to outlaw homework!

… then I began to reflect on my decision and wondered if choosing for everyone not to have homework, was any better than choosing for everyone to have homework. Either way you slice it, I as the teacher, was the owner of that decision and that was something I was no longer comfortable with in trying to achieve more democratic classroom.

So I decided to take a collaborative approach and invite students and parents in on the decision making. Here is how it went!

Tuning In

Before delving too deep I wanted to tune into what students already thought about homework. So I posted “agree”, “disagree”, “sometimes” and “I’m not sure” around our classroom and I projected the following quote:

“Homework is essential to learning”

There were a range of responses and as students shared the reasoning behind their opinions, many students shifted from one group to the next.

Provocation 

Then I invited students to watch this Alfie Kohn interview to provoke their thinking about homework. They backchannelled throughout the video to share their thoughts, questions and connections.

Finding Out

After that, I told them that they would be deciding if they had homework – together with their families – but in order to make an informed decision we had to explore all the perspectives surrounding homework. To help with this we used to Visible Thinking Routine – Circle of Viewpoints.

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Then we divided into teams that would each inquire into a different perspective. Each team had a different approach to collecting data:

The “student” team posted a Twitter poll and collected tallies at recess.

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The “parent” team sent a Google Form home to all the parents.

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The “teacher” team walked around the school and collected quotes from teachers about homework.

The “administrator” team sent the principal, assistant principal and superintendent an email.

The “media” team explored articles and videos I shared with them.

The “other schools” team browsed this school’s blog about their homework inquiry.

The “our school” team looked at the homework policy in the school handbook.

Sorting Out

Once all the teams had their data they had to go through it and decide what was important, what was worth taking note of and how they were going to consolidate and display it.

Some wrote a summary:

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Others used graphs:

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Some used statistics:

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Others used quotes:

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Some used hyeperlinks:

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Others used photos:

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Making Conclusions

Then we put it all together and emailed this Google Slideshow home to our families. From there, families explored all the perspectives together and made a decision about whether or not they wanted homework in Grade 4.

Final results: 9 chose homework 14 chose no homework

Taking Action

I pulled together the 9 students that opted to have homework this year and together we used the Start With Why framework to make a plan.

First students focused on why they wanted homework, then how they wanted it to work, then finally what specifically they would do to accomplish those goals.

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Some students made themselves choice boards:

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Other students planned out each night of the week:

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Next, I provided feedback about their plan and then they brought it home to get feedback from their parents as well.

Now we are finally ready to put these differentiated, student-led, family supported homework plans into action!

My Reflections

  • there was so much math and literacy in this inquiry
  • it was a great way to explore the concept of perspective
  • the format allowed for students to express their discovers using new literacies and multimodalities
  • the parents were amazing partners in this inquiry

Now that it is all over, I can rest assured that the students and families who want homework have it and the students and families who don’t want homework don’t have it. Everyone is happy and the ownership and control rests with the learners themselves… as it always should.

Reaching Out to Families

The beginning of school is still a week away and since I don’t need to spend any more time on classroom set-up, I have decided to instead invest my time building a strong foundation for relationships with the parents of my students.

I want the parents of my students to know they are an important part of this learning community. I want the parents of my students to know that I value and respect their input and perspective about their child’s education. I want the parents of my students to know their voices matter and are welcome.

As usual, I sent an initial email home to parents introducing myself. But this year I also decided to share the same information via a YouTube video to hopefully reach those parents who are unable to read English or who prefer millennial forms of communication.

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In this email/video I invited the parents to schedule a pre-school year, informal, get-to-know-you style meeting with me, where we can discuss their hopes, dreams, goals and fears for the upcoming year. If parents are unavailable to meet face-to-face I also offered options to schedule a phone call or complete a Google Form.

Whatever the method, I am hoping to ask the following things:

  1. What would you like me to know about your child?
  2. What are your hopes for your son/daughter this year?
  3. What do you need from me to support those hopes?
  4. Is there anything you are nervous or worried about this year?
  5. Is there anything you would like me to know?

I’m not sure how many families will take me up on my offer, but I hope most – if not all – do! I think this would be a great way to start the year as a team and I think this will help  me get to know my new students better.

I’m optimistic that this will be a much more rewarding use of my time the week before school starts than decorating the classroom ever was…

Wish me luck!