Tag Archives: assessment

Hitting the Homework Doldrums


English: Homework

English: Homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have posted before on the subject of homework but it is always good to have a different perspective.  Below is a post from FlyLady on the topic. In Ontario, homework may be marked, it is not supposed to be part of a child’s mark.  In teacher lingo, any assessment of homework is formative assessment, not summative assessment.  The purpose is to reinforce what is taught at school, usually in the way of practice.  However, that is not the case everywhere:

From FlyLady.net 
Homework Problems and Solutions

Homework is one of the biggest issues that parents and teachers work on together – and it’s one of the things that kids hate most about school.  One of our

educational myths is that all children need to do homework every night.  Research tells us that for elementary school children, homework has little or no effect on academic achievement.  A head start on establishing good study habits is probably the most positive outcome from elementary homework – that, and an opportunity for parents to keep track of their child’s progress in the curriculum.  Homework in middle school has a moderate effect on achievement, but it’s really during high school that homework becomes an important factor for academic progress.

Parents are often concerned about the amount of time their children spend on homework – either too much or too little.  Many school systems have a “rule of thumb” about the appropriate amount of homework: ten minutes per grade level is the most common.  So your first grader should have 10 minutes of homework, your fifth grader should have 50 minutes of homework, and so forth.  By the time students are in high school, a general expectation is 1 to 2 hours of homework

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: TJCoffey)

every evening.

Another policy issue is the effect of homework on the final grade.  Many students get poor grades because they don’t do homework and get zeroes in the grade book.  In my school system, the homework policy recommends that homework be no more than 15% of the grade in elementary and middle school, and no more than 20% in high school.

We all know that homework can make evenings a living hell. When children have piles of homework every night in elementary and middle school, it’s often because they aren’t finishing their work at school.  In other words, they’re doing a day’s worth of work, plus homework, every evening.  I’d cry too!  Your child may be really struggling with the school work, or he may need to develop organized study habits.  In any case, if homework seems excessive or if your child gets upset every night, it’s time to take four steps:

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: Hades2k)

-Find out if your school or school system has an official homework policy, and read it.

-Schedule a parent/teacher conference.

-Establish a homework routine

-Work out an incentive system for homework completion.

The first step is to find out if there is an official homework policy.  In my school system, it’s under School Board Policies on the system website.  If you can’t find it, ask the teacher.  If there isn’t one, you have an excellent project to suggest to the principal, the superintendent, or a school board member.  The homework policy gives you an idea of how much time your child should be spending on homework and how it affects grades.

The second step is to schedule a parent/teacher conference.  Teachers want children to complete assignments and learn the material, but they also want children and families to have time at home to relax.  Your goal at the conference is to find out two things:

-How much time the teacher expects homework to take every night.

-What’s going on in class that’s causing the problem if your child’s homework load is greater than it should be.

Then it’s your turn to tell the teacher how much time your child’s homework is actually taking, and share any observations you have about your child’s work or work habits.  If your child is forgetting to bring home assignments and books, ask about setting up a check-out system at the end of each day.  If your child is fooling around all day and not completing work, suggest a home/school behavior plan.  If your child is struggling with the work, ask about academic interventions and progress-monitoring.  Write down the plan, and schedule a follow-up conference.  Be clear about what the teacher will do and what you will do.  Involve student support staff (school psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse) as necessary.

Teachers can also offer accommodations to help your child complete homework.  This is very common for children with special needs.  Here are some ideas to discuss:

-Agree to the amount of time the child will work at home. The teacher will then accept the work that was completed and give a grade based on what the child actually finished.

-Reduce the homework load.  For example, having a reduced spelling list or only doing the odd math problems.

-Do the assignments a little differently.  For example, write one word answers instead of complete sentences for social studies questions.  Dictate longer answers to a parent, or use a computer for writing.  Allow a parent to read the assignment to the child, or take turns reading.

The third and fourth steps are to establish a homework routine and an incentive system.  Some children can get homework done pretty much independently, and it isn’t an issue.  Others, though, drag their families through three and four hours of crying and screaming every night.  Life is too short for that!  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has an excellent homework survival guide for parents on their website.  Go towww.nasponline.org, select the Families tab, find the Back to School section, and select Homework: A Guide for Parents.  Peg Dawson, a school psychologist from New Hampshire, has a lot of suggestions about setting up routines and reward systems.  I’ll briefly summarize her points:

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: MarkGuitarPhoto)

-Set up a routine for where and when homework will be done.  Choose a place, and set up a homework center with supplies and a calendar for due dates. Remember that some children do best in a quiet spot away from the family, but others need to be near Mom or Dad for help and supervision.  Do homework at the same time every day.  Some children do best if they get it finished up as soon as they get home from school, but others need to play or

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

relax first.

-Help your children set a homework schedule every day.  Sit down with them for a minute or two and review their assignments, make sure they have all the necessary materials, set time limits for each assignment, decide in what order to do the assignments, and schedule in a break or two.

-Set up a system of rewards for homework completion.  Some children do fine if they just have something good to look forward to when homework is finished, like a favorite TV show.  Others need something a little fancier, like earning points towards a bigger reward.

Computers are often used to complete homework ...

Computers are often used to complete homework assignments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

-Write a homework contract that states expectations and rewards.

Different children need different homework routines.  Children need to be part of the discussion and planning for their own homework routine, because you are teaching them to be responsible for their own learning.  The big decisions are: Where will homework be done, when will homework be done, what are the rewards for completing homework appropriately, and what are theconsequences for failing to complete homework appropriately?

It’s your job as a parent to provide the setting and structure your children need to

English: Don't waste your time and do your hom...

English: Don’t waste your time and do your homework! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

complete homework.  It’s also important to provide the supplies and organizational tools your children need.  Supplies include paper, pencils, markers, ruler, calculator, and glue stick.  A timer helps many kids keep on track.  The most important organizational tool is a calendar.  At the beginning of the year, write down school holidays and the dates report cards come out.  As the year progresses, keep track of field trips, picture day, conferences, science fair, SAT dates, and due dates for assignments – especially long-term ones.

Homework, guerrilla style

Homework, guerrilla style (Photo credit: jbloodgood)

Some children are motivated and rewarded by grades.  Others need external rewards and consequences.  Adults like to talk about what “should” motivate kids, but the truth is that grades aren’t important to everyone.  Start where your child is when it comes to rewards and consequences!  Some children are motivated to do homework by the promise of TV or computer time after it’s finished.  Others need the opportunity to earn points towards a bigger reward.  Some children need immediate rewards.  Others like to work toward a bigger weekly reward.  Here’s a sample homework contract for a sixth grader named Dana:

Homework Contract

Dana agrees to: Bring her assignment sheet home every night.

A homework diary of a Japanese elementary scho...

A homework diary of a Japanese elementary school student. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bring home the books she needs for the assignments.

Fill out a homework schedule as soon as she gets home.

Follow the homework schedule.

Work at the kitchen table while Mom gets dinner.

Ask for help when she needs it.

Place completed homework in her backpack.

Mom agrees to: Help Dana fill out the homework schedule every day.

Keep the homework center stocked with supplies.

Help Dana when she asks for help.

Let Dana be responsible for her own homework.

Motivators:       If Dana completes homework appropriately all week, she can

-skip all chores on Friday

-sleep in Saturday morning

-earn points towards a guitar

-one point for each completed assignment

-one point = 25 cents

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: shareski)

Consequence:  No TV or cell phone on any night Dana doesn’t finish homework in a reasonable amount of time and with a good attitude.

If you have a child who is struggling with homework, pick just one of these four steps to get started.  Look up the homework policy online, or touch base with the teacher.  Set up a homework center, or get a calendar and write down assignments.  Just get started, and add steps as you can.  In the end, you’ll have a

Homework Review

Homework Review (Photo credit: Rice and D)

solution to the homework problem.

Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at FlyLady.net and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind. Get the book at: No More Parents Left Behind

You can follow Alice on Facebook here

From CTV Edmonton


Edmonton teacher suspended for handing out zeros

CTV News Video

CTV Edmonton: Does no-zero policy coddle kids?
Veronica Jubinville reports on an Edmonton, Alta. teacher who was suspended after giving students a grade of 0. Some say the policy is fair, but others are worried kids won’t learn if they can’t fail.
CTV Edmonton Morning Live: Career likely done
An Edmonton teacher who was suspended for the remainder of the school year for handing out zeros feels he will likely be terminated permanently come next September. CTV’s Laura Tupper reports.
CTV Edmonton: Teacher shares his side of story
An Edmonton teacher is speaking out after he was suspended from a local high school, reportedly because he gave his students zeroes.
Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Photos

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

View Larger Image

CTVNews.ca Staff

Date: Fri. Jun. 1 2012 9:07 PM ET

An Edmonton high school teacher said he’s been suspended for handing out zeros to students who didn’t complete their work, bucking a “no-zero” policy at the school.

Lynden Dorval said he doesn’t agree with the school’s behavioural code that bans awarding a grade of zero for incomplete work.

Instead, the policy introduced at Ross Sheppard High School almost two years ago treats unfinished work as a behavioural problem and not an academic one.

“So of course the student’s marks are only based on the work they have actually done,” Dorval told CTV Edmonton Thursday.

“It’s just like in real life, there are always consequences for not doing things,” the 35-year veteran teacher said.

Dorval’s marking system didn’t sit well with the school’s principal Ron Bradley, who sent a letter to the Edmonton Public School Board asking for a replacement teacher.

The letter cites three incidents where Dorval reportedly went against the policy, dating back to 2011.

It also outlines a meeting where Bradley told Dorval to remove the zeros and replace them with the school-sanctioned codes.

The school board wouldn’t confirm the reasons for Dorval’s suspension. It did state it was a staff discipline issue.

However, Schmidt said teachers are expected to follow assessment plans.

“When an assessment plan has been put in place at a school level, it’s my expectation that every staff member will stick to that plan,” he told CTV Edmonton.

Dorval told CTV the zeros he gave to students weren’t permanent, saying it’s important for students to learn about the “real world.”

“The students know that in my case they’re not permanent zeroes, it’s just an indicator that they have to do something about it because this is how their mark is going to turn out if they don’t,” he said.

Dorval’s suspension has prompted a wave of reaction from parents who are calling into radio stations, penning opinion columns, as well as calling the school, the board and the Education Department.

Many have dubbed Dorval the “Hero of Zero” who has stood up to those who allow children to get away with not doing their work.

“We’re hearing from parents. They’re seeing this in a very over-simplified kind of way,” Schmidt said.

“What we’re trying to explain is that students can fail courses if they don’t do the work. Kids are not given the opportunity to game the system.”

Meanwhile, students are somewhat perplexed by Dorval’s suspension.

“If the student didn’t do their work, why should they get any mark at all, so a zero sounds fine to me,” Dimitri Muzychenko told CTV Edmonton.

Another student, Mohamad Al-Jabiri, thought the punishment was too harsh.

“What is he supposed to do? Like he’s not going to run after the kids, it’s high school, right?” he said.

While Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is keeping an eye on the situation, he does not plan to get involved, according to his spokeswoman, Kim Capstick.

“We don’t have a policy on grading. Albertans elect school boards for this,” said Capstick.

Dorval plans to appeal his suspension on the grounds that the principal went beyond his authority. The teacher also hopes to ignite a discussion on caring versus coddling.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Veronica Jubinville and files from The Canadian Press

Read more:http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120601/teacher-suspended-marking-zeroes-120601/#ixzz1wvfJvauT

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three


INTERPRETING COMMENTS ON THE REPORT CARD

In vain we begged students and parents to focus on the learning skills and comments instead of the marks. Asking them to focus on the comments proved to be a mistake in some cases and here is why.

GENERIC COMMENTS

Teachers are asked to list the students’ strengths, weaknesses and next steps in the comments section, using verbs and adverbs from a number of suggested lists. They do not have to be used, but a teacher who does use them is less likely to be asked to redo a comment. It is accepted practice to write a generic remark for all the students and then individualize each one with appropriate adverbs and perhaps more personal next steps. Some teachers get very clever at writing the generic comment. The generic child in the report card program is called Casper. Here is an example of the generic comment: “Casper has demonstrated an understanding of the usefulness of titles and subtitles in anticipating the topics covered in difficult text. He has difficulty using context, the titles and other vocabulary to infer meaning for unknown words. He is encouraged to read more non-fiction and take time to reflect on difficult language.” In the first sentence, “thoroughly” can be inserted after demonstrated or “a thorough” can replace “a” to create an appropriate comment for a level 4 student. If Casper is having difficulty, then “not yet” can be inserted between “has” and “demonstrated” or more mildly “rarely” or “occasionally” might be inserted. The teacher might have written the second sentence because the majority of students were having the same problem and part of the solution might be encapsulated in the third sentence. Again, the second sentence might be modified by suggesting that Casper has “some difficulty” or “little difficulty” in which case he may be “encouraged to continue to read …” in the third sentence. The program will change Casper to the child’s name and put in the correct pronouns and modifiers. Occasionally it makes a mistake and when we don’t catch it in the proofreading, there is an indignant student.

PEDAGOGICAL BUZZWORDS

You may be wondering about all the stuff about sub titles, context and inferring. These are some of the buzzwords in a new (and excellent) approach to teaching reading, called Balanced Literacy. The teacher is signaling to the principal or vice-principal who will be reading and signing her report cards that she is very much au courant with the latest and greatest trend in teaching to the extent of using it and evaluating it in her classroom. It’s also a signal to any parents who like to research the latest in teaching. Why would she bother? Teachers are under some pressure to be seen to be aware of and impressed by whatever the latest thing in education is. This is because principals are pressured to have the latest and best in their schools and so on. Sometimes it is sufficient to have the outward garb such as the Word Wall of Balanced Literacy and it is rather funny to see educators faking it. In the best schools, whatever comes across the teachers’ desks is evaluated for usefulness and integrated as appropriate. The report card comments may seem mechanical and awkward. They make anyone who likes good writing shudder, however parents were promised accountability and for some, that means report cards being the same while being individualized. There are times when doing a good job in education feels like being the old man and his donkey. Perhaps we listen too much to everyone’s opinion instead of trusting those experienced and well-educated professionals in the classrooms to pose the problems and propose the solutions. That’s a discussion for another day.

For More Information:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived. Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card. R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three


UNDERSTANDING THE ELEMENTARY REPORT CARD

 

You have received your child’s report card and on Thursday evening or Friday

 

Report Card, Winter 1903

Report Card, Winter 1903 (Photo credit: Carosaurus)

 

morning of this week you will be meeting with the teacher. If this is the first time your child has received a report card in Ontario, you may have some questions. To save you time in the fifteen minutes allotted with the teacher, I will try to clarify a few things below.

 

LEARNING SKILLS: The Heart of the Report Card

 

report card 1944

report card 1944 (Photo credit: pjern)

 

Teachers take the learning skills section of the report card very seriously. Twenty, even ten years ago, part of a mark in some subjects might have been for homework completion, effort or participation. That is no longer allowed. Teachers may not even take off marks for late assignments. The only place that those issues may be addressed now is in the learning skills section.Learning Skills per report card The nine learning skills are not a frill about non-academic issues but skills that go to the heart of your child’s long-term success in school and probably in the work world. Take a look and ask yourself if these aren’t qualities employers look for when they are hiring or promoting. I have attached the detailed lists of learning skills here so you can see what teachers take into account when they assign a Not Satisfactory, Satisfactory, Good or Excellent to each skill.

 

MARKS: the teachers use levels 1 to 4 for assessment

 

Let’s look at the marks assigned to the subjects. Teachers are required to assess students on a scale of 1 to 4 (I have covered R in a previous post R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)). A level 3 is the provincial standard and should mean that the student has successfully mastered the material and skills. The key word here is mastered as opposed to crammed sufficiently to fake it on a test and then forget it. A level 2 means that the student is approaching mastery but needs more practice, time or effort. Usually the student can achieve a level 3 with more work. At a level 1 a student is floundering and unclear on the subject matter or weak in the skills. It is possible he might achieve a level 3, but a lot of help and extra work may be needed. If a student has a number of level 1s, parents and teachers should be prepared to discuss options for the next year such as retention, remediation or an individual education plan. A level 4 means that the student is regularly going beyond mastery in this area. It does not necessarily mean that the student is working above grade level although that is one possibility. Depending on the subject, the teacher might consider differentiating the program for some topics for this student. You might also discover that some of the work has been open-ended, allowing the student to go further in his work. BUT on the report card the marks are not shown as levels. It would make sense for the marks on elementary report cards to be written as levels 1, 2, 3 and 4, but they aren’t. Below is the chart the ministry produced in 1998 instructing the Boards of Education in Ontario about putting marks on report cards. Appendix B: Provincial Guide for Grading

 

Level Definition Letter Grade (Grades 1 to 6) Percentage Mark (Grades 7 and 8)
Level 4 The student has demonstrated the required knowledge and skills. Achievement exceeds the provincial standard. A+ A A– 90–100 85–89 80–84
Level 3 The student has demonstrated most of the required knowledge and skills. Achievement meets the provincial standard. B+ B B- 77–79 73–76 70–72
Level 2 The student has demonstrated some of the required knowledge and skills. Achievement approaches the provincial standard. C+ C C– 67–69 63–66 60–62
Level 1 The student has demonstrated some of the required knowledge and skills in limited ways. Achievement falls much below the provincial standard. D+ D D– 57–59 53–56 50–52
R or Below 50 The student has not demonstrated the required knowledge and skills. Extensive remediation is required. R Below 50

 

CONFUSED?

 

The parent of a student in a grade one to six class shouldn’t be too confused; the A, B, C, Ds of old more or less match up with the new levels and the definitions help. The R makes sense. If your child is in grade seven or eight and you are trying to calculate how they got a certain percentage in a subject, stop! If the teacher followed orders, she assessed him using the 1 to 4 marking scheme, following the definitions listed in the chart and then converted the assessment to the meaningless percentage on the right. You need to remember that the percentage IS meaningless unless you interpret it according to the definition provided by the level.

 

IS THIS LESS CONFUSING?

 

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board tried to clarify things by telling teachers to use only specific numbers such as 52, 55 and 58 for level 1 and so on through the levels. Although it was a tad confusing for parents, that bit was relatively easy to explain. What was more difficult was the 20% spread for level 4 when all the other levels had a 10% spread. This made an A+ worth a heck of a lot more than an A-. Some top students began to feel cheated, especially initially when the top mark was 95%.

 

For More Information:

 

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated. Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card. R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

 

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)


The R in Theory & Practice in Ontario

One of the good things about the use of R in today’s report cards is that it is a red flag meaning HELP NEEDED HERE!  It does not assess how well a student is learning that grade’s curriculum; where an R is assigned it means that the student will need remediation to reach a level where she can start learning that grade’s curriculum.  The R also indicates that the child’s parents need to be involved.

The questions are what kind of help, how, who will deliver it and how soon it can be delivered. It can be taken as given that the teacher is already differentiating appropriately for the student, although if she is the one teaching 29 students of whom 25 are on IEPs one could be forgiven for wondering how that is going.  (see Inclusive Education in Practice) Cleaning the Augean Stables might be easier.

Planning for a Child Assessed with an R

When a student is assessed with an R, a plan must be created to address how the student will acquire the necessary remediation.  That plan must indicate what the teacher will do and how the parent will be involved.  Both stakeholders and other relevant members of the staff will have input, but creating the plan is the unspoken responsibility of the teacher.

Pedagogically, this is a sound idea.  The student is regarded not as a failure but one who needs help.  The school and family join forces to see he gets that help.  If they can identify ways and means to do it without anyone, and especially the parents, made to feel that they aren’t doing enough, then the child’s remediation might prove effective.

Parents and Teachers Working Together

It takes a lot of tact to discuss simple things at home that can make a big difference at school. All that apple pie stuff about good nutrition, a good breakfast, enough sleep, sufficient time, quiet and place to do homework, consistency and patience are true.  There is a reason children are not born able to stand on their own two feet.

More than anything, most teachers would love to include the following in the plan:

o      Bobby’s parents will continue to work with the school to create an educational and behavioural plan to help him improve.

o      Bobby’s parents will not give up after three weeks involvement in a plan because:

§       They don’t yet see improvement

§       Bobby says his teacher says he doesn’t need it

§       Bobby drives them nuts with his complaining about the plan

§       It’s too much work

Consistency isn’t easy but it makes a difference in helping children.

Teachers and parents often choose the one or two things they see as most important and focus on those.  Further, they tend to choose concrete items.  A favourite is the agenda.

In that case the plan is clear and simple: the teacher will check that homework is written down accurately in the child’s agenda and initial it.  At home, the parents will check the agenda, see that the listed homework is done and initial the agenda.  (see Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors? for Dr. Maggie Memen’s model for shared responsibility for homework)  The teacher may add that she will follow-up with an in school team meeting and seek the advice of her colleagues.

The In School Team Meeting

The in school team meeting as it is usually called is often a good resource for teachers.  The principal or vice-principal attends as well as a special needs teacher and often an out of school resource person.  Their questions are brief, relevant and helpful.  In addition to practical advice they may encourage the teacher to start the process for educational and psychological testing.

Looking for Help Outside the Classroom, the School and the Board

Not all the suggestions require teacher or parent action.  Some require the board to act, for example, by providing psychological testing, but the child may wait six months to a year for board action. Since that kind of delay is too long in the short life of a child’s education, teachers might advise parents to pay for testing privately if they can afford it; this, of course, cannot be written up as part of the plan to help the student.  A teacher who is known to have suggested to parents that they pay out of their own pockets for a service boards are expected to provide is risking a reprimand.

Even assuming he qualifies for help, the right placement might not be available for the student.  Other kinds of help require money, public or private.  Sometimes a social worker can chase down some support; sometimes it is a question of getting in line; sometimes it just isn’t there.

An R May Not be Used Repeatedly

Finally, teachers are instructed that an R may not be used repeatedly. This is a puzzle; what if the student continues to work at this level?  What if the parents and teacher are doing their part of the plan but waiting for the board to do its part?  How does a teacher avoid putting an R on the report card in these instances?  This does sound like a thirteenth labour of Hercules!

R as an Improvement in Attitude on F

In spite of some of the practical difficulties an R creates, it is not the dead-end that an F for failure was.  The spirit is that if a child is not succeeding she either needs remediation or support or is in the wrong program.  It does not preclude the possibility that the child needs to change her behaviour.

As you can see, like a lot of well-meaning pedagogical ideas, the R on the Ontario report card requires solid support to be effective. Whether sufficient support exists in every Ontario school for every student with an R is another story.

For more Information on Report Cards:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card.

Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching?


Having just posted a number of charts based on Education for All, (See For Teachers: Some Charts Based on Education for All) I find myself appalled at the amount of paper work a teacher deals with. These charts add to the already increased load of paper a teacher might find herself dealing with in the course of the year.  If it improves learning in the classroom, I am all for it; the question is does it improve learning?

First let’s review some of the paper a teacher deals with in the course of a normal year:

1.     Set up marking records

2.     Collect tombstone data about students and pass on to the office, recording relevant information for own files beforehand.

3.     Reviewing students’ OSRs  (Ontario Student Records) for information about the children.

4.     Collect and record money – school fees, Scholastic books purchases, milk for lunch, hot dog day fundraisers, school field trips, photographs; it is expected that the teacher add up the money, record who paid what and record the amount of change, dollars, cheques & totals before submitting it to the office.  Often she is expected to hand it in to the office on a daily basis for safekeeping.

5.     Write a detailed description (after researching and reserving activities and possibly buses) to apply to take her class on a field trip.  Her principal and superintendent review this; if either of them wants a change, it must be rewritten and resubmitted.  This means that the teacher does every thing she can to speed the approval process along, as she is anxious to have approval quickly to retain her spot and bus.  Field trips include anything outside the school grounds which means that even a walk around the block must be written up and submitted for approval.

6.     Locate, price and write up an order sheet for textbooks for an application to the principal to purchase on the off chance the money is available.

7.     Record sufficient notes about behaviour and academic performance of each student in the class so she can support her comments in any interview with a parent.

8.     Write up her notes for the next day’s plans in a clear fashion with reference to textbooks etc. so a supply teacher can take over her class in event of illness or accident.

9.     Prepare materials for lesson plans manually in the event suitable textbooks are not available.

10.  Do attendance at least twice a day and see that it is sent down to the office.  No, students may not do the attendance.  A mistake can wreak havoc, either worrying a parent or not alerting the school & parents to a child’s absence.

11.  Notes from parents about children’s absences.

12.  Everyday memos from the board, the union, the parent council, colleagues and the school, catalogues and flyers end up in a teacher’s mail slot; some require action, some request help, some are merely informative.  I have a bumf file and put everything in it in case I need a memo later on.  At the end of the year, I can usually throw the whole lot in the recycling.  Still, some of them are important so each must be scanned and the key ones dealt with, responded to, pinned on the bulletin board, information provided, door decorated, children informed or taught, time allocated or lesson plans changed.

13.  Report cards are largely done on computers these days.  The programs change yearly or every two years, mainly in response to bugs in the previous programs, but each new version requires time spent learning.  In some schools, the teachers print them, in others it is done by the office personnel.

14.  Report cards – sign, fold, put in envelopes, give to children; Make sure all the comments sheet with parental signatures are collected from children the following week, then filed with a copy of report card in the OSRs – every term

15.  Write IEPs for every exceptional student in the class, copy filed in the OSR and a copy is sent to the parents – by the teacher, every term

16.  Record number of hours each child has spent in French class updated on a card in the OSR in June – by the homeroom teacher.

17.  Photographs of each child in the class stuck in place in the OSR and dated

18.  Tidy contents of OSR into a specific order in June

19.  If the students are in a class that is leaving the school in June, bundle the students’ OSRs according to which schools they will attend.

20.  Of course, teachers photocopy their own material, create or buy signs, posters and other decorations for the classroom.  If the equipment is available, they also laminate them.  If they are lucky, money is available for decorating the classroom.  Either way the classroom is empty when they arrive and they are expected to decorate it appropriately.

Now add the documentation from Education for All

So what is all that paperwork for?  The two main reasons are records and accountability.  When you think of it, they overlap in spots: report cards both record and account for student progress and marking records and teacher’s notes support the more formal report cards.  Even recording hours of French is necessary given the number of different programs.  It wouldn’t be sufficient to record the program as students frequently drop out into other programs. (See French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?)  Recording hours of French is a form of accountability although it is not related to the teacher recording them.

The question is, how much paperwork is necessary to provide sufficient record keeping for the sake of accountability?  Just looking at the incomplete list above, you can imagine what proportion of a teacher’s time this requires.  Which of these activities would be better replaced with planning, helping children before and after class and assessing the students’ work?  I can list several items of which all or part are not directly related to teaching:  #2, 4, 6, 11, 13 to 20.  As you can see, much of it involves filing.

When I first started teaching, my principal believed that teachers should have goals for their students written down.  This only came out when some teachers were evaluated and expressed their indignation at what was an unusual expectation.  Most teachers have goals for their students tucked in the back of their mind, goals that change as the child changes, but few think of writing them down any more than they would write down the criteria that determine where they seat a child in the classroom.  Believe me, that can be a long list, including sight, hearing, behavioral and learning factors, friends, distracters, need for cues from the teacher and so on.

As a new teacher, I was also being evaluated, so I quickly jotted down my thoughts on my students and casually stuck the page behind the half a dozen pages that formed my notes supporting my plans for the day and week.  Naturally, when the principal went through my day plan, he found them and I earned brownie points.

The thing is that writing down my goals for my students hadn’t created them; they were there all along, otherwise I couldn’t have hastily written them down before the principal’s visit.   The most that writing them down had done for me (besides improving my evaluation) was to clarify them a little.  Within a week or two, the goals were no longer accurate because the child was changing, showing new strengths or weaknesses or I was gaining greater insights.

Where writing down observations and goals did help was when I had students whose difficulties seemed beyond help in my classroom.  Then, I worked to write them down accurately and clearly because I was going to turn to my colleagues or principal for help.  If they did not know the child, then I was going to be the sole source of information.  At that point, the information garnered through the Education for All Charts would be useful.  Virtually nothing is left out.

Is it necessary to fill out all the charts on literacy and numeracy for every child?  Most teachers are very aware of the basic academic and learning skills of each student in their class by the end of the first term and many have them pegged much earlier than that.  As long as each child is learning well and assessed accurately both formatively and summatively, is a learning profile worth the cost in time?

To explain:  formative assessment is evaluation used to figure out how much the student has understood.  This helps the teacher determine how to teach the next section; it also helps the student understand what needs reviewing.  Summative assessment is used for final evaluation i.e. marks.  In theory, these are separate assessments; in practice, they may cross over as when a teacher allows redoing assignments for mastery or when the most recent, highest marks in a unit are used for final assessment.

Returning to paperwork: time is most effectively spent on learning profiles when a student is struggling.  At that point, a thorough understanding of strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as a starting point in determining the next steps in helping the child.  Time spent observing, reflecting and writing down the points in each part of the learning profile may provide the basis for useful insights.

A learning profile as an aide memoire in preparation for report cards or a guide for planning units may also be helpful.  The danger is that principals who don’t trust their teachers to use their professional judgment may jump on the Education for All bandwagon and ask that all these forms be used.  It will look like accountability, but it will be no more accountability than asking teachers to sign time cards.

Am I saying teachers shouldn’t do any paperwork?  No.  I am saying that before teachers are asked to do any paperwork, the usefulness of the paperwork as records or a measure of accountability should be weighed against the usefulness of the teachers’ time spent teaching or planning or assessing or consulting with colleagues.

For More Information:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005