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