What if we liberated the learning from report cards

Every time we’ve thought about how we might improve our reports, we’ve failed. The barriers to major change have somehow seemed insurmountable. Parental expectations, government requirements, technical restrictions, constraints from within and outside of the school and our own heads… all of these have stood in our way.

And then came COVID, along with weeks of remote learning, and the chance to reimagine our reports, at least for this semester. The only barrier was time, and this turned out to be an advantage. No time to seek perfection, just the opportunity to take an inquiry stance, dive in and produce something both meaningful and practical, as quickly as possible.

How might we create a report that aligns with what we believe about learning? What if we report on what we really value in learning? What if we elect to report only on transferable skills? What if we let go of expected ‘levels’ (real or imagined) and pay more attention to who each child is as a learner? What if we focus on assessment FOR and AS learning, rather than only assessment OF learning? How might we support students and parents to value and reflect on skills that really matter?

So we created a written report which views the whole child, addressing the development of a broad range of skills and dispositions including social, self-management, communication, thinking and research skills. These ‘ATL’ skills, as we call them in the PYP, are the building blocks that support our learners in all areas of learning and of life.

How might we best observe, assess and reflect on these skills? We considered the possibility of creating a grade by grade continuum but the development of these skills is neither age dependent nor linear. Is developing and reflecting on these skills, in fact, lifelong learning? How best might they be learned? Some influencing factors include the language we use to notice and name them, how they are modelled, opportunities for them to be demonstrated, expectations and routines around practising them. Once again, we see Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces at play. What if, rather than seeing them as being ‘taught’, we consider how most of these trans disciplinary skills might be enculturated?

Our written report will be accompanied by in-depth conversations between students, parents and teachers. Together, the written report and the conversation will focus both on growth and on potential next steps. I’m conscious of how the Growth Coaching approach has influenced this vision. Some years ago, we shifted from performance appraisals for teachers to a growth model, in which teachers, in partnership with leaders, are encouraged to identify strengths and set goals for further development. Why should students be measured against arbitrary age based standards? What if the focus for student reporting was on growth, too? What if  strengths were highlighted and students were supported to reflect on future action they might take to further their development?

Are we there yet? No. Have we come up with a starting point that (mostly) addresses expectations and requirements, while coming much closer to aligning our beliefs about learning with the way we report on it? Yes. Are we still struggling with some aspects as we explore how to improve on and sustain these changes? Absolutely. But embracing the power of ‘what if?’ is how we drive change and how we grow.

I’m certain that many of you are reporting in this way already. We’ve been on the road for a while now but, somehow, we needed this period of remote learning to give us permission to see a potential new way forward.

Building a culture of agency…

It’s exciting to see so many teachers relinquishing control and empowering their students. Stephanie in Singapore had kids do their own set up on the first day of school and the inspirational folk of Studio 5 at ISHCMC have broken yet more moulds.  Right here in Aus, at my own school, some students are planning their own inquiries in the same way that teachers plan, and teachers are releasing control and reflecting candidly about the process in the pursuit of learner agency.

What if you’re not ready to release control to this extent? How might you start small? What might some first steps be towards an increase in agency for your learners?

Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces provide a platform from which to embark on your journey. Just apply them to agency, instead of thinking! How might you build a culture of learner agency in your classroom?

What sort of language will you use?

Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work?

Is your learning framed as a question that invites learners into the process?

Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?

Do you notice and name learning assets?

Do you refer to your students as authors, mathematicians and scientists?

How is the environment organised to foster agency?

Who designs the learning space? Whose thinking is on the walls?

Are there options for where and with whom to sit and learn?

Are materials and resources well organised and easily accessible?

What sorts of opportunities are offered?

Are there opportunities for learners to pursue their own inquiries?

Are there opportunities to write for an authentic audience and to extend learning beyond the classroom?

Are there opportunities for learners to wrestle with challenging problems and design solutions?

How is time managed? 

Is there time for thinking, reflecting and inquiring?

Who manages the time? Is self management encouraged?

Is time used constructively for meaningful learning, rather than just completion of set tasks?

Do students waste time waiting for the teacher, when they could be doing something more worthwhile?

What dispositions do you model?

Do you model vulnerability, apologise when you’re wrong and talk about your mistakes?

Do you openly change your mind and your plan?

Do you model decision making and talk through the process aloud?

What routines are in place to encourage agency?

Are there routines for accessing equipment, sharing learning, asking for help…without waiting for the teacher?

Do they start when they’re ready, rather than waiting till you have finished giving the same instructions to all?

Are there routines for giving and receiving peer to peer feedback, without being told?

What kind of expectations are clearly set?

Are learners expected to and trusted to take ownership of learning?

Do they have (at least some) choice and voice in what they learn and how they learn?

Is initiative valued over compliance?

Is intrinsic motivation expected and encouraged through powerful, engaging learning experiences? (no Class Dojo)

How do interactions foster agency?

Are interactions between you and your learners mutually respectful?

How well do you know every child’s story, her interests, her passions and her insecurities? Can she tell that you care?

Do your interactions demonstrate belief in the learners’ capacity to own their learning?

Can they tell that you trust them to learn?

What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?

Image from Presenter Media

Cultural forces that define leadership…

What if Ron Ritchhart’s  cultural forces were applied  to the concept of leadership?

How might a leader, in any context, ensure that he or she provides time, sets expectations, engages in interactions, uses language, models actions, creates an environment and ensures opportunities that empower the community to flourish?

As a leader, irrespective of your context, what kind of culture do you create?

1. Expectations

Do you convey clear expectations and ensure shared understanding?

2. Modeling

Do you model the attitudes and dispositions you hope to see in others?

3. Time

Is there adequate time for in-depth exploration, planning, collaboration and reflection?

4. Interactions

Do you build positive relationships, respect the contributions of others and value diverse perspectives?

5. Routines

Are processes in place for  identifying problems, exploring solutions, reflecting and giving feedback?

6. Language

Does your language reflect shared beliefs, demonstrate support, reveal vulnerability and invite constructive questioning?

7. Opportunities

Do you encourage learning and growth, experimentation and innovation? Are there opportunities for new leaders to develop?

8. Environment

Does the physical, emotional and cultural environment facilitate autonomy, mastery and purpose. (Dan Pink)