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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Need help writing your general report comments?



I can remember the first time I had to write report comments. It was scary! What do I put in them? How long do they need to be? The pile of questions I had were long and I had no one I felt I could ask for help. My principal was a little scary and all the other teachers at the school were freshly graduated like me! Then I found a gold mine! The previous teacher had left a copy of her reports on the computer! I was saved!

This gave me a starting point, something to go off of and suddenly reports weren't so hard. Then the next year my reports were made up of 75% of the previous years report comments thanks to copy and paste!

Today I am going to show you what I put in my general comments and give you a few sample comments.
First though, a disclaimer. Different states and different schools have different expectations of what goes into comments (and what can't) so make sure you follow any guidelines given to you.

Length:

I aim for 80 - 100 words for my general comment. This usually works out to be about 7 sentences.

Opening Sentence:

I start my general comment off with three virtues that the student regularly displays. This starts the comments off to a nice happy tone and instantly gets the parents onside. This work especially well if you are at a school that has the virtues approach, if your school does the values approach then use that wording instead.



Topics to Cover:

Here are some things I like to include when I am writing general comments. I think about the student in question and the things that pop into my head first are usually the things that need to be included. If I am struggling to think of things this list gives me ideas for what to write.
  • ability to work in a group and leadership skills
  • listening skills (be careful not to step too much into speaking and listening here as that's for English)
  • ability to follow instructions
  • ability to finish tasks diligently, in a timely manner and work ethic
  • their relationships with other students
  • participation in discussions
  • confidence in their ability
I will often choose a day to really observe my students on these items and jot down what things I might like to cover in a student's general comment. Here is an observation grid template you can use. Write the name of each student on a separate square and any notes relating to that student go in their square. 

Goals:

I like to include a goal in my comments. Something the students can work towards or something that will help them improve. This can often follow a comment that states something the students is lacking or doesn't do.

Sandwich the negative:

You have probably heard this a million times in many areas of teaching and it is the same for report comments. Place any negative comments between two positive comments. This helps soften the blow and reads better to parents.

Relate to ABE's:

If you have marked students down for anything in the Attitudes, Behaviours and Efforts then this is also a great place to explain why. This is why I do the ABE's prior to doing the general comments and also in hard copy. Get my template for this in this blog post.

Closing Sentence:

I usually put a comment that ends things off nicely such as 'Keep up the good work, Bob!' or Congratulations on a great semester, Carol!'

Tips:

I make report writing easier by going opening up my last years comments next to my current document where I am writing my comments (Read about this document and get a copy here). I copy over an opening statement for each student and a final comment (changing the name when appropriate). I then read each sentence that remains from last year and ask myself 'does this sound like a student I currently have?'  If it does I copy it over and continue this till I have been through the entire documents. This gets my general comments over 50% complete.
I then go through each child one at a time and fill in any gaps using my my observation sheet and making sure I have said anything I need to. 

I hope this blog has helped you and motivated you to start (or finish your comments). Now to leave you with a few examples.

Cassie is a confident, responsible and honest student.   She works diligently to complete set tasks and is able to accept responsibility for, and show initiative in, decision making.  Cassie is a confident speaker in front of the class.  She enjoys asking questions and regularly joins in class discussions.  Cassie participates equally during group work.  Next semester I would like to see her take on more leadership roles.  It has been a pleasure having Cassie in the class this semester.

Carly has become a more forgiving, responsible and tolerant student this term. She needs to improve her ability to work quietly on independent tasks and avoid disrupting those around her.   When Carly commits herself she is able to produce good work.    However, she can be resistant to working depending on her mood and the difficulty of the task. Carly often has great ideas and questions and I would like to see her share these more readily with the class. Keep up the good work, Carly.

Jack is a friendly student who is working towards being more honest and diligent.  When faced with a challenging situation Jack will often exhibit a wide variety of poor behaviours in an attempt to avoid completing his work.   I would like to see him persevere when working on tasks and make good choices more frequently.  Next semester I would like to see him become more willing to seek help and to ‘have-a-go’ without prompting.   Jack enjoys participating in class discussion and asks thought provoking questions.  I look forward to watching him progress next semester.

Carl is a confident, responsible and honest student.   He is a quick learner and has made fantastic progress across the board.  Carl is able to work and learn independently and enjoys being presented with challenges.  He loves working in groups and takes on leadership roles.  Carl perseveres and achieves goals in amazingly quick time and is intrinsically motivated.  He has a cheeky sense of humour and a quick wit.  Carl frequently assists other students with their learning and is developing skills to better help them.  Congratulations on a great semester, Carl!

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Friday, 28 April 2017

Make Report Writing as Easy as Pie!


I am in my 7th of teaching and I can honestly say I no longer fear reporting time! I use to dread it like the plague and spent way more time than I should stressing over it.
Over time I have found secrets to making it easier and I am going to share them all with you today. Some of them you may like and some of them you might not but I swear by them!


Tip Number 1: Start thinking about them early on! Don't be a person who puts them off to the last minute, starting now will ensure you get them done with minimal stress.

Tip Number 2: Find your motivator! I am a competitive person by heart so I compete with others at my school to be the first (or one of the first) to get their reports in. Perhaps you could find another teacher to work through reports with supporting each other and talking it through. Maybe think of rewards you can give yourself when the reports are completed or a reward for each section of report writing. Maybe that new handbag you've been eyeing off?

Tip Number 3: Work to a schedule! Spend a little while sitting down and planning out when you want to complete various sections. I start off with finding out the due date and write down each week prior to that.
Work out an order that helps you finish earlier and easier. For example I start off with what I consider to be the easiest part of report writing- the attitudes, behaviours and efforts which I complete in a checker box and colour code for ease of transferring the information later. Click here for a FREE download of this editable file. Starting with the easiest thing helps me get started and that's often the hardest part! Once complete it makes me feel like i've already accomplished something. Then I move onto the hardest or most consuming part which I find to be the general comments. Then I sandwich everything else in.

Tip Number 4: Plan out activities and assessments throughout the year that can be used to grade students. When you mark them assign them a grade and record it. This will help you get a sense of where your students are at and help confirm the grade you end up giving them. Remember what it was like in uni when you had all your assessments due at the same time? Don't do that to your students.

Tip Number 5: Make writing comments easier by only taking home one or two assessment pieces for each subject you write comments for. Picking a solid assessment piece that shows exactly what a student can and cannot do means you can simple pick out a few examples of each and write them down. Obviously you want your comments to be valid and taking that from one question would be wrong so make sure the assessment gives a few opportunities to prove if that can do a skills.
For maths I use these Mathematics Tests that you can get for each year level or strand. They are great because of the checklist on the front that shows you the Australian Curriculum outcomes and how students have achieved against them.




For reading I do running records and for writing I use a sample of a recount from their diary writing and a sample of the text type we have been studying. For speaking and listening I use a checklist that I fill out during observations. Trust your gut when deciding if the samples are accurate reflections of the student's ability. If it is not a true example go back to previous work and find a more representative sample.  Again, I use these assessments to assist me write the comments but I pull from a range of assessments to determine their grade.

Tip Number 6: I am sure you are forever hearing the phrase 'don't reinvent the wheel' when teaching. Well, don't! No one says you have to write every comment from the top of head. Get out last years reports and copy and paste relevant comments. When I do general comments I read through last years general comments and any sentences I read that make me think of a particular student from the current year I copy over.

Tip Number 7: Complete you comments in a simple word document. Here is a FREE copy of what I do mine in. This allows me to read across a student's comments to make sure they all align and I don't have to worry about signing into the portal to add them (or worry about it crashing and losing everything- I've heard of this happening!). It also makes it easier to proof read- especially by other people. When they are all done simple copy them over! Across the top row I keep a track of how many comments I have completely finished and a record of the word count I am aiming for. I choose certain colours to highlight the comments in when they are first roughly completely, when I have proofread them, when another person has proofread them and when they have been uploaded.

Tip Number 8: Make use of Portfolios! This is the word I use for the files that I store all the students major assessments in. They are easy to transport home and not as cumbersome as taking home umpteen scrapbooks and exercise books. They become a snap shop of you students are great to pull out for parent meetings! I even use them to show the students how far they have come!

Tip Number 9: Don't over think things! You need to trust your gut. I find this especially useful when filling out the ABEs. Your first instinct is usually correct, its usually when you over think things that time is wasted and you get stressed!

Tip Number 10: Know where to get help! Most states have samples of each grade online and many have banks of comments you can pull from. Other teachers are usually happy to moderate with you because it helps them just as much as you.

Here is my schedule for doing reports this year: 

Term 2
Week 1- revise work from term 1 to get students brain juices flowing (assessing here would not produce accurate results)
Week 2- Start major assessments (I start PM bench marks first as these take a lot of time to complete)
               Complete Attitude, Behaviour and Efforts (I find starting with the easiest thing gets me into the reporting mind set and starting is always the hardest part)
Week 3 - Maths assessments (I write my maths comments first so it makes sense to do the maths assessment first)
               Begin writing general comments (I go to them next because you don't need assessments to write them. I also find them the hardest and most time consuming. More tips to come soon on making these easier to write)
Week 4 - Writing assessments
                Finish writing general comments (Allowing more then one week to write comments cuts you some slack if you have a busy week or just can't get into the frame of mind)
                Start writing maths comments
Week 5 - Finish writing maths comments
                Start English comments (I leave English to last as I find it is the subject students can change most in within a few weeks so leaving them to last makes them more accurate)
Week 6- Finish English comments
               Enter grades onto reporting system including effort
Week 7- Buffer week for anything not yet finished. Check everything is still accurate.
               Reports due at end of week


While this is my schedule I often complete somethings more quickly and then bring up the schedule. I usually have my reports finished by week 5. Due to finishing this early I usually go back and have one more glance over them before they are printed to ensure all my comments and grades still accurately reflect the student.

Best of luck with your reports this term! Let me know in the comments if you have any tips of your own.

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Classroom Tour 2017




So this year I am in a classroom that was built in the late 1960's. It is very hard to make an old room look good but I have tried my best! Today I am going to take you on a tour of my classroom- cupboards and all!

My classroom is in a cluster of three classrooms which are divided by concertina dividers. I don't technically have a front door, I just have an entry way. My classroom also has some unusual features which I will show you as we go through. The upside to my room is that it is the biggest in the whole school and has stacks of storage. 

So let me first show you a quick overview of the room.



So here we are look back on the entry. Yes, the gap between the cupboard and the bulletin board is my entry way..... I have a welcome sign hanging above the entry which says goodbye on the back.
Get it here: Welcome Banner and Class Rule
This bookshelf has all my maths resources on it. They all belong to the school. 
 To the right of that is my storage cupboard. I have mostly filled it with things left in the room by previous teachers (I've thrown out a lot but you have to be careful you don't get rid of anything someones going to come looking for or the next teacher may actually use). Other than that I store all the recyclables students bring in for making things.

This is what I call 'the front' of my room as it has my main whiteboard.


At the top of the whiteboard are our classroom rules. The students I and I 'crafted' them together. I find students come after with pretty much the same rules year after year so I reuse these posters.
You can find them here: Classroom Rules

Next to my whiteboard is my weekly timetable. I love having this on display for the students, parents and I to refer to. We change particular items if needed each week but generally every week is the same.
You can get my timetable here: Weekly Timetable

The blackboard section flips open and on the inside I have my Reading Group Timetable. They are just laminated pieces of paper that I write on with whiteboard marker so I can change them easily when ever needed.

Next to that I have a sink. I LOVE having a sink in my room. So handy!

Above it I have my Vocabulary Word of the Day display. 
Get this display here: Vocabulary Display


I think this is a staple in just about every teacher's classroom. I use mine to store the photocopy's and other smaller resources for lesson. Each draw lines up with a subject on my timetable. I prefer these draws as I sometimes copy a whole terms work for a particular subject in advance and this gives me room to store it all. It's also easier for relief teachers to find things. On top of this I have my planning file filled with my weekly time tables. In the container are the WTW set for that week.

This is my mat area. I can't seem to get the layout of this section right yet. I have a T.V. screen in the background that I use at least once a day to display things on as well as using the move able white board with the stationary whiteboard being to the left of this. I would like students to be able to view all three from their desk when needed but it is hard to to lay that all out.
On the bottom shelf of the whiteboard I keep the schools reward system. On the top shelf I have the big books for that week and any additional resources I need handy for that day that don't fit in the draws.
Photo's never seem to do my chairs justice but my mum and I covered them over the Summer holidays and they look awesome!


Behind my whiteboard I have a rainbow bunting I made myself from card which I cut and laminated then hung on string. This is 3 years old now (4 if you count the year in storage) and its not showing any sign of wear.

Beneath that is my Write any Number Display and pencils display the names of common Colours and the Days of the Week.

Under that I have my word wall. Each coloured poster has one of my Alphabet Posters that I printed in B4 size and stuck in the corner. Then I have written the words in whiteboard marker that students came up with. 

I have four different colours of student chairs in my room (not by choice). I decided to stack them in their colours for more than just the reason of it looking pretty. I decided it would prevent students having issues getting a chair each morning and automatically ensures chair stacks never get too high. It does mean some students cross the whole room to stack a chair but it hasn't caused any issues yet.

I then have my Birthday Balloons. I love that I can put these in any sized space and it will fit. Spread them out more to fill a bigger space or overlap them to fit a smaller space.

You can see they are on my far corner next to my chimney. Wait, what? I have a chimney in my class! Yep!
It's not used for anything anymore so I wrapped it up in some orange material that was left behind in the classroom. I have a Spelling Poster (FREEBIE) and a Vowels Poster next to that.


Unfortuantly I do not have good enough camera skills to do this view justice. This is the back of my classroom where I have sheer rainbow curtains. 

Beneath the rainbow curtains I have my home readers (conveniently supplied in rainbow tubs by the school) and beneath that is shelving containing various paper and books. 

To the right of that I have my student draws. They keep their scrapbooks, spare supplies and other miscellaneous items here. On top are the pencil tins that some students choose to use over pencil tins. Unfortunately pencil tins are popular with the other teachers and are therefore on our book list. I give students the choice of what to use so parents don't feel they decorated a tin for nothing. As the year progresses I eventually persuade them all to move to pencil cases.  Pencil tins have their upsides but I find them more of a nuisance. 

This year I choose to use my Pencil Labels to label items in my classroom including these trays. 

Off to the right back side of my classroom is a alcove which is lined with cupboards. I am lucky that the second last teacher to have this room painted a lot of the bulletin boards purple! Which just so happens to be my favourite colour! I eventually plan to put up my Text Type Displays as we cover each text type during the year.

As this alcove helps muffle noise a little, I keep the things my students can use during free time here. On top we have our art shirts. I also have a desk around their in case I ever need a student to work in solitude or with another adult.

On top of the built in shelves I store things that won't fit in the cupboards such as our assembly mats, a large set of class whiteboards and all my tubs that store my laminated activities. 

I have also chucked a filing cabinet and a chair I do not use around here. 

On the other side of that alcove is the teacher area. It has a built in desk that I do not use. I am still trying to think of an alternate use for it. 

I also have another teachers desk that I don't really use. 
 I have letters on top of this desk that spell out my last name. I decorated it with washi tape. I also keep my pens there, my assessment files and my mastery folders. 


Behind the teachers desk I have Reading Posters by Nicole Blunt and my Writing Goals Chart (FREEBIE)
In this corner I have my horseshoe desk. IT IS MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF FURNITURE EVER!!! If I didn't have one of these in my classroom I was actually going to buy myself one. They have changed the way I work but I might do a separate post on that another day. 

Below the built in teachers desk is this little shelving unit. I use to store all my note templates, late notes and absentee notes.
Above the desk I have a stack of trays for work to be finished by individual studets, work for marking, and work for gluing. I also have a tray for work still in progress as a whole class, my stationary and above that bulk student supplies like headphones, highlighters and clip boards. 
Displayed above that are my Punctuation Posters. 

In my cupboard I have my files including a file of all my Templates, school information and units and a few text books. I also have all my Words Their Way supplies and back up stationary. Behind the cupboard wall I have the DOTT timetable, my timetable and duty roster. 


To the other side of desk is my reading group resources including whiteboards, books and novelties. You can read more about how I approach guided reading here. 

Next up I have a very large, old map storage draw. In it is some large coloured card and I use the top of it to store projects and layout resources for students to collect. Then I have my book shelf.

Above the book shelf I have my current reward system and my Job Wheel.

Coming back around to the entrance to my classroom is a set of draws I use for my Spelling Lists.  You can read more about my spelling approach here. 



Here's a look inside some of my cupboards. Here I have my coloured card. I use a 5 draw system to store my A4 card. It helps keep the paper in nice shape and easy to access. 


This cupboard has tissue boxes, snap lock bags and PVA glue. 

Here is a look inside the containers where I store my laminated activities. 

This is my prize box. I use to have it in an actually box but it always became too messy and students would take forever selecting a prize. Having it sorted like this makes it much more convenient. I get most of prizes from ebay by searching for 'bulk toys'. 

 At the end of term 1 our carpets were being cleaned so I had to move the majority of the furniture out and have plans to try a different layout when I put it all back. I am forever changing the layout of my classroom. It keeps things interesting!
That brings us to the end of my classroom tour. I hope you picked up a few useful ideas along the way!
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