Elementary, High School, Junior High

6 Tips for Writing Awesome and Stress-Free Report Cards

It seems like every term when progress reports come up, teachers go just a little bit loco and turn into hermits for a week or so. I used to be like this too in my first year or two of teaching. Then, I decided enough was enough and I wanted my life and sanity back. As Type-A maniac, I knew I could turn the art of report cards into a science that left my administration happy, parents fully aware and on-board, and myself happy and sane.

Now, I need to preface this post by noting that I prefer to have a crazy busy first few weeks at school, and then let the rest of the year be much more mellow. I find that if I plan all of the things that I know will come up through the year in September in one big mega-batch, the next nine months leave me feeling zen and on-top of everything.
Here are some of my best tips to ensure your next report cards are some of the easiest you ever write. Spoiler alert: they also get significantly easier with these tips each passing term.

Write the base of all your comments at the start of the school year

People always look at me a little side-eyed when I tell them I’ve written all my report card comments before school even starts. I’ve never understood why. I am a planner and I always know what I will be teaching my students before school starts. Even though there are some things which will, of course, change once I get to know the students (like which kids need English language supports, what kids are ahead of or below grade level, and so on), I have my outline of what we’ll be going over well before schedule.
Knowing this, I’m able to write comments for all two or three terms knowing what units we’ll be covering and the major projects I’ll be using for summative assessment. Having the stem of my comments completed takes a huge burden off of my shoulders and also helps me stay on track throughout the year.

Use the same general outline for all comments

I’m pretty sure most districts at this point now use the same general sandwich method for writing report card comments:

what was taught/learned

what the student can do and how they showed it

what they still need to work on

If your district isn’t using this and you have freedom in your comments, I highly recommend you start using this format. It’s easy to follow and provides what the students, parents, and future teachers need to know. I personally always like to throw a nice little comment at the end of the comment as well to make sure the student and parents know that they’re special and I recognize them as a great part of our class. Here’s an example of a comment I may write for a novel study unit:

This term in Language Arts, we studied the novel Holes by Louis Sachar. Jenny was consistently able to recall significant events in the novel and reflect upon themes such as friendship. She created a character Instagram account demonstrating her knowledge of characterization and timelines in the novel. To further her knowledge base, Jenny should read books of various genres. It is a joy to have Jenny in the class!

As you can see in the above example, I’ve clearly outlined what we learned in class, discussed a major assignment, talked about what Jenny was able to do in class, noted what she should do to be more successful, and mentioned how great it is to have her in the class.
You can easily write the spine of a comment like this and leave blank things like student names, he/she/hers/his, if they could consistently/sometimes/inconsistently/not complete the outcomes, and so on. If you just need to plug in these few things, it takes far less time than writing the whole comment. It’s also super easy when you know the kids well!

Have a go-to set of differentiated comments to pick from

Now that you have the general spine/outline of the comment ready, you’ll want to make sure you have some go-to additions and changes for any students working on differentiated work or who need a specific comment. These may be difficult to come up with at first, but after a few years of seeing the same types of needs, you’ll have a bank ready. For example, you probably will never have a class where at least one student doesn’t have ADHD and one isn’t an English Language Learner. You should have comments for these types of needs at the ready to plug in.

For example, a student who is learning English should have a comment about developing their language skills. You can discuss what the class has been learning and how the student was able to participate. They should more than likely have a comment about focusing on building pragmatic and/or academic vocabulary and learning to use specific tools, like translators, to help them complete work.

A student who has difficulty focusing should have a comment specifically stating this issue so that parents are aware of the impact their attention is having on their learning. Of course, how much emphasis you place on their focus issues will completely depend on how severe their struggle maintaining focus is. You may need to mention it a few times to really highlight the issue, or you may only need to note it as a skill they need to improve in order to find more success.

Make sure you have a partner teacher to swap report cards with

Always, always, always, ALWAYS proofread your progress reports and have a coworker proofread them as well. As a teacher who now spends a significant amount of time proofreading coworkers’ work before it goes home to parents, I can’t even describe how frustrating it is to read over work that has not been proofread.

Tough love time: It is unprofessional and lazy. From my perspective, either you were too lazy to proofread, you don’t know the basics of spelling and grammar, or you don’t know how to do the fundamentals of your job. None of these scenarios are ones you want your administration to associate with you. So, don’t be that person. Don’t mumble and grumble about how much extra time it will take because it is time well-spent. Read your work over, then get a friend to check it over, then hand it in, end of story.

Don’t surprise parents (or kids) with their grades or comments

If a student or parent reads a report card and is surprised by what they see, something is wrong. I’m not saying that it is necessarily the teacher’s fault; maybe the parents have not returned calls or emails, don’t believe in education, or so on. However, it is our job to make sure we are working together with students and their parents (especially the younger the kiddos) to find success for kids.

I’d actually argue that we’re at the point now where report cards are kind of redundant. We should be communicating with parents and kids so much about how they’re doing and what they need to improve, that a progress report should be old news. I’m hoping we move more toward less formalized report cards as we move forward in order to save teacher sanity, save paper, keep kids from getting stressed out, and so on.

If a student is failing, hasn’t turned any work in, has issues with behaviour, or so on, the first time parents and the student hear that this is a problem should NEVER be on the progress report; you need to be bringing this up and finding solutions for it as soon as you can!

Finish early

I fully believe that finishing your progress reports early is really important for your sanity and giving yourself the time to make any changes you need to. If your administration catches things you need to change, it’s always overwhelming to feel like you don’t have the time to complete the changes if the turnaround is tight. I always like to finish at least a week early so that I can get on with my week as normal and not cut into all the time I spend grading, planning, prepping, and sleeping!

What do you think; do you have any more tips and tricks for making progress report time a breeze? Share them in the comments!


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