Report Cards

The frequency of my entries has diminished lately mainly due to the fact that I have been busy with all kinds of "end of school" things. Most of them provided me with an interesting glimpse into the effect that blogging has had on me as a teacher, on my students, and on my classroom. I have already commented on the final exam but I recently discovered that there is something even more "final" that has been affected by blogging - report cards. I have always thought of myself as a teacher who relies heavily on cooperative education and who believes in listening to students and helping them grow as learners and constructors of knowledge. Unfortunately, when I consulted the report cards I wrote exactly one year ago I realized that they conveyed a very different picture. They were all written from the point of view of a teacher who had spent most of the year standing on a pedestal, dispensing knowledge. They suggested that that the students' only role was to absorb the material. This gave me an interesting glimpse not into my classroom practices but into the language that I subscribed to when commenting on student progress. I realized that my comments on student progress had very little to do with the kind of learning that was taking place in my classroom. I used very formal, institutionalized language. I wrote about achieving expected outcomes - about the end result - and ignored the part that has always been prominent in my classroom - the journey itself. I was betrayed by the language I used.

My reports this year had to be different. After all, a full year of blogging had a big impact on how I perceived my students and on the kinds of learning that they engaged in. I had to employ a very different kind of language to comment on my students' progress. Last year, I wrote about how well the students grasped the curriculum. My reports made it clear that I had the knowledge and my students' only role was to acquire a solid understanding of it. This year, however, my reports clearly indicate that the role required of my students has changed. I wrote about becoming self-directed learners, about research skills, self-discipline, and collaboration with peers. I commented on their ability to not just absorb knowledge but to look for knowledge, to use information literacy skills, to distinguish between fact and fiction, between valuable resources and worthless commentary. I commented on how well some students learned to make connections and weave their own research webs. I wrote about choosing a topic of interest and exploring it through debate, through personal narrative and commentary, through maintaining a network of peers whose interests and efforts coincide with your own. I wrote about developing one's own voice and participating in conversations.

And so, after reading these report cards, the parents may not get a clear understanding of whether or not their child has grasped the curriculum (after all, the meaning of "curriculum" has changed - see my last entry). However, what they will definitely realize after reading the report card is the extent to which their child became an independent learner, capable of assessing and navigating through various sources of information, capable of working in and learning from a community of learners. They will read about the process and the journey - I have come to believe that this is much more important to mention than spelling and grammatical accuracy.

So, instead of seeing my students as empty vessels who have been filled with knowledge I see them as vessels that learned to navigate the uncharted waters around them and as learners whose journeys taught them the skills they will need next year and throughout their lives.

I have learned to abandon teacher-speak and write about my students as young people journeying towards empowerment. I have learned to see that a report card is not a terminus but a travelogue, a stopover. I think I now fully understand what Marshall McLuhan means when he says that we can arrange "the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception." (The Medium is the Massage, p. 68)