Writing Reports: What you say and what you mean

It’s coming up to report card time. As teachers, we want to try to phrase things positively in reports. That’s someone’s child after all and no one responds well to pure criticism. However, sometimes you have to broach difficult topics in a report and the sugar coating can get in the way of communication.

My top tip from my first teaching mentor: parents usually only get mad if the bad news is a shock. I have noticed that parents react less negatively to a report, if they already were aware of the issue. So, if you need to get in contact with parents about a behavioural or organisational issue, do it before a parent-teacher conference or report cycle.

I had been writing reports for several years when I got into a conversation with a friend who home-educates her three children. I ran my best phrases past her to see if she could pick up what I was putting down. No. She could not. It was an eye-opener.

“Sammy is very enthusiastic but this can mean he does not give other children a chance to contribute.”

What I mean: “Sammy needs to raise his hand and stop shouting out.”

What a parent might hear: ”Sammy is a great orator and the other children love listening to him.”

Consider: “Sammy is very enthusiastic. He needs to remember to raise his hand in classroom discussions.”

“Joey does not always come prepared to lessons.”

What I mean: “Joey almost NEVER comes prepared to lessons.”

What a parent might hear: “Joey sometimes forgets his notebook from time to time.”

Consider “As we have already discussed over the phone, Joey very rarely brings his notebook and pen to lessons.”

“Jamie sometimes does not think about the consequences of his actions.”

What I think I mean: “Jamie is a total nightmare.”

What a parent might hear “Jamie is an adorable little scamp!”

Consider “Jamie gets into situations that distract him and others from the lesson (for example: …). I know he wants to do the right thing and I am supporting him by….”

Another tip, look for ways of automating the process that do not involve Mr Control C and Ms Control V. I’d much rather spend my time writing quality phrases that tell each child exactly how they are achieving and exactly how they can improve, instead of grinding away at typing out similar but not identical phrases for each child.  For example schoolreportwriter.com has a lovely system, where you upload a bank of comments and can choose the appropriate ones for each student. You can even switch adjectives and phrases up for a more tailored report.

Just remember to tell it to them straight, however you write it.

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