Most innovations come about as a solution to fulfilling a need or solving a problem, usually making something more efficient and simple. I have yet to find a tweak to simplifying the process of writing narrative report cards. Capturing a child’s progress is not a simple task.
This time of year, most teachers have plenty of observational notes, anecdotes, assessment data, and student work which they refer in order to 1) communicate a child’s progress to a parent, and 2) have a written record of it. Because each child is unique, each narrative also has to be. Taking all that information, synthesizing and organizing is not an easy task (at least not for me).
In addition, I also find writing mid-year reports more difficult because you’re referring to a child’s past and present performance, and also suggesting what you and the child’s family can do to help their child grow in the near future. Trying to keep all those tenses and modes in check is not one of my strengths. I also struggle with using the active voice consistently. It feels too direct sometimes. Finally, there’s the use of commas, hyphens, and other punctuation dilemmas. Do you hyphenate the term high-frequency words? I’ve seen it both ways in published books. I think it’s a compound adjective, and turning to Strunk and White, they say that a hyphen is “usually required.” They don’t give an example of when it’s not.
Nonetheless, narratives are important ways to communicate progress, and I haven’t figured out how to make it simpler. A checklist, boiler plate paragraph, letter grade, or numerical score is simpler, but doesn’t capture the child in the same way.
This article in yesterday’s New York Times talks about innovation coming from do-it-yourselfers eager to share their tweaks freely online. This being a change from innovations usually coming from large consumer companies. Unfortunately, none of the innovations referred to in the article were related to writing progress reports. It does link to an interesting innovation: how you can make your own $10,000 book scanner for $300. In a way, the internet can be a source for collaborative design thinking.
Narrative reports are a lot of work, but I’m glad I’m not at a school that simply hands out letter grades based on test scores simply because it’s an expedient way to sort kids. Still, if there are any innovations out there on this process, I’m all ears.