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Kids emailing their parents - who needs marks with that kind of feedback?

My role in our TLLP is different. I am an Instructional Coach, so I no longer have a class of my own. I will tell you about an experience I had, and a practice that worked well when I had my own classes. In my final years as a classroom teacher, I maintained a drastically reduced focus on grades, and had some great results with both students and parents.

I found that key to working with the parents was to give them some other type of feedback that they could understand and relate to. I did this by having the students email their parents every two weeks. This was usually a two paragraph email with the first paragraph outlining what was going on in the school. We usually brainstormed a few things that were going on in the building and the students could choose a few that were relevant to them -- or pick other ones. The second paragraph outlined what they were learning in my class. The learning goals were posted, so they could use these s a starting point. Students who wished to elaborate on the learning in their other classes added a third paragraph. I didn't know what parents would think of these emails, but it turned out that they loved them.

Parents sent me emails of thanks, others corrected all of their child's grammar and cc'd me. I never got an email asking why we were doing this or wasting their time. The emails served a few purposes. Students were able to share what they were learning, and parents understood a bit about what happens at school. Another benefit is that parents had another way to communicate with their children. This didn't work for all families, but some students reflected on not being able to talk with their parents, but being able to email them about emotional issues. Finally, parents were able to see how well (or not) their children were able to write. For some, this was a real eye-opener. Many of our parents were from other countries and struggled with the English language, but they were able to take their time, use tools such as Google Translate, and start a conversation with their child about their learning. Now that I have a child in Grade Nine I wish I could get those emails too. It is a little window into their world at school.

I wouldn't say that this practice gave me "carte blanche" with the kids' assessment tracking and reporting. Parents still had questions about their student's report card marks -- that is what we have trained them to do. I truly think that parents are concerned about marks because that is how they show that they care. By providing these emails, we gave them another point of connection with what the kids are learning and doing at school. I was surprised at the level of honesty and reflection in some of these emails to parents. Students talked about their goals, dreams, and opinions in ways that they might not have felt comfortable discussing in a conversation.

I know this isn't the cure-all. It won't solve our problems of managing the feedback demands of a gradeless classroom and it certainly won't help us to come up with a final grade. Still, it worked well for me. It was quick, it showed me what the kids were picking up (and not getting), and it helped parents to understand what we are doing. I challenge the teachers I work with to try this for a couple of months, no matter what class they are teaching. Some are unable to remember, others find it onerous, but some love it and will continue it with every class.

Give it a shot - you might like it too!

Comments

  1. Very cool idea. I like the idea of an email, but wonder about other formats for sharing? I'm curious about what would work best with each group/grade. Thanks for sharing!

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