The number one way to ensure a stress free report writing experience is to teach rigorously to your jurisdiction’s curriculum guidelines. That’s it. Done. Glad I could help. Go make a cup of tea and enjoy your day.
Just kidding. Of course, it’s not that simple. How many times have you sat down to write the semester’s reports, scanned the achievement standard and thought “Oh golly gosh” (or some such statement – perhaps involving swear words) “I don’t know what to write!” If this is you, don’t despair. There is still time to tighten up before your next lot of reports are due.
In my experience, common causes of report writing stress include:
- Not actually teaching what the curriculum requires. This might include planning only from the content descriptors of the Australian Curriculum and not giving due consideration to the Achievement Standard that will be used to grade. This might also include just looking at the overall, broad content and going off on a yellow brick road that led you to the winged monkeys’ lair instead of the Emerald City.
- Not planning assessment adequately so that while you might have ‘done’ a unit on growing plants, you didn’t plan for assessment properly and now have no actual evidence against which to grade.
- Every student has identical ‘work’ and you have no way to differentiate between them or make personal comments.
- You used a unit from an online source that was ‘sort-a-kind-a’ linked to the Australian Curriculum, but has left you a bit lost in making on-balance judgments that you can talk intelligently about with families in the parent/teacher conference.
- You didn’t allow enough time to complete assessment and are frantically trying the ‘push through’ with the kids in time to meet deadlines.
- You taught using an integrated approach and have found that you didn’t actually cover the subject material in enough depth.
- You weren’t aware of the rubric associated with the content area and know that some students are capable of Bs and As, but didn’t plan opportunities for them to demonstrate their knowledge and skill at that level.
- You ‘did’ a unit with your class but when you ask them to explain or describe something, they look at you blankly and can only tell you what they ‘did’ (or maybe even not that).
In this post, I will outline some basic principles of backward design that I have found to be particularly useful in creating rigorous teaching for effective learning. This does not mean dry, boring units of work that leave children rolling their eyes or sleeping on their desks. It means being extremely clear about what you are teaching and how each lesson links to the learning intentions you have identified.
Step 1 – Know your students
All of your teaching is about your students, not you. How do they best learn? What is their level of literacy? What kind of learning works best for them? What level of language (both oral and written) do they use? Do your students have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to tackle the learning you are planning? Do they have a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia? Do they have ADHD or come from a background of trauma, which means that they require structured, predictable classroom environments to maximize engagement? Are you planning for the needs of ALL students, or just the easy-to-reach middle?
Step 2 – Start with the end in mind
What does your jurisdiction’s curriculum require children to be able to know and do? In our school, I provide ‘Curriculum Organisers’. These are like knowledge organisers, but include more information and are linked directly to the Australian Curriculum. They include language to develop, a rubric, achievement standard, key concepts and vocabulary. You will find science curriculum organisers for Biological, Earth and Space and Physical Sciences in the Resources section of this blog. Please help yourself!
Develop both I can and I know statements related to the curriculum. These statements will form the basis of the success criteria you will share with your students. You will also use these to write report comments. When developing these statements, refer to the rubric you will use to grade. This is where you begin to develop an understanding of what your students will need to be able to do to achieve at which level. For example, in a year 3 unit on heat the Australian Curriculum achievement standard states:
By the end of Year 3, students use their understanding of the movement of Earth, materials and the behaviour of heat to suggest explanations for everyday observations. They group living things based on observable features and distinguish them from non-living things. They describe how they can use science investigations to respond to questions.
The content descriptor says:
Describing how heat can be produced such as through friction or motion, electricity or chemically (burning)
The description in Education Queensland Standard Elaborations is:
So, ‘I can’ statements might be:
I can describe different ways that heat is made.
I can describe scientific ideas using details, examples and scientific vocabulary.
Work through the rubric and write an I can or I know statement for each point.
Remember, you will be assessing every one of these, so be realistic about what you can reasonably teach well in the time that you have.
The associated report comment for a B grade would then be
“This semester in science, (name) used scientific vocabulary to describe different ways that heat is generated in everyday situations. The detailed explanations in his/her presentation to the class showed a well-developed understanding of the topic.”
Step 3 – Plan your assessment
It might seem odd to plan assessments before your teaching sequence, but by doing this now, you can critically evaluate what it’s going to take for your students to achieve success. In making decisions about assessment, ensure that you leave yourself and your students enough time for them to learn, review and practice BEFORE asking them to demonstrate the knowledge or skill on their own. Spending one lesson on a concept and asking students to independently complete a task in that same lesson, leaves a lot of students behind. This is particularly true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who come to your classroom with less prior knowledge to draw on.
Let’s consider another part of the rubric for the Year 3 unit on heat.
Have a think about the difference between E, D and C here.
If a students needs step by step guidance to record observations – the grade is E If independent effort results in partially recording observations – the grade is D
If they can record the observations following the procedures you set out on their own – the grade is C.
- How can you support your D and E students to achieve the C?
- How can you support your C students to achieve the B?
- What pre-teaching is necessary to teach children to record observations?
- What kind of observations do you want children to record?
- Are they recording numbers from a thermometer to put on a graph or drawing pictures and writing about what they see?
- How are you going to support the development of these skills to enable all learners to succeed and achieve?
- How much explicit teaching of these skills is necessary outside of science lessons so that they can be applied in science?
- How will you provide learners with low levels of literacy the opportunity to fully demonstrate their knowledge and skill? What forms of assessment are needed to accomplish this?
Knowing your students and understanding the expectations of the assessment tasks you wish your students to complete is crucial when considering how you will maximize your students’ achievement. Ensure that you plan to have evidence for all areas of the rubric under consideration.
Step 4 – Plan the sequence of lessons
Some important points to remember in planning your lessons:
- Plan units in detail from beginning to end. I guarantee that if you plan the first 4 lessons and think “I’ll get to the rest later” the ‘rest’ will end up as a haphazard collection of lessons and your unit will not be nearly as successful as it could be.
- Make sure that EVERY lesson relates back to the rubric. Our days are full and there is no time for waffle.
- Share the learning intentions and success criteria with your students. A good way to do this is through a title page outlining the goals and sequence of lessons. You can then review this at the start of each lesson to keep your students informed about what is to come and how the learning is developing.
- Focus on language development. If you want students to be achieve the A and B, they need to be able to articulate their learning well. Provide opportunities to develop both sentence structures and vocabulary (see curriculum organisers in the resource section of this blog).
- Always engage students orally before asking them to write.
- Plan for how you will maximise participation of every student. Is there a lot of sitting on the mat and listening? If so, how does this help your students participate?
- How will you ‘check for understanding’ throughout each lesson and between lessons.
- Plan for review of previously taught material regularly. Effective ways to do this can be found at The Learning Scientists
- Keep things simple. Don’t try to design everything from scratch if you don’t have to. There is nothing wrong with utilising prepared resources. Just keep your unit as your guiding document and use the prepared lessons as a resource, making sure that what you use is linking very clearly back to your learning intentions.
- Leave time for unexpected delays and interruptions.
- Use an explicit “I do, we do, you do” approach in each lesson and throughout the unit.
- Make students active participants in lessons – not passive receptors. This does not mean that you have to engage in discovery learning. YOU are the teacher and your job is to teach, but get them up, using their bodies and voices.
Step 5 – Review, evaluate and mark regularly
Review student work regularly to evaluate the effectiveness of your teaching. Students’ achievement is feedback to you about how well your teaching meets their needs. If your students are not able to do what you need them to do, then you need to change something about your teaching. Keeping a formative assessment checklist will enable you to record progress throughout the unit, not just at the end.
A backward design model of planning will help to bring rigour to your teaching and will also set you up for reporting writing, so that you can reclaim this time each semester for yourself and your family.
If you have reached Semester 2 report writing time and realised that perhaps you could have gone about things differently, but aren’t quite sure how, then the Term 1, 2020 Teach Along is for you!