Student Reflection and Parent Communication: One Tool

You spend your weekend grading papers. You write specific, constructive comments on student work.

Monday. You pass back papers. Students shove their papers into backpacks without a glance. Some students crumple the papers and move toward the trash can.

Students leave the room. You sit down to tackle your inbox. Email from parent: “How is my child doing in class?”

Your expression looks something like this:

Four years ago I began dedicating 30 minutes per week (or per school “cycle”) for students to reflect (in writing) on the work I pass back.

These reflections are printed and inserted into a file containing the graded math sheets. The files go home. The reflection comes back to school, signed by the parent.

I’ve considered having students send the reflections home as soft copies, but I’ve stuck with the hard copies for a few reasons:

  • If a student’s math paper is not in the folder, the student types an explanation to the parents. I like to see their explanations before the papers go home. On rare occasions, a student will “accidentally” delete one of the assignments from the list – coincidentally the assignment missing from the folder. Other times, students will write explanations like It was stolen or My teacher lost it. I intervene in those instances as well. Character development is about taking responsibility.
  • The back page has room for me to hand-write short comments of things I have noticed during the week. I write a short note on one or two papers per cycle – good things or specific things I want the parent to note on the reflection.
  • Papers are printed onto orange paper. In our school, orange paper is indicative of a paper that needs to be signed by parents.

Math
I list the assignments that should be in the folder.

No, I do not grade students on a percentage-basis. Remember that the two purposes of this regular exercise are 1) student reflection and 2) parent communication. Many students make personal goals to increase their math accuracy. This tool forces students to review the methods for converting fractions to percents. It gives students a way to track progress on math accuracy. And, parents understand percentages.

Notice that, in the “comments” sections, students are required to list specific areas for improvement. I want them to name the skills or objectives they need to review.

Writing
Since most writing is done on the computer, I want parents to see student progress without having to get past school firewalls to see ePortfolios.

Sometimes I have students do specific tasks on the hard copies of their reflections. I might have them underline a thesis statement, or use colored pencils to highlight setting (green), and character actions (blue).

Reading
Usually, students use this section to demonstrate a reading skill they have practiced that week/cycle. Students might quote a passage from a book they are reading and write down what they visualize beyond the text. They might do a character analysis. The key is for students to demonstrate to parents that they are reading regularly and they are learning new reading skills.

Social Studies/Science
Again, much of the work done in these content areas is housed at school. Do whatever you can to give parents a “glimpse” of the learning.

SMART Goals
This year, one student said, “Every year I’ve made goals. I’ve never actually had to do them.” For me, this portion of the reflection is a measure of self-motivated learning. I want students to know that, if they really want to improve in an area, they need to make a conscious effort to practice regularly.

Under “progress”, students write things like My math homework percentage was above 80 this week or I completed three pages in my handwriting book and all my homework was legible. Students made SMART goals. They presented them to parents at Fall Conferences. I want them to work on them.

Signatures
Students are signing that they will show the reflection and the work to parents. Parents sign that they have seen the work.

On occasion, a parent will email me with the How-is-my-child-doing-in-class? question. Instead of composing a lengthy email response, I schedule a phone call. I collect all the Day 1 reflections parents have signed. When I make the call, I say/ask something specific like, Your child has been writing about… What did you notice in the last Day 1 reflection?

The parents that email tend to be the parents who sign the sheet without looking. My phone call brings that out without accusation. Other times, they are parents who frequently travel. In that case, I have students send soft copies to one parent on the same day they take the paper home to the other parent.

In a post entitled The School Filter Bubble, Tom Barrett rightfully states that schools need to do a better job of communicating student learning to parents. Not only should students be reporting their learning to parents, they should be reporting about the work they are submitting.

Then, instead of writing newsletters and emails restating feedback I’ve already written to students, I can spend my time blogging :).

What would a written reflection look like in your grade level or subject area?

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2 thoughts on “Student Reflection and Parent Communication: One Tool

  1. That image of a crumpled paper being shoved into the backpack is an unpleasantly familiar one to me as a parent. An important basic lesson I missed with my first kid (now trying to catch up) is organizing a backpack. This lesson has to start very early, and it has to be taught in incremental steps. Namely: kindergarteners should pack their own backpacks and each day after finishing homework they should clean out the backpack. By the time my first child got to first grade, he was used to having his backpack prepared for him, and wasn’t ready to deal with the mess of papers, notices, worksheets, checklists, and everything else – so I missed a good deal of what I should have seen.

    Having said this: sometimes when a parent contacts a teacher to ask, “How is my child doing?” it isn’t about the academic progress: it’s about getting insight into how the child behaves in class, which is invisible to the parent.

    • Good point, Jenny. Thanks for that. The behavior question is a tough one. I’d like to start making a habit of calling parents semi-regularly just to “check in”. I’m spoiled because most of my students are well-behaved. If I don’t call to tell that to parents, then I’m only calling when things are wrong. That’s never fun.

      It sounds like you taught your kids to be responsible for their supplies at an early age. I guess my biggest hope is that students learn to honor the work that they’ve done – to take pride in it so they’ll want to share it with parents. I also hope that parents will heap praises on their children for work well done. This week, a parent feedback form went home with all students at my school (parents giving feedback to teachers). I asked students to add a question to the form as to the effectiveness of the Day 1 reflection packets. I’ll be interested to see the response.

      Now that your kids are older, do feel like you know what is going on in the classroom? How do you get that information?

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