Sunday, February 14, 2016


We write narrative grade reports halfway through each semester.  They are attached to progress reports which are sent out by advisers to advisees and their families.

With one for each student, the number of individual comments for any given teacher can get big.  Mine, for this trimester, is something like 85 and I'm not alone.  If each narrative takes no more than five minutes to write (mine feel like they take three to five, but I have not yet taken data) that's still  seven hours of work outside the classroom.  Add half an hour for formatting into delivery systems and I'm looking at an extra day of work.

We all do this.  Everyone brings work home with them.  Teachers more than most (no matter how hard we struggle to avoid this).  But I've worked in places where narratives are not required and I'd never go back.

Narratives, done well, tell parents what parents say they want to know about their kids:  How is he doing in class?  Is she happy?  Are they getting along?  Do they need anything?  Is what we started trying last month working now?

Narratives do this better than grades ever could.  The individual attention, connection and clarity that a paragraph about your student can contain--especially when supported by a set of clearly reasoned and recorded measurements according to explicitly laid out standards--leaves more traditional systems in the shade.  The best narratives I've read are *informed* by grades (my teaching partner is regularly the one to nudge me back to the grade sheet as a basis for commentary) but they function as a direct link to what the kid is thinking, doing and learning in a class.  They're a method for guardians to access the experience and intuition of a teacher as well as the direct measurement data that a grade report shares.

Parents ask me how their kid is doing in class all the time.  Narratives make me take that question seriously and answer it honestly.  And when I do my best work, the kid has written their own version of the narrative, which I include as a basis for comment as well.

Narrative take *hours* more work than a simple average or percentage.  They are worth every second.

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