Saturday, 20 August 2016

On report

Most of the schools I’ve taught in have operated some sort of ‘on report’ system for poorly behaved students. The idea is said poor behaved student presents his or her report card to teachers at the beginning of each lesson and the teacher records how satisfied they are with the behaviour exhibited in the lesson. Usually, the teacher will have to score the students behaviour, punctuality and sundry other qualities out of 5, maybe add a brief comment and then sign or initial to make the whole thing official. The student then takes the completed report to a senior teacher at the end of the day – and sometimes at the beginning of break and lunch. This senior member of staff will then review the student’s behaviour and determine whether it warrants some sort of consequence – normally a detention. If, after a week, or thereabouts, of unblemished daily reports, the student is deemed to have redeemed themselves and no longer needs to be on report.

The worst kind of behaviour report is of course the class report. Sometimes the behaviour of a whole class is deemed to be bad enough that it is put ‘on report’ collectively. This is particularly nasty example of collective punishment and is therefore both lazy and immoral.

It’s not a bad idea. Sometimes it even works. Usually, in my experience, it is undermined by low expectations and undue lenience. What often goes wrong is this: the student on report presents their card to the teacher (or not – sometimes they don’t bother) and then proceeds to behave exactly as they please. The naive teacher comforts themselves with the thought that the report card means the miscreant won’t be allowed to get away with such a cavalier attitude but then, at the end of the lesson, the student comes to collect their report only to express outrage that their appalling behaviour has been recorded as such. At best this results in a sullen, grudging acceptance but more often will provoke some sort of protracted dispute with the student attempting to persuade the teacher to improve the score on the grounds that, “I was better than usual though, wasn’t I sir?” At worst it results in threats and intimidation with the offending student making clear what the teacher can expect in future lessons if the report card isn’t completed to their liking.

There are times I’ve buckled under pressure and times I’ve stubbornly held my ground and insisted that spitting/swearing/aggression/doing no work (delete or add as appropriate) is not acceptable. In some schools, and some classes (usually ‘bottom’ sets) there will be four or five reports to complete, and for or five attendant arguments, every lesson. This is exhausting, but should at least mean that the students’ behaviour will be appropriately sanction by whichever senior teacher put them on report in the first place.

Sadly, this is rarely the case. All too often the senior teacher lets the student off in exchange for an easy life, but even when the report card is taken seriously and the threatened sanction is issued, nothing changes. I’ve taught some students who seem to be permanently on report, others whose report card changes colour as the member of staff they report to becomes ever more senior but with little or no improvement in their behaviour. All the while, teachers, especially new and inexperienced teachers experience a regular and debilitating point of conflict.

In the worst schools, senior teachers analyse students’ behaviour reports to establish which teachers appear to managing behaviour well and in which lesson the students are most persistently misbehaving. Predictably the teachers who are least experienced but most insistent on high standards of behaviour are the ones who will run afoul of such analysis and be targeted for ‘support’. An unwary teacher can easily find themselves identified as the cause of students’ misbehaviour and  having to show their lesson planning to senior staff to prove that they’re making sufficient attempts to be ‘engaging’. This adds considerably to workload and has no impact whatsoever on students’ behaviour. It’s no surprise then that a canny teacher may elect not to record misbehaviour for fear of being the target of SLT’s ire.

None of this is to say that report cards are never effective; they can be made to work well for some students in some contexts. But unless senior teachers understand that students’ behaviour is the primary responsibility of the school, not the teacher, report cards can backfire badly. Use with caution.

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