Reports can be time consuming and, if you have enough of them to write, intimidating. After spending hours writing individual comments on each student, the question often arises of whether these reports are even valuable to the students. What is the point of them? Will the student or parent actually take your comments to heart?
The point, simply, is that feedback is extremely important for motivation, and yes, parents and students do value your comments. In the TEFL industry, we often don’t get a chance to talk to the parents as there is likely a language barrier. Let me tell you, as someone that has run a number of TEFL programs, that parents and students are anxious to receive feedback, and quick to complain if they don’t think that it’s genuine. Read on for five simple ways to improve your student reports and make them more effective.
On the other hand, there are a few easy tricks to make report writing faster and easier. You can gain access to my three secrets for efficient report writing by clicking on the button below. But sssshhhhh…don’t tell anyone ; )
1- Make a Praise/Criticism Sandwich
The ingredients to this sandwich are simple; you start with a layer of praise (the first paragraph or sentences), put your criticisms in the middle, then finish it off with another quick sentence or two of praise. If you start with praise, the reader is more apt to think you are a reliable source of information and will let their guard down. This makes them less defensive when they start to read the negative comments. The praise at the end is like a digestif to help the whole thing go down.
You may have a student in mind about whom you are thinking there are no positive things to report. If you try hard, though, and word things in the right way, there are always positive things to say. For example, “Minh is becoming more mature in class.” or “Nikki really enjoys a lot of the games in class.” There’s always something nice to say.
2- Be Consistent, but Accurate
By consistent, I don’t mean that you should write the exact same thing for each student. What I mean is that you should be careful not to write glowing reviews for your favorite students, and leave mediocre for students who are learning and achieving at a similar level. Similarly, be fair to students that rub you the wrong way.
What I do mean by consistent is that you should come up with a standardized way of writing reports. Your school probably has a system already, but if not, coming up with a form makes things easier and keeps you on track.
3- Be Specific, but Concise
This simply isn’t the time to write a long essay about a student’s difficulties or to talk to parents about a particular student’s bright future. One reason for this, is that these comments usually need to be translated. You think it’s annoying to write one hundred comments? Imagine what it’s like to be the person translating hundreds of them! Another reason to be concise is that if you write an enormous amount for one student, parents that receive only a few sentences are going to feel cheated. You don’t want to deal with that.
If you are having serious problems with a student, it’s best to set up a parent/teacher meeting. Putting a lot of negative comments in a report is confrontational. The parent will likely have a lot of questions and not simply want to hear what’s going wrong.
In my opinion, a good comment is one to two paragraphs and contains specific information about the student. Parents are very good at spotting comments that are simply copied and pasted. Beware: if you write the same thing for each student, you will be called out on it eventually.
4- Use Simple and Clear Language
This is partly for the translator and partly for the parent or student reading it on the other end. If you use industry jargon, there’s a very good chance that the reader will have no idea what you’re talking about. For example:
Don’t say: Minh’s fluency is improving and he is increasing his grammatical range and accuracy by using articles appropriately. This is a stark contrast to last semester when…
Do say: Minh is able to express his ideas more clearly without pausing. He is also making fewer mistakes. Last semester he often forgot articles before words (“a” and “the”), but now he doesn’t make that mistake anymore.
5- Give Actionable Advice Instead of Complaining
This sort of piggybacks on the last point. Not only do you want the person who reads the report to understand it, you also want them to be able to do something about it. It’s not very helpful if someone simply criticizes the way you’re doing something, but doesn’t give any advice for how to do it better. That’s simply discouraging a student, which isn’t any teacher’s intention.
There are a few ways to make comments actionable. One is simply to rephrase the comment that you’re making.
Don’t say: Minh doesn’t listen in class and is always trying to play with toys that he brings to class.
Do say: Minh would benefit from paying more attention in class and having fewer distractions such as toys he brings from home.
The other way to make your reports actionable is to include a few sentences at the end with advice for the parent or student. If a student is struggling with the readings done in class, suggest ways that they can practice this. If a student keeps forgetting vocabulary, suggest that they spend a little time outside class reviewing it. Making reports actionable makes them worth doing.
As I said at the start, this post was about ways to improve your reports, not do them faster. Having said that…there are a few ways to…do them more efficiently. If you want a few tips to get your reports done more quickly, you can download the resource by clicking on the button below.