Let's Pop Some Corn and Watch Your Report Card

by DR. THERESA WINFREY GREENWOOD, Assistant Professor Burris Laboratory School Ball State University Muncie, Ind. Is the 21st century approaches, innovation and change from the old ways to more effective and meaningful methods of communicating school progress is required more than ever. It is not enough to just send home a traditional paper card when new curriculum and learning models are put into place. Reports to parents must represent more authentic communication about the learning that takes place with the new models. Traditional report cards fall short of this requirement. Traditional Reporting Tools Inadequate Reporting instruments should report in real time, events and actions. Cards for the young should not report achievement and progress quantitatively, but present and represent more qualitative elements of the processes of learning. And to some extent, they should attempt to capture in motion what numbers and symbols could never do. We all know that the advancement of technology into the whole field of education will eventually impact all areas. It is my premise that if educators themselves participate in these changes from within, even with such a small effort as this, education can be its own "change agent." I believe the report card as we now know it will totally disappear in a few more years. It is already being replaced with portfolios and various types of demonstrations and exhibitions. These all have value, but to provide an "action portfolio" can be more gratifying for you, as teacher or administrator, and your students and their families. It is an invaluable summary tool for self-measurement, evaluation and analysis as well as a practical and memorable record of what transpired during the whole year. New Assessment Method Needed At Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Ind., report cards are sent home twice a year. Two parent conference sessions are scheduled between the "grading periods." Even though we do not give letter grades in this elementary school, the existing report card was not adequate for my needs as an individual classroom teacher. Because of the nature of an innovative curriculum model called CONNECTIONS, which I developed as Indiana's 1991 Christa McAuliffe Fellow, our regular report card did not accommodate the information or provide the format I needed to convey the progress and participation levels of my students to their parents. Since this curriculum model provides students with new formats to pursue learning based on their individual interests and learning styles, and also connects knowledge in several contexts, it was necessary to develop a new reporting tool, using the latest available technology. So it was that in 1992 my third graders took home report cards that couldn't get smeared if "accidentally" dropped into rain puddles or lost in the year's accumulation of crumpled debris in book bags. On the last day of school these Burris Laboratory School students proudly carried home report cards they had helped produce. They were too big and too new to ignore or lose. These students took home Video Report Cards. The Video Report Card The Video Report Card (VRC) is an "action portfolio." It presents hard evidence of what g'es on in the classroom -- academically and actively. It allows parents and even young students to conclude what the year has ultimately meant and how much was achieved. Unlike the regular cards sent home for the first two grading periods, I wanted the last card of the year to be not only a report of what, and how well, the student had learned, but a "visual collage" of how they had been instructed. It would also serve as a living record of wonderful memories of our year together. My goal was to create a reporting tool that allowed more than just I, as teacher, to be involved in evaluating student successes. This card was designed so that the student and his or her family could make their own evaluations of growth and success. In addition to reporting academic achievement and involvement, the VRC gave parents a "peek" into the classroom to see these processes taking place. Parents could hear and see the children in action. They observed their own child working independently and cooperatively with other students. They were able to evaluate their own child in comparison with what was taught, expected and achieved, watch for leadership qualities, and analyze interaction. This peek at the learning environment gave parents an unprecedented inside view of the multi-dimensional learning that takes place today. Fred Shears, the school's media coordinator, provided the genius for the graphic design format and bright sparkling background music throughout special segments. The Video Report Card became a reality because two professionals worked together to bring to life what had only been paper plans for CONNECTIONS, the new learner-driven curriculum model developed for the McAuliffe Project. How a VRC Was Created Each child was asked to bring a new VHS tape to school for his or her own report card. Taped footage of early, and later, samples of each student's reading were included. Stills of spelling, math, writing, and art work samples were photographed with a XapShot still video camera. Other photos of special classroom unit structures, like a huge space capsule or our cardboard medieval castle, were also "zapped." (Ed. note: The XapShot, no longer offered, has been replaced with newer model cameras, the RC-360 and RC-570.) We made stills of opening frames and title shots of different video segments. Using a Video Toaster for editing, these images were freeze-framed, digitized then transferred to video format. The finished design resembled pictures mounted in a scrapbook. Early in the school year I began taping every event and visitor to our classroom for all special projects. This visual collage of Special Moments included two international telephone calls made from our classroom: one to England to a classmate who was away with his parents on sabbatical and another to Canada to a world-renowned physicist who assisted us in our replication of the "Fog Catchers" of Chile. We also included clips of a famous ABC news anchor who came to critique our commercials as well as a former student of George Washington Carver who told us of the inspiration from being personally tutored by Mr. Carver. The memories segment ended with exciting video clips of the film-crew from "Disney Salutes the American Teacher" profiling my class' finale of our space unit. We launched a ten-story-high blue and gold hot air balloon flying one of my students and her father up over our city. (The Video Report Card was featured later on the May 1994 Disney Channel telecast.) Students were involved in some of the videotaping of classroom visitors, selecting artwork, photos and work samples they wanted profiled. They, aided by college students, helped write the scripts for their own "commercials" and prepared materials to ready themselves for personal interviews. Screechy beginner-violin practice groups were taped, as were clever student-written commercials. Each student prepared his or her own background information for a 20-minute personal interview with a college student, discussing how they felt about school, their hobbies and interests. This video clip provided me as well as parents a glimpse of how a child felt about himself or herself, being in school and attitudes toward learning. Students also did a bit of "futuring" when they talked about their dreams for five, ten and 15 years from now. The media consultant prepared a master tape that contained all common segments, which were transferred to each tape. Then each individualized segment was recorded onto the tape, one student at a time. A guide sheet was designed to keep track of each tape, so that no segment would be omitted. Background music and graphics were added last. Finally, I included a complete list of every lesson that had been taught in math, science, language arts, spelling and reading. This was a record that parents could scroll through to find out what had been covered during the year. This and a longer-than-usual Teacher Comment Segment made up the Achievement Module section of the VRC. Present Grading Faults; Virtues of VRC Many educators have believed for years that grades alone cannot realistically reflect student performance or possibly tell the whole story of what a child has learned or how. The big questions: "what really is an 'A'?" and "what is average?" just won't go away. Some present grading scales are subjective and often based on the whims, biases and less-than-valid judgments of the graders. There is no question that grades and standards differ from teacher to teacher, from school to school, from district to district, and even, regretfully, from day to day with certain teachers. Students' futures are hailed with praise or destined to failure based on this horribly inadequate and inequitable system. Where are consistency and standards? The Video Report Card provides one way to eliminate these inconsistencies. Recognize that such a system could only be feasible in the elementary grades and in schools that do not give grades; in these situations, however, the VRC is a practical tool for involving parents, and students themselves, in the reporting process. Self-Interpretation: The Video Report Card allowed students and parents to appraise the work that had been completed. It spoke for itself; no one needed to interpret. In a school system that d'es not give grades, this tool allowed those directly involved to evaluate and determine the quality and value of what had been accomplished from the activities and instruction we shared. Long-Term Value: Some of the features that hopefully will be appreciated more in later years are the personalized Teacher Comments segment, which scrolls by at an easy reading speed with soft background music, and a Certificate of Promotion that is complete with the name of next year's teacher. To aid when memories fade in years to come, a list of the names of classmates was the closing roll out. Follow-up Indicates Approval A follow-up survey of our project showed that the Video Report Card was very worthwhile -- practical and much appreciated by all the parents, whose occupations ranged from blue-collar worker to professionals in law and medicine. The purpose of the follow-up survey was to find out if parents thought the new VRC was more effective in communicating academic progress than a traditional report card; 97% of them felt it was. When asked if this card stimulated more discussion than a traditional card, 84% agreed that it did, with as many as seven screenings in some families. Several parents commented that it was like watching a movie: Each time they looked at it, "we saw something we hadn't noticed before." This seems to be a valuable feature of this reporting instrument. Such a view is a slice of students' real world, from which parents can draw their own conclusions. When asked if the Video Report Card should be institutionalized and exported for others, 92% of the parents were supportive. A full 100% of the parents felt the VRC had an effect on their child's self-concept -- 99% felt it was a positive one. Over two-thirds of the parents shared the VRC outside the immediate family. One family shared it with guests from Mexico; another showed it to a schoolteacher friend who wanted to replicate it at his school. Plus, 80% of the parents said that the VRC provided more detailed information than a traditional report card. Similar percentages indicated that the report card allowed parents to learn something new about their children and that it was helpful to see clips of them in action. Students were also surveyed. All (100%) of them thought that other students and schools should have Video Report Cards. Over 94% thought that their parents learned more about what they had learned in school than from the traditional card. They especially liked the Special Moments video clips of two activities: their own newsroom with original commercials and the clip on the "Fog Catchers" in which they talked by speakerphone to the Canadian physicist. The VRC was viewed from two to four times, said 64% of the students, giving them more opportunities for discussions with their parents. Interestingly, analysis revealed that parents of children who were not faring as well in school tended to be less supportive of this reporting tool. The reverse was true for successful students; their parents selected more positive options. Parents' Comments "With a Video Report Card, we can go back over it several times and compare and look at what kinds of things were emphasized," said one parent. Another noted, "Since working parents can't always visit school, this gives them living images they couldn't have any other way." "This report card," another mother said, "stirred animated discussions in our house, rather than yes and no answers; it gave us a chance to see progress rather than just accept a single grade without knowing what it really stands for." And she added, "it's easier to store" than "boxes and boxes of work samples and art projects for all your kids." Parents commented that the VRC lets students see themselves in their workplace. "They weren't performing," explained one parent, "they were busy at work, which gives a good overall picture so that the child can evaluate him or herself." One parent who is also a teacher said she watched her daughter respond, "Wow, we did all that?!" "The [VRC] gave me not only a chance to see scores, but the kinds of free choices that are made available," said one parent, who also noted they could see how their daughter "had a say in her own evaluation." Another very supportive mother said, "I had a better sense of the class dynamics and to observe my son's social skills, which is hard to evaluate and report on a card. It beats the paper ones to pieces." One mother summed up the Video Report Card's effectiveness: "With the VRC I can see and judge for myself how well my son performed in school. And at the same time I have these wonderful images planted forever inside my head." Personal Conclusions When the survey was completed and the last comments were critiqued, I felt I had learned a lot from both the parents and students. It had been a valuable asset to the project and further refinement of the process. But most assuredly, I found that watching a report card, and enjoying popcorn, did not trivialize the purposes of the report; it was not just something else to look at on TV. Instead, it brought families together in a new, and promising, way. Theresa Greenwood is an assistant professor of Primary Education at Ball State University and a Resource teacher for the PACE: Gifted/Talented Elementary Program in Burris Laboratory School on the university's campus. She has many received awards including being named a Disney Teacher, Indiana Teacher of the Year finalist as well as receiving a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship and more. E-mail : 01TMGreenwoo@BSU VC. BSU.edu Products mentioned: RC-360 and RC-570 still video cameras and imaging kits (replaced XapShot); Canon, Visual Communications Systems, Lake Success, N.Y., (800) 221-3333, ext. 313

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.