Communicating Feedback to Parents: One of My Challenges with Eliminating Grades

When I made the decision to move to feedback only, with a grade determined in collaboration with students at the end of each quarter, I had to figure out the best way to keep parents informed and updated on the progress of their kids. In our reading workshop, this has proven to be fairly simple. When it comes to students’ letter-essays and the paragraphs they write to prepare for our roundtable discussions, all the feedback they get is in writing. As I go through and type that feedback up, I add a shortened version of it to my notes, and then, using the idea I got from Joy Kirr, I copy and paste this into our online gradebook where parents can see it.

The more challenging class to keep parents informed has been our writing workshop. Here, most of the feedback students receive is given orally, in person during our daily writing conferences. This quarter, when we completed a genre study of memoir, I used our online gradebook to list all the different steps students might complete in the process of writing their memoir, and I filled each one in as students completed it. This lets parents know what their kids have completed, but it doesn’t provide them with much information in terms of how their kids are doing. At the end of the quarter, they will get a detailed report on their student through the teacher-evaluation form I’ll fill out, but still, I want to provide more information during the quarter.

I still have some more thinking to do about this, but one of my current ideas is, every two or three weeks, to enter an update where I list one or two things each student has been working on as a writer during the previous couple weeks, something we’ve talked about in a conference or something the student has been focusing on doing. I would love to provide more information each week or two, but I know I don’t have the time to provide detailed updates to parents every couple weeks. I think this idea is doable, though, and it at least lets parents know of the main areas in which their kids are trying to improve.

In addition to this, I’m also planning to solicit feedback from parents. Next week I’ll be sending home an email along the lines of this blog post, explaining the issue I’ve encountered so far and my current ideas for addressing this. I will also be including a survey that I’ll invite parents to fill out, asking them for the information they would like to be getting about their kids’ performance but aren’t currently getting. I know I might not be able to provide everything they want, but I hope this will give me some more direction for how to share writing and reading feedback with parents when we return from Christmas break. I’m also betting that some information they’re looking for could easily be gotten from their kids, so this will provide a means for me to explain this to them.

I’ll be honest, the idea of soliciting feedback from parents makes me a bit nervous. Who knows what some of them might write? If I hadn’t seen Pernille Ripp’s parent survey that she printed in Passionate Learners, I probably wouldn’t be taking this step. But even though it makes me a bit nervous, I think this is an important step to take. The major changes I’ve made this year in terms of how students are graded has provided a great opportunity for me to keep growing as a teacher, to recognize what’s working and what needs more work in my classroom, and to find ways to improve in the areas that still need work. Just like feedback is one of the main ways in which students grow as readers and writers, it’s important for me to get feedback too. I’m hoping that what I learn will help me continue to grow.

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One thought on “Communicating Feedback to Parents: One of My Challenges with Eliminating Grades

  1. You got it, Eric – sending out a request for feedback is nerve-wracking. I suggest you look at all of it at ONE time. Give it a few days before you look at it, and make sure you notice the GOOD along with the “here’s what I’d like to see” comments. Those comments you’re worried about will help you grow as a teacher, and it’s not always comfortable. It will be good for you, though! Trust me – I’ve been there and will be there time and time again!! Here come some more gray hairs… 😉 And cheers to growing as an educator!

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