This week on Truth for Teachers: Time-saving tips and a 5-step formula for writing report card comments for ANY student!
One year when I taught third grade, our brand new principal had to read and approve all of our report card comments (a grueling task for her, I’m sure). I will never forget the kind words she put on a sticky note before returning the reports to me:
“Angela, these are beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into describing each child.”
What my principal didn’t know was that it really didn’t take me long at all to write those comments.
I’d simply created a system. There was a formula that I followed each time, and I drew heavily from it when reworking the comments for each student. These are easily replicable steps that will work for you, too.
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Keep it simple: How to convey ONLY what really matters
The biggest pitfall that most teachers face with report card comments is overcomplicating the task, which creates overwhelm. I want to help you keep this super simple, so let’s stay focused on what report card comments are really for.
The purpose of report card comments is simply to convey the big ideas and most important information parents need to know. Most important, not everything. You do not need to share EVERY success and EVERY problem in your report card comments.
Focus on using the comments to give a bit of context to the grades. The comment section should align with students’ grades. If a student has earned below a “C” in any area, I recommend explaining that briefly in the comments so there’s no confusion about why the student isn’t performing better. For some parents, it might be smart to explain the “C” grades as well.
However, you do not normally need to write paragraphs of detailed information in report card comments. Parents are just as busy and overwhelmed as you are, and most don’t have time to read an essay about everything their kids are struggling with.
When there are problems, parents should hear about them through conferences, emails, voicemails, and other ongoing, proactive communication measures, so there’s no need to say everything again on a report card.
Put simply: Your comments need to be true and accurate, but not all-encompassing. There is always more you COULD say, but focus on only the most necessary and helpful information.
Think about what you really need to document. What do you need to have proof you have expressed in writing? For example, it’s generally important to state in report comments if a student has excessive absences, or is in danger of being retained. When that’s the case, stay focused on the big picture and don’t get caught up describing every single problem the student has.
For kids who are on or above grade level, there probably isn’t anything you NEED to document, so focus on simply giving context to the report card grades, sharing positive anecdotes and achievements, and thanking the parent for his/her support.
It’s also important to remind yourself that most of what you write can be adapted for other students. It’s extremely rare that a student has none of the same strengths or weaknesses as any other child in the class. Therefore, you should plan to re-purpose and re-work a few basic comment templates over and over again. YOU are the only person who will read every single comment, so you don’t need to create extra work by trying to generate completely original comments for every child.
Report card comments can be massively time-consuming for the teacher but ultimately not super impactful on student learning. The return on your investment of time and energy just isn’t that great, so that’s why you want to streamline and keep it simple. Put your effort into helping students grow rather than laboring endlessly over just the right phrasing for a report card comment. Done is better than perfect!
When you get stuck or overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What would this look like if it were easy?” Figure out the simplest, easiest thing you could write and just write it! Do not allow yourself to spend hours searching for the perfect word-aim. Aim for ”just fine” rather than “just right.”
Time-saving tips and hacks
Here are a few ideas for making things easier from a logistical standpoint:
- Type your comments instead of handwriting them. If your report cards are created digitally, this is obvious, but if your school still uses handwritten report cards, check to see if you can type the comments and then staple a printout of the comments to the report card. You might also be able to print your comments on labels (stickers) and place the stickers on report cards. This way you can copy/paste and don’t have to rewrite from scratch for every student. I’ve found that most principals are amicable to typed comments if you explain that it will allow you to write in more detail.
- Consider creating comments in a Google Doc or Word doc first. If your report cards are digital, you can easily copy/paste from the doc into your report cards afterward. But regardless, this is a useful strategy because it provides a reference for the future. You’ll be able to see from one document exactly what you wrote about each student, and that will make it easier to generate more feedback in the future.
- Be authentic and write how you speak. Don’t waste time trying to come up with the most formal terms possible, especially if you wouldn’t normally use those words in conversation. It’s much faster to create comments if you write the same words you would speak if you were talking to the parent in person, rather than trying to craft a different persona for report card comments.
- Collect resources that address the most common problems so you can simply give parents the link or send a copy of them home. For example, you might have a website/handout that shows parents how to help their kids with math homework, a list of websites for practicing reading comprehension, etc. That way you don’t have to type everything out in detail: Just write, “I am attaching a list of ideas for how your child can work on these topics at home” or “visit this URL for resource recommendations.”
A 5-step formula for generating report card comments for ANY student
The most important time-saving tip I can give is to use a formula for your comments (the same format each time). I created a 5-step formula for generating report card comments for ANY student. It uses the anagram BANDS. Hopefully, that will be easy for you to remember if you think about the goal of your comments, which is to help the student, parents, and teacher band together to help the student get where s/he needs to be.
Here’s how BANDS works:
1) Best attributes: Begin by making a positive comment(s) about the student’s best attributes and/or accomplishments. Try to be specific about the student if possible. This will convey to the parent that you really know the student and care about him/her.
2) Areas of success: Share at least one area in which the child is doing well. If you need to share significant problems with the parent, try to lead into that by sharing a success related to that area (i.e., if there are behavioral issues, share something positive about the students’ behavior first; if the student is reading below grade level, share something positive about his/her reading habits, effort, or growth in reading).
3) Needs improvement: I recommend choosing no more than three areas of improvement in most instances. Report card comments are not the place to dump every minor issue on a parent and discourage/overwhelm him or her. You will not be in the room when the parent reads your words, and s/he won’t know your tone/intentions. No one wants to read a lengthy list of everything that’s wrong with his/her child. Instead, think about just a couple of areas in which it’s most imperative that the student improves in order to be successful, and focus on articulating those areas clearly. Ideally, these are issues the parent is already aware of from your more informal ongoing communication.
4) Do this to help: Share specific things the parent/child can do to improve: It’s frustrating to parents when they hear their child is having problems and they have no idea how to fix it. Pre-empt this problem (and avoid tons of follow-up questions) by giving the parent simple actionable steps to take right away. Because you’re likely dealing with the same types of issues over and over (tardiness, lack of attention in class, working below grade level, etc.), you can write out one set of suggestions for each problem in advance and then just copy/paste for each student who has that issue.
5) Supportive statement: End by sharing an optimistic outlook and expressing a belief that the student can and will be successful. Obviously, this is easier to write for some kids than others, but it’s imperative that you leave the parent with the impression that you will never give up on the student and no situation is completely hopeless. You can also share specific things you are doing/will do in order to support the child: This may not be necessary for every instance, but when a child is really struggling, it’s helpful to articulate this so the parent knows you are doing everything in your power to ensure success for the student. This also conveys that you are on the same team and working together for the child, rather than just explaining a problem and saying, “you need to fix it.” Again, it is easy to misunderstand the intended tone when we communicate via writing, so ending with a supportive statement is a great approach to ensuring parents do not feel attacked.
If you think about report card comments in terms of these 5 key elements of BANDS, all you have to do is determine what info to plug into each element.
Sample report card comments
What I’m sharing here is simple: A step-by-step plan for getting the task of composing report card comments done in the most efficient and effective way possible.
If you are required to compose written summaries of student progress in ANY form (including Child Study paperwork, intervention documentation, emails to parents, etc.), I think you will find that this system helps you compose those summaries of progress more efficiently and effectively.
It’s a tried and tested formula, and if you stick to it, I promise you, IT WORKS!
Here’s what’s included in the full resource:
- Getting in the groove for writing & staying focused on what matters
- Tips for conveying difficult information via written comments
- Comment hacks and timesaving tips to simplify your work
- The BANDS formula for generating ANY report card comment
- The most effective, efficient system for completing report cards
- Sample comments for each of the 5 elements of the BANDS formula (200+ in total)
- Bonus comments for students who are failing
- Bonus comments for content-specific summaries
Here’s how to use this system:
- Read (or listen to the audio version of) the initial tips to help you get in the right mindset for composing excellent comments as quickly as possible.
- Follow the easy system described for batching your report card work, and generate comments by working through your class list according to student similarities rather than alphabetically.
- Follow the 5 step BANDS formula for each student’s comments, pulling from the sample wording suggested in the doc.
The end result? A positive, empathetic, and truthful set of comments that will be helpful for parents and facilitate their cooperation as you work together to help their children succeed … and you can accomplish that in half the time it would take for you to do this on your own!
As this resource does NOT address specific learning standards or academic expectations, it can be used for grades K-12. You can watch the video below or download a preview of the product to get a feel for how it works and why the system is versatile enough to work for EVERY teacher, no matter what or where you teach.
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As you’re summarizing student progress for parents, keep this quote in the forefront of your mind: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel” (Carl Buechner).
You see, the exact words you write will be long forgotten a few months from now. There’s no reason to spend hours trying to choose exactly the right adjective to describe the child. But the parents will never forget how you made them feel. Focus on making them feel like there is hope and the possibility of a bright future for their children. Make them feel like you are on their team and you are working with them to offer the best possible support. When you do that, you can’t go wrong.Here's how to summarize student progress & generate tactful, compassionate report card comments: Click To Tweet