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Be Smart About South Africa

Eliminating Report Card Anxiety – How to Approach Report Cards With Your Child

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Report cards arriving every three months are often cause for anxiety for parents and learners, as they wait to hear their fate regarding a child’s performance over the past quarter. In a first for South Africa, a leading online school has flipped the switch on this approach, replacing it with a Live Reporting System. This approach focuses on growth and mastery while providing constant feedback.

“By the time a student’s report card arrives, learning gaps that could have been addressed three months ago have been left to worsen further. A small, easily corrected, negative issue result could cause things to continue down a slippery slope as students lose motivation and become despondent. They stop believing in their ability to master the subject in question,” says Colin Northmore, Principal at Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.

Northmore says that the new Evolve Online reporting system addresses this barrier to a child’s success by following a mastery-based methodology. This approach builds confidence and competence instead of a periodic, static feedback-type method that characterises most traditional reporting systems.

“So we have turned the traditional reporting system on its head and implemented a Live Reporting System instead, which is a first for a South African school. This system lets students constantly earn points by completing their mastery and application tasks. Parents and students can keep track online at all times to see whether the child is accumulating sufficient points on the road towards mastery of a subject,” he says.

Additionally, according to the pacing guide, parents can track whether their children are keeping up and submitting the required tasks. 

“So instead of a nail-biting wait-and-see approach to report cards, interventions can be made in the short-term. Additionally, the mastery approach encourages students to take advantage of the opportunity to submit multiple attempts at completing a task. This opportunity ensures that they can learn from their mistakes and not end up with a mark that only shows who they were, not what they have become. The results update each night, and once the Activators(teachers) have graded the work, the student can see an indicator change colour. This immediate feedback is a source of great motivation for students,” Northmore says.

He says while the approach is novel in South Africa, it is essential, even for those parents whose children receive traditional report cards, to re-think their approach to results, in line with a growth mindset.

So for these parents, he provides the following tips:

  • Always approach report card review from the angle that even if a child has not yet achieved mastery or completed their work, the focus must be on the word YET. You have not YET completed the work; you have not YET mastered the piece. Leave open the door to the idea that education is a work in progress and that a less than ideal result doesn’t mean the door to success has been closed. Incomplete work and poor performance are great starting points for developing agency and a reflective process that leads to independence. 
  • Make sure that you review the report card by yourself before you discuss it with your child. Remove any immediate reactions of being dissatisfied with what you are seeing. Go through the report card, make notes of areas you are picking up that they did well, and then look at places where they might need to improve.
  • Choose a quiet time for you to sit down with your child, but make sure to bring a treat to share (to create a positive mood and environment). Start by discussing positive results and improvements. Ask them to show you the work that they enjoyed doing and where they have excelled. Leave the negative elements and areas requiring improvement for later in the discussion. Focus only on the positive and ask them to share the work they are proud of excited about with you. This session is your opportunity to gain a deeper insight into your child’s passions. If they start to talk about areas where they have not done well, gently explain that that is a conversation for tomorrow and redirect to the positive. Eat your treats and celebrate.
  • The following day, sit with your child and ask them to take some time to think about the challenges they are facing and come back with some ideas on what they can do to tackle these concerns. Please focus on the work that they have not performed well in YET or have not YET completed work. Ask them to think of what strategies they can follow to resolve the YETS. Who can they ask to assist them? What can they read or watch? Which work can they redo? This strategy encourages them to reflect and develop metacognitive thinking skills (thinking about their thinking) – a critical life skill. 
  • Then help your child develop an action plan linked to specific times in their calendar to address the challenges standing in their way.  

“We have come a long way from the days where the educational journey was viewed as a success or not based simply on exams, parroting of correct answers and assessments of your ability as reflected in your periodic report card,” says Northmore.

“While schools are increasingly starting to incorporate mastery-based reporting into their assessments, many students and parents still fear the arrival of quarterly report cards. Even these students and parents can make changes right now to ensure children are developing a growth mindset and can progressively work towards mastery of their work. This approach is far more effective than working towards infrequent, mark-based measures.”

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