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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Report Cards and the Parent-Teacher Interview

In the week's leading up to my son's first kindergarten report, I felt myself having more anxiety.  My anxiety stemmed from the unknown and the fact this would be his first formal academic evaluation.  I didn't have a reason to worry but you just never know.  Since I didn't know what to expect I told myself to not have any expectations.  As soon as he got home on report card day, I opened the envelope quickly.  After a look at the grades, my mind was blurting out "WHAT?!?  How on earth could he get 2 C's?!?".  My Asian mind was flabbergasted at how a child of mine could even get a "C".  Once I calmed down, I took a step back and came away with four important lessons.

1)  Know what the report card means and what it does not mean.
I hadn't looked at the kindergarten program for a long time now and upon reading the competencies I realised I had no idea what they actually meant.  First, I tackled what each letter grade meant.  A "C" meant he was progressing but with some difficulty.  The key to understand was that he WAS progressing.  Next, I looked at what was being evaluated.  One of the kindergarten competencies my son received a "C" in was "To perform sensorimotor actions effectively in different contexts" or "Develops sensorimotor skills".  What on earth did that mean?  If you can understand what the expectations are you are less likely to think your child is being unfairly evaluated and you can better help your child in areas of struggle.  LEARN Quebec is a great resource to understand the Quebec curriculum and the evaluation methods (KindergartenElementarySecondary Cycle 1Secondary Cycle 2).  Some of the documents are difficult to sift through so make use of the teachers in your life and ask them to explain it to you in simpler terms.  Better yet attend the parent-teacher interview and ask the teacher directly.  Once I understood what the report card meant and compared the expectations to the portfolio, I began to agree with the evaluation given.

2) Have realistic expectations.  Don't project your expectations and experiences on your child.
Although I didn't state it out loud, I had expected my son to come home with all "A"s.  This article (A First Report Card Fails to 'Exceed Expectations') explains my feelings well.  I didn't realise my schooling experiences and cultural expectations had greatly coloured what I was looking for.  Recognizing this allowed me to more objectively look at the expectations for my son.  Most importantly, I expected him to respect the adults around him, follow the kindergarten routines well and be getting along with his peers.  In these areas, he had done well.  I needed to remember this.  The areas where he was progressing with difficulty were also within expectation.  Upon entering kindergarten he couldn't recognize and name letters or numbers easily.  He wasn't particularly patient enough to colour within the lines and had difficulty cutting with scissors.    He preferred to learn by watching instead of speaking up or experimenting.  These are the areas where he received "C"s.  I couldn't expect him to be exceeding expectations in these areas when I knew where he had started from.  On the other hand, I could continue targeting these areas when working with him at home.

3) Come prepared with specific objectives for the parent-teacher interview.
This was the first time I was on the other side of the parent-teacher interview and I knew I needed to use my 15 minutes wisely.  It is not productive to go into the meeting on the defense.  Hopefully, you are not going into the meeting to defend your child.  You are going into the meeting to learn how you can better help your child.  My list of questions were...

- Is my son being respectful and polite?
- Could you show me the things you have been working on in class that he has been having difficulty with?
- When it says he is progressing with difficulty, do you think he just needs more time or do you think he has a learning difficulty?

It was important to know my son's attitude towards school.  In the end, his personal development is more important than the academics.  It meant a lot to me to know he would persevere even when having trouble.  In asking the second question, I was able to see why specific areas of difficulty existed and learn how it was being taught.  My son had difficulty with a game named Mystero and I realized he was having difficulty showing his logic skills because the game was number based and he still had difficulty recognizing his numbers.  On the other hand, I hadn't realized how much difficulty he was having with fine motor skills (e.g. using scissors and tying shoelaces).  Seeing exactly how it was taught allowed me to review the skills with him at home in the same manner.  Even with my background in special education, I had to ask the last question in case I was missing something.  As much as no parent wants to hear there might be something "wrong" with their child, it is so much better if the child has early intervention.

4) Keep in the mind the larger learning context.
At the end of it all I had to tell myself that this was a KINDERGARTEN report card.  It did not reflect my child as a whole person as the teacher sees him only in one context.  It could not be used as a future predictor of which university he would attend.  The one report card in and of itself was not as important as expecting to see a progression and continuous learning of new skills in the year to come.  The report card merely gave me a snapshot of where he was at the moment and gave me ideas of where I needed to support him more.

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