It’s report card time again and I’m filled with that familiar feeling of excitement and dread that seems to accompany this season every year. This year, I’m finding myself particularly challenged. Partly, this comes from having a bigger class than I’ve had before and struggling to know the children well enough to write what is essentially a personal essay about each of them. Partly, however, it’s a familiar discomfort as I try to put wordless learning into words. How do you assess a student who rarely speaks, who is shy, who seems uncomfortable with the adult attention of documentation? When an adult arrives and the play stops… how do you write a report card?
Here’s an example:
KN is playing with magnets in a bin of sand. When he notices me watching him as he plays with the magnets, he gets up to leave.
Me: No, KN, don’t leave, Madame wants to know what you were working on.
KN: I was just magneting stuff together
Me: and what did you notice?
KN doesn’t respond, he goes back to working in the magnet bin
LH and SN join him – KN almost leaves but decides to stay.
LH – Madame, look! She shows me magnets stacked up on a magnet wand.
KN, LH, and SN continue running sand through their fingers and playing with the magnets. LH and SN have an imaginary scenario developing using the magnets as characters but I’m trying to stay focused on KN.
TN arrives at the table and KN leaves, followed by TN, who takes KN’s hand and tries to engage him in play. They wind up together in the nature centre (where we have a tent set up – a hiding place?), KN’s body language isn’t encouraging but TN persists, KN has a fixed but polite smile. They both go to the cloakroom to get their lunch bags, KN waits to eat until TN joins him at the snack table. (At this point I’m observing from a distance, hoping that I’ll get something more concrete if I stay farther away)
I went over to KN because I was interested in what he was learning or experimenting with. I was hoping that he’d let me observe and ask some questions but my presence alone was a deterrent to his play and to his learning. Maybe he’s not ready to share, maybe he just wanted to be alone, or maybe there’s something else going on. It’s really hard to know for sure.
There are also those time when my teacherly questions seem – in hindsight – pretty ridiculous.
Last week PB and CM were building a tower with Magnatiles. Then they started to tie scraps of fabric around the tower. I thought this was pretty interesting. I’d never seen anyone use those two materials in that way. I asked them why they were wrapping fabric around their tower. They looked at me, then at each other, shrugged, and PB replied: “We just wanted to decorate it.”
Report card writing, especially in Kindergarten, is as much art as it is science, as much inference as data analysis. With some children, it’s like trying to capture a shadow in a jar. I don’t think I’ve quite got it figured out.