Each term, three times a year, I have to write comments on each student that I teach, and each athlete on the team that I coach. In the fall, because I had no sports duties, and my co-teacher Lucinda took care of one class, I had nineteen comments to write. I got all my comments done on time and turned in, and it was almost miraculous.
This time I have fifty, and they’re all ridiculously late. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It does not appear to be an oncoming train. More than half of my comments were done in first and second draft on Friday, and as of… NOW… I have eight more to go. All of them are comments on the sixth graders, though, who are easily my most difficult class. I plan on going up to the academic building right after dinner at 6:30, and ploughing though eight comments in two hours of writing. This is not particularly easy, but it is necessary. Once they’re done in first draft, I may never have to look at them again. My comments are sufficiently good that most of the corrections will be cosmetic, anyway. I rarely misspell in my comments, my grammar is excellent, and I try to offer as much praise and things to be proud of as I offer “growing room”. It’s a difficult balance.
It used to be, when we did our comments, that we not only had to write the comment but we also had to format them properly in Microsoft Word. This often involved fiddling with the template of a document so that they printed in 12-point Times, that the two tables (in six different styles of tables) was properly inserted and that the check marks appeared in the middle of each cell in each table, that each name was spelled properly and that the middle initial and the number (Jr., III, etc.) was in the right spot, and so on.
It was a massive nuisance.
We now have a database in FileMaker Pro which has all the formatting already set, enters the grades for each marking period in a given term, develops the tables and puts the check marks in the appropriate places, and otherwise makes the whole document turn out just as it should. All I have to do is write a few paragraphs about a student, and click a few radio-buttons, and move on to the next comment. The database even has separate windows for the “classroom narrative” explaining what you planned to do with the whole class, and the “student narrative” explaining how a specific student reacted to that plan. This means I can change the classroom narrative once, and it’s changed for all the kids in the class simultaneously.
Writing comments is still a tedious process but at least I no longer have to format each individual page of a comment separately. The process has been vastly simplified by the invention of this program. The school says this is a cutting edge thing we’re doing here, and isn’t it amazing!?
My department chair leans over to me and whispers to be that public schools have been using a similar system for thirty years; except they just hand in a ten-digit number, made up of five pairs of two-digit codes that generate a comment from a pre-set list of things you can say about a student.
Cutting edge, my ass. If it’s so cutting edge, why do I keep typing things like “Pat needs to turn in more of his homework and spend less time playing video games”?