First Step - Make it fast, keep it snappy

5th March 2010 at 00:00
If you pace yourself, avoid jargon and keep notes throughout the year, report writing needn't be the job from hell. But whatever you do, don't leave it until the last minute

Summing up a pupil's performance in a two-page report is a tough task. For a teacher who is new to report writing, doing so in a fair, accurate and personal way for 30 pupils is an even more intimidating prospect.

Nader Zavoshi, in his fourth year of teaching in a secondary school in Newton Abbott in Devon, spent three hours on his first report. "Once I got into the swing of it the process became quicker," he remembers. "Now they are only taking about 40 minutes each to complete."

James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex and host of the NQT forum on TES Connect, advises new teachers to start writing their reports as early as possible and not to write more than three a night.

"They can be time-consuming and it is only fair for the pupil that you give them your full attention," he says.

Keep a file throughout the year and record information about pupils at regular intervals to make recalling details for the reports easier. A spreadsheet can record the results of tests and other exercises.

"Copies of the pupils' best work can also be added to the file," says Mr Williams. "As well as making it easier to recall how pupils have progressed, this system is likely to make reports much more personal and meaningful to the parent and child."

In his first year of teaching, Mr Zavoshi created his own template for reports. But when he discussed it with his induction tutor, he was advised to stick to the school system. "Don't go out on a limb like I did," warns Mr Zavoshi.

Avoid too many euphemisms, says Kate Aspin, senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield. "Writing 'sometimes struggles to control his temper' is reasonable, but if you need to make a behaviour or aptitude point, then make it."

When benchmarking pupils, remember that saying a pupil is of high ability is a relative statement, she adds. "Remember to refer to what the pupil is being benchmarked against - for example, national curriculum levels, the rest of the class or the whole year group."

These days, Mr Zavoshi follows the same format for every report. For each subject, he comments on his pupils' progress throughout the year and aims to highlight an instance in which they have performed well.

"Use praise sandwiches: what they do well, what they need to work on and end with praise," he says.

Some schools use software that allows teachers to choose phrases from a database and create reports by inserting them into a template. If you decide to use this software, be very careful - you want to avoid churning out "teacher-speak" reports with no hint of humanity or personality in them.

"Remember your audience," says Miss Aspin. "The knack to writing good reports is to have the parents in mind."

Make sure you know how to use the programme well in advance of the deadline. "There is nothing worse than being on deadline and not knowing how to operate the software or finding that it doesn't work on your laptop," warns Mr Williams.

Set yourself reasonable targets for how many reports you want to complete each night, and stick to them. Report writing is not suited to last-minute all-nighters.

"The process is very challenging and time consuming, so plan an incentive to work towards," says Miss Aspin. "Treat yourself to an evening off or out with friends."

Things To Think About

- Start writing your reports as early as possible and try not to write more than three a night.

- Keep a file throughout the year and record information about pupils at regular intervals.

- Stick to the school systems - don't go out on a limb.

- You are writing for parents, so avoid jargon and acronyms.

- When benchmarking, remember that saying a pupil is of high ability is a relative statement.

- Report writing is very challenging and time consuming, so plan an incentive to work towards.

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