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    It’s That Time Again – Report Cards

    The mid-year report cards are about to be sent out, and that means parents are anxious to find out how their child is doing. For most parents, these report cards are the primary, if not sole, source of feedback about their child’s academic progress. You may be involved in your child’s academic life: you observe homework coming home, or may be helping with the preparation of assignments and the studying for tests. Yet these report cards provide an understanding of how your child is doing based on the expectations of the curriculum, which may not be clear most of the time.

    You likely have questions and will want to know what you can do to help your child attack challenging subjects, or better meet goals and expectations. You want to know what sort of actions to take. While action is important, if not critical, when informed by what makes the most sense for your child at his age, it must be paired with two other critical elements: communication and collaboration.

    When you Get the Report Card

    The comments or grades on your child’s report card may be hard to interpret. Comments are known to have qualifiers (i.e. sometimes, often, with prompting) that may not entirely provide a clear picture of what the child is able to do, or what the expectations are for that grade.

    Note: Never overlook the learning skills portion of the elementary report card. These marks and comments are extremely valuable as well. While they may be more qualitatively evaluated, they provide a really good indication of your child’s independence in the classroom, his ability to navigate demands, initiate problem-solving on his own, and regulate his behaviour. As children get older, it is these skills that really start to have an impact on your child’s engagement in school, his willingness to persevere in the face of challenge, his time management, and his ability to cope with the demands of the classroom.

    Action: Highlight key words that require clarification. Write down questions to expand on these comments.

    Structuring the Interview

    These interviews are short, so parents have to prepare in advance to highlight the areas they want to review. Bring your notes. While the questions and clarifications from the report card may serve to fill up the whole time, it’s important to leave time to focus on what can be done (both at school and home). You will want to know how they can help, but they are also encouraged to ask what the teacher or school is able to do to help as well. This may involve informal accommodations to deal with current areas of need and/or additional support.

    It’s also extremely helpful for parents to know what progress will look like. Good questions to ask include:

    • How will I know that things are getting better?
    • “What should I see?
    • How will I know if he needs more support?
    • When should we check-in?

    Check-ins with teachers are helpful. It’s the only way that you can be sure that you are on the right track.

    Also, don’t forget to ask about the positive. The interview can be so heavily skewed toward focusing on areas of need that parents don’t leave time to talk about what is going well. But it’s extremely important, and you need to hear it. This feedback also provides you with a sense of how the teacher sees your child, how well he/she knows her, as well as the right areas to target to enhance her strengths.

    • Communication: Share your questions with the teacher and ask for clarification. Let the teacher know what you have noticed at home (strengths or obstacles). Ask questions about what progress will look like.
    • Gather information about how the teacher sees your child, and insights into how strengths can used to enhance competency. Schedule check-ins with the teacher so that the conversation can continue.

    After the Interview

    Following the interview, go home and write down some recommended strategies that will work best with your family’s schedule and current homework demands. It will be important to think about first steps vs. next steps: small changes in routine, checklists or extra practice time that might get the ball rolling. With your child, you need to collaborate on what and how certain areas are going to be worked on. Yet you also need to be sure that you are not only emphasizing weaknesses, but that you are conveying and communicating the child’s strengths as well. For example, if literacy is a challenge, more and more work in this area may be helpful but may also be quite overwhelming, because it may not come as easily for your child. It will be important to recognize limits around homework and practice, and monitor your child for signs of increased anxiety and frustration.

    If your child needs extra help, he still needs a balance between work and play.  He requires opportunities to immerse  himself in subjects and activities that he enjoys. School is definitely a marathon (not a sprint), and children can burn out.

    • When meeting with the teacher, find out how these areas will be targeted in class. Recognize who is doing what, and for what purpose, and when to circle back for an update. Collaboration also means working together with your child: you need an agreed upon plan to take action.
    • Use the teacher’s feedback about in-home strategies to draft an action plan to target these areas specifically at home.
    • Communication: With the teacher at scheduled check-ins, and with your child. In conversation or in observation, you need to take cues from your child about his attention and energy, his sense of competence and his anxiety.

    Wishing you the best of luck through the report card process!

    When concerns persist about behaviour or academics, psychologists at Boomerang Health can provide consultation with parents and assessment of school-age children to better understand the child’s needs and strengths.

    About Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

    Meredith A. M. Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in psychological assessment and treatment of children, youth and their families across a range of developmental and mental health conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety and mood disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, disruptive behaviour disorders, adjustment disorders, learning disabilities, and parent-child relational conflict. She brings exceptional skill to the provision of care for children and families and strives to collaborate with clinicians across disciplines, to best support the complex needs of her clients.

    Learn more about Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.