Good design and report card letter grades – SCN Encourager 10/7/2013

Boy, oh boy – I stirred the pot last Friday!

Now, don’t get excited or contact the authorities… medical marijuana was not the topic.

But today is a follow-up to those of you who read Friday’s Encourager and asked if I was advocating a return to the old letter grade system for report cards.

No, I wasn’t doing this at all… unless, of course, I find out that my superintendent that is going to advocate for them… and then that’s what I was entirely trying to do.

Last week I basically wanted to convey the simple point (after hearing Bert Jara’s brief story) that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of reporting out student learning and progress to parents in ways that they appreciate, understand, and can use.

But I discovered (yet again) that simple never is simple.

And it seems that “getting to simple” is frequently nothing more than dang hard work.

Some may say that “getting to simple” is a function of design; others might also call it “style.”

I will zero in on the word “design,” however.

As one who typically putters about the school day with my shirt collar twisted or bent, a front button buttoned in the wrong hole, mismatched socks, and my belt missing one of the loops on the backside of my slacks, Cindy banned me from ever using the word “style” again back in 2007.

So… with “style” off the table… let’s think about our report cards and progress reports from a design perspective.

Not me. (No gray hair.)

Not me. (No gray hair.)

It seems that if we desire to communicate for understanding, we should embrace “design” as one of our new best buddies.

Accepting the standard credo for school communicators worldwide that “perception is reality” is not enough.

Designers accept this, too… and also believe that each of us has an inner yearning which prefers the simple instead of the complex.

Designers see simplicity as a creative force for reducing the necessity for categories and segmentation. ornamental “bells and whistles,” and intellectually showing off.

More is not more.

When I write to you, for example, I often feel like I need to say more.

And many good designers would join you in screaming, “stop feeling this way!”

Apparently, as I’m now learning, many successful products and services originally went through a gauntlet of critical reviews to determine what “component parts” could be deleted or taken away before they were introduced.

And you probably know far better than I if this fundamental design mindset has nay significance at all for how we communicate to parents about the learning progress of their children.

But when I read how good design helps foster greater loyalty from the intended end-users – as simply designed products and services don’t require high levels of guidance and instruction (customer hand-holding) – I can’t help wondering.

Here is what good designers do:

• They create and construct themes and focal points.
      Then they cast the narrow spotlight on only a few.

• They create and construct varying levels and layers of features.
      Then they take away all but the most meaningful.

• They know that some themes and features can’t be subtracted, however.
      So they find ways to hide these items somehow (background, sidebar, etc.).

• And they know that some themes and features can’t even be hidden.
      So they find ways to prioritize these items in “groups.”

When there is a lot to sort out and present, good designers become good organizers.

Are we good organizers?

Good designers also want the end-user to have a worthwhile or beneficial experience.
They realize that additions and complexity can degrade this objective.

Are we intentional about what we want for the “end-users” of our progress reports?

Good designers ultimately put their faith in the instincts of their end-users.

Do we?

Three good questions for us on a Monday, don’tcha think?

Just don’t expect any great answers from me, though.

I’m too busy today making sure I haven’t missed a button hole or belt loop.

I’m working to get that ban lifted.

I was born to write about style, baby! 

Tom Page, SCN
carMON 100713



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