As a teacher, I have always been a little sad that I could never see my own children in their school learning environments. I spend my days teaching other people’s children, but really had no idea what my boys were doing in their classrooms. As is typical, the boys had very little detail to share about what they did at school each day, though I did make a point to ask specific, direct questions to find out about their learning. As a mom, I dearly wanted to be a part of what my boys were doing each day, so that is the eye with which I look at my own classroom practice and what my students’ parents might be looking for.
I happily have parents and grandparents come in to help with my students, but the reality is that many parents work and are not able to be at school. So here was my challenge: knowing how I felt as a parent being left out my own child’s school experience, how could I facilitate an experience that would help my students’ parents feel more a part of our classroom community and their child’s learning journey?
About four years ago I began blogging. I started with a class blog and then branched out to my students having individual blogs. My students’ parents appreciated the window into our classroom these blogs offered and I got nothing but positive feedback. But I wanted to expand that practice to a more comprehensive space for communicating student learning. The blogs are great and I do still keep them up (though my class blog has been a little neglected of late), but I didn’t feel that they were appropriate places to give feedback. I wanted a private way to share what my students were learning and a way to communicate with their parents that allowed me to confidentially share descriptive feedback and assessment.
Last spring I heard about a new e-portfolio system called FreshGrade. From all that I heard and saw, FreshGrade was what I had been envisioning for my classroom practice. I didn’t start using FreshGrade right away, but took some time to reflect on my blogging and how I wanted to transform the communicating of student learning in my class. I had to start with WHY I wanted to change what I was doing and how I was reporting to parents. I think my reflection above covers the WHY…I wanted parents to feel more involved and aware than I had been in my own children’s education.
In October I went to the CUEBC conference to learn more. In particular, I wanted to hear what Ian Landy and Kyle Timms had to say about e-portfolios. I didn’t know that FreshGrade would be the thing that would transform my communicating of student learning, but I went in with an open mind to hear what Ian and Kyle had to say. Ian’s school uses FreshGrade. Kyle’s uses Scholantis, a different e-portfolio system. Both looked like excellent programs, but what swayed me towards FreshGrade is the fact that it is app-based.
For anyone who knows me, my iPad is like another appendage. I am constantly photographing and video recording my students so that I can share their learning with their parents. In the past it was all stored so I could blog after school, but with FreshGrade I have the option to share the moments of learning as they are happening. The fact that FreshGrade had an iPad app (and it’s FREE) allowed me to give it a try without having to invest any money.
FreshGrade has the capacity to share photographs, video, audio recording and notes at the touch of a button. Daily I have the opportunity to capture the learning in my classroom and share it with my students’ parents. I was even able to video record our Christmas concert performances and have the videos uploaded and shared to parents within minutes of the concert finishing.
The Teacher, Parent and Student apps allow all stakeholders to take part in the conversation about learning. The teacher and student have the capability to upload content and all three have the opportunity to comment back and forth about any item included in the e-portfolio. This dialogue builds the relationship between teacher, student and parents and facilitates communication that relates to pertinent visual, audio and written educational artifacts.
As an example, I regularly sit and listen to my students read to me. I assess what strategies they are using and offer verbal feedback to them. In the past, I would take notes to keep in my file for report card time. Now, with FreshGrade, I can video record my students reading so their parents can hear me making suggestions and giving feedback verbally to the student. This modelling can help the parent give similar feedback when working with their child at home.
One of the most poignant uses of FreshGrade this year came when one of my students’ mother ended up on bed rest in hospital over an hour away from home. She was expecting a baby and needed medical attention, so she was kept under doctor’s care. Unfortunately that meant that her daughter couldn’t come and visit each day, purely because it was so far to travel. For a five-year-old to be away from mom (and vice versa) like this is really quite traumatic. Over the course of the mom’s hospital stay, I was able to share her daughter’s learning milestones with her via FreshGrade so that she could still be included and informed even though she was not physically at home. I was even able to share video of her daughter reading her very first book. Thank you, FreshGrade, for making that possible!
Confession: I am not great at pencil and paper work. I prefer digital record keeping. But until now I did not have a manageable, FOIPPA compliant tool to use. FreshGrade is FOIPPA compliant and stores all it’s data in Canada. It is easy to use, it is intuitive and it makes sense to me. When the odd question or technical issue comes up, FreshGrade’s wonderful help desk is readily available to answer questions and to offer suggestions as to how I might better use their platform. I really appreciate the promptness and thoroughness with which they deal with issues. That is not to say there haven’t been frustrations in my journey, as there have been a few. With every new thing there is a learning curve, and a whole process of “figuring it out”. I think I am now comfortable in sharing this learning…the why and the how I have come to where I am now. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more learning to do. Even good things need a little tweak here and there, but I am happy with how things have worked out so far and I will continue to use FreshGrade next school year.
I sent out a survey to all of my students’ parents after having used FreshGrade for a few months. Unanimously they all answered that they liked FreshGrade better than a traditional report card. Here are some of their comments:
“We love it because we are a split family and it’s sometimes hard to communicate with the other parent regarding report cards and to be up to date with our child’s progress.”
“This system of communication is essential for parents to be involved in their child’s learning path and support learning activities at home. I like that the items reported in the portfolio are varied (physical activity, writing/reading, numeracy) and that evidence in collected in through using complementary technology (eg. video to show reading skills, sound clip for counting skills). Although I have not used the parent comments function, I think that this could replace the paper-based student planner for day to day parent – teacher communications.
I highly support the future use of this communication tool.”
“I think this has been great! It gives my husband and I a visual of everything out daughter is doing day to day. And it’s great for the kids as well to share there work.”
“As with other young children, sometimes it is difficult to pull information about what they did in class and what they are learning. The FreshGrade format helps us to understand what he is learning on a regular basis so we can talk about what is he doing in class in more specific detail. It is also wonderful to be able to see pictures of him interacting in class and watch videos of his activities. He is always so proud to be able to share these bits of information and we are able to use it as a platform to discuss his learning. We love the regular updates of his learning as opposed to a term based system.”
“I think that this is a great idea. This makes me feel more involved in my child’ schooling.”
“As is expected, (name) generally responds with a weary “I don’t know” when we ask him about his school day so it’s really amazing to have a direct channel to his education and personal growth when outside of our presence. We’re thoroughly enjoying following his progress through FreshGrade.”
“So far so good, I am really enjoying the updates, I seem to get more information this way and I can follow along with all the great things Mrs. Hiebert is doing, thank you so much for being a pioneer in the program all our children are lucky to have learned from you.”
“This style of report card is what I grew up with as a homeschooler. Very detail oriented so that it allows parents to see visually where their children are excelling and what areas need working on. For example: the sound of lower case letter k and weather it can be written out or not. allowing a parent the freedom to help a child with this letter therefore allowing the teacher more time to see improvement rather than indicating “satisfactory” results with lower case letters. It also allows dual income families or busy single parents to see their childs art projects as well as others in the class, therefore allowing you as a parent to see if their child is in line with the other students in terms of learning curves. Most of all, FreshGrade allows me to feel support around my child’s learning, and more confident in what my child needs help with or what they are accomplishing or what other children of their same are achieving. It really helps promote peace of mind especially for our modern dual income working family. Thank you FreshGrade!”
I am thankful to have had a few educators travel on this journey with me. In particular, Tracy Cramer and Kim Anderson from Langley School District as well as my FreshGrade mentor, Ian Landy from Sorrento, BC. Without the three of you, I likely would have given up long ago. Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy from the beginning. I am grateful that you stuck with me and helped talk me through some of the challenges I encountered. Here’s to making next year work even more smoothly and successfully!