Engaging students and parents in authentic assessment with FreshGrade

I enjoyed presenting at ERAC IL4K12 today with Wendy Hall and Laura Warkentin, here on some of the thoughts I shared:

Thinking about how much teaching, learning and the world has changed over the last decade I am honestly shocked that we have not seen a universal and radical shift in the way teachers communicate with parents and engage our learners in their own education.

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I look at these report cards from 1915, 1985 and 2013 and wonder how much has really changed? It is still a summary report written by one individual about another individual and passed on to a third party who presumably reads it. We do not know how they interpret it and questions need to be asked at a later date where the author of the document will attempt to validate their evaluation with notes and assignments that could be months old. 1915-2013… almost 100 years. We do see improvement for sure but is it enough? Given the technological advances, and the amount of research done in the field of education, I argue absolutely not. It is not a significant enough change for my students or my children. Especially when I consider the world they will be living in and the skills and qualities that will define a successful adult at that time.

In my consideration of the changes in report cards I decided to ask my grade one students a question. I asked them, “what are report cards and why do we use them in school?” Hands shot up immediately and many kids were eager to share their answer. Most of the responses included words like “bad” and “good.” Most of them agreed that “report cards tell my parents what I am doing good and bad at.” This really broke my heart. It makes me sad to think that these 5 and 6 year old innocent little beings come to the big world of school full of hope and with complete trust in us as teachers to help them and end up thinking that it is all about what they are good or bad at. I never want my students to think that after months of their hard work, and I believe they are all doing the best they can with the skills they have, all their drawings, creations, thoughts, all the ways they have grown and contributed to our classroom community will be summarized on a piece of paper ranking their level of good. I want to change that perception.

My personal motivation for change came last year when my children in grade one and two brought home their report cards. Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. I could almost see the confidence leave his little body. He was absolutely crushed and discouraged. He could not look past those check marks. He just looked at them and said “oh great, I am still only half as good as everyone else.” Again, this is not necessarily a reflection of the school or his teacher, rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.

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My daughters report card highlights all the learning outcomes she had met before school even started.

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My son’s report card is not an accurate reflection of his achievements and growth as he is still not meeting prescribed learning outcomes.

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So what are the possibilities for change. For example what can a reading assessment look and sound like? Using a digital portfolio like FreshGrade I can track an individual students reading progress and provide meaningful feedback to parents and students.

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The pictures above represent video recordings of a grade one child reading to me. Parents can read my comments and suggestions for support but they can also hear the progress themselves.The videos for reading assessment are just phenomenal. I believe it really takes our comments as teachers to another level. When I talk about expression or fluency it makes so much more sense to parents when it is tied to a video where they can actually hear what I am talking about.

An unexpected bonus I just realized is that it is also providing me with an opportunity to model guiding reading to a parent. Although sending home suggestions and decoding strategies may be helpful for some, it is so much more valuable for parents to hear how teachers help emergent readers and then they can use the same strategies. I love the consistency that offers my students.

I appreciate the depth of my comments and suggestions on FreshGrade. An important example for me is in the realm of social responsibility because I believe social and emotional learning are the foundation for academic success. As teachers in BC, we are required to make one social responsibility comment in each report. It usually becomes a frame sentence repeated for everyone. Your child is ‘learning to follow the classroom rules and expectations,’ for example. How well does a statement like this really inform parents and students? In my mission to be a confidence builder and encourage a love of learning, I appreciate that with FreshGrade I can pair what is perceived as negative with some genuine suggestions and a positive picture.

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This is a sample from a portfolio of a boy who is ‘learning to follow classroom rules and expectations.’ He is a boy who has a lot of energy and is learning to use self-regulation during group conversations and work time. The positive side to his energy and imagination is the many amazing things he builds with his peers during creative times. With FreshGrade I can share this with parents and students. I can also provide meaningful suggestions with an image to clarify if necessary. We can not assume that parents understand the many terms that become common place to us as educators. The wiggle seat mentioned in the comments above, for example.

So what do my parents think about this new way of communication and FreshGrade in particular? Someone asked me a few months ago if I had considered the idea that a digital portfolio is too much information for parents and perhaps they do not want to become partners in their child’s education. First of all, I disagree and find that no one is more invested in their child’s success than parents. Unfortunately teachers often put up a wall and fail to utilize the valuable resource parents can be. Furthermore, when you become a parent it is your job to facilitate the growth and development of your child so sometimes teachers may need to rise up to our role as advocates for our students and get those parents on board in whatever capacity they can. This is an email I received after sharing a FreshGrade video of a student reading.

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I truly believe it is time for educators to re-evaluate our goals. We need to consider the world our students will be living in, and are living in, and how we can best support their growth into successful and fulfilled members of society. We can start by replacing term end summaries that encourage comparison over personal growth with a tool like FreshGrade where students are empowered and all of their successes recognized.

There are several excellent educators in Surrey that are happy to share more on FreshGrade.
Find them on twitter:
@mrswendyhall
@_mswarkentin
@KLirenman

Also check out http://learningandsharingwithmsl.blogspot.ca for another great blog post about FreshGrade

Visit http://web.freshgrade.com for more information

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