Friday Focus

December 11, 2015

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Parent Engagement and Digital Portfolios

On Wednesday after school, Krista Basler, Gabi Scheunemann and I welcomed six parents for our FreshGrade training. Students represented by their families include Austin LaMarche, Nathaniel and Josiah Payne, Niamh Sweet, Jordan and Gabe Larson, and Isabelle and Max St.Myers. Parents walked away with iTunes gift cards and Howe Elementary School tumblers for their participation.

We briefly discussed how to set up an account, receive notifications, and how to respond with comments that will encourage students to pursue their learning goals. Beyond the technical details, here were a few questions and comments we discussed:

1. Why are we using FreshGrade?

No one actually asked this, but I think it is important that the rationale for using technology in schools is addressed. We listed several reasons. First, we are trying to use digital tools in smart ways. Capturing and sharing student learning raises the importance of the work. Second, not all of our families work 8-4 jobs. By using FreshGrade, which has a social media format, more parents can be involved and aware of their child's growth and celebrations. Finally, traditional assessments do not adequately tell a student's learning journey. By using audio, images, and video, students have more ways to show what they know and are able to do.

2. Do I have to comment on my child's posted work?

It was explained that commenting is not required, although it does tell the teacher that families are seeing what is posted. More important is that the learning that is shared creates conversations between parents and their children about learning. We can all relate when a child is asked "What did you learn in school today?", and the response is lacking. Our goal is that parents will be more aware of how their children are doing in school.

We've seen some examples of this happening already. In Mrs. Basler's class, one student struggles with spelling tests. This student used to throw away his corrected tests to avoid a conversation with his parents. Now that the results are posted on FreshGrade, the parents have become more involved with his word work. They have taken the initiative to work with him before the test. There has been marked improvement in his subsequent tests.

3. What should I say in the comments?

We encouraged parents to differentiate their comments based on the content of what was shared. If the artifact shared was a celebration, such as mastering a level of math facts, then "Good job!" and "We are proud of you!" would be appropriate.

If the artifacts shared had more to do with growth over time, then we suggested that parents keep their comments specific and focused on the learning. For example, when a piece of writing was posted along with the student's reflections, self-assessment, and goal setting, parents were encouraged to notice what the students did well and to have a conversation about their child's next steps.

4. Do we get notifications for everything?

It was communicated that a minimum expectation for these digital portfolios is six pieces of writing posted during the school year. These postings are scheduled on week-long windows and should be accompanied by reflection, self-assessment and goal-setting. There is no expectation for using the grade book, although some teachers have been utilizing this part of FreshGrade.

For example, Ms. Steffes has been using the tagging feature when creating activities in the gradebook. Each tag represents one of the components of our standards-based report cards. Michelle can then sort activities based on a tag when report card time comes around. The visual/color coded nature of the gradebook has also helped Michelle more quickly address students' academic needs.

5. Will my child's portfolio carry over to the next school year?

That's a good question! We are currently using the free version of FreshGrade which would not allow that. One of the features of the paid version of FreshGrade is a student's portfolio would follow them throughout the grade levels. Another benefit of the paid version is FreshGrade connecting with Skyward. That means that a teacher's class would be automatically populated with his or her current students based on what is in Skyward. Parent's emails and other contact information would also be available without any entry work by the teacher.

Elizabeth St.Myers expressed interest in using some PTC funds to help offset the costs of the one-time student information system integration fee. Title I dollars and other district funds might also be available for acquiring the premium version of FreshGrade. I would only add caution to making any decisions right now. It's a schoolwide pilot. Instructional Leadership Team and other focus groups need to assess how well this digital tool is meeting our students' learning needs. One way to assess is through a parent survey. There's no reason to rush, so let's continue to explore the possibilities.

The overall feedback about FreshGrade from the parents who attended were very positive. No one complained about a classroom sharing too much, as long as what was posted was related to their child's learning. If you have feedback about your own experience, I would like to hear your thoughts. If you would like to set up your own family night to provide your classroom parents with support in using this tool, there are dollars set aside for food, resources, and hours.

Facilitating Student Conversation (Video)


"Mrs. Culhane needs help with her computer again." - What a kindergarten student told Wayne Jaworski in the hallway this week

Staff-Led FreshGrade/Digital Portfolio Training

Monday, Dec. 14th, 4-5pm

221 8th Street North

Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Click here to post any questions you have about this digital tool and how to use it. Mrs. Scheunemann will be sharing some of her strategies for using FreshGrade.