Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Making Learning Visible

About two and a half years ago I was fortunate to be in a meeting with a start up company called Fresh Grade.  Their goal was to create a tool that would better help teachers, parents, and students communicate learning on an ongoing basis.  Their vision focussed around helping students and teachers create digital portfolios by providing tools to easily capture student learning through voice, video, or images. These "snapshots" could then be easily shared with parents who could then comment on the learning too and help their child at home.

I will admit, at first the product had many glitches and was far more work then any other way I was collecting and sharing student learning.  In addition my systems were working well for me and my students shared their work on their blogs.   If you have ever visited my students blogs you'll know that they are very visible with their learning  But, is it enough?

Fresh Grade is a tool that helps my students and I do more by collecting artifacts, adding assessment information, and sharing all that information with their families on an on going basis.   Let me explain.

I use Fresh Grade to collect assessment information on class big ideas.  I create activities and collect artifacts that support the learning intentions of the activities.  My activities are broad in nature though and focus on big ideas.  For example a big idea  might be "reading", "writing",  "playing with patterns", "playing with force and motion", "playing with states of matter" etc.  They are part of my government issued curriculum.   I stay broad on purpose  because my students learn, show, and share their knowledge in individual ways.  We don't have assignments with due dates, we have on going learning.  I stay focussed on big ideas so I have a place to capture, store, and organize their various learning snapshots.

These are some of the "big ideas" I am collecting information on. They are based on my prescribed learning outcomes.

For example when I have a writing conference with a student I can take a photo of their writing, and I can make the conference notes right into Fresh Grade.  If we talk about what they are proud of, or what they want to work on I can record that information. If we set a goal I can record that too. I can record the student reading their writing, or talking about their writing.  Fresh Grade makes it easy for me to add this assessment information to their private portfolio.

If I want to include something they have put on their individual blog I can do that too by adding the link. But I can take it a step further and add my (and or their) assessment information with the blog link too. My students still have full control of what they upload to their individual blogs, but I can take what they are uploading and add it to their assessment portfolio for reporting student learning.

Now I will admit each time I add an image or video I am not typing (or voice recording) additional assessment information.   Sometimes  I just take snapshots of work so I have samples over time to help track growth.  Other times I have images of them working on something.  There is no limit to what I can add to these portfolios. I have all types of learning snapshots.

Collecting snapshots of learning, and adding assessment information to these snapshots is only one part of why I like Fresh Grade.  As soon as I add a photo (or video, or voice recording or assessment note) to a child's portfolio I have the choice to share it with the student's parents immediately via email.  By the time one of my students gets home  from school their parents may already know what we talked about in our writing conference and how they can help at home.

This is a snapshot of learning. You will note that a parent has read and responded to this information.
My students' parents can also add comments to their children's work. They can ask for clarification or they can share how they are helping their child at home.  No longer do they have to wait for the once a term report card to go home.  They are getting snapshots of learning on a regular basis. Plus I'm not having to compose and send home individual emails. The app/site does it for me if I want it to.

Now I don't email home everything I add to the portfolio but I have invited my students' parents in to see their child's portfolio when ever they want.  If at any time they want to know how their child is doing, they just have to peek in and see.  There are work samples with assessment data together.

One thing to remember though is that how I use Fresh Grade is very different than how others use Fresh Grade.  Older students are able to have more involvement with their portfolios and can add their own reflection and assessment information.  Assignments can be more specific, marks can be collected, data can be organized. You can curate resources in Fresh Grade. That's one of the things I like about Fresh Grade. There is no one right way to use it.  Different teachers have different needs and Fresh Grade allows you to personalize how you use the product.

But is it perfect? Of course not and what's great about Fresh Grade is that they are listening to feedback. I have watched them grow over the past two and a half years and I can assure you, they are listening.

If you're looking for a way to make your students' learning visible I highly recommend you check out Fresh Grade.  If we're lucky the portfolios being created in Fresh Grade will one day replace the archaic report cards that have changed so little over the past fifty years.

How are you making learning visible for your students and their families?


  1. Thanks for the overview, Karen. I am curious about Fresh Grade, but haven't had the time to explore it yet. I like the idea of having so many samples of learning all gathered in one place. As a parent, I would love to get regular, personalized updates about my child's learning. Do you find that typing/recording/adding assessment info requires a comparable amount of time to your previous assessment systems? How often are you entering information for a typical child in your class?

    1. I think with many tools you can take as much or as little time to add assessment data. The quick captures are very simple to use. I will admit I tend to use my personal iPad to capture snapshots because it has a keyboard and makes it easy for me to add notes on the fly but they do have "quick notes" too that you can access with just a tap. Sometimes though I just grab images with the quick capture app on my work iPad and I can then immediately save it to a student (or student's) portfolio. After school today I was looking over my grade one Force and Motion activity. Half the children understood it, half of them didn't. I was able to write two comments that said such and then save to the specific children's portfolios in one go just by selecting multiple names for the same comment. I also find as I mark work and it's something I think should be on a student's portfolio I take a snap shot, write a quick personal comment, and save it. This year adding data hasn't been too much of a challenge and the reality is I don't and won't document every little thing each child does in my room but I do capture the important big things. I hope that helps. Megan, if we are able to get together F2F I'd be more than willing to show you what I've been doing too. You know where to find me. :-)

  2. I am so intrigued by this service and can't wait to learn more about it. We are in the middle of conferences and I didn't have time during the conference to share some of the really cool things (digitally) their child was doing. I could easily have started this and they could have seen in their digital portfolio. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Katie if you have more questions please don't hesitate to ask. :-)

  3. Hi, Karen! I'm a Childhood/Special Education major at SUNY Geneseo and after scrolling through many of your posts, I am so intrigued by Fresh Grade! SUNY Geneseo tries to teach us to use a Constructivist approach in our classrooms, but it is difficult to implement this kind of learning in the data-driven culture here. I think that Fresh Grade is an awesome way to continue to track progress without having to assign letter grades or scores out of 100 to younger students. Accountability is so important, and I think this is the most creative way to hold students accountable, keep parents informed, and be able to track our own progress as teachers. I would love to read more about Fresh Grade for my semester-long Professional Development project! Thanks so much for this post, and so many interesting blog entries.

    1. Danielle there are several people on twitter who are actively using Fresh Grade. There have also been many articles and videos which you may want to search for. Best of luck with your schooling. :-)