Friday, August 5, 2016

Student Portfolios with FreshGrade

Why ePortfolios?

As a teacher, I have always valued student portfolios.  For me, ideally, portfolios are a place where students create a multimedia rich story of their learning.  They can showcase their highlights along with areas of growth.  Students and their parents can view and reflect on work and experiences in the classroom and beyond.  Learning over a school year or many years can showcase the growth and development of a learner.

While there are plenty of educational reasons to develop portfolios, it can take a lot of time and effort to create something of quality.  This past year I tried out a new platform called FreshGrade.  It has been an excellent overall experience with great feedback from students and parents.

How FreshGrade works

FreshGrade is a multimedia repository of photos, videos, documents and notes about a student.  There are many ways to contribute to the portfolios.  I can post through the website or on any Android or iOS app.  At the middle school level, many of my students have wifi enabled personal smartphone devices and laptops.  Using their own devices, they do most of the posting.  Take for example a common experience such as a school assembly.  I can quickly snap a photo of a performance and then students all provide their personal reflections and notes.  Parents then get an email to view the photo and reflections where they can add a comment.

Here is another example.  Let's say in our PE class we are working on our dance unit.  With a few clicks, I can capture and upload a video of the student performing their creative dance.  The student and parent can see and enjoy the video and post comments.

Ways Students and Parents interact with me via FreshGrade

Student reflection has become a core part of my practice.  Students can post notes and reflections on everything from results on a math test to a field trip in the forest.  Other portfolio tools are very public and can be viewed by anyone on the internet.  FreshGrade is different, only students, their parents and their teacher can view the portfolios. This means that the adults that are there to support the student are the only people who can interact with posts.  This has lead to students being open and transparent having the confidence to post their honest thoughts and opinions.

Feedback from parents and students has been outstanding.  Parents are constantly thanking me for providing a window of insight into classroom activities.  Even a simple photo of a student during the school day provide an opportunity to connect parents to the learning activities.

How I've changed my practice

A common hesitation to trying a new tool in the classroom is the time it takes a teacher to learn and manage.  The advantage I've discovered has been how much FreshGrade has changed my practice.  There are a number of other tasks that FreshGrade has allowed me to stop doing.  For example, I used to have a public teacher website where I posted lessons, a calendar and assignments.  I've now moved all the notices and assignment descriptions into FreshGrade.  This allows students to login and review criteria whenever they want.  I no long need a paper gradebook of marks.  I've exclusively used the mastery scale for student work and assess with language like fully meeting, exceeding and meeting expectations.  I can also give meaningful feedback to help students improve on future assignments.

Final thoughts

This coming school year I'm again going to use FreshGrade right from when I meet my students.  I will be sending home a welcome email with a introduction on how I use FreshGrade.  In the past parents have completed a paper form to introduce their child.  Now this will be done entirely on FreshGrade this year.  I find that the sooner that I reinforce the use of FreshGrade the easier it is to engage students throughout the year.

I'd be interested in comments below to learn how other educators are using FreshGrade.  Leave a comment!