A major advantage of the FreshGrade tool that has been touched on briefly above but merits further discussion was its ability to allow for the attachment of specific curricular outcomes to key learning tasks. FreshGrade also provided for flexibility in customizing outcomes to include foundational skills, such as visualization, reasoning, communicating and problem-solving. The ability to generate and include these “front matter” learning goals in addition to the more traditional, knowledge and skill specific outcomes was a pedagogically valuable aspect of the FreshGrade template.
FreshGrade also automatically generated reports about student learning relative to the outcomes that had been attached to the tasks rather than just to the tasks themselves. If outcomes had been addressed through multiple tasks, we were able to efficiently collate them through FreshGrade’s reporting feature. This meant that it was always clear which tasks had been associated with a particular outcome (Figure 13). It also meant that in cases where student success with an outcome varied depending on a task, their most recent work was leveraged more highly in reporting on the outcome (Figure 14) and resubmissions could be created that would enable an assessment of their success with an outcome to be adjusted (Figure 15). These features encouraged students to articulate areas of strength and growth with respect to specific skills rather than with respect to an activity in general. Students were more likely to ask questions like, “Can you help me with my strategy for multiplying two-digit factors?”, rather than “Can you help me with that assignment?” It also allowed teachers to analyze students’ learning more accurately with a focus on specific outcomes that either the class as a whole or individual students needed the opportunity to revisit.
Figure 13: FreshGrade summarizes each of the learning tasks that have been associated with this single Grade 5 Mathematics Outcome, along with all of the feedback provided by the teacher for each task.
Figure 14: For a single learning outcome, all assessments are collated with most recent work was leveraged more highly in reporting on student success the outcome.
Figure 15: Resubmissions can be created and attached to a single outcome that a student is struggling such that their summative assessment for that single outcome can be updated .
FreshGrade also allowed teachers to create interim report cards, to which we referred as “progress reports” so as not to confuse them with our school’s tri-yearly, more holistic (general) report card format. The progress reports generated by FreshGrade were simple lists of the individual outcomes addressed throughout a specified period, along with a visual displayed of how each student performed on every outcome covered (Figure 16).
Figure 16 – A report card or progress report generated through FreshGrade. The report focuses on discrete outcomes and the level of achievement that a student has reached per outcome.
Based on a survey regarding the value of progress reports, the majority of students and many parents indicated that it was informative and accurate in communicating what had been learned and what needed to be learned (Appendix B). The reports were not only designed as a communication piece but also intended to further understanding. About 3/4 of those surveyed said that they took extra effort in enhancing their work and improving their understanding (Figure 17) and in Grade 7, all students were required to write a reflection following their progress report, outlining an action plan based on the information it had provided. The way in which these progress reports were utilized in the classroom was aligned with one of the Dimensions of Sound Assessment Practice (Alberta Assessment Consortium, 2015), which specified that “a teacher who is an effective assessor reports the results of student learning to students, parents…in a manner that is informative, accurate…and designed to support learning.”
Figure 17: A distribution of student and parent reflecting on the degree to which the FreshGrade progress report was followed by a decision to further their learning at home.
Additional advantages to using FreshGrade in the classroom can be more succinctly summarized. First, the tool allowed teachers to quickly and visually assess how the class as a whole was performing on an individual task (Figure 18). This was instrumental in deciding next steps as a teacher. Collectively, did the class need further support or could they move on? Second, the interface of the student portfolio was a single document, cleanly and simply organized into individual posts. Third, the convenience offered through FreshGrade’s filter feature made for selectively viewing parts of a student’s portfolio simple as the volume of assessment tasks and artifacts accumulated over the year. Fourth, there was a “Keep Private” function that allowed teachers to add notes to student work that would remain visible only to the teacher at the teacher’s discretion as needed. Fifth, the variety of assessment tools that existed and the ability to customize such tools were also benefits. Within FreshGrade, creating an assessment task permitted the teacher to select not only outcomes, but also resources, categories, labels, and students (Figure 19). Lastly, parent and student respondents of our survey reported improved student organization as a result of using FreshGrade (Figure 20).
Figure 18 – The colour coding below each task represented levels of achievement for that task and outcome in a class. Green signified meeting expectations while orange meant approaching expectations, and, in some cases, red denoted not yet meeting expectations.
Figure 19 – Assessment task allow for choices in objectives, categories, labels, resources, assessment tools, and students
Figure 20 – A distribution of student and parent responses to the statement: “FreshGrade has helped me/my child become more organized.”
From the reflections discussed here, our experiences with FreshGrade have been generally positive. Students and parents clearly indicated that the tool was helpful (Figure 21). We observed improved advocacy among our students, encouraged deep reflection about their learning, and improved communication between teachers and students and between the school and home.
Figure 21: A distribution of student and parent responses to the statement: “Using FreshGrade is helpful for students.”
As with new endeavours, there were some parts of our experience and the platform itself that could have been more seamless and better implemented. One feature that was absent from the tool was a clear notification for due dates, which is an inherent feature of some other learning management systems like Edmodo. One parent reflected that “it [was] not at all clear what the upcoming assignment would be due or if it was late. I greatly prefer[ed] Edmodo for the ability to discuss/remind students about projects before they were due.” A significant number of students also commented that they disliked not having clear notifications or alerts from FreshGrade letting them know when due dates were approaching or past. Though these due dates were consistently posted to students’ agendas, the onus was completely on students to stay on top of deadlines as the tool did not do it for them. A potential but hopefully only temporary solution to this frustration would be for the teacher to send out a FreshGrade announcement a day prior to the task being due.
A second limitation of FreshGrade was that, because learning outcomes were generated based on Alberta curriculum documents, at times these outcomes were too vague for students to be able to clearly identify their specific areas of need. For instance, if the specific objective “relate decimals to fractions and fractions to decimals (to thousandths)” was selected by a teacher, what was visible to both parents and students was only the general, overarching objective of “develop number sense.” Another concern with attaching curricular outcomes to tasks was that in many cases, the outcomes included words such as such as compatible, annexing, symbolic, pictorial, concrete, coefficients, and referents, that at first glance were too technical for many students to decipher. This, however, allowed for discussion and contextual use of this kind of vocabulary with students, which made it more meaningful and memorable. An example of a positive result of this difficult language was that most students in our math classes grew to understand what it meant to show pictorial and symbolic representations as these terms came to be utilized extensively in our lessons.
From the teaching perspective, the most significant shortcoming of FreshGrade was its inability to allow teachers to differentiate between the evaluation of multiple outcomes within a single activity. If, within a specific task, a student was able to demonstrate that they were able to divide decimals, but not to multiply decimals, as a teacher it was not possible to distinguish between these two distinct outcomes within our evaluation. Though we could comment on the students varying degrees of understanding, we would then have to decide whether as a whole, the student should be “approaching” or “meeting” expectations for the task, and that assessment would be assigned to all selected objectives even though the student would have achieved different levels of understanding of with each. As a teacher, this experience proved frustratingly problematic as not all assessments on an individual outcome could be considered wholly accurate in reporting students’ abilities. Ultimately, the only solution that we were able to reach was to input an activity multiple times but aligned with only single objectives each time. Although this was an inefficient workflow for recording student achievement, it ensured that communicating student strengths and weaknesses were more accurate.
A final concern expressed by parents and students with regards to our use of FreshGrade was that as an online tool it assumed and demanded, first, access to the technology and, second, the proficiency of both parents and students in navigating the interface. A parent wrote, “Personally, I do not have a mobile device or a home computer. I did not ‘check’ FreshGrade very often because of this. If I did have a device, I think I would have checked much more frequently and had benefited more and in turn my child too.” Familiarity with any technology platform required experience with continued experimentation and navigation. Although our school philosophy of research and innovation through the intentional, ubiquitous use of technology suggests that navigating this space of initial difficulty with new online tools is expected and worth continuing to explore, one parent suggested that “specific training at the start of the year or term would be very useful.” It is also important that we continue to be mindful not to let “the technological novelty of the product overshadow the purpose of the portfolio” (Woodward & Nanlohy, 2004, p. 227).
Alberta Assessment Consortium. (2015). Dimensions of Sound Assessment Practices. Retrieved from http://cdn.aac.ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Dimensions-of-Sound-Assessment-Practice.pdf.