The School District of West Vancouver Uses FreshGrade to Share and Demonstrate Learning

About West Vancouver

Institution type:

School District

Location:

West Vancouver, British Columbia

Enrollment:

7200+ students.

Schools:

14 elementary, and 3 secondary

Tech Policy:

  • BYOD / Bring Your Own Device
  • Devices provided as required
Teacher Assisting Student

Summary

The West Vancouver School District was looking for a way to capture learning that showed not only the products of learning but also the progression. They started looking for an intuitive and effective tool that could quickly gain traction across the district.

The team turned to a digital portfolio platform and have achieved impressive results, increasing transparency about student learning for parents, saving time for teachers, and improving understanding through student self-reflection.


West Vancouver’s Story

West Vancouver is a top performing school board in British Columbia, serving over 7,200 students in 14 elementary and 3 secondary institutions. Built on a tradition of academic excellence, the district is progressive and technologically advanced. All schools have a “Bring Your Own Device” policy in Grades 4-8 and provide technical devices for student use as required.

The district celebrates the potential of every student and places a focus on who students are and who they want to become. Inspiring a sense of discovery begins on day one and continues through graduation and beyond.

Beginning in the early years, there is a focus on self-regulation, inquiry, community based-literacy engagement, athletics, the arts, and philanthropy. The district spends a lot of time with their teams and their teachers around best practice, whether it’s literacy strategies or inquiry-based approach to learning. This hands-on method extends to the technology implemented throughout the district.

portrait of sean nosek

The benefits were so clear that there wasn’t much debate about taking the product on. And knowing that FreshGrade complied with Canadian privacy laws (PIPA, PIPEDA, and FOIPPA) made it frankly even easier in terms of consensus.
Sean Nosek, Associate Superintendent – Learning and Innovation

Plotting a Course to Success

Initially, the district sought out a digital portfolio that would enable students to share and demonstrate the products and the process of learning using modern technology. One of West Vancouver’s goals was to encourage meaningful conversations with parents around what their children were doing in school.

Associate Superintendent, Learning and Innovation, Sean Nosek knows what it takes to get traction district-wide. Over the course of his career, he’s seen several digital tools that are difficult or clunky to use. He wanted to offer his teachers tools that were intuitive, nimble, and effective. Simply put, the solution needed to make sense quickly.

Nosek and his Innovation Team, a group of teachers tasked to try new software and share their findings, looked into using other solutions. But it was FreshGrade that really resonated with the team.

“We liked the backstory around why the product was started by the co-founders. The conversation around the dinner table, ‘What did you learn at school today?’ and the answer ‘Nothing’ resonated with us. We quickly realized that we liked what we saw and decided to leverage it on a district level.”

portrait of chris kennedy

This is different, I was told — it just works.
Chris Kennedy, Superintendent

“The benefits were so clear that there wasn’t much debate about taking the product on. And knowing that FreshGrade complied with Canadian privacy laws (PIPA, PIPEDA, and FOIPPA) made it frankly even easier in terms of consensus.”

As Superintendent, Chris Kennedy puts it, “This is different, I was told — it just works.”

Launching FreshGrade District-Wide

In 2016, West Vancouver started using FreshGrade across the district, starting with 2000 licenses. Once FreshGrade was implemented with a Google Apps sync that the district opted for, it was ready to deploy. Nosek and his team worked to create buzz and excitement around the possibilities for parent engagement and time-saving opportunities across the district.

“A member of the FreshGrade team gave a presentation to our principals. He took a photo and uploaded it to a portfolio. Two seconds later, we saw a notification on our phones. We knew it was fast and effective and that helped our principals champion it in their schools.”

By 2017, the district had created 1083 portfolios, with 1184 active parent accounts. On average, teachers added 194 artifacts to portfolios per week, and students added 34. There were on average 200 comments and over 1700 highlights shared each week.

portrait of sean nosek

It can promote student and parent engagement like never before and allows teachers to capture and share meaningful evidence of learning with modern tools.
Sean Nosek

“FreshGrade does a really good job at creating a sense that as users, you’re part of a bigger community. Whether that’s monthly emails, or hosting Think Tanks, there’s a sense that you are tied to something that wants to refine and improve. There is excellent customer service and connection.”

West Vancouver would recommend FreshGrade to any other school district that is looking to make learning visible and encourage meaningful conversations between teachers, students, and parents.

“I think FreshGrade can transform education in a powerful way. It can promote student and parent engagement like never before and allows teachers to capture and share meaningful evidence of learning with modern tools,” says Nosek.


Using FreshGrade To Demonstrate & Share Student Learning

Increasing Transparency & Parent Engagement

District Innovation Support Leader and grade 7 teacher, Cari Wilson helps elementary schools in the district use technology in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Before using FreshGrade, she used blogging platforms to display student work, but she often felt uncomfortable that those programs were public facing. Wilson likes FreshGrade for its secure student portfolios, its ease of use, and the transparency it provides parents into the classroom.

portrait of jody billingsley

It also provides a way to celebrate, document their learning progress, and show progression between where they were and where they are today.
Jody Billingsley, Principal

“With most of my kids, both parents are working. There’s not a lot of popping by school to see how things are going. I like the ability for my grade seven classroom to be more transparent, for parents to have that window into the classroom.”

In addition to providing more visibility into particular aspects of a student’s learning, the positive impact that parent engagement has on the learner is evident.

“My grade 7s get excited when their parents leave a comment and give them positive feedback. As a parent myself, I wish my kids had been able to go through that experience with me,” says Wilson.

Principal, Jody Billingsley, started using FreshGrade in 2015 before it was implemented district-wide. Wanting to see FreshGrade in action before inviting parents into the portfolios, Billingsley initially had the students practice documenting their learning over a period of time. After students had the opportunity to use the platform, they then introduced FreshGrade to their families at the school’s student-led conferences. When his students shared the portfolio, Billingsley could see that their parents were delighted by what they saw.

Today, Billingsley uses FreshGrade to create a digital triad between the teacher, student, and parent. Within that home-school connection, he is able to create personalized plans to help move learning forward.

“It’s more than just a showcasing tool, or a digital album. Not only does it give parents and students a glimpse into the classroom, but it also provides a way to celebrate, document their learning progress, and show progression between where they were and where they are today.

Meeting Students Where They Are

West Vancouver wants their students to take ownership of their work and connect it to their lives and FreshGrade helps to make that connection. Learning takes many forms and one benefit that appealed to educators when first using the platform was the ability for students to show their understanding in different ways. Instead of writing something out with a pencil and paper, students can also record their voice, type notes, take a photo or video, and upload it to FreshGrade.

portrait of jody billingsley

You can’t have the same tool of learning for everybody. Giving the students FreshGrade honors all kinds of minds
Jody Billingsley

This freedom of expression empowers students to express their learning and excel in the classroom. Not only did educators in the district observe an increased level of pride when students added artifacts to their portfolio, they also saw a higher quality of work.

“I had one child who needed direct support with completing work,” says Billingsley. “Assignments were done, but they were not always done to the best ability. Once I was able to give the student ownership of documentation using FreshGrade — recording a timelapse video of a project, or recording notes via a keyboard rather than on paper — the student’s engagement increased and their work improved. You can’t have the same tool of learning for everybody. Giving the students FreshGrade honors all kinds of minds.”

Self-Reflection

Self-reflection allows students to celebrate their areas of strength, address areas of weakness, and set learning goals for themselves. Jody Billingsley invites his class to record themselves talking about their learning. This practice both encourages self-reflection and nurtures digital literacy skills.

“Before I used FreshGrade, I thought that I was having students meaningfully reflect,” says Billingsley. “Back then, my students only did a reflection on a piece of paper and put it into a portfolio, not always having the opportunity to follow up. Today, we have a digital timeline continuum where students can go back, and even reflect on their self-reflection. For me, that’s key. I think the tool that FreshGrade has created for teachers is amazing.”

portrait of cari wilson

That ability of the child to be able to post something and reflect on it, is really valuable.
Cari Wilson, Elementary District Innovation Support Leader

FreshGrade for Assessment

As teachers across the district gained confidence in the platform, they began to use FreshGrade for assessment. Using the Gradebook, educators can use the BC’s new curriculum and link it to their classroom activities. Teachers can also filter their Gradebook using labels, making it easy to see student progress.

“I find that FreshGrade is holistic and user-friendly,” says Billingsley. “When you create your activity, you can add multiple objectives to it. I use labels to organize my Gradebook and customize my labels to create a learning timeline. I can search by labels and easily see progression. I also like the assessment tools, and I love the fact that you could do yes-no, mastery, effort—you can tailor it to different students. It is very powerful.”

Some teachers in the district wanted to be more innovative with how they assessed students and used FreshGrade to enhance their practices.

“Instead of sitting outside the classroom and testing them one at a time, one music teacher had students video themselves and upload them to FreshGrade. If they made a mistake, they could redo the video. It allowed them extra practice because they didn’t want to put up something that wasn’t their best work and it generated a real sense of pride,” says Billingsley.

portrait of cari wilson

By being able to go back and look at [students’ captured work], I can be more thoughtful in my evaluation.
Cari Wilson

Likewise, Wilson used FreshGrade to assess her French Languages class. Instead of asking her class to sit and listen to their peers while she graded each of them singing “Oh Canada” in French, she put them into groups and asked them to go out in the hallway to record each other and upload it to FreshGrade. While they worked independently, she was able to teach the rest of the class.

“I’m able to sit at home when it’s quiet, and I can think. I can watch their video, and give them feedback right there in FreshGrade and grade what they’ve done. When you’re trying to grade oral presentations and you’re trying to keep all the kids behaving at the same time, that can be difficult. By being able to go back and look at it, I can be more thoughtful in my evaluation.”

In 2017-2018, West Vancouver is taking their FreshGrade practice to the next level, by implementing a report card pilot group of 30 teachers who will use FreshGrade more intentionally for assessment and reporting to parents. It is hoped that in the future, the platform may be used as an improvement on the current conventional reporting system.

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