A Tech Tool Becomes a Learning Tool

April 18, 2015

 

 

Champlain Valley Union High School is a leader in the state of Vermont when it comes to standards-based teaching and learning, and recently I caught up with Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams there, to ask about CVU’s implementation of their standards-based system and JumpRope and JumpRope’s evolution from a tech tool to a learning tool. Here’s our back-and-forth:

 

Abner: OK, Emily and Stan, CVU decided to implement JumpRope in an incremental manner, letting it seed itself over the course of a year or so, with volunteers rather than people directed to use it. What made you decide on that path - and how’s it been working?

 

Emily and Stan: Over the years, we have consistently seen that the success of programs and ideas is strongly linked to their implementation strategy. When things are mandated (especially before people are ready for them), they tend to fall apart and become just another checklist item with the faculty. Our goal was to focus on SBL and instruction to the point where the faculty asked for and needed JumpRope. Our thought was that this would give teachers ownership and also make it more likely that it would be successful transition.

 

We think it’s gone well. We started the year with around 25% of our faculty using JumpRope completely. By the end of the first semester, we had over 50% using it for tracking and grading and close to 80% using it in some capacity. Our estimate is that by the start of next year, 75% will be using it for everything and around 95% using it for selected aspects.

 

We worry that if we’d gone the full directive route it would have backfired. Yes, there might’ve been cases where this would have accelerated growth of SBL in certain areas; however, we’re strong believers that allowing this growth to be organic is the best option. We may not be able to immediately say, “All teachers are SBL and using JumpRope.” However, we’re confident that this strategy will make these instructional and grading changes more meaningful to teachers and thus longer lasting.

 

Abner: Talk more about something you told me last week over the phone - the distinction about JumpRope the tech tool and JumpRope the learning tool, as more and more people master the tech side of things and really dive into the learning of standards-based grading. Can you talk some more about that - and when you know that someone’s made that flip to the other side?

 

Emily and Stan: Yes, this has been really interesting for us to see. Initially, there was a small group of teachers who were furthest along with SBL, and we had no tech tool to support their tracking and reporting. Our school’s system was set up as a traditional gradebook, and so we had to create clunky systems involving Excel, mail merges, and Word tables - all very awkward and prone to user errors. This was a perfect example of the tech tool (or lack thereof) getting in the way of our ability to implement a better system of learning.

 

When we found JumpRope, this group was thrilled, as it meant they could get rid of the multimodal system we were struggling with and focus on a single program. Like all new technology, it took some getting used to, but these teachers quickly found that JumpRope was more than just a place to store information about students. That’s really what our grade books have always been - the place where we put numbers that added to other numbers and eventually gave us a final number. But this was different. First, teachers were looking at student data differently now that it was organized by learning target rather than by assignment; they found themselves needing to respond to what was in front of them. This led to great questions about differentiation and requests for professional development. Second, setting up units in JumpRope forced teachers to think about planning in a different way; setting up learning targets, tagging these to standards, designing assessments that had to be linked to the targets - all of these aspects of the set up forced them to be so much more intentional than was necessary with a traditional grade book. And finally, the thought and attention that JumpRope put into the pop-ups and explanations helped teachers understand the reasoning behind many of the new SBL and SBG practices.

 

Now, as more and more of our teachers get comfortable with SBL, we can see the change in thinking about the purpose of JumpRope in the questions they ask us. Many new users - particularly those who’ve not fully transitioned to SBL in their classrooms - still see JumpRope as a gradebook. They ask questions about how to make it do this, or why it won’t do that, or how to get the grade they want at the end. But slowly and surely, with use and, more importantly, with greater understanding of SBL, the questions have begun to change to those about learning. JumpRope, when used correctly and fully, has become a way for us to think about data and learning, not just to collect points.

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