North Carolina Virtual Academy:
Designing Form to Follow Function
Efficiency is key in teaching today, and even more so virtually; like other online schools, NCVA is seeing firsthand, with increasing students, standards, and studies, even one child struggling, or one ineffective platform, can upend schedules and learning. As such, when NCVA dug into its process of moving student work from paper, to dropbox, to a gradebook, the cracks started to appear: Previous systems weren’t especially user-friendly for teachers, necessitating time-intensive and repetitive feedback. Google Docs and other sites required multiple logins. Interim assessment programs provided diagnostic benchmarks but made it difficult to view standards and analyze data. And with caseloads of approximately 130 students per teacher, progress needed to be more transparent and grading more simplified...without forfeiting the ability for students to show their work, as in what’s required in math or writing classes, for example.
“I’d heard from many teachers that they wanted to look at their data differently. We could see overall results, but had a hard time digging into the whys,” explains Sonimar Villegas, NCVA Academic Administrator. “Plus, parents complained about having to work across too many platforms, so we knew we needed something that was more functional and effective and allowed for more consistency across the board.”
Clarifying the Function
For NCVA, the team needed an added layer of flexibility beyond what brick-and-mortar schools might offer. While virtual teachers don’t have to tackle classic classroom management issues, they do need to be innovative in their attempts to reach every student, which requires a plethora of resources. The challenge here is that, behind the screens, more disengagement is possible.
Thankfully, Formative supports such tasks effortlessly. With the online, just-in-time repository of grade-appropriate topics, teachers can find something pre-made (by choosing from thousands of options that are easily customizable for specific use) or can create their own Formative (by uploading and transforming any .pdf, .doc, or Google Doc; embedding content from other sources; adding interactivity; and more). In its quest for efficiency, NCVA first researched Formative for help with math curriculum challenges but quickly came to appreciate the ability to translate existing documents quickly into their own formatives for use. In fact, available Formative topics range from math, science, and social studies to English, foreign languages, and writing--practically anything required to excel in K-12 education.
Besides placing topics at teachers’ fingertips, Formative offers the tools to excel at such one-on-one attention and feedback, which is often one of the greatest needs in such an online setting. Educators can act on live responses to intervene as needed; give feedback and auto-grade students’ work; track student growth over time; visualize student performance across assignments/assessments; and easily integrate supportive tools, like Google, Classroom, Class Link and other resources in their formatives.
“We didn’t find anything else similar (to Formative). I just listened to my teachers and, of all the different tools our educators tried, I didn’t see anything that worked the way Formative did,” Villegas states. “We love the tracker tool: Being able to easily see how the students perform—watching the colors from green to red—is really powerful.”
Building on Benefits
NCVA had several must-haves on their wish list: A singular platform and the ability to provide immediate feedback and view students’ work were at the top. Ultimately, Formative made the grade, as it provided all these tools as well as the ability to pull data easily for admins. Additionally, many teachers already were using Formative and found the set-up easy for both educators and students.
“With Formative’s ‘show your work’ feature, as students work through math problems, teachers can give immediate feedback, which helps us keep students engaged and take immediate action on their learning before they’ve moved on from the assignment,” Villegas says. “Also, Formative forces students to truly work through their math problems instead of simply allowing them to pick an answer, so teachers can see their full work. And in appropriate multiple-choice settings, we’ve been able to assess, ‘Why did so many students pick a particular answer? Was it the way the question was presented, or the way answers were worded, or is there a gap in learning we need to address? Formative allows us to do all of this.
Similarly, NCVA found Formative extremely helpful for creating assessments based on individual student needs. This came in the form of audio questions for younger students or others who have trouble reading. Villegas also describes, “We have two visually impaired students who use braille. Every other tool that we’ve used for assessment, benchmarks, have been very difficult for them to access. The awesome thing about Formative is that we’re able to design the formatives in a way that’s easily accessible to our braille readers. We send the parent the word version of all of the formatives. She brailles the formatives for the students to work through and then she'll go in and input the answers for them.”
“We’ve seen such student success. If a student doesn’t know an answer, they will write in, ‘I don’t know how to do this problem.’ This is valuable data; we can look at this and the teacher knows, ‘I need to help them,’” Villegas adds. “The ‘show your work’ feature and the ability to track standards over the year are the biggest reasons I recommend Formative.”