In August 2015, I was in a training organized by folks at the Washington Education Association, called, “Innovate! Passion and Bravery in Teaching.” I was feeling it. Each presenter got me more excited and thinking about the upcoming school year. During one of the sessions, a presenter began talking about how to grade innovative projects. I eagerly asked, “What tools do you use to grade?” I thought that I was finally about to find a gradebook that could meet my needs. That bubble burst the moment he responded with, “Well, I made them all myself!” I walked out of that session outraged, feeling like I was sold magic beans with no instructions. Out of frustration, I went home and Googled online gradebooks.
I have done this exercise before many times year after year. I scrolled past the usual suspects and clicked on something I’d never heard of before: Kiddom. I quickly set up an account and “made” classes. After the four-day training session, I had a better idea than ever of what I needed, and was ready to find it. Fortunately, Kiddom offers a little button I could click on to chat with their support team directly. This marked the beginning of our love story.
Every question (and I mean every question) I asked was answered quickly, unlike the experience I have had with other tech companies waiting for days for a form email response. The folks at Kiddom answered in moments (and they still do). Clearly, they were a young company. I decided to ask them point blank: how were they going to give me what I wanted for my classroom?
I outlined the following items as a top priority:
- Standards across all subjects
- Standards-aligned rubrics
- Professional development support to share Kiddom with my staff
- A student-friendly dashboard
- Ability to run reports seamlessly
- Bonus: a mobile app (to grade during small pockets of time without my laptop)
It wasn’t completely surprising that they said yes to all of the features I brought up. What was surprising was that one of the founders even gave me his cell phone number to flesh these ideas out further. My fellow teachers, when has a company ever offered their phone number in case you need support in using their FREE product?! I was shocked.
Once the school year started, I had (you guessed it) more questions and proposals. I wanted my class rosters in without typing them in manually, a student portal, and Google Classroom integration. Upon further investigation in the program, I actually realized I could easily pull rosters in from a spreadsheet and that my students could set up their own student accounts using their district email addresses. I didn’t really need the Google Classroom integration anymore as Kiddom already integrated with Google Drive. I guess you could say things were going well!
Of course, with any relationship, there are always ups and downs. The real question was, could we work through them? Kiddom was still very young at this point: sometimes buttons wouldn’t work and I’d run into random glitches. To their credit, most were fixed the same day I would bring up the issue via chat. I realized I was pushing Kiddom to give me everything I wanted (it was back to school season, so some things just couldn’t wait) when I wanted it. They were meeting me at every turn. Their staff of former teachers and engineers were helpful, kind, and supportive. They claimed they were working for teachers. We teachers hear this often, but we know a con when we see one. This time was different, they were actually meeting (and anticipating) my needs.
Our relationship continued this way through the first few months of school. I was so impressed with the program that I offered a training for staff that were interested in letting go of their traditional gradebook. My selling point was real-time data, an interface to help students (and families) understand where they were in the learning process, and what was needed to improve. I broke this professional development up into multiple sessions to avoid overwhelming my teachers with everything Kiddom can do. During one of the sessions, an amazing thing happened: we found ourselves engaged in deep conversation about grades and what they mean. We had stopped talking about Kiddom itself and dove deeper: what does each learning standard look like and how can we measure it? It was a paradigm shift from using some magical formula to give a simple number grade to really looking at student work and assigning a mastery level based on what was there and what wasn’t.
Later in the year, it was time for student-teacher conferences. This time, my students were able to look at their own Kiddom student dashboards, set goals based on their data, and then actually lead conferences with their families! This was seriously empowering for my students. They weren’t doing work just because I said so: they could see themselves improving. They asked me to teach them how to design a study guide before a test and asked to redo assignments to improve their rubric scores. Parents felt connected to and had a better understanding of how their children were doing in class. I think they were finally starting to “get” what a standards-based grading classroom is.
It’s been a little over a year since I started using Kiddom and I’m looking forward to many more anniversaries to come. Any program or tool that can help teachers elevate their craft to the next level deserves recognition. The funny part is, as a byproduct of their tool, I actually got more time: more time to spend with family and friends, and more time for myself. It’s good to turn “off” sometimes.