This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader Dr. Daisy Sam.
I have been a classroom teacher since 2005. My only break from the classroom was in 2011 when my family moved from RI to NJ and this year school year as we made another transition from NJ to FL. Sometimes the teaching life is so involved you seldom have time to sit and reflect on the lessons you have created. You just keep doing what works and adapt to new approaches as they come. I truly believe that Teaching is an Art and my tools are a variety of web tools that enhance my lessons. One tool in particular that has been instrumental in my life as a language teacher is VoiceThread.
In the process of writing this blog I went through the many VoiceThreads I have created through the years. I realized that March 2009 was my very first one! Initially, I bought in because of the recording, annotating, and sharing features. Moreover, I was excited about the direct implications this tool had for my Foreign Language classroom of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. At first, I created groups for my classes and loaded VoiceThreads where I would record myself explaining a concept taught in class or pronouncing words. In a way, this was my version of a flipped classroom in 2009. As I developed more experience, I started using VoiceThread to enhance projects by showcasing them to parents on my Google Website. One project in particular was a fashion show. My eager seventh graders used a row of tables as their runway and recorded aspects of their show on VoiceThread. We shared it by embedding the thread in our class website. I then put VoiceThread in the hands of my middle schoolers and had them produce the extra lesson and explanations to share with the class. Additionally, I flipped my classroom readings during this time. Students would read in class and then for homework listen to me read a chapter. This process allowed them to continue to develop an ear for the language.
When I left RI for NJ, I also left behind my sweet middle schoolers. In Ridgewood, NJ I had the opportunity to teach high School. Not knowing how my “big kids” would react to VoiceThread I implemented it slowly. I quickly learned that high schoolers hate listening to themselves speak in Spanish! One of my first VoiceThread applications was having students recreate a scene from a story in our literature book. At this point, they were able to have their own VoiceThread account and join my class group. They recorded and shared their stories with our class group. As a classroom technique to get them out of their seats (World Cafe or Gallery Walk), we placed 1 computer at 4 tables. Each computer had a story from each group. I then asked students to rotate in groups and engage in discussion while providing feedback to the 4 stories. This was an “ Aha moment” when I realized that VoiceThread was a great source to provide verbal feedback. It was during this “Aha moment” that I really started experimenting and using VoiceThread for formal assessments. I wanted to give my students the opportunity to move past the grammar and speak the language in one place where I could also provide feedback. I needed a fast and convenient platform to do this and VoiceThread was that platform.
As I started teaching AP, it was clear I needed VoiceThread to help me not only create authentic forms of assessment, but also aid in the interpersonal skills needed for students to exit successfully from our Spanish curriculum. Part of the AP exam requires students to record a 2 minute presentation where they have to compare and contrast world issues of a spanish speaking culture and their own community. Needless to say, this was a challenge for many of them. We met this challenge head-on with VoiceThread. First, I posted a picture and the topic and everyone recorded their responses on the same thread. As a teacher this made it easier to grade. I knew I had to allocate a certain amount of time to listen to all of them. It showed me how long each recording lasted and with the VoiceThread App, I was able to listen to my students in my car, at the gym, at my kids practices, anywhere. This was beneficial for the students because it gave them an authentic opportunity for practice. The timing format allowed them to become vigilant of time constraints for the exam. When the assessment was over, I opened them so they could all listen to each other. The true strength of this application was the bi-directional learning that happened from student to student. Another aspect that is always a challenge of the AP exam is the simulated conversation and VoiceThread was a great resource for this. As a project they created their own simulated conversations which we embedded on a Google Site for incoming freshman. They had a good time coming up with discussion topics and it was a great way to share the expectations of the AP exam with teachers and students of the lower levels. In this website via VoiceThread, they also created listening practices, which also gave incoming students a perspective of what can be achieved at the higher levels
The use of VoiceThread not only assisted in enhancing assessments and practice skills for the AP exam, but its practical use found its was to my other lower level classes as well. In these classes, I often used VoiceThread to record Group conversations. This particular technique allowed me to float around the classroom and engage in conversation with students and grade these conversations at a later time. At times I took it a step further and used these same conversations as a homework assignment where students had to pick a group to listen to on the VoiceThread discussion of the day and then produce a written reflection of agreement or disagreement. VoiceThread allowed me to design much more meaningful and rigorous assessments. We moved from lower levels of depth of knowledge (DOK) of conjugating verbs to higher levels of depth of knowledge real, authentic conversations in Spanish. For instance, in my 5-Honors class, the exam went from a traditional final with multiple choice questions and grammar to a 25 minute group final with a Spider Conversational Expectation, which involved a conversation reflecting on everything including HS and their Spanish career.
In all, it is my belief that language acquisition is one of the hardest skills to develop. It demands a strong command of vocabulary, grammar, context and confidence. Most teachers, including myself at one point, spend time drilling student skills in vocabulary and grammar. With a “drill and kill” process, most students disengage and develop minimal skills. However, VoiceThread showed me and my students that there was another way to learn a language that was much more meaningful and rigorous. Through its simplicity and practicality, my students and I were able to engage in higher level DOK conversations, which maximize engagement and language acquisition. I cannot imagine any of my classes without VoiceThread and you shouldn’t either. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what my two former students had to say about VoiceThread.
About the author:
Dr. Sam, most recently was a Spanish Teacher and Technology Coach at Ridgewood High School, NJ. Although she is taking a year of from the classroom as she transitions her three children into a her new home state of Florida, she an active Google Education Trainer and Consultant for Eduscape Learning and New Wave Consultants. She has been in the field of education for over ten years. Dr. Sam has been using web tools in the classroom since 2008. In 2013 she became a Google Certified Individual and a Google Education Trainer in June 2014. She holds a Masters degree in Teaching and Student Learning and a Doctoral Degree in Education Leadership. Her 2011 Dissertation focused on how middle school teachers in the different areas of education, described their level of competency using technology and implementing the national education technology standards. In addition Dr. Sam has presented her session Using Google Apps and Web 2.0 tools for AP Success at the 2016 AP Annual Conference, NJ World Language Institute and has been a guest presenter at various World Language Departments in NJ. You can connect with Dr. Sam on twitter at @daisysam1.