This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader Jonathan Lewis.
As a classroom teacher, sound assessment practices have always been a challenge, especially as we strive towards meeting the diverse needs of all of our learners. This challenge becomes even more complex due to differentiation, descriptive feedback, and the diverse technological tools our students are using to communicate their learning. Throw in a dash of Problem or Inquiry-based Learning and you have the perfect storm of open learning opportunities, leaving you to wonder how you are going to capture anything.
As a teacher trying to navigate through the tsunami of student information flying at you, efficiency becomes the key to employing the tech tools that are going to best support the process of learning. From my experience there are 4 main criteria that a tech tool must meet in order for it to be useful:
- It is NOT device dependent.
- It can handle multiple file/media formats.
- Has a simple, innovative interface.
- Creates opportunities for meaningful learning.
THE SIMPLE POWER OF VOICETHREAD
In our search for efficiency, we often find that technology integration makes more work, transforming a relatively straightforward process (ie. conferencing with a student) into a gauntlet of file formats, devices that won’t open files, and browsers that need updating. A simple interface that can step outside of file formating becomes a refreshing change, often becoming a go-to tool. VoiceThread has been this for me.
I’m learning that you can weigh a tool’s intuitiveness by the reactions of a first time user. Often the tools that invoke a “That’s it?” reaction become the tools that are most meaningful in the classroom. The intuitiveness of the tool becomes alive as the user adds information to it.
VoiceThread is a tool that comes alive once added to. The simplicity of dragging and dropping a wide variety of files, or snapping a picture or video through the app that can be annotated and/or commented on, simplifies the assessment process allowing for constant, immediate feedback. Descriptive feedback is made easy through the voice recording, and enhanced by the ability to annotate directly on whatever you have uploaded.
VoiceThread’s open, yet structured format has been its greatest asset in my classroom. It was the reason why it makes a great backdrop for a portfolio.
CAPTURING THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Creative projects are at the heart of the art classroom. Likewise, at the heart of the creative process is feedback. Ongoing feedback supports the thinking at every stage of the process. As an art teacher I want to be able to pilot in during these different stages of creativity in order to open a dialogue about the idea from its conception to the finished project.
VoiceThread provides a platform for students to easily snap a photo during whatever stage of the creative process they are on. Whether they are creating a proposal, sketching an idea, or creating a digital mock-up, students can make their thinking visual through VoiceThread. As a teacher this helps me to see the rationale behind the ideas being created, adding to or encouraging the direction of an idea, in order to push the experimentation and creativity of the student.
As a grade 7 and 8 rotary art teacher, I have 50 min art periods, twice a week. The time constraints of the class have made it incredibly difficult to get to every student during class time. VoiceThread has made feedback manageable again, allowing me to streamline my feedback to those students who can independently move to the next step, providing opportunities in class to sit with the students that need a more hands-on approach.
At the end of a project, it is exciting to see the transformation of an idea to a final project all contained digitally through VoiceThread.
SETTING UP A PORTFOLIO THROUGH VOICETHREAD
At the beginning of the year in Grade 7 we create physical art portfolios to house sketchbooks, mock-ups, and hold materials as we are working. At the same time, each student sets up their digital portfolio through VoiceThread using an individual thread that is shared only between teacher and student.
The first page of this “thread” can really be anything that represents the individual student, as it acts like a title page for their portfolio. I always start with something that you can easily recognize as their own such as an art piece with their name in it somehow. Following that first page, students will simply add photos to this thread during the process of whatever they are creating at the time. Teachers can upload success criteria for the assignment as a separate page in the thread, flipping between the work and the criteria as they record their feedback.
At the end of the project, a photo of the final product is uploaded, allowing students to leverage the tools in VoiceThread to reflect and identify what worked and what didn’t. VoiceThread provides a meaningful avenue to fulfill the responding and reflecting components of our Arts curriculum.
When students start their next project, I make sure that they organize the pages in the thread from newest to oldest so that as the teacher I only have to flip past the first page (title page) to see their next creation!
EXTENDING THE IMPACT OF VOICETHREAD
Hosting a digital portfolio on VoiceThread extends far beyond the Arts classroom. Much of the process of capturing student thinking through a VoiceThread portfolio can be applied to any subject. Easily capture math work or a design in science, adding it as a page to a thread in order for students to explain their thinking. As the number of images in the thread grows, so does the ability of the student to see how they have improved.
Sample Art Portfolio:
About the guest blogger:
Jonathan Lewis is an elementary school teacher and literacy coach at Mackenzie Glen Public School part of the York Region District School Board in Maple, Ontario. He has worked with intermediate grades for 10 yrs focusing mainly on Literacy and Media Arts. His role as literacy coach has provide many opportunities to collaborate with teachers from different grades and schools, supporting technology integration and its role in promoting literacy instruction. You can find him on twitter here: @j_lewie