Any teacher who asks students to read materials understands the important of reading comprehension. Whether you are an elementary school teacher who teaches reading, a foreign language teacher who works to build fluency, or a history teacher who wants students to learn about WWII from their textbook, comprehension is vital to the process.
As Daniel Willingham points out in his NY Times Op-Ed, comprehension isn’t simply about decoding; it’s also about vocabulary and context. Typically, teachers who are looking to assess reading comprehension ask students to read a passage, then have them answer questions about the text. Many of these assessments are pre-packaged activities in workbooks or practice tests. VoiceThread can allow educators to construct their own assessments that include these additional components.
The good news is that creating this type of rich assessment is easy with VoiceThread. Here’s how you can do it:
Find a passage you want students to read. Go through the passage, noting the vocabulary or context issues students may find confusing.
Find images that can serve to explain the tricky words or unclear context involved in the passage.
Create a slide with the passage you want students to read. This can be done by pasting the passage into a PPT or Keynote presentation, a Word document or simply taking a screenshot of the text and saving the image.
Upload the document or slide you created to your VoiceThread, along with the images for the vocabulary words and context cues they will need for background information.
Students can then record their answers right on each slide. (If you don’t want students to hear each others’ answers, simply turn on Comment Moderation.)
This type of assignment can not only build knowledge for your students, but it can also help give you a clearer picture about their true ability to comprehend the passages. VoiceThread empowers teachers to use visuals and a more human interaction that workbooks fail to provide. Reading comprehension assessments don’t need to be stuck in a text-only environment, and neither do your students. Give VoiceThread a try and let us know the difference it can make!
This is a guest post written by a team of teachers and VoiceThreaders at the South Burlington School District.
Our students have a lot to say. Imagine all of the opinions swirling around our topic of Bioethics in a tenth grade general science class! How could we hear from each of the 85 learners in our 4 sections of Biology, and allow them to share thoughts with students in other sections? VoiceThread provided the obvious answer.
We offered them choice between compelling topics and provided suggested resource materials, so the focus could remain on accurate content rather than research skills. Students joined self-selected groups. The teacher had already presented information about DNA and Genetic testing. Rather than a traditional test, we decided to allow students to give voice to their ideas as they explored challenging topics in the realm of bioethics, using the scientific information they had learned in class. VoiceThread allowed them to follow a formula: state the dilemma, explain the science behind it, define the ‘pros’ of the issue, and give clarity about the ‘cons’ of the issue. Ask colleagues: What do YOU think?
Finding a compelling image was fairly easy. Creating a brief script with a group of 4 students was a bit more challenging. We wanted them to be able to record their voices in a fairly casual way; to be accurate but not too scripted. After two class periods of reading, further research, and composition of a statement, we were ready to record. Finding a quiet place for small groups became a challenge, but hallways, closets, and empty classrooms provided some answers.
Instead of the boring class presentations where student after student rises to explain their work, we had students simply review their colleagues’ VoiceThreads, and post comments explaining their opinion on the controversial topic. For the students who hate to stand up in front of a group to share their projects, this was a gift, indeed. Every student could hear what every ‘expert’ had to say on the topic, then hear their classmates’ opinions, and then add their own voice. By the way, we insisted on using their voice, because strings of typed comments are simply tiring and uninspiring.
The exciting next step was to share the Threads among the four biology classes. Now students could hear how ‘experts’ in other classes approached a topic, and to do a brief tally of how other students reacted to each topic. Students were able to chime in on conversations among learners who weren’t even in their own class! It was safe, yet exciting, to be part of a conversation where colleagues were expressing very personal beliefs. In fact, even on a snow day students were making comments on Threads! That’s pretty clear evidence that the project was a success.
Simultaneously, our students all have Personal Learning Plans, which include a statement of their core values. The final step of the project was for students to consider the ways in which their core values helped them make decisions around bioethics. In a couple of cases students actually modified or added to their values, recognizing their earlier lists were too superficial to be truly meaningful:
“My core values and VoiceThread really helped me express my ideas and helped me make decisions in the bioethics dilemmas because I felt like in order for science and biology to be successful we have to persevere and improve in our research, and improving and success are two of my core values. When replying to other teams’ dilemmas I needed to reevaluate (or add) to my core values list and I also had to restate my ideas on even my own project because other peoples comments changed my mind and persuaded me.”
Another student added:
“My core values helped me make decisions in bioethical dilemmas because they helped me clearly choose a side in most of the decisions I was faced with. ..Voicethread helped my critical thinking process because it helped me learn about new things, and gave me an opinion on both sides of a problem. For example, when I listened to golden rice, I heard arguments for both sides of the dilemma. This made me think about my viewpoints, which lead to further thinking and better decision making. Also, VoiceThread helped me do better work because everyone had an equal voice, and once it was uploaded I could go back to it and listen at anytime of day. These are the reasons technology helped my critical thinking, and why my core values helped me make decisions in bioethical dilemmas.”
VoiceThread not only allowed students to participate equally in learning science and forming opinions but in extending that learning to real life. It allows learning to happen any time, any place, any path, at any pace.
About the Authors: Rich Wise is a Science teacher who has been teaching science for 40 years and is retiring in June. Heidi Western is an ELL teacher who began working with English Learners in South Burlington in 1999. She works within science classes to broaden all students’ academic language skills and supports the ELLs in a science literacy lab. Lauren Parren is the Tech Integration Coach. Lauren joined the SBHS staff 3 years ago, coming full circle after doing her student teaching there over 40 years ago. She works with teachers to explore the intersection of technology and pedagogy to create meaningful learning opportunities.
Students with Dyslexia are one of the most underserved student populations in our schools. When we discuss Universal Design and accessibility for students, we typically forget about students who struggle with text. The International Dyslexia Association has spent time working to help these students and recently shared a Structured Literacy approach that works well with VoiceThread.
Here are some tips for using VoiceThread within a Structured Literacy framework:
“Phonological awareness includes rhyming, counting words in spoken sentence, and clapping syllables in spoken words.”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload slides with sentences and ask students to record themselves reading each syllable and clapping to emphasize the breaks in the sounds.
“Sound-symbol association must be taught and mastered in two directions: visual to auditory (reading) and auditory to visual (spelling).”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload slides with single words or small lists and ask the students to sound out the words using their microphones or webcams. Teachers can upload images instead of text and ask students record text comments spelling the words from the list.
“Syllable division rules heighten the reader’s awareness of where a long, unfamiliar word may be divided for great accuracy in reading the word.”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload slides with words written in text form on a PPT slide. The students can then use theDoodle toolto draw lines between the syllables in the words.
“The Structured Literacy curriculum includes the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes.”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload slides with text showing words that contain prefixes and suffixes. Students can use audio comments and the Doodle tool to explain which parts of the word are suffixes, prefixes and the root word.
“This includes grammar, sentence variation, and the mechanics of language.”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload slides with text and ask the students to record audio or text comments restructuring the sentences using the grammar rules they have learned.
“The curriculum (from the beginning) must include instruction in the comprehension of written language.”
How VoiceThread can help: Teachers can upload short written passages on PPT slides and ask the students to record answers to reading comprehension questions about the text.
While there are many ways to help dyslexic students become more proficient in reading, nothing beats a differentiated approach using visuals, audio and text together.
Online courses have many advantages, but they often lack that human connection we find in traditional, face-to-face courses. Why is this the case? Many online courses are designed to distribute information in ways that are limited by the tools used. We use platforms that allow instructors to upload documents and create text-based tests but we are missing the human element. In a face-to-face class, we can see and hear each other but this social interaction usually disappears once we teach online.
This is actually one of the main complaints students have about online courses. Students feel a sense of isolation and disconnectedness and this has a major impact on learning. When we communicate solely with text, we miss out on all of the non-verbal communication that happens in natural conversation. Tone of voice, cadence and facial expressions are all part of how we naturally communicate, but text doesn’t allow us to absorb this layer of communication.
Experienced online educators have become aware of this and they seek out ways to see and hear from their students. Some educators might try live Skype sessions or webinar-style class meetings. While these platforms do reintroduce that non-verbal element, they also come with logistical issues. Many students take online courses because of the flexible schedule but you still need to schedule a live meeting. Students may have jobs, other courses or extracurricular activities when the live meeting takes place. Technical problems can prevent students or teachers from joining the meetings too. In a live meeting, only one person can speak at a time.
With VoiceThread, we can recapture that missing social presence and engage with our students in a natural way while eliminating the problems with live meetings. Because VoiceThread is asynchronous, every student has a chance to ask and answer questions. Not only do they have a voice, they also have the opportunity to reflect on what they see and hear, then record their comments, and revise them which increases the quality of the interaction.
VoiceThread not only empowers teachers to overcome the obstacles of time and location, but it also brings humanity back into your course. Teaching and learning are fundamentally human activities and our courses should be a reflection of these human elements.
This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Samantha Stelz.
Is VoiceThread a tool that can be used in the primary grades? Is VoiceThread easy to learn for students who are not as familiar with technology?
The answer to those questions is…yes! VoiceThread is an excellent 21st century learning tool that students can use in a variety of ways across grade levels. When talking with other teachers from different counties and states across the US about how I utilize VoiceThread and other technology programs in the classroom, they often cannot believe that my students are ‘only’ second graders. As a second grade teacher, some believe that such a program might be too difficult to facilitate at the primary grade level. On the contrary, our kiddos are much faster at adapting to and learning these tools than we are—even if we do not want to admit it. Technology is a large part of this generation. Going forward, teachers must embrace technology programs such as VoiceThread and similar programs to prepare students for the future.
One of my favorite ways of using VoiceThread is for shared learning discussions when students share their ideas with each other. Recently, I utilized VoiceThread in place of a “marker talk” (a marker talk is where students share their thoughts and ideas with others by letting their marker do the talking). The lesson was centered on exploring and discussing infographics.
We’ve done marker talks before, but in the past, I often needed to remind students to read everyone’s response. The students were engaged during the marker talk, but not as much as they could be. With VoiceThread, my students were enthusiastically asking me if they could listen/read/ watch everyone’s response, because they were so engaged and interested in seeing what their peers had to say. On VoiceThread, students were also able to comment to each other’s responses to give each other feedback and to tell their peer if they agreed/disagreed with their peer and why.
The reason I stated “listen/read/watch” is for the fact that VoiceThread allows for different forms of responses which gives the students choices. Students may videotape themselves giving their response, they may type out a response, or they may record their voice in response. By giving students these choices, they are already more engaged and more focused while learning. These options also allow for differentiation in meeting students’ individual needs.
VoiceThread is as easy for teachers as pressing two buttons: “create” and “upload.” You can easily upload and share your files with your students in a slide-show format. For the infographic lesson, I uploaded five different infographics that I wanted the students to discuss. I facilitated the lesson by posing the students with questions that they could discuss with one another about the infographics.
Similar to interpreting a piece of art, my students had to make their own meaning of the infographics and share their ideas with their peers. These questions included topics on: purpose, audience, text features, images, color scheme, power of colors, text, fonts used, and whether or not he/she thought the infographic was effective in meeting its’ purpose. By using VoiceThread for this lesson, my students were highly engaged and motivated in sharing and learning, the students took ownership over the discussion, and we were able to have a very comprehensive conversation.
I highly recommend using VoiceThread—no matter what the grade, subject, or the location of your school. Our kiddos get so much out of these learning experiences, and it is greatly preparing them for our tech-driven future.
About the author:
Samantha Stelz is a second grade teacher at Mays Chapel Elementary School, one of the BCPS Lighthouse Schools. She teaches because she is passionate about fostering creativity, innovation, and most importantly, motivation. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MsStelz.
We’ve reached the finish line! VoiceThread is officially Flash free, and the new HTML5 version has been released to everyone. It’s been a long journey, and we’re very excited to have moved on to this phase. The HTML5 version of VoiceThread offers:
More responsiveness with less software to install and run.
Greater security since you no longer need to have Flash installed on your computer or web browser.
Expanded Conversation Channel
Open up the conversation channel on the left side of your VoiceThread to see more information about comments, including the commenter’s full name, the date and time stamp, the duration, and the type of comment, all at a glance.
We’ve streamlined VoiceThread Universal to be more mobile friendly and to launch seamlessly from the standard VoiceThread mobile app. We’ve also eliminated all Flash from these pages. This makes it easier for blind users and others who utilize screen readers to interact with VoiceThread.
Security and infrastructure are always ongoing efforts, but we’ve made some great strides this year. All infrastructure has been upgraded to be faster, leaner, and more secure. We’ve also taken all steps required to defend against known vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown.
Richer Video Commenting
You already can interact with and comment on video extensively in VoiceThread, and now we’re developing even more integration. Soon you’ll be able to insert your comments into your videos so that you can see where each comment was recorded on that video’s timeline. Nothing about how comments are recorded will change; you’ll just have more information at your fingertips about where the comment was made.
New Assignments and Courses
We’ve been telling you about courses and assignments for a while now, and we’re proud to say that things are going very well! Soon we will have “New Assignments” available for LTI-integrated institutions to try out. Some of these new features will include:
Greater variety of assignment types and more collaborative options between students
More grading options
Enhancement of existing assignment types based on your feedback
Streamlined workflows for both instructors and students
Tighter mobile integration
This will be the first step on our way to offering self-contained courses within VoiceThread, as well. Soon you’ll be able to run a course in VoiceThread that is both simpler and more flexible than the groups you use now.
We’re always working toward greater accessibility of VoiceThread. The specific goal this semester is WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. This includes many small details to ensure that VoiceThread is accessible to all users.
Educators around the world like to share their work and now VoiceThread has a way to let everyone know what you’ve been working on too! Our public Browse page is a great place to see VoiceThreads from different subjects for both K12 and Higher Ed courses. On the Browse page, you will see different ThreadBoxes for each subject.
You can search for a ThreadBox about your subject and see what others have shared, then you can share your own!
You will be able to search a list of the VoiceThreads you’ve already created or simply paste the link for the VoiceThread you would like to add.
It is always helpful to see what other educators in your field are creating, so don’t be shy! Share your work with others and connect with our global community.
This is a guest post by professor of Law & Ethics and VoiceThreader, Matthew Phillips.
Today was the first day of classes for my university, but it was also a snow day. I drove into work anyway, in part because I’m just that stubborn and in part because I wanted to be ready for my classes, which were having their first meetings tomorrow (what was to be the second day of school). By the time I got to campus, it was clear that we would be experiencing a delay (at best) for the second day of classes too.
I’ve used VoiceThread as a just-in-time snow day solution before, but this was a bit more complex because it would be covering my first meeting with students. There was also the possibility that only some of my classes would be canceled, so the virtual session would need to match up well with the in-class experience that students would have in afternoon classes.
Invest in the introduction: I wanted students to have a clear introduction to me as an instructor, so I taped an introduction with my iPhone (and a good mic with extension cable). I did some quick editing in Camtasia before uploading to VoiceThread, but I could have easily uploaded the file directly to VoiceThread after trimming with the iPhone’s native tools.
Tell students why this is good for them: I’m sure students would prefer not to have any snow day work, but that would create an awkward beginning to the semester. I tried to outline exactly why I created this virtual class session (so that they’d understand the course framework before they needed to master next week’s readings), and to be upfront about the fact that I like snow days too, but their learning outcomes drove me to take this extra step.
Adjust for the medium: VoiceThread is great for sessions like my introductory class—lecture with supporting slides—but it’s still different than being in person with students. I usually try to inspire students a little about the power of openness and curiosity with regard to my discipline, and I also usually push a little when talking about participation and use of electronic devices in class. I dropped those parts of my introduction because I’d rather do those things when I can see their reactions and adjust tone and content accordingly.
Invite comments specifically and provide instructions: I know some students won’t have used VoiceThread before my class, so I specifically invite comments, and I use a text-based comment to mention that the option exists, because I don’t necessarily want a dozen students adding video comments in this context (though that’s a great VoiceThread feature!).
Be careful about lighting and angles: It’s not hard to get the camera—even a laptop webcam—aimed properly and to get lighting to work to your advantage. I put my computer on a stack of books so that the camera is at my eye level (avoiding the “up-the-nose” angle that’s so common with webcams. I also turn my desk lamp so that it’s shining at my face from just beside the computer so that my face is not dark and doesn’t have bad shadows. Those may seem like shallow issues, but they communicate your investment to students: I need them to know I took this seriously so that they will too.
Good luck! Stay safe, warm, and on track with your syllabus in the new year.
About the Author:
Matthew Phillipsis the John Hendley Fellow and an associate teaching professor of law & ethics at the Wake Forest University School of Business and the director of Wake Forest’s BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism. Phillips has won teaching awards from Wake Forest and from the international Academy of Legal Studies in Business. You can find him on twitter at @mtppilot and you can find his school at @wakeforestbiz.
The concept of “flipping” the classroom has been around for a number of years but it hasn’t been widely adopted as a professional development strategy. Why is this the case? In a traditional face-to-face course, students are required to attend classes at a certain time in a specific classroom so their schedules are predictable. Professional development workshops for faculty are typically not as predictable. Scheduling workshops for teachers can be a difficult task because of after school activities, department meetings, office hours and a host of other obstacles.
VoiceThread can help trainers at all levels overcome these obstacles. Over the last few years, we have worked with a number of Instructional Designers and Learning Support staff to create and deliver flipped workshops. In the past, trainers may have been able to cobble together tutorials and documents to share with teachers, but VoiceThread makes organizing materials and follow-up discussions easier. Instead of compiling half a dozen links to YouTube videos, webpages and in-house materials, you can upload all of your content to one place. You can narrate over slides, share screencast videos and have an open Q&A all on a single VoiceThread.
Because VoiceThread is asynchronous and web-based, there is no need to schedule, reserve meeting space and deal with all of the logistics that go along with professional development. Many teachers want professional development, but those obstacles can get in the way. A teacher may have time to learn at 10pm on a Thursday, or early in the morning on the weekends, and VoiceThread allows these teachers to enjoy the benefits of PD without having to upend their schedules.
As teachers work through the material, they can easily record their questions at any time of day. The facilitator of the VoiceThread workshop can then review the questions on their time and respond. If the answers are complex, the facilitator can upload a new slide explaining the answer in greater visual detail to that same VoiceThread. You can eliminate the back and forth of text-based emails and maintain a record of the questions where everyone can hear them.
There will always be a time and place for meeting with someone face-to-face to work through issues, but VoiceThread gives you the freedom to decide when that is necessary and when it’s not.
This semester, I wanted to try an assignment utilizing a feature in VoiceThread that I have yet to explore. In the assignment I created, students were tasked with completing an MS Excel assignment. Although the completed assignments were delivered to me via Blackboard, there was one component where I incorporated VoiceThread. Part of the task was for students to create a macro (series of repetitive commands that could be invoked using only the keyboard). Each student was to create a macro they felt could be implemented if they were recently hired in a finance or accounting firm. Once they completed their excel macro, they had to use VoiceThread to present their accomplishments to their boss. They needed to state why they chose the macro, what the macro does, what obstacles they overcame and how they could possibly move their final creation to the next level. I had set a limit of 3 minutes for them to present.
The feature I incorporated was comment moderation. This prevents other students from seeing their classmates’ comments. Students had to create their own ideas and couldn’t be swayed by their peers. The end results were excellent. I had 25 unique assignments that worked. I followed the student’s suggested comments on my own excel computer program. I was impressed by some of the creativity that was produced. Requiring the students to speak in front of the camera made them feel assertive with the material. It was as if their actual boss was on the other end. Some students went as far as dressing up.
I subsequently made a private voice comment to each student explaining my assessment of the video they produced. I soon realized I could use VoiceThread to not only analyze that component, but the complete assignment. I no longer need to write back my observations. I found it more effective and efficient explaining how certain tasks could have been accomplished verbally than anything I could have written. The one caveat is to review your VoiceThread replies and be sure that they have a line connecting the commenter to yours as well as a lock. If you find your comment is not locked, that comment will be visible to everyone. If you are looking for ways to engage your students, a VoiceThread assignment may be the solution.
About the Author:
Curtis Izen is a senior information associate and VoiceThread Certified Educator. Curtis adjuncts online and face to face courses at Baruch College and the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York. Curtis is passionate on bringing new philosophies and technology into the curriculum. He is a 2 time recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching and Pedagogy at Baruch College.