Giving the Silent Students a Voice

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Jesse James.

I’m not what you would call an early adopter, so I’m a little behind the curve. My technology integrator knew that I was willing to try something new though, and she brought back VoiceThread from a Texas Region 11 training. When I first reviewed VoiceThread for my classroom, I was instantly excited because I had not seen a tool that allowed for a digital student response to what we were studying in class. I thought it would add a different dimension to the classroom conversation, and after I used it in my classroom, I immediately began to see more engagement in my students – especially those who never spoke up in my class.

I decided to try VoiceThread as a tool to foster discussion about a poem in my 9th Grade Pre-AP ELA classes. It took me a little trial and error to figure out how to load a video of the poem being performed, but with the help of the VoiceThread help answers, I quickly figured out how it worked. I assumed that my students would roll their eyes at the program, seeing as so often technology is used more as a shiny toy to attract them than as a true tool of pedagogy.

The day I presented the VoiceThread, I loaded up the presentation and had all of my students log in using a share link. I told them we would be watching a poem and then discussing how the writers created meaning which is usual for the way my class works. I demonstrated how the comment feature worked, and even challenged them to be brave and try a video or audio comment. I then played the video of the poem, telling the students that we would not be responding as usual, the loudest and most extroverted voices drowning out those who are shy or afraid of their answers. Once the poem finished, I asked them to continue on to the next slide and comment to answer the question. They were all reluctant at first, afraid to be the first, but once a couple of comments popped up on the VoiceThread I had projected at the front of the room, the students got excited because they realized everyone’s answers were being valued and given time in the classroom. Instead of having to fight to get heard, they were all getting a chance to answer the question, and even better, they realized they could have conversations between each other, challenging each other and asking questions to clarify their peer’s responses.

At the end of the questions, I decided to take a quick poll to see what they thought of VoiceThread. A girl who I don’t know if I had heard her voice all year, raised her hand and said, “Mr. James, I love this because I’m not brave enough to speak in class, but this program allows me to speak without the fear of being embarrassed.” This was a moment of clarity for me because I have always tried to find ways to encourage those who feel like they don’t have a voice in the classroom, and VoiceThread seemed to be the answer.

I quickly decided to build an assignment around VoiceThread, and it was an even bigger success because the students were not only able to share their ideas on a particular topic, they worked even harder knowing that at the end of the assignment their peers were going to get the opportunity to comment on their work. The creativity that my students shared with each other was incredible because they knew that their voice would finally be heard by their peers, and they would gain recognition for their strengths, rather than just their ability to answer a question in class when a teacher asked.

I hope each of you will help your own students find their voice and share it not only with their peers, but across the globe.

About the Author:

Jesse James has been teaching English in Weatherford, TX for the past 11 years. He currently teaches English I and English I Pre-AP. You can connect with him on twitter at: @Mrjameswhs