Part of my job as Year Head involves dolling out consequences for misbehavior. In this work, I’ve quickly learned that a phone call saves time. When I speak to parents directly, they can hear my tone of voice, ask questions, and express their concerns. We typically end the talk with a mutual understanding: we are in it together, both working toward the betterment of the student. When a phone call is not possible and I have to email, misunderstandings often crop up because tone is often misconstrued. None of this is a revelation; it is just common sense. I am a gobsmacked then (thank you, Brits, for that lovely expression) that until recently, I had not applied this same common sense to my feedback on student writing. I have written before about using macros to increase the precision, consistency, and detail of my written feedback, and I have shared other feedback time saving techniques. Of course, I always give students oral feedback in the formative stages of their writing. Yet, until this recent round of essays, I had never tried recording my formal feedback. Many of my colleagues have been using audio feedback to great success, so I thought I would give it a try, too. Research tells us that in order to be truly effective, students must perceive feedback as credible, accurate, supportive, and timely. A student, like a parent, needs to feel the teacher is on her side, working toward the same common goal. Giving summative feedback orally can help ensure that students feel this way, which can make all those hours and hours and hours and hours and hours we spend creating such feedback more effective.
- As I read the essay in Google Docs, I used the comment feature to leave brief reminders of what I wanted to say. I gave each reminder a number.
- When I finished my reading, I filled out the scoring guide and assigned a grade.
- Next, I opened Quicktime and started a new audio recording. In the recording, I asked the students to follow along in the Google Doc. “O.K… point number one…find it now, click on it, and let me explain…”
- I kept my comments between three to five minutes in length. In this first experiment some went a bit longer.
- After I finished the recording, I saved the audio file in the student’s individual Google Drive folder. (At the beginning of the year, students created a specific English folder with a prescribed naming structure, and they turn in all their electronic work this way. It keeps us all organized.)
- I kept a ten-minute timer running during each essay to try to keep me on track. When I heard the beep, I knew I needed to wrap up my comments.
- In class, I then gave the students a blank scoring guide. I asked them to pull up their document and the audio file. They then listened to my comments and filled out the blank scoring guide on their own.
- Next, the students sent me a “Free My Grade” email where they told me what score they would give themselves, making specific references to my comments and the language of the scoring guide.
- During this “free my grade” step, most students wrote a detailed and accurate reflection the first time, and I wrote back with the actual grade. I then gave them the scoring guide I filled out in the next class. If a student did not reflect in enough detail, I respond with, “I am sorry. You have not yet freed your grade. You need to make more specific reference to my comments and the scoring guide. Try again. See me with any questions.”
Examples of student “free my grade” email:
Hermione wrote: As I was listening to the audio recording I have concluded that I believe I have gotten a 4. My rationale had multiple fragments and run-ons so in that section I would say I got 2 points out of 4 because there was some explanations of intentions identifying some aspects of the chosen story. In addition my comments have some evaluation. For the content and use of detail, I never knew that there was a difference between telling and showing. In this section I believe I would get a 5 because I think I was able to suggest an underlying theme. Also, my point of view was consistent throughout the story. I feel that for the setting I did tell the reader quite a bit, but I had a consistent setting. So I would give myself a 5 in this section. For language I would give myself a 2 because I don’t really believe I did very well in this section due to me having multiple errors. And for organization and mechanics I gave myself a 1 because I made several mechanical errors, most of them being simple…such as apostrophes and basic errors such as run-ons, comma splices, and fragments. Overall, this would equal 10 points being a mid 4.
In this particular example, even after formative feedback and revision, the student did not earn the grade she wanted, but because she could hear my tone of voice, my feedback was clearly received. She knows where she succeeded and where she can improve. If I had written all of my comments, she probably not have had the same reaction.
Pros of Audio Feedback:
- Students heard my tone of voice; they understood the supportive nature of my critiques.
- Students could listen to my comments again and again. They could “take me home in their pocket.”
- The “free my grade” process ensured students listened to my comments carefully and reflected on the feedback before an official grade was ever given….the horse went before the cart, as it should.
- The “low tech” option of using Quicktime Player with Google Drive worked quickly. There was no lag time waiting for the network connection. Other Google plug-ins I have experimented with take too much time to load and save.
- I can speak faster than I can write, so I could leave more feedback. CAVEAT: When I use macros [INSERT POST] I am actually a bit faster than when I speak the comments, but that is probably because I have been using the macro system for years. This was my first experiment with oral feedback.
Cons of Audio Feedback:
- Each essay still took me 10-15 minutes to mark. I had to put my butt in a chair for hours and hours and hours to finish this feedback process. You will, too.
- Using Quicktime Player to record does not allow for a pause button. I had to read through the entire piece, leave notes, and then record my feedback in one take. CAVEAT: I am not really sure this is a con. This step ensured that spoke about individual points in the context of the entire essay, and it was easier to keep my comments to 3-5 minutes in length.