Sunday, March 15, 2009

Differentiate using VoiceThread and Inspire Kids Who Need Inspiration

Below you'll see an embedded VoiceThread (made by an educator named Michelle) that shows some educational uses of the tool. Look at some of the slides by clicking the arrow on the bottom right. Michell talks on the first one and shows other ways to comment on some of the other pages. (Find out how to get VoiceThread for FREE at the end of this post. No scrolling ahead!)

I'm pretty sure you've been hearing as much as I have about differentiating instruction and evaluation as I have. We should be hearing about it . . . we should have been doing it all along, so it's certainly high time to talk about it. However, what I see is that most evaluation is done the same old way, through fairly (if not completely) typical testing techniques. Many a scantron (or relative thereof) is still used and many a blank filled in. But, if we're as serious about differentiation as we SAY we are, then we've got to do more than just try to teach in ways that reach more students, we've also got to evaluate in ways that allow more students to show us what they've learned. If you wonder if this is important, find most any nearby 7 year old (or 17 year old) and ask them to write a paragraph for you about a topic they've been learning about in school and are at least somewhat interested in. Next, ask them to talk to you about that topic. Be prepared to stay a while. The paragraph will be done in a flash and will likely not inspire you, but what you will hear when they speak will be an entirely different experience. My own 12 year old 7th grader got fired up telling me how barbed wire changed the West the other night until I thought we were going to have to muzzle her. So, the reason VoiceThread could inspire ESPECIALLY kids who need it the most is that kids who are traditionally not the schoolgirl/schoolboy type are usually better (profoundly better) at expressing themselves with their voices than they are at writing. Won't it be great to give them a chance to show what they've learned using their own voice? And anyway, if you're not testing for the purpose of developing traditional test-taking skills (and please PLEASE tell me you're not), wouldn't it be a perfectly fine way to show you've learned to talk about a topic, show pictures about it, and annotate it? Sure! Why not? I challenge you to offer Voice Thread as a product next time you ask your students to display their learning. I guarantee you that 98% of your students will choose Voice Thread over an essay or traditional test, and that you will have a lot more fun hearing about barbed wire than reading essay numbers 1-99. So will you give it a try and let me know how it goes?

VoiceThread is free for anyone, though if you have extra money just lying around, you can pay to get more features (I can't tell why though---the free version is amazing!). If you teach young children or are worried about Internet safety, simply make their threads private. Learn more about VoiceThread here. To register for a VoiceThread account, click this link, then click "Apply" at the bottom of the "Free Educator" column.

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