Giving Students A Voice Through Technology

from Educators' eZine

As a Technology Coordinator in a K-8 school, I am always looking for new ways to engage students through the use of technology. Better yet are those lessons result in student excitement that motivates classroom teachers to further pursue using technology. Occasionally, I stumble upon the "golden egg" - the lesson that uses technology so engrossingly that the students begin applying the tool across the curriculum.

I have just discovered a golden egg – using voice in the classroom! One additional benefit was that I did not have to purchase any special software in order to use voice in the classroom. I was able to utilize two free pieces of software: Microsoft PhotoStory and the cross-platform sound editor Audacity.

Photostory allows the user to create digital slideshows from imported still images, adding text, transitions, panning effects and background music. I was impressed with the simple navigation, intuitive interface - and the ability to easily add narration. I was looking for the first opportunity to use this tool with students. With perfect timing, the seventh grade English teacher inquired about having her students turn their "How To" step-by-step Word documents into a PowerPoint slide show. I suggested that she try a more engaging project by including narration.

With her willingness to try something new (and the purchase of a few microphones) the golden egg hatched! Students began converting their "how to" books into narrated digital photo stories. Learning digital storytelling techniques in and of itself is a worthwhile technical enhancement, but the real value was in the students discovering the power of their voice.

The unexpected benefits of using "voice"

Initially students were thrilled to make noises into the microphones. We provided free time just to let the students be kids and explore how amazing the human voice can be! With distracting temptations out of the way, we were now ready to begin using the microphones in a more disciplined manner. Students began converting their original text-based projects to voice. They became aware of, and began coaching others on, basic principles of public speaking. Like many adults, some students were initially self-conscious of the sound of their voice. They accused the microphones of being faulty in capturing pitch and tone. Some students were hesitant to record if anyone was nearby. Over time, students became more comfortable with their unique sound. They no longer cringed, or giggled, when listening to themselves. They started developing confidence in speaking out loud. They were gaining confidence in public speaking!

I started to hear students coax themselves with comments like "That is too rushed", "I need to pause longer", "I'm not speaking clearly enough", and "This doesn't make sense!" Students wanted to re-record. They wanted to improve their script. They were self-evaluating and wanted to produce a better product. Only they were not just producing a better product, they were also developing better articulation skills.

My colleague and I were thrilled with these added benefits. I wondered if these skills could be applied to younger students. I was currently facilitating a social studies project with the fourth grade class. These students were in the process of using KidPix to illustrate state legends. Some were near completion and ready for a new challenge. So I dared! I taught students to export each KidPix picture and save it as a '.jpg' file. After a quick PhotoStory tutorial they were ready to import their pictures and narrate their legends.

The voice took on even more emphasis with this project. Students not only learned the public speaking techniques similar to those used in their older schoolmates How To projects, but, since this project offered the opportunity for dramatic storytelling, they learned to emote. Students enthusiastically completed this project and clamored for more.

Since each student has an individual CD portfolio containing each year's technology work, I suggested that they narrate their favorite work over the years. I assisted students in copying over their chosen files into a designated folder. They imported these into a new PhotoStory project. With each frame the student narrated how old they were when the work was created and why this piece was selected for his/her "prize collection". This time students were not reading from a script. They were not using their voice for directions or storytelling, but for reflection. They applied a different tone and different inflections to public speaking.

Extending "voice" through Audacity

Another voice application I have integrated into the classroom is Audacity, a free open source software for recording and editing sounds. The third graders hosted the school's March podcast, featuring homemade radio-style commercials about our parish's Lenten fish-frys. Once again, this became a teachable moment in public speaking. When a student records, the volume and cadence of his/her voice displays as a wave pattern on the screen. Thus the more timid students could visually monitor the strength of their voice and adjust their speech accordingly. Knowing their work would be posted to our school website, students practiced proper diction and projection. They rehearsed – and voluntarily re-rehearsed – until their recordings measured up to their newly established public speaking standards. They evaluated their work both individually and as a team. They provided input on whether segments of their work needed to be digitally enhanced (which can be done with the Audacity program) or completely re-recorded. I was impressed with their ability to honestly analyze their work.

Some lessons learned in classroom recording

I recommend purchasing reasonably good microphones. Cheaper quality microphones may result in inferior quality of recordings – especially once posted online. We purchased Logitech USB desktop microphones, which list at around $35, but can be had for half the cost with educational pricing, and were pleased with the results.

I now post a "Recording in Process" sign on the computer lab door, cautioning all who enter to respect our need for quiet. Students become frustrated when their work is instantly ruined by an unwelcome interruption.

The Future of "voice" in my classroom

I envision continued use of integrating voice throughout the curriculum. I plan next to allow students to record self-authored poems. Through their voice, we will experience the poem with the emotion they meant for it to have. I have no doubt that once they begin to record, they will revisit their prose for improvement upon cadence, visual stimulation, and expression.

Had we not stepped out of the textbox, and simply continued to ask students to type their words, we would have never unleashed the powerful tool of sound. Educational technology fads may come and go with the tools offered but the voice and its power for teaching and learning are here to stay!

Additional Info:

St. Joseph Parish School's Monthly Podcasts

Poems to use in the classroom with groups: Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices by Paul Fleischman and Beppe Giacobbe; and Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman.

Email:Patricia Sattler