I have written about the possibilities with VoiceThread before. More recently, I have been tweeting about using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio for our Student-Led Conferences this semester.

In the past, my students have used Photostory3 to show and talk about their learning as a starting point for their Student Led Conference with their parents.  I’m now teaching in a mac school so Photostory3 was not an option.  After considering iMovie (and all of it’s amazing features) I felt that it had too many features that might be distracting for what I wanted.  The ease at which a mac allows you to record your voice, and video using the inbuilt webcam and mic was still going to be the foundation of recording our learning but I still needed to find a suitable platform.  A wiki was a consideration and then the brainwave of a VoiceThread Digital Portfolio appeared in my head late one night!

The more I considered VoiceThread, the more it’s interactive features appealed to me.  Using Photostory3 meant a final product. Nothing more added, no room for comment by parents and unless you sent the exported movie file, or embedded it on a wiki, no way for other family members in different parts of the country or in other parts of world, to see it.

Using VoiceThread was easy!  We’ve already used it several times this year, so the “tool” and how to use it was already established.  Here is the step by step organisation we used to complete a digital portfolio for each student in Room202.

Step 1: Sign up students for an individual account each in VoiceThread.

(We used an email that did not technically exist – but not gmail with + because that won’t work – The email address isn’t required to gain the password – which means the email does not have to exist – BUT you must remember it to be able to sign in)

Step 2: Brainstorm with students what they think needs to go into their portfolios.

Guiding questions:  What will my parents want to see?  What will my parents want to know about?

With very little guidance from me, students listed subject areas (Reading, Math, etc) along with how I’m doing socially, what my work habits are like, what I need to improve, what I can do well, PLUS some things that I’d really like to share with my parents because I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

Step 3: Take the required photos. Upload to VoiceThread.  Take picture of self (using photobooth) and change avatar. Add teacher’s email address to contacts and share VoiceThread with teacher.  (This is how I could keep track of who was getting behind in their time management)

The only rule about photos was that ALL images had to be taken by Room202.  No google images allowed, no images from creative commons – but students could use any of the photos from our flickr account that had been taken during class activities during the year.  We talked about parents wanting to see their child (not someone else in the class) and own work captured (not someone elses) and how the image should relate to what you were talking about.  A checklist was introduced so that tracking what images were still required was easier.

Step 4: Write the script.

A prompt booklet with sentence starters in it was handed to each student – to encourage students to talk about their learning rather than what they were doing.  This was by far the area that required the most amount of modeling and took the most amount of time for students and the teacher!  I did set one script on a topic per night as homework to get things moving along.

Most students, in their first draft just talked about things like what they had read, or how a reading workshop session might go, or the celery experiment we did in class, rather than what they were actually learning to do and how well they thought they had done it, or what they might do better next time.

A second column was added to the checklist so that students knew which scripts had been written and checked off by me, ready for recording.

Step 5: Record Script

After gaining a check off from me, students were then able to record their script on the appropriate page.  I’m amazed at how considerate the class was – we did most of the recording in class, with a handful going to the teamroom next door if they had many scripts to record at once.  A simple “Quiet please, recording” and a “thank you” when finished – ensured that no-one had background chatter in their voicethread.  Everyone was respectful and quiet during a recording time (the only odd interuption was, of course, the bell!!)  Of course, using the inbuilt features of our macs meant that we needed no extra equipment other than our laptops!

Step 6: Reflect and Revise.
Listen to full VoiceThread, redo any pages where voice level was too quiet or too loud.  Hand in completed Checklist to teacher.  Using publishing options and playback options make changes to allow parents to see finished portfolio.

Now that Student-Led Conferences are finished, I can share with you all the resounding success of using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio.  Parental feedback so far has been how impressed they were with the effort from their children and how enjoyable it was to hear their own child speak about their learning in a clear and confident manner.  Being an International School, the majority of parents were thrilled to hear how easy it was going to be to share the VoiceThread with family and friends in different parts of the world.  Most agreed that being able to share with grandparents was a highlight.  Some dads weren’t able to make the actual conference due to work commitments so it was great that those students were able to go home and share this portfolio online with them.  One dad was actually in another country and was going to be watching the portfolio in his hotel room that night.

ESL students were most successful with their portfolios too and were encouraged to communicate with their parents in English and their native tongue.  This was much appreciated by parents and meant that family members around the world could understand what was being said.

I am incredibly proud of ALL my students and the effort that they put into their portfolios.

My Reflection: What would I do differently next time?

  • Swap Step 3 & 4 around.  To help students avoid talking about the image (therefore only talking about the “doing” rather than the “learning”, write the script first then take an image that fits what you’re talking about.  This process of preparing portfolios made me realise that we need to have more conversations as we are learning, about what it is that we are learning, why we are learning it and how we know if we have learned it.  We have our learning intentions and success criteria plastered around the room, plus we write them in our books but I realised after doing these VoiceThreads – it’s not enough.  Some students still aren’t making the connections between the things we do in class and the learning that we want to occur.  I’m really bothered by that and this is something that I really want address over the rest of the semester and the years to come.
  • Keep one or two of these VoiceThreads as a model for next years class.  The need to provide modelling and good models has really made itself powerfully known to me over this past year.  Modelling is the key to great learning and success.
  • Have students create their Digital Portfolio VoiceThread at the beginning of the year.  Add to it from the beginning of 5th Grade.  Perhaps set a target of 5 pages per semester.  This would avoid students talking only about the latest things they have learnt or struggled with.