Using Their Voices

I decided to try a new strategy for helping my class learn to effectively develop an idea for writing in a paragraph. This is always an ongoing challenge when teaching history, identifying the main idea for the argument and then supporting it with evidence. When the students can come up with an idea, they often struggle with how to prove it, or when they find lots of facts,  it is a challenge to organize them effectively. I know that I often do some of my best thinking when I am talking with other people, so I developed a lesson to let the students see if talking and listening to themselves would help them organize and articulate their thoughts.

They first read a section of the textbook individually and then again in small groups, identifying together the most important facts. I regularly have them read a section twice: first to identify the main ideas and then a second time to annotate what is significant in the passage. To start the next part of this assignment, I posed a question to them and had them brainstorm from the facts that they knew. Some of them did it on paper and some of them used different programs on their laptops to make mind maps.

I gave them 10 minutes to look over what they had read and the work they had done the day before. Then I gave them this challenge. Using Garageband, they were to record their planning process, identifying which facts they wanted to include and what order they wanted to use them. Then they were to listen to the recording. They were then to repeat the process, only this time with the focus being on developing a topic sentence for the paragraph, one that clearly stated their argument. After they had tried a few sentences, they were to listen again. Then the goal was to record a paragraph that answered the question. After doing that, they were listening to see if they had a clear point of view and had proved their point with evidence.

At first, they were really worried, assuming that this was about creating a finished product that would be graded and, even worse, listened to by the class. When I told them that this was just for them, they became curious but still sort of doubtful. One girl was almost frozen due to her embarrassment at “talking to herself.”  When I explained that the goal was to use their laptops in a new way to develop their thinking, and most importantly that no one was going to hear their recordings but them, they began to loosen up and enjoy the process. As they started to experience it as a different means of identifying what they wanted to say, they got really excited. There was no “product,” except their deeper understanding of the material and of how to put together an effective answer to the question.

For some of them, it was a huge success. They felt like they had really been able to more their thinking forward over the course of the hour that they had to work in this way. They wanted to do it any time that they had to write. For others, they hated it and felt that it didn’t help at all. For both of those groups and the ones in between, it was a learning experience, which was exactly what I wanted.


7 responses to “Using Their Voices

  1. This sounds like an interesting idea. I have ESL kids, so I think for some of the better speakers who still struggle with writing, this might be a cool way to try something new. I will give it a shot in the next few days and tell you how it went.

    I recently did story telling podcasts and the use of sound effects and suspense music was a great way to teach mood and tone in both writing and delivering stories.

    Thanks for helping me think differently about a familiar tool.

  2. From a learners perspective, I appreciate this idea. As I have been introduced to new ideas over the past year, I have found that talking about it has helped me formulate my own ideas and take ownership of the concepts. It’s not that I need the conversation as much as I need the articulation to an audience. Can I communicate my ideas and my understanding? The conversation is often helpful to refine my thoughts, but the articulation or voicing of my understanding has become crucial for taking ownership of the learning.

    I think this is a splendid idea especially for students who might lack the confidence to articulate their thoughts to a small group or a whole class. They can still “talk it out” but not have to worry immediately about the criticism of others.

  3. Pingback: Garage Band: Not Just for Music | MindShift

  4. Hi! My name is Krystin Pavey and I’m a student in Dr. Strange’s ED< 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I think this is such a great idea. All children learn differently and giving them the opportunity to explore their ideas in different ways can only be beneficial.

  5. Genesis Hernandez

    Hello! I am Genesis Hernandez and I am a student in Professor Glasser’s Ed 255 class at Bryn Mawr College. This is such a great example of how technology could be used effectively in the classroom.I think what you have done is extremely creative and I am looking forward to using this strategy for my next paper.

  6. Hallie Garrison

    Hello! I am also a Bryn Mawr student in the same class as Genesis. I think part of what is so attractive about this technique is the focus on articulating and re-articulating a topic–a sort of verbal editing process. As technology seeps further into lesson plans, it is easy to overlook the simple verbal response. Students can type their questions into Google, make use of instant messaging/text messaging, and respond to teachers via e-mail. It is so important, however, to remember to teach students how to voice their questions and comments in the moment. The only way to improve speaking skills is to practice, and the only way to practice is to have reassurance that nobody is making any judgements about quality.

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