The Jens

The Jens
jen b & Jen P

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Voice, Their Essays

Just about the time I was finishing up a month-long Transcendentalists unit with my juniors, Jen P shared Jim Burke's video (see Jen P's post) on voice recorded essay grading. The minute I watched, I was ready to try it. To be fair, had he promoted the idea that grading essays while standing on my head would make the process easier, I'd probably try that, too. I hate grading essays. I don't know anyone who loves it. How did we all become English teachers???
Aaaannnyways, back to the point: Here's how I rolled it out:

1. I told students we'd be trying something new...that we'd see how it went, but to be ready to revise after draft one.
2. When the essay was due, I had them print a hard copy for me, save an electronic copy for themselves, and upload to since they had worked on it outside of class.
3. I began reading. Using the voice-record feature on my iPhone, I narrated my comments for students--exactly as Jim Burke describes in his video.
4. I highlighted/circled some words/areas of concern as I was reading, but made no comments, though I did mark on a grading sheet a tentative score.
5. I returned all hard copies to students and emailed each student my comments for him/her.
6. Three days later, students had due: their original hard copy, but now marked-up with annotations based upon my comments for them (to show my they had listened to my comments) and a revised electronic copy, emailed to me. I asked them to specifically highlight in the electronic final draft only the parts of their essay they had changed based upon my comments.
7. Those who followed the process and made significant changes received a bump in the score I had jotted while voice-recording; those who made few changes/didn't follow directions/didn't turn-in a final draft received the initial essay grade.

So, after that process, if I were reading this I'd be wondering, How did it go? Did it save time? Was it less painful than reading/marking up? Will you do it again?
I think for the true-test question, Will you do it again?, my answer is Yes. However, I don't think--at least initially--that it saved me time. The shortest recordings were around four minutes; the longest one was about fourteen (AND he didn't even turn in a revised draft!!!). Most were around five-six minutes. But keep in mind, that's just the recording part. In between recording I was reading/considering, so the recording part only represents when I had collected my thoughts on a particular issue and was ready to speak.
The best part of this process is that the feedback for students is ultimately much, much better through my voice than through my pen because I would never be willing to write as much as I was willing to say. I also really like that it forces them to reread their own writing in a very critical way, having to mark-up and annotate it (instead of me!). That, to me, makes it worth the process. Students seemed to be very positive about the amount of feedback they received and I think with practice I may be able to streamline the whole thing a bit, too. Regardless, I'll definitely be doing it again.

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