On the Tip of Their Tongue – Use audio for Assessment and Evaluation

IMG_8004 2“________ has not handed in the assignment. Neither has ____________or ____________or ______________. Please have them come to my class and finish their work during lunch hour. ”

“_______  failed the test…..can you give him/her time during class for a rewrite?”


“________needs extra time in my class to do his/her work.”

These types of concerns were shared with me (their homeroom teacher), almost daily by other teachers. Let me be clear. I don’t blame those teachers.  When put into a timeframe or constraint (part of their schedule), many of  identified (exceptionality) Gifted students would shut down, move on, or just not finish. Why bother? And so, they would either be graded accordingly, or be given another chance to prove themselves, over and over. But, what I was seeing in the homeroom was often very different from what other teachers were seeing. Why? Were the students being honest in sharing what they really know? Was the assessment designed in a way that allowed them to demonstrate the higher order skills that they are truly capable of? Was the results of the assessment truly accurate of the students ability?

As a teacher in a self-contained gifted classroom, my students would spend the majority of the day in my class. I was responsible for teaching and assessing the core subjects, which included Language, Math, History and Geography.  The other subjects (Music, Drama, Art, Phys-ed/Health, Science) were taught by teachers in a rotary timetable, each for only a small section of the day or week.  There are certainly many pros and cons to this type of schedule for which I will leave for another post. I had more time (then the rotary teachers) to build relationships with my students, which afforded me the opportunity to not only know them well, but to also learn and explore creative ways to assess and evaluate them.

Providing differentiated opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, communication, thinking and application not only made my assessments more authentic, but it gave me more confidence and certainty when providing evaluation or using the assessment to steer or customize my teaching. For many of them (my Gifted students), their thoughts and ideas raced so fast that many tended struggled to translate anything into print of any kind (pencil/pen/computer). The eloquent and creative words and phrases that they wanted to share, examples they wanted to give, ideas they just discovered were there, right there….on the tip of their tongue. That’s it… literally, on the tip of their tongue.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 9.00.44 PMLet me share a couple of strategies that I would swear by. The information that I would get was from night to day when allowing students to use AUDIO and talk it out. And it is so simple.

1)   My Number #1 assessment strategy was to allow students to share their work in audio format using the Livescribe Pen. (LivewithLivescribe gives many applications: http://livewithlivescribe.edublogs.org/)  Students were all given a small pad of Livescribe Sticky pads and would use the pens available in the classroom to speak their answers instead of focusing on their writing. They were all allowed to provide an audio response in every test (a Universal Designed approach). Students that really needed to use this strategy were more comfortable when all students were given the chance. Funny – they seemed all want to do this, even if they all didn’t really need to.  Audio just made it more clear, more detailed, more personal.  While there are MANY other ways to use this pen to accommodate or differentiate student learning, using this tool to collect assessment data and information might be my favourite.

The beauty of this strategy, is that when used with EVERNOTE, the sticky notes, tests, or assignments were EASILY be added to their portfolio for an audio anecdotal and then shared with the student and parent. Seamless.

It would be inappropriate of me not to mention that I would also carry a sticky pad in my pocket (or on my desk) which I would use for ongoing meetings with students, in audio.  One demonstration question (like an exit card) student can explain, in audio and we both have a copy (the sticky that I give to them and the digital file that I have after plugging in the pen).

IMG_8018 2)   EDUCREATIONS  – ipad app. Hands down, this is one of the best.  demonstration apps. Students could take pictures of their work and then use the app to explain. Students would use the app similarly as the Livescribe pen. Simply add a word or number and speak their mind. Students used this tool to share their math, create presentations, and for creative designs.


I look forward to continuing my work with the Gifted Program at the HWDSB as a Gifted Itinerant Teacher. I look forward to learning from others and exploring and sharing the innovative teaching and learning strategies that are happening in so many classrooms. 





My “Top Ten” Voicethread applications



A couple reminders that might ease your mind about using this OPEN and FREE tool…..

* Voicethread provides tutorials, ideas, and examples. Give yourself some time to explore and PLAY

* Voicethread comments can be moderated by the owner

* Voicethreads can be public or private and can be shared with one or many people

* Voicethread tool is free and is accessible on computers, iPods and iPads

*Voicethread can be uploaded to a website or blog using an EMBED code.

* Voicethread has been around for about three years and there are MANY MANY resources out there

#1 – Parental/Community communication (My PERSONAL favourite)

  • Bring parent voice into the classroom: Add a Voicethread to your Classroom blog or website asking for parent ideas and thoughts about the topic you are studying.  For example: Upload a map, ask parents to talk about historical story of their family using the map (Ie: immigration, jobs, travel, climate, war, environment).
  • Parent input and perspective: Add Voicethread to District website asking for community input about a specific topic (ie: building of a new building, closure of schools, announcements of upcoming board meetings.
  • Community input on Board Meeting minutes:  Upload the minutes on voicethread allowing parents to use the voice, or video to make comments and express concerns, thoughts, ideas.
  • Parent-teacher communication:  Use the voice thread to  communicate with the teacher about student work. Make the Voicethread only public to you and the parent. The voice and video option creates a less intimidating situation as the parent can see you, hear you and understand the communication.

#2 – Assessment (Also my PERSONAL favourite)

Before a lesson or activity:

  • Diagnostic: Ask students to share what they already know about the topic using a prepared Voicethread.  This might help the teacher in the planning stage of the unit/theme and to identify student strengths and weaknesses.
  • Learning Goals and Criteria: Use the Voicethread to upload the learning criteria. The comment section will allow students to discuss the criteria and add, modify or change the criteria if needed. The use of the audio and video functions will help provide a more detailed example and rational behind the criteria that was developed.

During a lesson:

  • Ask Questions: Use the Voicethrad as a station in the room.  This could be done with a stand-alone computer or portable device (iPad, iPod). Students go to the Voicethread and ask questions (or listen to other questions) during work time.  Put up “sample” comments to help students know how to respond appropriately in audio.
  • Review/Test prep: Use the Voicethread to post questions that review the course content. Allow students to comment, respond and ask questions throughout the course. This would be helpful to students and parents during exam preparation.

After lesson, completed project, or assignment:

  • Reflection and Meta-cognition: Have students post their reflection, discussion and overall thoughts about the assignment or project that they handed in. Allow them to make self-assessments about their strengths, weaknesses and next steps.

After a lesson: Exit Card? Homework? Feedback?

  • Exit Card: Have a voicethread ready to go on the computer, portable device, or interactive whiteboard with a focused question relating to the goal of the lesson.

Research – gather data, information

  • Research Tool:  This could be meant for a small focus group or a larger group as a way to gather information about your topic.  Use the Voicethread to build on the questions each week.
  • Shared Leadership in department: Use the Voicethread to gather knowledge and skills from a variety of educators and leaders in the department.
  • Crowd Source:  This tool can be made public. Use the tool to crowd source your question and gather information from a larger network.


  • Teacher – Student Feedback. DESCRIPTIVE, AUDIO FEEDBACK: Use the Voicethread to provide detailed descriptive feedback to the student. Upload a picture of the student work, use the pen/drawing function along with your Voice and add comments to the work for improvement. 

#3 Collaboration Tool

  • Classroom-to-Classroom: Use this tool to form a classroom partnership and focus student learning on a specific topic. Students can use the Threads to comment on each other’s ideas.

Examples: Upload art from a variety of classrooms or schools; Create joint stories about a topic, stories from a neighbourhood, a community.

Student-to-student: Peer mentorship. Students can partner on a Voicethread based on a book or an activity that they have been working on. Like a blog, they easily post pictures, video’s, and text . What if you had class partners from different places in the world?

    • School-to-school: District schools that partner on themes and activities (i.e.: sports, drama, music festivals, art) can use the Voicethreads to communicate information, seek information and advertise the events.
    • Division or Department Planning: Use the Voicethread in partnership with a blog, wiki, or website to plan, discuss and develop collaborative ideas. Take it further and use Voicethread to collaborate with OTHER DEPARTMENTS AND DIVISIONS.

CHECK OUT THIS VOICETHREAD…A Couple of years old, but still going strong. Why are you using a PLN to support your learning? How has twitter impacted your professional development?

#4 Newsletters

      • Classroom News: Each week, copy/paste your newsletter to a classroom Voicethread. This allows the teacher to make comments and reminders directly on the VT as well as having students and parents comment when needed.
      • School News: Post news, questions and ideas with  a Voicethread  to the community.
      • English Language Learners: Use the Voicethread to extend written and spoken words to students and families that speak other languages. Make use of student, parent or district translators when needed.
      • Interactive: Make the newsletter interactive and accessible through the use of audio, video and text together.

#5 School Announcements

      • Whole school announcements:  Have students record their voice, text, or video of a school announcement. The announcement could be relayed during the morning announcements
      • Class announcements: Use a VT to announce upcoming events in the classroom.

#6 Instruction

      • Post-Instruction: Add a video of yourself (use the smart recorder, or video camera) teaching the lesson and post it on the Voicethread for students to review if needed. The collaborative nature of the voicethread allows students to ask questions and make comments based on the lesson that was posted.  
      • Pre-Instruction: Add a video, text, image or audio that focuses on follow-up lessons. This will help students move ahead as needed. Integrate this with a Flipped Classroom lesson.
      • Review of Content: Use the Voicethread to post the notes from each lesson.  At the end of the unit, the Voicethread will include notes from every lesson. This will help student with review for test, exam or culminating activity.

#7 Student Work/ Student products

      • Student Work: Allow student to hand in their assignment using a voicethread. Use the audio comment tool for student to give a reflection and summary about their work.
      • Differentiated Instruction:  Use the audio feature to allow students to SPEAK their answers rather then requiring written work.  This allows students to  be more confident when explaining their work, images or uploaded videos.

#8 English Language Learners:

      •  Use the Voicethread to post audio and video of a lesson, activity or classroom/school information in a variety of languages and formats.

#9 Differentiate Instruction:

      •  Product: Allow student to use their Voice or Video to demonstrate their learning instead of the traditional “text based” response.
      • Process: Use the Voicethread to provide a varied instruction using your voice and video. Information about upcoming assignments, tests, and events can be made in a variety of mediums. DECREASE PAPER that you are sending home.

#10 Student Leadership

      • Student-Created –  Student – driven Voicethreads: Students from a lower (or higher) grade, division or school to present information about a topic. Students from another class or division are to respond and give feedback.