VoiceThread pairs in French 2

Germain Choffart, Lecturing Fellow, French Program, Romance Studies

Germain Choffart was one of fourteen faculty and one graduate student who participated in a Spring 2010 CIT Fellowship for language faculty interested in exploring with colleagues the most effective and most efficient ways to increase students’ oral production in the target language, in order to increase students’ language learning.

Choffart was looking for an approach to help students practice their conversation skills, in a way that feels less mechanical and repetitive. He wanted to give students an opportunity to put their knowledge of French to work in a conversation, where they would have the opportunity to express themselves by using any grammatical structure they know and by using vocabulary they may not use often (such as expressions of emotions, reactions, agreement or disagreement, etc).

Instead of creating monologues as in the existing assignments, students were instead be asked to produce and record an actual conversation with one of their classmates using VoiceThread, a tool which allows online collaboration and conversation around images and other media. Two students recorded a 4 to 5 minute conversation following the prompt Choffart gave them. He encouraged them to be creative and not to be afraid to interrupt each other and react to each other’s comments (as one would do in a normal conversation) in order to create a real conversation, rather than two monologues with very little interactivity.

Choffart also modified his existing grading rubric for such oral assignments to adapt it to this project, mainly by adjusting the weight of each graded category to make “Communication” more important than grammar and vocabulary skills.

Based on survey results, the overall reaction from students was extremely positive. Many students said they enjoyed and learned more from working in pairs rather than by themselves, and the only problem for some was scheduling a time to meet with their. From Choffart’s perspective, this was by far the most successful and fun to grade assignment of all three oral assignments during the semester.

If you already use VT and haven’t asked your students to record something in pairs, I would highly recommend you give it a try. It is a very successful activity which is very entertaining for both students and the instructor. It also cuts down the time spent grading since you only get one entry for two students (and although each student is graded individually and they have to talk longer, it still reduced the time I spent grading this activity – as opposed to monologue type of messages they had previously recorded during the semester).

Best practices or lessons learned:

  • Post your prompts at least one week before the due date, and go over them in detail in class. Remind students about the assignment often.
  • Provide a VoiceThread tutorial session to make sure your students know how to use the program (uploading pictures, recording a message, sharing, commenting, etc.)
  • For the very first VT assignment, post a sample you created yourself (to exemplify what you expect from them, to show the tools available: webcam, doodle pad, title, description, etc.)
  • Have a specific grading rubric for this type of assignment and share it with your students so they know what they’ll be graded on (communication, grammar, vocab, pronunciation, fluency, etc.)
  • Encourage students to be creative, show personal pictures (if desired) and have fun with it
Benefits of VoiceThread for language instructors, as noted by Choffart:
  • Friendly interface; creating VT prompts is fairly easy. It is a tool that supplements and adds to other tools that may be already used in your course (e.g., Wimba Voice) as it permits the integration of voice and text.
  • Something different for homework; not the same old written grammar exercises or mechanical oral drills.  Nice change of pace.
  • Entertaining to grade! Much more interesting than correcting more written grammar exercises.
  • Instructors can watch each video multiple times, rewind, fast forward. VT allows easy note-taking to provide specific, detailed individualized feedback to each student.
  • Students can record and then delete their comments as often as they want until they are satisfied. Stress level = low
  • Provides options for students to practice speaking and listening skills outside of class
  • VT provides an opportunity for students to share personal stories / report on a topic they researched
  • Students love watching each other on video, which both increases camaraderie and exposure to others speaking the language.