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The Magic of Voice Thread in the Classroom: Part 2

What are the pedagogical benefits of using Voice Thread in the classroom? How can students benefit from this process of recording themselves? One word: Washback!

Student wearing headphones

Working for Washback

What is Washback?

Washback is either positive or negative, but is “generally defined as the influence of testing on teaching and learning; it is widely held to exist and to be important; but relatively little empirical research has been done to document its exact nature or the mechanisms by which it works” (Bailey 1996 p. 259). Washback is then the term we should use when discussing the influence of assessments on language learning.

Positive v. Negative

All teachers were once students. We had teachers that gave us tests which resulted in a lot of learning and other tests that annoyed us because the information was useless. We have also taken tests that were too easy; we didn’t need to study for these tests. As teachers, we want to give our students tests and assessments that encourage learning outside of the classroom.

Why does VoiceThread cause positive washback?

Now, I admit that I have not done an empirical study to back up my claims, but I did get feedback from my students on multiple occasions. I found that students were spending hours at home recording themselves, listening to themselves, and then recording again. This 1-minute homework assignment took at least 30 minutes to complete.

Students were actually listening to themselves and analyzing their own speech. Due to the nature of the assignment, they were learning to self-edit in a way that was not available in class. They were noticing their mistakes and correcting them.

What did I learn about my students?

In this process, I got to grade my student’s best work, not their spontaneous work, not their stressed work, but their best work. This told me a few things about my students. First, how hard were they trying? I knew their work in class and their work in VoiceThread. Second, what mistakes were they making because they didn’t know they were mistakes? If this was their best work, then I could point to mistakes and teach them something they could have learned incorrectly. Third, should I practice more fluency or pronunciation in class? This would guide me to know if my students needed more accuracy practice or fluency practice.

Bailey, K. M. (1996). Working for washback: A review of the washback concept in language testing. Language Testing, 13(3), 257-279.

*I have not received any financial support from Voice Thread.


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