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Responding to student work with screencasts

favicon I just finished up an experiment. With the first drafts of my students’ essays, instead of writing comments in Google Docs, I recorded screencasts to offer spoken rather than written feedback.

This is not a new idea. I’ve done it before here and there, and so have others (Shelly Blake-Plock’s post is excellent), but I’ve never done screencasts with an entire class before.

Until today.

So here’s how it went: I used Jing, a free screencasting program that allows you to record your computer’s screen and your voice for up to five minutes. Once you’ve done that, you can save your screencast to your computer or post it (with a URL) to screencast.com. It’s pretty simple.

So instead of reading my students’ essays and then giving written comments in the margins, I talked through the essays like a live AP English reader would. In other works, I did a “think aloud.”

I’m not going to post any examples here yet — until I get my students’ permission and their feedback about this process — but my initial hope is that these screencasts will approximate a virtual (one-way) writing conference. I’m wondering if hearing a person’s voice (instead of reading a person’s comments) will spur more students to deeper revision.

Many time-crunched teachers will ask, “Doesn’t this take forever?” Actually, not really. You can record up to five minutes, but my screencasts averaged about three. Then it takes about a minute to upload to screencast.com, during which time I take a much-needed break to refresh my head and surf the web. Once the uploading is finished, I copy and paste the link to the student’s writing review template on the bottom of the essay. Overall, then, the process takes about five minutes per essay, which isn’t horrific.

No, you can’t offer line-by-line commentary. You can’t get into the nitty-gritty of word choice or syntax. These screencasts are good for the big stuff — overall focus, thesis, organization, quality of evidence. They’re great to give students a holistic assessment of their work in the formative stage.

Please let me know what you think of this experiment. It’s entirely possible that it’ll be a failure, but I’m hopeful that it will give my students more of a “live” version of how readers try to understand their writing.

I’ll be sure to post an update after I get my students’ reactions. favicon

4 comments

  1. Wil Jennings

    I wish more teachers were as unafraid of technology as you are. Kudos to you, Mark! Your students have no idea how incredibly blessed they are to have you as their teacher.

  2. John at TestSoup

    I have heard great things about using screen casts or audio recordings for student feedback before. This sounds like a great way to do it. It really goes far to accomplish the goal of giving kids REAL feedback, not just a random letter grade. And it shows them that you actually care about their work, which is important. I hated having teachers that were phoning it in.

  3. Mark Isero

    John, feedback is crucial for students, especially in the middle of the writing process (rather than at the end). But if you have 125+ students, you have to move through quickly. I’m finding that screencasting keeps me focused on using time well. I don’t get as tired when I’m faced with a stack of essays.

Please share your brilliant insights!