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.
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.