Using your voice

‘The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.’ Sigmund Freud

The voice is important in language learning for obvious reasons.  We use it to express what we are thinking and feeling, to show we have understood and to communicate.  Training our voices in this context is to work on speaking skills, active listening skills and pronunciation.  But how can this be done online when we are usually at home working alone?

Working alone is the ultimate safety zone.  We have nobody looking over our shoulder to see what we’re doing so it doesn’t matter if we make mistakes or how many times we have to try something before we get it right.  This is great but we do at some point need to make ourselves heard by other people.  At various points in the Touchstone Online course, you’ll find About You sections.  These sections invite the students to personalise the language they are learning by applying it to their own situations and lives.  These sections allow students to listen to a pre-recorded question and record their answer, listen to it and try again until they’re happy with it.  Because no-one else can hear these recordings, this is a very safe environment for them to practice in.  There are similar activities in the content where students can even listen to a pre-recorded version of the sentence so they can compare their pronunciation.  The activities within the content are not saved and recordings cannot be accessed once the learner has navigated away from the page.

After all that practice, students should now be ready to communicate with their class.  In the Web 2.0 area of the course, you will find the Voice Tools.  Instructions for using them are in the video below.  What’s nice about the voice tools is that students can respond to eachother.  They have some time to think about their response and how to say it before they try recording it too.  Conversing in this way does not come naturally to most students so you will need to train them a little on how to use the tool, but not just about which buttons to press.

You will need to assign tasks to get students to do this and make sure they know it’s part of the coursework.  Ask them to answer the question and respond to 2 other students’ answers.  Afterwards in class you can ask them if they found many similar answers to theirs or which was the most common answer, i.e. highlighting things they have in common as individuals and helping them gel as a group.  This will also lead you on to expressing things in common (‘me too/neither’ etc).  The advantage to you is that you have better visibility into the level of ability and confidence in the group.  You may have some students who always stop talking as monitor them in pairwork but you may not have the time to stop and encourage them as you have to consider the rest of the class as well.  The Voice Tools allow you to monitor everyone and check on students you’re concerned about.

This is starting to sound like a lot of marking and correction work, right?  Maybe.  If you try to correct every mistake that every student makes, it will take you forever.  A more sane approach would be to check that everyone has done the exercise listen out for common mistakes or examples of excellence and use these to feed back to the group in the following lesson.  Speak to any students who haven’t attempted the exercise as they may be falling behind, having trouble with the technology or might not be taking it seriously.

Try the task mentioned above and see how your students respond.  Do they like it?  Do they find it useful?  Do you find the insight you get useful and very importantly, what are you going to do with that insight?  How do you think you could bring in some peer assessment into this activity?

Video: Using your voice