How Explain Everything Has Improved My Feedback

In the fall, I saw this video from Jim Burke about using the voice memo app on an iPhone to provide audio feedback to students during the writing process.  It’s not exaggeration to say

that the technique Jim explained changed my entire paradigm about feedback and writing.  I have always believed that if I could just get enough one-on-one time with the developing writers in my classes that they could all grow in leaps and bounds.  I had never thought about using my phone for feedback, and this technique offered the one-on-one conversation, albeit one-side in some respects, that I never can have given my class sizes.  I started providing feedback via audio file to my students and they loved the personalized quality – the feeling that I was talking right to them about their paper.  It sparked more conversation in the classroom the next day about their papers as they asked questions about things I had said in my comments.

Around that same time, I heard about the Explain Everything app and made my first video to flip a lesson in my psychology classes.  Like the chocolate bumping into the peanut butter in the old Reese’s commercials, it hit me that these two techniques work much better together!  I have started using Explain Everything to provide individualized, differentiated audio-video feedback to students during the writing process.  Below is a short video I made to show the feedback that my students are receiving.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuF721u4xVo&w=420&h=315]

Providing feedback this way was easier than I thought it would be.  I bought the Explain Everything app for my iPad for $2.99 in the iTunes store.  I tested out other apps and liked Explain Everything best for its versatility.  I can pull papers from multiple places – Google Drive, DropBox, Evernote – and I can send videos out to multiple places including by e-mail attachment.

I had my students use DropBox to submit their rough drafts electronically.  Then one by one I pulled their papers into Explain Everything and narrated as I annotated.  When finished, I sent the video file to the individual student via DropBox.  The only glitch in the whole process is that the videos do take time to compress on the iPad.  According to Explain Everything, this process is faster if you have a Mac with their compressor program, but I did not.  I just took a break in between papers while the app did its thing.

I found that using this technique has made me far more efficient.  The process goes more quickly than by hand, so students receive feedback sooner.  Furthermore, providing the feedback in the draft stage means they have the opportunity to apply the lessons immediately, leading to more “sticking” of the focus areas I am working on with them.  Finally, my feedback has become far more meaningful and intentional.  Before, their papers were littered with my purple-penned “awk” or “r-o” or conversational comments about their points.  They rarely read the comments or cared about the teaching behind them.  Some of them, if you can believe it (and I know all English teachers can), had the nerve to just look at the grade and then throw the paper in the garbage.  Knowing that they are going to hear my voice speaking to them directly about their writing gives me pause before I comment.  I always try to point out the positives – phrases I like, an idea that is original, a technique I can see the student is working on.  I am careful to provide guidance toward improvement that is not only direct, but also positive – telling them what they can do to improve as opposed to telling them what they are doing wrong, which is far more encouraging to tentative writers.

I adopted this technique in the second half of the school year, so I can’t wait to try it from the start next year and to tweak it more with regular use!

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