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Published November 17, 2017 | French (Language and Literature)

Audio Feedback To Give Meaning To Marking

To mark my students’ essays, I have turned to giving audio feedback. I can see real benefits in this for both my students and me. It gives a lot more meaning to grading. In audio mode the number of detailed comments that can be left increases dramatically when compared to written comments. The number of grade reviews in my classes has also decreased significantly since I have been using this method.

Before I Turned To Audio Feedback

As a new literature teacher, I quickly noticed that marking is time consuming, sometimes brutally time consuming! I wanted to stay alive until the end of the year and I especially wanted to make the most of the time spent correcting. That is why I decided to review the way I corrected my students’ mid term essays.

I first experimented with 2 strategies that were rather low tech:

  • Timing myself while marking, to make sure to limit the time
  • Writing a series of numbered comments and referring to them on the students’ copies.

The first strategy can turn out to be efficient but rapidly becomes nerve wracking. As for the second, the approach is impersonal and unlikely to reach the students.

To find a solution, I read Julie Roberge’s book Corriger les textes de vos élèves. Julie is a French teacher at Cégep André-Laurendeau and she included a chapter on audio marking in her book.

The Steps On My Quest

One of my firsts steps was to record my voice on my smartphone. It was not the ideal approach because the storage capacity needed varied according to the quality and quantity of information I wanted to transmit.

An AV technician suggested I try the college recording studio, which provided a storage capacity that could be made available to only a small group of users. However, this supposed that I reserve the facilities and operate the system’s console correctly.

I also tried working with a recorder used by the students in cinema; it was rather imposing and expensive so I rapidly put it aside.

Finally, I decided to buy my own digital recorder for $90. It fits in my pocket.

So That the Feedback Reaches the Student

Then I had to find a way to download the audio files and make them available to the students. I found a first solution that used the storage capacity of the college, which made downloading the files very easy. However, this space is only accessible on college computers (both for the students and the teacher). I then had to show the students the path to follow to be able to listen to their feedback. This solution was rather unintuitive. Furthermore, these access obstacles were enough to discourage my students from going to listen to their audio feedback. That is why I had to find another way that made listening to the audio correction compulsory.

Now, I reserve a computer room during class hours and hand back the marked assignments. The students bring their earphones. As soon as they have finished listening, the students can ask me questions. It has even happened that I followed up the listening by a personalised summative rewriting assignment. The instructions were given in the recording.

My Tips for Successful Audio Feedback

If you are interested in this approach, let me explain how I proceed in the next few lines:

The key components of audio feedback

When I start recording:

  1. I write the file name of the recording on the student’s copy (for example, «REC117»).
  2. I name the student and say hello, “Donald Trump’s copy. Hello Donald!” No matter what happens (and there are always little glitches), I can easily connect the written assignments to their respective recording. I don’t have to loose time listening to one or two minutes of the recording for a second time in order to identify who the feedback belongs to.
  3. I read the essay only once and I correct it “live”. I find it is more natural and spontaneous.
  4. I record my voice and at the same time I leave some traces on the assignment. However I try not to write too much. That’s precisely what makes the audio approach interesting! I explain all of the steps verbally so that the student can follow the entire marking process. (For example, “I am on the evaluation grid”, “I am writing this code or this grade”.)

Here is an example of audio feedback [in French]

Audio Marking, a Moment of Grace

What satisfaction I felt when I saw the stunned look on my students’ faces! They realised that each of them had a 20-minute recording of personalised feedback.

Before I started doing audio marking, my students’ usual behaviour of was to arrive at my office, put their entire (and for the most part untouched) assignment down on my desk and ask me something along the lines of, “I don’t understand any of this, what am I doing that is not working?”

Now, when the students come to see me, their copies are filled with written comments! In several places they have copied down my comments but in their own words. That is proof that they are internalizing the feedback a lot more because they are able to articulate it. The questions they then ask me are a good deal more focused, for instance, “You mention 3 times that I do not integrate quotations correctly. For this quote in particular, what should I have done?” or “How should the conclusion of a paragraph be written so that is not only a repetition?”

I feel that this approach gives a human dimension to evaluation. It also contributes to demystifying this aspect of the teacher’s role. The students realise that marking takes time, a lot of time!

I give an assignment that is tied to the audio feedback: students must rework their introduction using the audio comments. This makes them more active in the learning and evaluation process.

The number of grade reviews has gone down drastically in my classes. I find that the students better understand the comments on their work. The students really appreciate this approach and hope that I will proceed in the same way for the next assignment!

The first recordings are longer and even tiring, but you quickly catch on. I don’t recommend this method for all assignments, however using it at least once provides students with some solid feedback and makes more sense of marking.

Have you adopted a similar practice in your courses? Please do not hesitate to share it with me!

About the Author

Jean-François Legault

Jean-François Legault has been teaching literature for 6 years at Collège de Valleyfield, and is currently the French Help Center coordinator. He has been interested in the impact of technology on the field of literature and linguistics for a long while. In his free time his interests lie in epistemology, quantum physics, evolutionary biology, renovations and long walks in the woods.

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