5 reasons to start audio-recording your classroom conversations, today

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My school-day consists of four drastically different sections of biology and one section of AP chemistry. Needless to say, my mind is continuously juggling a series of lesson plans, concepts, and objectives that all seem to blend together by the end of the day. By the end of the week, I’m unable to remember exactly what was said on Tuesday in my 3rd period class when we analyzed a diagram posted to Google Classroom. I worry that the students who were absent that day have missed out on critical information that was exchanged during the class discussion. Even the fastest, most thorough notetakers could not record and organize the information well enough for absent students to copy. Anyways, I prefer that my students are less focused on note-taking and more focused on being present in the conversation. I want them to be thinking about the topic so that they can develop understanding and make meaningful connections. I don’t want them worrying about copying down a dynamic concept map that is far from its final draft. I want these valuable conversations to be accessible resources and a means of formative assessment, for both my students and my own pedagogy.

Using the Voice Memos app that comes standard in all iPhones has unintentionally become my single solution to the aforementioned situations that would otherwise consume time and brainpower. While there are other applications, like Notability, that are very effective for aligning notes and voice recordings, the simplicity of the Voice Memos app requires no additional downloading, preparation, or the availability of an iPad in the classroom. With the Voice Memos app you can transfer your audio files directly from your phone to a shared Google Drive folder for all of your students to access. I’ve found that recording class discussions has innumerable benefits, but here are the top five reasons that you should start audio-recording your classroom conversations, today:

5. Absences

Recording your class discussions allows you to communicate information that is often left out of written notes or prepared slideshows. By recording class discussions, students who were absent can listen from home that same day or at a later date. While listening to the audio file they can follow along as the teacher and students clarify misconceptions, provide unique examples, answer questions as they come, and make meaningful connections with the content. Audio recordings ensure that all of the information that was covered in the class is available to the absent students, which is so much more than what can be summarized in teacher’s or student’s notes. This takes a huge load off of teachers who have many absent students in a single day and truly benefits students who are unable to attend class.

4. Note-taking

Recording your class discussions is extremely helpful to students when it comes to note-taking. I observe that note-taking is often a hindrance in my class discussions. Some students write very slowly, and therefore have a more difficult time keeping up. Other students get caught up on deciding what they should or should not be writing down, so they cannot focus on participating or listening. Granting all students access to the audio-files helps remove these barriers. Students who are still developing their note-taking strategies can spend less time struggling and more time participating. When they are ready to review and record notes, they can listen to the file anytime, anywhere, and at their own pace, pausing the recording whenever necessary.

3. Reminders

At the end of the day, when I’m picking up the pieces from my daily desk-tornado, I attempt to recall the student-requests that have piled up since 8:00 a.m. that morning. Students have a special way of asking or reminding you to do things right in the middle of a lecture or discussion. As I mentioned earlier, I juggle four different levels and classes of biology, as well as an 8th-hour AP chemistry class. My students range from the lowest to the highest abilities. Each class period is a unique lesson plan, and with each lesson plan comes unique requests and amendments. For the longest time, I would record student requests on a clipboard, which was always inconveniently out of reach when I needed it most. In addition, writing down the requests interrupted discussions more than the 50-minute period could afford, and I often found that my notes were indecipherable by the end of the day. Voice recordings changed this forever. With voice recordings, if a student asks me to give specific feedback on a document, post an additional video or practice set to Google Classroom, or share anything, such as notes, photos or data while recording a discussion, I simply write down in the corner of the whiteboard the class period and timestamp (min:sec) of when the request was made (see Figure 1).

Timestamp on classroom whiteboard

Recording this information takes significantly less time and space than writing out the complete request, and it’s easy to read, even when writing in a rush. At the end of the day, I check the corner of my whiteboard to see if I need to review my recordings and add any student-requests to my list of “things to do before I leave school today.” Follow-through and accountability is really important for building trust between teachers and students, and using voice recordings to help keep your word can make all of the difference.

2. Engagement

Recording classroom discussions drastically changed student engagement in my classroom. When I first started sporadically recording my lessons, I did it for my own self-evaluation. But, when I realized that recordings of class discussions were powerful tools for improvement, I informed the students that I would be recording and providing access to class discussions on a regular basis. Once the students were aware of this, I noticed that students who did not ordinarily participate in class discussions were now raising their hands more than ever. The students also became better, more respectful listeners; side-conversations came to a screeching halt. The quality of student engagement improved, too. Since the audio-files alleviate the pressure of taking notes, the students were able to dive deeper in their discussions, pay attention to each other, bounce ideas off of one another, and modify their opinions as they uncovered new information. With the support of audio-recordings, students were excited to initiate class-wide discussions, remained engaged from beginning-to-end, and developed understanding as a team.

1. Formative Assessment

The most powerful features of voice-recording discussions are the ability to evaluate student understanding and to self-reflect. Something important to understand is that I do not voice-record every day for 50 minutes straight. I only voice record during class-wide discussions, which occur two-to-three times a week, and last anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. My classroom is set-up to facilitate class discussion, and my phone is able to pick up student responses very clearly. To evaluate student understanding, I can playback the recordings and based on student responses, determine the student’s strengths and weaknesses. I use this insight to tweak my future lessons to meet student needs. I can also determine which students grasped the concepts the best or the worst, which helps me direct my attention in the days to come. Above all, recording class discussions has been the single most effective tool for self-reflection. I consider myself to be my toughest critic, and voice recordings give me many opportunities to improve my teaching and interaction with the students. I used to talk very fast and overuse buffers like “um” and “like”, but voice recordings has helped me change that. Voice recordings has also helped me avoid long-winded, tangential “side notes” during class discussion. I’ve learned a great deal about how I teach simply by listening to what I sound like while I am teaching. If for no other reason, I highly recommend that you audio record your class discussions or lectures for the purpose self-reflection. Challenge yourself to set discussion-based goals, like emphasizing the main idea at the beginning and end of each discussion, and use voice recordings to help reach that goal. Whatever your goals may be, voice recordings will change the way you teach forever.

The reasons above are just five of the many reason to record your classroom discussions. But, making a change to include audio recordings as part of you daily routine may seem like a challenge. Some students may not be as receptive, and therefore less likely to participate. Some classrooms may not be physically conducive to recording without an additional microphone. Playing-back the recordings can also be very time consuming. However, technology continues to improve the ways teachers can analyze data. TeachFX is a new app that automatically analyzes classroom discussions and reports the percentage of time that the teacher spent talking versus the students. Innovations like TeachFX will continue to improve the ways that teachers assess the students and their own pedagogy. Despite these potential drawbacks, I recommend that you give audio-recordings a try. Teachers must be able to shift things around and adapt, so do not hesitate to makes a few changes to better align audio-recordings with your specific classroom. To get started, I’ve added some tips below:

Tips to jumpstart successful audio-recordings:

  1. Start off by recording just a single class period for your own self-reflection (I started with my “best” class period).
  2. Don’t record (or lecture) for more than 30 minutes – you’ll never find time to listen to the recordings.
  3. Name your Voice Memo audio files as “Period #, MMDDYY”
  4. Create and share a Google Drive folders that you will use to store your audio files and delete the file from your phone’s memory once you’ve uploaded the file to the drive.
  5. Practice using the app – start, pause, stop, save, edit, crop, upload, etc. This will help you be more successful when you are trying to record and store files quickly throughout the day.
  6. Test out seating arrangements and locations in the classroom that maximize the quality of the recording. My students’ desks are in a horseshoe shape, and I usually sit or stand at a podium that is at the top of the horseshoe, with the whiteboard behind my back (see Figure 2). Classroom seating arrangementThe phone rests on a stool next to the podium. In this formation I am able to capture all student responses and see the timestamp on the audio recording.
  7. If first you don’t succeed, try again! Stick with it, make changes to improve the quality of your recordings, and give voice recordings a solid chance to improve your teaching. Good luck 🙂

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Sloane Merdinger

Sloane Merdinger is currently a full-time 7th-12th grade biology and chemistry teacher working to implement an individualized and nurturing science curriculum that both supports and challenges the area’s most gifted and talented learners. Her innate curiosity and passion for scientific understanding drives her to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in young scientists. In her free time you can find her exploring the outdoors with her Australian Shepherd, Sgt. Peppers.

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