“So, Ms. Harper, will I be able to hear you, like, puking in the background when you read my terrible paper?”

This is what my students want to know as I begin experimenting with a recorded oral response to their essays.  I stumbled upon a “Learnist” board (a cool pinterest-like app with lots of education oriented boards) , that featured an article from a teacher trying to record responses to essays. I started wondering how I could do that with our one-to-one iPad program, and, more importantly, if that kind of response could save precious time when dealing with the paper load.

I chose to start with the Explain Everything app.  My students typed their papers using the Pages app on their iPads and emailed them to me as PDFs.  I opened the papers in Explain Everything, which reads PDFs, and there I could annotate the papers while recording my voice over them.

As I sat down to assess the first paper, question one arose–If this paper that I’m about to open is awful, will I be able to keep my tone moderate and non-condemning.  If the paper isn’t awful because of the student’s inability to write but rather because of apathy and disinterest, is it appropriate to keep my tone moderate and non-condemning?

Luckily, paper one analyzed the concept of “maturity” and was generally well-written and thoughtful.  Problem averted for the time being.

Question two–Exactly how do I use this app?  It took a bit of time to figure out how to type, how to place typed text where I wanted it, how to annotate with the pen, etc.  My biggest challenge was remembering to turn off the pen before I attempted to scroll further down the page.  I tended to accidentally draw lines down the middle of the page.

When papers are opened in PDF form in the app, each page is treated as a slide.  When I responded to the first paper, I attempted to add a slide and quickly type my grading criteria onto it.  I won’t try to do that again because it took way too much time.  I’ve either got to find a way to import my word document of the grade sheet into the slide show or address the issue some other way.  For the second paper, I chose to pull up the grade sheet on my desk computer and simply talk through it at the end of the paper.  I still added a slide and some simple annotations with the pen function to help the student visualize the categories and points they were receiving.

After playing back my commentary on the first two papers,  I was feeling pretty tickled with myself.  In order to hear the grade, the student was going to have to listen to all my feedback rather than being able to glance at a grade and then cram the paper with all my handwritten notes into the depths of a backpack.

Then, I prepared the file for export so that I could email it back to the student.  Ah, there’s the rub.  It takes about 10-15 minuets for the app to compress the file and prepare it for emailing.  I picked up a hint somewhere, though, that there might be a compressor app that will allow me to work on other things on the iPad while the file compresses.  For now, though, I’m sitting here typing this blog entry waiting on the file to be ready. I’m wondering if I’m careful about turning off the record button during reading time and pressing again only when I want to say something will reduce the amount of file that has to be dealt with?

Another minor (?) drawback.  I really wanted this method of response to be more beneficial to my students and to save me time.  When I am responding to printed essays with my own pen or pencil, I can do it anytime or anywhere almost.   I can grade papers while my kids play on the McDonald’s playplace.  If one group of students is taking a test, I can grade papers while they do it.But I can’t do that with this kind of oral, recorded response. I can’t sit over in the corner and talk to my iPad while students are trying to answer questions about The Odyssey.  When I go home and try to grade the essays, I run the risk of dogs barking and children hooting and hollering in the background.

Finally, I also have to think about the feedback I’m giving.  Is it better to record myself AS I read and give them a sort of “reader” response?  Or is it better to read all the way through and then record a more measured set of thoughts?  If I respond as I read, how do I make sure I’m not accidentally over-editing and under emphasizing higher order concerns?  A written response is just more measured and considered…and edited.

Basically, this is still an experiment, but at this point I’m still excited about the possibilities.  We’ll see how it goes and hopefully improves as I struggle with the learning curve.