Muddling through the blogosphere

VoiceThread and the ELL Student


Last week a 4th grade teacher in my district mentioned in passing that her team was looking at movie making as a way to boost skills of their ELL students – in a way that would also boost skills of their non-ELL students.  I can’t wait till next year to continue the conversation with her.

Thinking back to the first 4th grade video team I worked with this year as part of an EETT grant, as the group moved into the editing mode, each student picked a role. As the editing session went on, one student, not known for being able to maintain very well behavior-wise throughout an average school day, assumed a new role: wordsmyth. Each time the group would stop to debate a possible better word choice, this student spontaneously contributed a “$5 word.”  I loved being able to listen in on  student-generated conversations on vocabulary.

Last week I wrote about VoiceThread, using the 4th grade project I’ve embedded below, as being a tool for combining writing and technology to promote resiliency. But VoiceThread, like movie making, also builds on the four spheres of language.*; not just reading and writing, but also the often neglected listening and speaking. (*Note: I recommend reading Kevin Hodgson’s post on literacy and writing.)

I have in front of me Omar Lopez’s Lighting the Flame  of Learning for English Language Learners Through the Use of Interactive Whiteborard Technology. I think the “high-quality instructional strategies” he lists apply to VoiceThread as well as IWBs (maybe even more – and VoiceThread is basically free for educators):

1. Learning builds on previous experiences and therefore, ELL teachers need to incorporate ELLs’ prior knowledge, culture, interests, and experiences in new learning.

2. Learning takes place in a social setting and therefore ELL teachers need to provide opportunities for ELL student-interactions.

3. Knowledge taught in a variety of contexts is more likely to support learning across students with diverse learning needs and therefore, ELL teachers need to integrate ELL strategies in different contexts.

4. Connected, organized and relevant information supports students learning of knowledge but also helps them develop higher-order skills. Thus, Ell teachers need to contextualize instruction and use strategies such as graphic organizers that support ELLs’ development of higher-order skills.”

In listening again to the Letters from the Internment Camps VT, I think there is one more huge benefit for ELL students: VoiceThread projects develop a common vocabulary across shared experiences. The students now own the words included in the project.

Also, because VoiceThread is online, it promotes another of Lopez’s findings: “ELLs are more likely to experience school success if educators use long-term consistent strategies across all classrooms, along with efforts to involve parents and the community.” As luck would have it, last week several of the wonderful, inspiring citizens of Japanese heritage I’ve worked with in the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project came by my office.  When I played the VoiceThread for them, they were astounded at how well this group of elementary students has captured what the internment experience was really like. On Tuesday, Reiko Naguma, who joined the VT discussion to fully describe the experience of using the camp bathrooms, returned, bringing with her Flora Ida Ortiz, who 65 years ago was Reiko’s pen pal. Yep, we taped the interview and will soon add a few clips to the VoiceThread.

I can’t think of another technology that would allow these (Title 1) students to so quickly create a dynamic, growing community as well as to create content that will help reserve the living voices of those who experienced exclusion and forced removal first hand. What a powerful lesson on the importance of understanding and protecting the rights guaranteed to all US citizens! What a powerful project for ELL students – and all students, no?!


  1. Just based on this one post, I’m really excited to see your Voicethread presentation on Thursday. It sounds like your teachers have been doing some phenomenal things with this technology!

    • Of the Web 2.0 tools I’ve introduced teachers to over the past year, VoiceThread is the one that’s bringing them on board with technology as an integral part of the curriculum, not an add on.

      Thanks for the comment, Joe. I’ll be looking forward to connecting with you at the conference (and for a friendly face in the audience;-)

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