Workload is a huge problem for our profession at the minute with it often cited as the biggest influence on the teacher retention crisis and the mental health of colleagues across the profession. Technology offers massive potential to reduce the strain in this area but often ends up adding to it by being overly complicated, coming with insufficient training or just not working very well.
A couple of years ago I was absolutely crushed under a set of ineffective systems (implemented by a Trust that is no longer in existence) that sent my workload through the roof and saw me almost leave teaching. Solutions were needed that would facilitate me still complying with very prescriptive policies whilst not running myself into the ground. I stumbled across Voice Typing accidentally whilst playing around with OneNote and the ability to embed sound files as feedback beside students’ work. The embed feature was of no use to me since my students work in exercise books but it got me thinking of how I could transfer the process onto paper. I started dictating feedback into a document then printing it to be stuck in books and never looked back.
Others have written about Voice Typing including the always practical Teacher Toolkit and the brilliant ICT Evangelist and I agree wholeheartedly with Ross when he says he can’t understand why more teachers aren’t using it. So, after several years and hundreds of iterations of usage, here are my Top Tips for using Voice Typing in the classroom.
Touch Device Keyboards Are Kings
The first, and probably biggest, barrier to any technology being successfully used is how easy it is to make it do what you want it to do. Well it doesn’t get much easier than pressing a button, then talking. Almost every touch device with an onscreen keyboard has a little icon like these embedded somewhere.
It really is as simple as clicking the microphone and talking. Sometimes it needs a little proofreading and editing, and punctuation can be “quirky” at times, but overall the technology is pretty accurate these days and the workload gains are immense.
Go ahead and try it. If you are reading this on a touch screen device, try typing a Tweet or even leave a comment below here using voice typing. Once you start, you will be seeing the potential everywhere you ever write something extended.
Visualisers Have Microphones
That is all well and good if you have a touch screen device you can use in the classroom, but many schools frown on even the use of staff mobile phones so… what then? I wrote about how I use a visualiser in my classroom previously and several people messaged me to ask about the microphone. Most modern visualisers have a microphone built in to enable you to record your modelling for later use. Your computer, however, simply identifies it as a microphone. So if you click on the Voice Typing tool with GDocs and start talking, you will be amazed to find your words appearing on screen. This offers massive potential. Essentially you have an always on, dictation device sitting front-and-centre in your classroom. Think of how many times you turn your back on your class to write on the board and how long it takes to do so. With voice typing it takes seconds to dictate a sentence. I often adjust my visualiser so it is positioned more as a microphone when it is not actually displaying so I can quickly activate voice typing and start dictating.
Dictate Those Reports
I see dozens of Tweets from colleagues at various times of the year who are crushed under the weight of having to write 30+ personalised, detailed and specific comments on reports. We tried to solve it as a profession while back with those terrible, soulless comment bank programmes which were a master of dropping the wrong pronoun or generic “Lauren” into a dark corner of the generated paragraph to make you look stupid and uncaring. They weren’t the answer.
Using voice typing, it is possible to dictate a whole class set of individual and highly personalised comments in under an hour. You don’t have to compromise on the quality of your comment in order to get the reports completed in a timely manner.
The same applies to any time you are asked to give an extended statement. Behaviour/intervention monitoring systems (both praise and concerns) often require us to write an account of what happened. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just talk to someone instead? Well that’s exactly what voice typing allows for. Just press the microphone icon and “tell the tale”. Proofread it when you are done and save it when you are happy.
The Feedback Game Changer
I have deliberately saved the best for last when it comes to the impact of voice typing on workload: Feedback!
For now, I am not going to dig into the theory around why feedback is effective or whether verbal feedback is better than written feedback. I will do that in a future blog, but not here. Here I want to talk about the mechanics of leaving feedback in an efficient manner and leave the research out.
The feedback we give to our students while they are actually with us in person is a huge part of our workload and Voice Typing allows us to capture some of that for use in a very specific way. I want to be absolutely clear however that this is not about capturing, and therefore evidencing, Verbal Feedback. Again, I will dig into the theory and research around this area in a later blog.
By Live Feedback, what I mean is adapting and reacting to common errors and misconceptions live as the class is working. For example, I share the success criteria for a task before we start it and have them displayed on the board during completion. As I circulate the room I am able to pick up on misconceptions or provide any pointers as they arise. By using Voice Typing, I can very quickly add feedback to the bottom (yellow) section of the Success Criteria sheet so the entire class can see it and everyone can action it without me having to repeat it 30 times.
Task Specific Feedback
I teach English. It used to take up to 3 hours to mark a set of books under the system I mentioned earlier and was making me ill. I needed to do something about it so I broke the marking workload down into its component parts. I realised that the time it takes to write out individual feedback was the most time consuming part followed closely by the time it takes to read the work. Since I couldn’t affect the reading time of a piece I turned to Voice Typing to reduce the writing time associated with feedback. Again, the content of that feedback is not for this blog but the mechanics were transformational. I found that I could dictate personalised feedback (ready to be responded to) in under an hour for a full set of 32 books.
The Bottom Line
Reducing unnecessary workload has to be a key priority for our profession if we are to retain high quality teachers beyond the first few years of their career and protect their mental well being on a long term basis. Technology has the power and potential to transform the way we work and dramatically reduce our workload. But we also need to look beyond the “unnecessary” and look for gains that we can make within the “necessary” elements of our practice. Once we have identified the problems that impact on our workload, we can begin to search out the innovations that solve them. Voice Typing is one of those simple solutions that has impacted massively on my own workload and has given me the time to focus on the quality of my feedback.