We've used Google Voice for both homework and in-class assessments. The types of assignments vary by language level. At the beginning levels, we’ve asked students to describe their daily routines, describe a person they know, typical foods they eat, what they did on the weekend, what their vacation plans are, among other ideas. It’s easy to emphasize a grammar point or subject matter that has been covered in class using Google Voice in this way. As the students’ language develops, we make sure to increase the cognitive demand as well as the target language and content. Whereas, at the beginning levels, students may explain steps in a process, talk about what they are doing in that moment or do usually, describe a personal narrative, and give a short talk on opinions and beliefs, students at the higher levels can do much more. They can, for example, do more complicated narrations of their life, give detailed reasons and examples to support opinions being expressed, persuade a listener to accept a new idea, give a mini presentation on a researched topic, etc.
Here is a Google Voice assignment at a higher cognitive level that a colleague used with an advanced group of learners. The activity is an assessment on a topic covered in class:
- massage therapy
- vitamin therapy
- diet-based therapy
- Where was the treatment developed?
- When was the treatment developed?
- How does it work?
- How is it used?
- Is it popular or not? With whom?
- Do you think that it is an effective medical treatment?
*Don’t forget to introduce yourself so that I know who is talking.
Here are two sample rubrics we’ve used in our department. The first is for advanced learners, the second for beginners.
There are some items for a teacher to be aware of in preparation for using Google Voice. One is the time issue. You need to be able to devote time to listening to student answers multiple times to give good feedback. Therefore, it is a good idea to set reasonable recording times from students to make the grading manageable. Also, the transcript feature doesn't work too well with non-native accents, and thus doesn't transcribe their recordings too well. As this technology advances, however, it may one day create a nice transcript which a teacher can provide to students to help point out strengths and weaknesses of the students’ language. Moreover, especially with beginners, students will invariably read their homework assignments on Google Voice, which may make it more of an oral reading than a true speaking activity. Don’t be discouraged, as the students are still practicing pronunciation, intonation, oral reading fluency, and using grammatical forms in their answers. To get more spontaneous responses, you can also use Google Voice impromptu in class, where you can give students a topic or question to discuss or take notes on (but not a whole written response), and have them call on their cell phones or classmates’ cell phones to leave a response. This helps avoid the reading-rather-than-speaking answer you may get from some homework assignments. This approach also mimics some tests like TOEFL, which require students to take notes and record their answers quickly. Try using Google Voice both ways, for homework and in class assignments. You’ll hear the difference in your students’ speaking abilities.