Teaching Language to Canadian Newcomers with VoiceThread

This is a guest post by Educator and VoiceThreader, Bonnie Jean Nicholas.

I teach language and settlement to newcomers to Canada in a government-funded language program. Part of teaching settlement means guiding students as they develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to find success in their new country. Presentation skills are important transferable skills, so students in my classes give mini presentations on different topics every week throughout our term. I use different modalities for these: sometimes face-to-face or in our synchronous online class; sometimes whole-class and sometimes in small groups, carousel style; and often using VoiceThread.

I like to think of VoiceThread as one more great tool in my teaching toolbox. I am reminded of the idiom: if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail. As a teacher, I want to have a variety of ways for students to express themselves and to present, both so that they can develop those all important transferable skills and their digital skills but also so that they can have agency and voice in my classroom. In their feedback, many students prefer the asynchronous nature of VoiceThread, while others prefer to present synchronously in either our online class or our face-to-face class. And that’s where we see that word “voice” in VoiceThread: it truly does give students voice, both literally and figuratively.

VoiceThread also creates space for students to collaborate and develop their independence as well as their peer support network. As one student, N, says, “It was so easy after my classmate Z guided me how to follow the instructions. . . . I liked the asynchronous conversations on VoiceThread, and I always interacted with my classmates.” In our increasingly digital world, even students new to technology recognize that asynchronous interaction is a valuable way to connect and learn with their peers. Z themself says, “[VoiceThread] is easy to use, you can record your presentation, make comments, listen and pause whenever you want. So, it is a flexible tool to present.”

Other students commented that they found VoiceThread motivating because they could record and re-record their presentations until they were happy with the result, unlike a live presentation where they may have only one chance to speak and share. This reduces the stress level for learners, most of whom are new to presenting, and helps them develop confidence in their presentation skills. Students also value the comments and feedback from their peers, not just from their teacher. In their feedback, L says that they appreciated the “important questions and sweet comments” from their classmates. Using VoiceThread helps build community in our classroom.

In my classes, students give mini presentations on many different topics. Often, the presentations are only 2 - 3 minutes long; even this can be a daunting prospect in a new language for someone who has never given a presentation before. Generally, everyone presents on a variation of the same theme in any given week. I sometimes ask them to share idioms, phrasal verbs, collocations, or other useful forms of formulaic language. They sometimes share soft skills, government services, recommended books or films, or websites or courses to continue their learning after our class ends. VoiceThread allows their work to be preserved in an easily accessible format. As S says, “VoiceThread is a great way of learning.”

About the Author:

Bonnie Jean Nicholas, BA MEd, teaches in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta, where she integrates digital technology with language teaching.