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The power of audio recording for early language learners

Have you ever seen a spark in a student and thought, “This kid is going to rule the world one day?” For me, this student is Marlee. As only a kindergartner, she already exudes the leadership qualities many adults spend their early careers perfecting. From the moment she first stepped foot in my classroom last August, she has been an example for the other students: she is the first to greet a guest at the door, the first to want to dig into new books, the most excited to start a new lesson. Not only do I see limitless potential in Marlee, but the other students look up to her as well. 

While Marlee is exceeding the expected skills for reading and writing at her age level, her ability to tell a story and describe her perspective on life far exceeds her ability to write and draw. Looking for a program that would allow her storytelling skills to outpace her writing abilities, we began using Soundtrap, an online recording studio that my school had recently purchased. Using the studio, Marlee went from writing a 14-word story in seven minutes to recording over 180 words in under two minutes. 

Of course, as a teacher, my goal is to help all of my students reach their potential not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. When seeing how excited and motivated Marlee was after listening to her own recording, I knew I wanted to give all my students the same experience. We began testing project ideas and finding new ways to incorporate audio recording into the class. 

Looking back, I could not have anticipated the positive impact these projects would have on my students. Here are three ways that audio recording changed my classroom for the better:

Celebrate Students’ Unique and Shared Identities 

As kindergartners, my students are naturally early language learners. However, my class is unique to my area in that more than three quarters of my students speak English as a second language. Within my class of 14 students, there are seven native languages represented, including Somali, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Arabic, Akan, and English. With these languages comes a variety of different experiences, cultures, and religions that make up each student's unique identity. 

One thing all students have in common is celebrating a birthday each year. In an effort to honor the diversity of my students’ backgrounds, we worked on a project to incorporate every student's native language into a birthday soundtrack. The students transformed a quiet section of the classroom into a recording studio. Led by Marlee—with my assistance to record—students worked with peers who spoke the same native language and took turns recording the birthday song in their native language. Our final compilation featured a number of birthday songs in various languages, plus the whole class singing “Happy Birthday” in English.

Today, my students ask to use the recording studio to celebrate each classmate’s birthday. What started out as a small project has become a tradition that celebrates the diverse languages that make up our classroom community, while allowing students to develop shared identities together. 

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Learning 

Students as young as five appreciate the value of learning from, and teaching to, other students throughout the school. In the next project, I worked with a small group of students to create their own audiobook. We started with a book they were familiar with, Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle. Five students took turns reading aloud a single page of the story, while I recorded them in Soundtrap. In the end, we had an audiobook that we shared with others in the class, as well as with the school’s pre-K students. 

After seeing the value of students becoming more engaged listeners by hearing themselves and their peers, I began to think of ways to scale the project this semester. Partnering with a fifth-grade classroom, we have tasked students to record themselves reading the book series Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems. Students are also using Soundtrap’s extensive sounds library and music presets to add background noise to amplify their storytelling. The final step of the project will be to load the audiobooks into QR codes, which we will add to the inside cover of the physical books in the library so students can listen and read simultaneously.

Pictured above: Students Ilwaad and Vada practicing for their read aloud together, selecting an old favorite, Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems.

Our goal is for students of all ages and reading ability levels to be able to use their classroom iPad to access the audiobooks they made. This project has not only had an impact in school, but students will be able to check these books out from the library and use their parent’s smartphone to continue to be immersed in literacy at home. Furthermore, parents who were once restricted by their own language barrier in reading books in English to their children are now able to share time enjoying books together.

Accelerate Vocabulary Growth 

Teachers are also able to use these audio recordings to help students develop their expressive vocabulary. Using Soundtrap’s transcription tool, we are able to quickly transcribe a student’s audio recording into written words. Reading the transcripts and listening to the recording allows students to hear themselves speak and evaluate whether they clearly communicated their ideas. Many times students discover that their expressive sounds do not match the meaning they are trying to convey. We then work together to compose thoughts, find the correct phrasing to express ideas, and articulate specific words in order to be understood.

 

Pictured above: Students watch their Brown Bear, Brown Bear recording play as they share it with their peers. 

We also started a new initiative this semester where we use the online studio as a language monitoring tool, tracking the words individual students acquire over time. Our goal is to use this tracking measure as a predictor of where we can expect students to be next year in terms of word understanding and acquisition. 

Audio Recording Amplifies Student Voice 

What transpired with these audio recording projects far exceeded my expectations. While emergent writing is a critical piece of every learner’s development, there is also room for moments of capturing the true-to-them stories that every learner has to tell, as well as the experiences that shape the culture of the classroom. Today, Marlee continues to be a leader in the classroom and is always looking for the next opportunity to record a project. 

Becca Masse is a kindergarten teacher in Auburn, Maine with a passion for early literacy learning. After graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington with her bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education, she packed her bags and moved to New York City to complete her masters in literacy education graduating from Teachers College, Columbia University as a literacy specialist. Now back in Maine she works hard to nurture the whole child encouraging all learners to embrace the identity of readers, writers, problem solvers, and thinkers. Follow Becca on Twitter at @masse_becca
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