‘Listen again’: the potential of Audio Notetaker for revising and revisiting at Key Stage 4
Esther Menon, Secondary English consultant
Putting a group of NATE heads together to consider the potential of a new software for the secondary English classroom inevitably leads to a proliferation of innovative, creative ideas on classroom use. A meeting at the British Library to consider the potential of Audio Notetaker, a recording software, was no different and resulted in a collection of excellent possibilities for reading, writing, speaking and listening across all key stages. Taking a step back from the melting pot, I wanted to consider the way this software had originated; a solution to a specific problem for dyslexic students in higher education who were unable to take effective notes in what was, almost exclusively, a one way dialogue from lecturer to undergraduate.
The software allows students to record a lecture; it reflects this in ‘chunks’ or phrases as on-screen blocks, and then enables personal notes to be added during or after the lecture. Adult users report being able to access relevant parts of the text more quickly on a ‘listen again’ and annotate, colour code or select important sections. While Sonocent, the makers of Audio Notetaker, have collected a wealth of positive feedback from such students in that context, how far is this use directly transferable to the mainstream secondary classroom? This study considers how a Key Stage 4 intervention English lesson was adapted using Audio Notetaker and the potential of the created resource for students to revise and catch up on English learning.
In these times of austerity and ever-dwindling school budgets, it is worth considering some key principles in software purchase for the classroom. In adapting existing Key Stage 4 English intervention resources for Audio Notetaker, I considered the following criteria to evaluate the software and my authored teaching resource:
- Does it ultimately lessen teacher workload?
- Is it educationally sound?
- Is it pedagogically up to date?
- Does it make effective use of ICT to address English objectives?
- Is it effective use of classroom time?
- Is it adaptable by teachers?
- Is it affordable?
- Are there adequate teacher supporting materials?
- Is it easy to use? (intuitive and easy for pupils/teacher to find their way round)
- Is it relevant to current department focuses/pupil weaknesses?
The materials focus on the Reading section of AQA specification for GCSE English Unit 1: Understanding and producing non-fiction texts:
- Read and understand texts, selecting material appropriate to purpose, collating from different sources and making comparisons and cross references as appropriate.
- Develop and sustain interpretations of writers’ ideas and perspectives.
- Explain and evaluate how writers use linguistic, grammatical, structural and presentational features to achieve effects and engage and influence the reader.
I also produced an Audio Notetaker file which shows the first half an hour of the lesson together with links to relevant resources. This provides an example resource showing how Notetaker might be used for Key Stage 4 English revision. The materials are based on Eddie Izzard’s marathon run round Britain which featured in a series of BBC3 programmes called Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man in 2010 and on the Guardian review of the series by Nancy Banks-Smith.
Planning and teaching
Four days of intervention teaching of a target C higher group in an 11-19 community school in the South East enabled me to record the teaching of several lessons and consider their usability for those or other students after the event. The school were using my teaching to support staff INSET as well as student learning, so there was the potential for the Audio Notetaker files to be used as training as well as a teaching resources. To record a lesson in sync with my supporting PowerPoint slides was no significant workload; merely import slides using the import slide feature in a new Audio Notetaker file and hit the return button every time a new slide is displayed, to link the voice recording with the relevant slide.
In a normal classroom the sound quality using the microphone built into my laptop was not up to scratch. Instead I used a tiny Samson Go Mic, which just plugs into the USB port of my laptop and provides excellent sound quality. The resulting resource, used by students with headphones, only needed to be played at about a quarter of my potential laptop volume to be adequate for personal use.
After a couple of years scorning the iPhone, in objection at many of my younger friends being surgically attached to theirs, I have finally fallen. On the day that I forgot the lead of the Go Mic, I was able to provide an adequate recording of my voice with the iPhone and easily import that into the software. Preparation therefore of the revision teacher input that might be shared with students on a learning platform or VLE was very little in additional to the preparation of the original teaching resources.
However, as secondary teachers we are, I think, doing something different from the English lecturers that I experienced in my university days. Whilst revision lessons prior to GCSEs can bring out the worst in teacher didacticism, the effective English classroom is one that must be rich in discussion, interactive activity, time for independent writing and consolidation; we are rarely engaged in one-way dialogue. The difficulty in using my classroom recordings for subsequent student revision (whether for students that attended the lessons, or those that might use them to make up for absence) were the less structured sections of the real classroom experience: discussion, question and answer or, dare I say it, occasional off-task episodes. The reality was that recording such sessions had the potential to merely publicise off-task and disruptive behaviour and create resources that might be at best potentially distracting from the original aim and, at worst, pretty amusing for many Year 11 listeners! However, I can definitely see the potential for using this simple method of resource creation in those Key Stage 4 and 5 classrooms where students are tightly on task and contributions are of genuine value to the whole group.
Having made the recordings and discussed the use of potential revision resources with a group of students, I decided to use the original slides with a more structured brief teacher recording. This was recorded as part of my resource preparation rather than real classroom teaching. Of course this significantly adds to teacher workload. However, it provided a more useable resource that might be shared across a department and saved for use in future years. The format of the blocks of audio does mean that it is relatively easy to cut and re-record sections should that be necessary. In order to avoid students gazing at a computer screen instead of revising, I used the notes pane to set tasks for students to complete in relation to the audio. This enabled me to type in the instructions and in practice for students to write underneath them and then eliminate the instructions once they had finished. At times this required students to pause and listen again to different sections of the text, which is easily achieved by tapping the space bar. I also provided a YouTube clip of a documentary on Eddie Izzard’s marathon challenge for Comic Relief and two paper based worksheets from the original lesson to reflect real exam room activities. If I had a request here it would be for the software to allow for hyperlinks to a folder of documents for use alongside the audio file.
In several schools I have worked in, teachers provide a revision ‘carousel’ prior to exams, to give students a breadth of input. Such a scenario, where a department pre-record one or two revision sessions per subject for use after a taught revision session to support independent revision and to structure interactive revision activities, seems to me to be an effective use of this software. Many students I have worked with prior to their examinations suddenly claim after an intervention sessions: ‘It all makes sense now and my teacher didn’t tell me that.’ I have to point out to many that this is because it is now urgent and that they are now listening properly! So potentially having a recorded lesson , where students can view supporting resources and relisten to focused teacher instruction away from the distractions of their peers, has significant benefits for some, but only when used hand in hand with previous interactive classroom practice.
Student feedback and outcomes
The final Audio Notetaker resource was trialled with a small group of GCSE students who had not previously attended the intervention lessons and were only given a 5 minute introduction to the software navigation.
Their feedback was positive. They found the software far more intuitive than I expected. One student commented ‘it was very easy to use as we have similar programmes for music that chunk up what we record.’ Their only complaint was that in trying to view both the slides and the audio fields they needed to use full screen view. Once they needed to interact with the text to complete activities in the revision session, they had to escape to the standard view to be able to input text.
While I was slightly sheepish about my rather mechanical delivery compared to a more lively taught lesson, the students were comfortable with the clarity and focus of this tighter lesson format. They believed that they would want to use such a resource to catch up or revise on key materials providing they were ‘well explained’ and not too lengthy. They emphasised that they would want to draw on the real life resource of their teacher before and/or after its use to be able to ask questions and check understanding. Their completed activities, saved in their own version of the original Audio Notetaker file, reflected good understanding of the key issues of the revision session, focusing on reading skills and exam technique.
With their whole school hats on the students reflected that the software would be useful for a range of subjects, but voiced insightful reservations that the whole school would need to be discerning in resource creation, so that students weren’t provided with endless hours of lesson materials to listen to right across the curriculum.
Surprisingly, despite the software offering compatibility with iPhones and developing materials for smartphones, my students were less keen on this idea. Like many of us, the consensus across my sample group of students of 2011, was a preference to draw a clear line between their social lives and their working lives. They would rather turn on their computers to access learning platforms and school work, and keep their phones for socialising and listening to music! I note this with interest and am keen to see if and how this changes in the coming years.
Overall both student feedback and my own resource preparation leads me to believe that Audio Notetaker has some potential in both the English classroom and across the secondary curriculum. Resource preparation will, for many teachers, be more onerous than the users of Audio Notetaker in the HE sector. Whether or not this will be a viable option for schools will depend of course on pricing; the ability of Sonocent to provide schools considering this as a whole school purchase, with immediate accessible resources to illustrate the software’s most common use across the range of curriculum subjects, will also be a crucial factor.
To view the appendices and see screenshots please go to the NATE website.