VoiceThread is a cool platform for encouraging student collaboration and reflection. It may also serve as a digital student portfolio and authentic assessment by teachers. The platform serves as a forum for sharing ideas, based on an uploaded image, video, or document. Let’s assume a teacher wants her students to comment on the plot of a read- aloud book. She may post a picture of the book, assign accounts to students, and moderate their comments. There are five ways to respond on VoiceThread: audio recording, video recording (using webcam), text, uploaded audio file, and phone conversation (the latter method is probably not useful for elementary school!). Students or teachers may “doodle” while recording comments, using an online pen (with a nice palette of colors) to emphasize or add to their thoughts. I use a free account and keep my VoiceThreads private, with comments allowed only by invited participants. Teachers may purchase a license for up to 50 student accounts for $79 a year, or a district may purchase accounts for thousands of kids (at greater cost, of course).
If you have never tried VoiceThread, check out this one (scroll to the bottom of the page for the actual thread): Fifth grade student-led parent conferences. The teacher has written a clear description of her goals for the project, along with a step-by-step process for creating this 15 page thread. She includes tips and challenges (but notes that it was an easy project).
VoiceThread has much potential for special needs students. It allows collaboration which requires no written responses, which can allow twice exceptional students to capture their advanced ideas without the laborious writing process. It is useful for ASD students who may not participate easily in a group discussion that flows too quickly for them to “jump in.” It can also be useful for improving social skills for high functioning autistic students; it allows feedback on videotaped role-plays, photos, and other prompts to which kids can respond. VoiceThread also supports more reflective thinking, since collaboration does not occur in real time. The platform is so engaging that it may be a useful reward for students on a behavior contract.