Getting the Social back in the Social Studies

This is a guest post by Social Studies Teacher and VoiceThreader, Erin Coppola-Klein.

In the time that I’ve been using VoiceThread in the classroom, I’ve come to believe that it is the program most ideally suited for meaningful, high quality social studies instruction. The most obvious benefits center around the discussion that occurs using the comment feature. Because it is asynchronous, VoiceThread provides space for students who are reluctant verbal participants in real time class discussions to have their voices heard. The struggle to figure out how to get their voice in when participating with eager speakers is removed because they can add their voice whenever they want. Students who think they don’t have anything to say can build off the comments of those who have commented before them (or take the time to realize that they do, actually, have valuable ideas to add!) Students who are working to build confidence with public speaking can record and preview their comments as many times as they need to before posting with confidence.

Over the past two years, the teaching team with whom I work has been trying to help a student build her self confidence and share her ideas with the class without much luck. Although she was a strong writer, she remained reluctant to join discussion with her voice. Imagine my surprise when, in response to a request to leave one comment, one question, and one connection on a VoiceThread that presented direct instruction, Kate left a detailed argument for an alternative point of view. Her voice was clear! It was confident! Her argument led other students to engage with her ideas! In following up with her, she said she thought it really helped to have been able to engage with the VoiceThread and then have time to digest the information. That was how she realized that she had a different point of view than the one I presented. She also mentioned that she had recorded the comment a number of times before deciding to publish it for her classmates. This year, she has built on her success on VoiceThread to participate more often in real time discussions.

A less obvious benefit is that VoiceThread shifts student focus to thinking and speaking by freeing them from the added cognitive load of writing. As a result, I am better able to meet my students developmental needs because they are often thinking much more complexly than their writing skills allow them to express. VoiceThread gives me a way to validate the critical thinking of more of my students. This is critical to developing my students’ self confidence, especially for those who are not traditionally strong students. Along those lines, I can also use comment moderation to provide private feedback to students. The quality of the comment made public creates a positive feedback loop and encourages increased buy-in. This also allows me to ensure that all student voices are included and successful.

About the Author: Erin Coppola-Klein teaches 7th and 8th grade Social Studies at Capitol Hill Day School in the District of Columbia. She moved to teaching in classrooms in 2007 after having taught on board traditionally rigged tall ships previously. She can be reached at