How I Use It
As a foreign language teacher, I give students a speaking prompt--a scenario in English, a question in the target language or anything that will require to respond in the target language. Then for homework, I have students call the voicemail number provided by Google Voice, introduce themselves in the target language stating relevant identification information (name, period number, etc), respond to the prompt, and say good-bye. There is a texting option as well, which allows a google voice user to text back a grade to students who request it.
Google saves the student's message as an MP3 file and puts it in my Voice inbox. In the past I have saved messages to create student speaking portfolios (using Google Drive). I have also simply listened to the messages, graded them, and then archived or deleted them.
Instructing students on how to make the call for the first time takes about 5-10 minutes. I usually model a sample call for students. After students are trained, the assignment can be handed it out on a sheet of paper or added to the bottom of a worksheet for students to complete outside of class, and no class time at all needs to be used.
Students do not need a computer or a tape recorder to record their speaking practice--Google Voice allows them use any telephone to complete the assignment, be it landline or cell. I've even had a few resourceful students whose parents' phones had been shut off use their iPod touch to Skype me the message through Google Voice.
I used Google Voice for one calendar school year with my eighth grade French students to prepare for speaking tasks of the New York State Proficiency exam. This implementation had both the intended result of improving student's speaking confidence and speaking skills as well as the unintended result of improving student's writing skills (most students wrote out what the were going to say before calling it in). Having students synthesize a thought in the target language on a regular basis in one to two sentences and communicate it via speaking was a great way to get students practicing both speaking and writing--and it was quicker to grade than the standard in-class composition or project.
Students liked that they got to use their phones to complete their homework assignments. While the tech novelty wore off after a few weeks, though, students started to really appreciate just how quickly they could complete this homework assignment. Most were able to compose their response in two to three minutes and call it in in under 60 seconds. My shy students who did not like speaking in front of the class quickly learned to appreciate the fact that they could complete this assignment in the privacy of their own home, knowing that no one but the teacher would be listening to their response. Struggling students benefitted from the regular synthesis practice. Advanced students used the assignment as a testing ground to experiment with more complex linguistic structures. I truly believe this was beneficial for all.
This product could be helpful for foreign language teachers of all levels, as well as for ESL teachers, as a way to assess speaking as a homework assignment. I also envision possible uses for ELA teachers seeking to show students the advantages of reading an essay outloud as part of the editing process. It could be used by music teachers to assess scales practice. It could be used by special ed teachers looking for creative ways of assisting students in need of a scribe to complete homework or in class essays. Possibilities are limited only by one's imagination and the three minute message limit.