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Tech Class

Marks of Speed

A high school math teacher uses a tablet and a versatile note-taking app to cut marking time and provide more feedback to students.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

A photo of Jacopo Stifani, Ontario Certified Teacher, sitting with two students. Jacopo is showing one of the students a document on a tablet.
Tech-savvy Jacopo Stifani, OCT, uses a tablet to explain a math concept to Grade 10 students.

The Challenge: Provide high school math students with in-depth feedback on tests and assignments quickly.

The Solution: Use speech-to-text technology and online software to instantly capture comments. Return tests and assignments via the web.

Lessons Learned: Jacopo Stifani, OCT, a teacher at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, uses an iPad with Notability, a speech-to-text note-taking app, to provide rich feedback on tests and assignments quickly.

His procedure: Scan papers to transform them into PDF files. Open them on an iPad in Notability. Use the app to correct and comment on the work — but not by typing. Instead, employ Notability’s speech-to-text feature, which translates spoken words into text comments in the documents. He is also able to mark up the PDF with his own handwriting.

Stifani produces extensive input to help students understand concepts and corrections, all without having to spend an inordinate amount of time writing.

He uses Notability’s various features in different ways. Sometimes he records audio-only comments when marking work from students who have an easier time absorbing information aurally. And if he knows a student has Notability on his or her own mobile device, he uses the app to capture drawings to accompany his comments. The student can watch these little videos to improve his or her understanding.

When he’s finished marking, he returns the papers through Google Drive, a web-based document storage platform. Every student in the York Region District School Board has an account on the system.

Observations: Stifani has found that speech-to-text technology has improved a lot over the last few years, but it still requires a good Internet connection. He also found that students adapt quickly to the tech-based marking system, Drive, and the other web applications in the board’s Google Apps for Education platform.

In fact, the students eagerly take to Google Forms, one of the programs on that system, to give Stifani input on his methods. The teacher polls his class every few weeks to find out if his approach is helping them. He invites students to use their mobile phones in class to answer survey questions such as: “Do you think I have made a genuine effort to help you become more successful in the course?”

“I always pray the answer is going to be positive,” he says. Thankfully, the last time he asked, 80 per cent of his class said yes.

Although that positive reaction may suggest that the students benefit from his use of technology, Stifani doesn’t necessarily believe that the entire educational process should be conducted through tech. “I don’t think there’s been enough studies done yet about digital learning in every capacity,” he says, adding that time and observation will be the two main factors in solving that equation.

The College’s professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media ( guides members’ professional judgment in the use of technology.

Helpful Hints: Jacopo Stifani, OCT, gave his high school math students a choice: use a paper-based textbook or an online version. At the end of the semester, he polled his class. A whopping 92 per cent only used the web edition.

You Can Do It Too!

What You’ll need:

Steps to Take:

  1. Scan tests and assignments to turn them into PDFs.
  2. Use Notability’s speech-to-text feature to make comments and corrections.
  3. Return papers to students through Drive.
  4. Use Forms to poll students on your teaching methods.