Connecting with students through name pronunciation software

Educators at Chicago area district use NameCoach to assure correct pronunciation of student names
By: | Issue: September, 2015 | Case Study
August 26, 2015

A diverse population makes up the student body at East Leyden High School in the Leyden High School District 212 in suburban Chicago.

“Thirty different languages are spoken in the homes of our students,” says Jason Markey, principal.

And with that diversity comes the challenge for educators of not always being sure how names are pronounced when seen typed on a class roster. Students are so nice that they are not likely to correct people who mispronounce their names, says Markey.

This issue was especially brought to Markey’s attention in spring 2015, three weeks before graduation. A senior English class was studying Frankenstein and the name motif, particularly how names are a part of a person’s identity. One of the students announced that during her four years at East Leyden, no one ever said her name the way it was supposed to be pronounced. She simply did not want to trouble anyone in order to be called the right name.

“I knew this student very well and it was troubling to think no one in the school community knew her real name,” says Markey. “I had come across NameCoach on Twitter and this incident spurred me to investigate putting this solution into place.”

NameCoach is a name pronunciation tool that allows educators to be sure how to say their students’ names. Students are sent an email by the system, which contains a special link. After clicking the link, the student voice-records their name the correct way. Students can use their cellphone, district-provided Chromebook or any device with a microphone to record their voice. When the student is pleased with the recording and submits it, the audio file is then automatically sent to the district’s database, where it can be sorted by class, grade or other factors designated by the district’s team.

“There are many ceremonies at the end of the year that require saying students’ names, so we did a small pilot with a group of 40 students that were attending a particular ceremony,” says Markey.

The response to the pilot was so enthusiastic, Markey expanded NameCoach access to all departing seniors to be sure to capture their correct information for their graduation ceremony.

“We then tried to collect info on as many returning students as possible, with the plan of capturing the rest at the very beginning of the following school year,” says Markey.

The goal is to help students feel comfortable and secure that their core identities are being represented correctly in the classroom.

“We want to recognize what is important to our students and know they won’t always communicate those values outright,” says Markey. “As educators, it is our job to put programs into place that show we care about what is important to them.”

NameCoach can integrate with student information systems. At East Leyden, teachers can pull up their class roster and see a photo and voice recording for every student. The SIS updates daily with new NameCoach recordings, and administrators can pull batch reports to track how many names are currently recorded.

“Teachers really appreciate having this at their fingertips, and students appreciate that we are taking the time to do this,” says Markey.

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