Editor's Note - Today's Blog is by guest author Mary Harrison
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve increasingly become a morning person. I have learned to enjoy waking up at 5:00 AM and leisurely getting ready for work. I find that my mind is clear and sharp in the mornings, and that I’m all the more prepared for a day of teaching if I find a way to exercise my brain before leaving the house. This is how I became addicted to podcasts.
When I empty the dishwasher, feed the pets, and put on makeup at the crack of dawn, I’m learning – learning through listening. Sometimes I’m discovering how the movements of the economy affect seemingly unrelated social phenomena (Freakonomics). Sometimes I’m learning about the stories behind those punchy and sensationalized political headlines (The Diane Rehm Show). Sometimes I’m learning more about how to live a healthy lifestyle (Zorba Paster). Sometimes I’m discovering a new short story author that completely grips me with their story and style (The New Yorker Fiction podcast and Selected Shorts). No matter where these podcasts take me, I’m always left wondering, “How can I incorporate this in my classroom?”
In the Language Arts classroom, we devote ourselves to teaching reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I fear, however, that many, including myself, fall short of actually intentionally instructing students in the ways of active listening: it generally seems to simply be an expectation. Often, teachers lead a shared reading and count the activity as listening instruction, but it’s not; in a shared reading, students have the text in front of them, and can rely on their eyes. Active listening becomes the expectation when students are held accountable for what they hear.
In her article “The Value of Sharing Stories Orally with Middle Grade Students”, Hollee A. Frick speaks to the value of read-alouds for older students. Though she published her ideas and researched support in 1986, her arguments still hold water, and the implementation of her proposed strategies can certainly be augmented with modern technology, such as podcasts. She asserts that “The first and most obvious skills nurtured by storytelling and oral reading are those involving listening” and adds that “Refinement of this skill can be effectively used later when students must listen for directions or participate in discussions” (301). Here, Frick makes an important connection: not only should students engage in active listening during read-alouds, but should be given opportunities to draw connections between those experiences and meaningful applications. I have witnessed very juvenile class discussions among very intelligent students, and couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever been deliberately taught to listen carefully to others and then respond in context. So how could I use a podcast to this end?
This type of instruction would look slightly different with different types of podcasts, and I do think a variety should be introduced to students. I could provide students with guided notes to complete as they listen intently, pausing the audio at certain points to give them time to digest and react; this type of activity would particularly lend itself to informational or argumentative selections. Their notes could serve as a springboard for discussion about the topic at hand, in which they can directly apply the skill of listening closely and responding appropriately to live conversation with their peers.
Regarding fiction and storytelling, Frick cites a survey in which “101 high school students most often mentioned the activity of being read aloud to as one which initiated positive attitudes toward reading” (300). The Selected Shorts podcast would be a wonderful classroom tool for inspiring a love of reading, as it features professional—and famous—actors expressively reading exceptional short stories to a live audience. Aside from proving the entertainment value of stories, the lesson could move into a writing exercise that holds students accountable for what they’ve heard. I would challenge students to notice the structure, style, or mood of the story and to create their own piece of short fiction that emulates the one they listened to. I could also ask students to compile a class list of other stories that they’ve read independently that share traits with the story we’ve enjoyed together as a class.
As teachers, we must constantly be on the lookout for new methods that engage our students in important literacies with many types of text. While textbooks and traditional approaches to Language Arts instruction still have a place in my classroom, I am excited about the prospect of building a classroom culture that embraces technology, thereby embracing my students’ interests. As students shuffle through the hallway with their earbuds attached, I can only hope that at least one of them is listening to This American Life and thinking, “Man, what a great story.”
Frick, Hollee A. "The Value of Sharing Stories Orally with Middle Grade Students." Journal of Reading