I love The Slowdown Podcast with US Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith. Listening to it has become part of my morning routine. If you’ve never listened before, it’s a five-minute long podcast in which Smith introduces a poem with an anecdote, personal story, historical or current event, or some explanation that eventually leads in to what the poem she is reading on that particular episode is about. Then, she reads the poem. It’s a relaxing, thought-provoking, poetic five minutes very well spent. I recommend subscribing if you haven’t already.
I wanted to share The Slowdown with my students, and then have them make their own podcasts inspired by Smith’s. We listened to two episodes together in class. As they listened, I told them to take notes – not on the content or what she was saying – but the STRUCTURE of it.
What sections of the episode do you notice?
For example, every episode opens with the same opening theme music, she introduces herself, more music, intro story, read poem, thank yous. Students think-pair-shared their noticings, and we made a list together as a class on the board of the sections we noticed. This list became my students’ requirements for their own podcasts.
Being that this was the first time I’ve attempted having students make podcasts, I needed some help. I reached out to my PLN and Matt Brisbin and Jodi Krulder hooked me up with some suggestions of apps to use and rubrics.
As I am always open and honest with my students, I disclosed my novice status to podcasting and asked them to raise their hands if they’ve ever tried to make a podcast. Zero hands. Cool, okay, so this would be a learning experience for all of us. I asked them to please provide me with feedback along the process so we could tweak things as we go, which I believe gave them a sense of authority and ownership of their own learning in our podcasting adventures.
We drafted a rough outline of a schedule together. I asked them what they thought they could get accomplished in class each day and this is what we ended up with:
The first order of business was to find a poem. Since I am me, they were required to find a poem by a living poet. We used Poets.org and the Split This Rock poetry data base to search poems that would be of personal interest to the students. They had full freedom to choose whatever poem they wanted, providing it was written by a living author.
Thanks to Matt and Jori’s recommendations, we used Anchor to record our podcasts, and You Tube’s audio library and Bensound to find music. My students provided feedback that using Anchor as the app and not the website was smoother and more user friendly, FYI.
At the beginning of class each day, we touched base to see if they had accomplished the goal from the previous day. Yes? Okay, awesome–schedule proceeded as originally planned.
I debated back and forth if I wanted to have a “listening party” of all the students’ podcasts in class. Since a personal story as an introduction to the poem was involved, and since I cringe whenever I hear my own voice recorded and played back, I decided to spare students the embarrassment. I let them know at the beginning of the process that I would be the only one listening, although they have the option of sharing their podcast with anyone they wish using Anchor’s shareable link feature. And, potentially, with their permission, I might share their podcast on social media or here in this blog.
Listening to their final products, I was blown away. Here’s what I think helped them to have such phenomenal outcomes:
1. They had an amazing mentor text to follow that provided us a strategy in organizing our own episode
2. We made the schedule together with clear expectations for each day
3. I checked in daily for feedback and adjusted as needed
4. Freedom to choose their poem
5. Choice to work individually or with a partner
6. Clear and concise assignment directions
7. A rubric
Reflecting on the assignment, I am so happy I decided to take a risk and try something super new to me and my students. None of us knew what we were doing, but we figured it out together. I learned new things about them through their personal stories, and I truly enjoyed listening to each one.
What I learned from my students for next year: Use the Anchor app – forget the website. Use a microphone of some kind to record, even if it’s just the little one on an ear buds cord.
Listen to student sample podcasts:
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