This is not going to be a post teaching you how to conduct a unit on podcasting.
(If that’s what you’re looking for, maybe someday. But also Stefanie has written a brilliant series on this starting here.)
Rather, this is a post where I will muse on what teaching podcasting has revealed about the process of teaching writing and what I might need to re-think in the future.
Because I often need a partner to nudge me to do something truly scary, I partnered with my social studies counterpart in a seventh-grade World War II unit that culminated in a series of podcasts. In history, students studied the war. In English, we read Night and/or Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl in literature circles, with all students studying excerpts of both during Notebook Time. We visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum and hit the jackpot when a connection helped us secure a guest speaker to discuss her experiences during Japanese internment.
After all this study, we put students in groups and asked them to do some synthesis of all they had seen and learned. Each group chose a question culled from The New York Times‘ Student Opinion Questions (which are great for just about anything!) Here is our curated list of Podcast Guiding Questions. They used what they knew about history, about primary-source literature of World War II, and from their lives and the world around them to answer the question.
You can listen to our first season of our podcast, The Harkness, and see how they turned out! (Sam and I also recorded two episodes especially for teachers discussing our process, rationale, outcomes, and what we would change next time.)
But I told you I’m not writing a post about how to run a podcast unit! What awed me as we moved throughout the process is that podcasting forced students to confront and linger in parts of the writing process they most-often avoid. So, what does podcasting teach students about writing? And how might we alter our writing processes after this experience?
Planning Changes Everything.
I spend time at the beginning of the year teaching students a variety of planning strategies and asking them to experiment with them, hoping that they will find one that works well for them. And, at the very least, I hope that they are internalizing that all writers do some kind of planning.
For podcasting with a group of people, though, we had to dive deep into planning to make sure our ducks were in a row before recording. Students did a group braindump, created a group outline, and then did individual planning for the evidence they would bring to bear on each subtopic. (In case you want them: Planning Templates (Group), Individual Planning).
Yes, recording their planning and having documents to look at helped when the time came to press record, but what helped students even more was all of the talking that happened in order to put the ideas on paper. Students had thoroughly rehearsed their ideas before they started “drafting”.
So what if in writing …
- I allow students to plan individual writing with a small group so they have the support of group-think and the rehearsal of talking it out?
- I ask students to plan the same piece of writing using multiple tools so that they have the same idea represented from multiple angles?
- I encourage students to use their phones to record them talking about their idea and that serves as their planning?
Flash Drafting Really Does Work
Flash drafting can be so powerful in overcoming the fear of the blank page. And yet my students still resist it. They did while podcasting, too. Although we didn’t call it “flash drafting”, we asked students to spend three days simply recording content before we worried about what was good, what wasn’t, and what we needed to edit. But after day two, some groups had 3 minutes of recording because they kept stopping, listening, deleting, and starting again.
Finally, on day 3, Sam instructed them, “Walk into your recording space, press record, and do not stop for the rest of class. No matter what happens. Keep rolling. By the end of class I expect everyone to have 45 minutes of recording.”
And they did it.
This was the way we overcame their fear of the recorder and started truly moving forward.
So what if in writing …
- I set an expectation for the flash draft: by the end of class you will have a minimum of one page of content?
- I tell students that flash drafting means that you don’t stop writing, no matter what. Kind of like notebook time. Your hand needs to be moving the whole time, even if it’s just recording your doubts and your missteps and the things you want to go back and change?
- I allowed students to do audio flash drafts?
Revision Means More When It’s Physical
When students went in to edit and revise their podcasts, the task was automatically more challenging than editing a piece of writing. At least it felt that way to them. Instead of changing a comma or two and fixing a piece of spelling, students had to make big changes:
- re-recording things that didn’t sound great
- adding outside-source sound clips to demonstrate the things they were talking about
- making new recordings to include information they had forgotten the first time
- putting the pieces of the podcast in the right order
- layering music
And thus, they really revised. They had to. And it was easy for them to see that because it was physical — they had pieces of audio they needed to substitute, take out, add, and rearrange (Kelly Gallagher’s STAR strategy is still one of my favorites).
So what if in writing …
- We print drafts and use scissors more often to physically create and rearrange pieces of writing?
- I allow writing to happen in smaller pieces rather than “whole” drafts — writing on Post-Its, index cards, etc?
- I encourage students to represent parts of their paper with physical prototypes they can move and rearrange to create a revision plan? (See Angela Stockman’s fantastic Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind for much more on this!)
In their podcasting author’s notes, students reflected on how similar podcasting is to the writing process. I was encouraged that they saw the connection. We plan to do much more podcasting next year and continue this work as the 7th graders become 8th graders. But I also now feel I have a responsibility to take the work that happened during podcasting and turn it back toward the writing process — to change the ways in which we work, to add to the ways we work to reflect our new thinking.
Has podcasting impacted your students’ writing process? What are some other out-of-the-box ways that you encourage your students to plan, draft, and revise? Leave a comment below, connect with me on Twitter @RebekahODell1, or join the conversation on Facebook.