If you’re like me, you always have a project in the back of your mind that you want to try, but for whatever reason, you never pull the trigger. You keep telling yourself it will be a great project for the next unit, the next semester, the next year. But this is a warning for new teachers— if you keep putting it off, it is easy for years to go by without making it happen.
That’s not to say you should hurry up and try everything on your list right away. I firmly believe it’s a sign of a reflective, evolving teacher to have a mental teaching “wish list” at all times and to be slow and realistic about how and when to roll out a new idea. But if there’s something you’re really passionate about but you keep putting on the back burner, make it a point to commit to it for next year. Because you will always find a reason not to try something new.
First Year Writing Tip #8: Just Try It!
Let me tell you about something I’ve always wanted to do in my classes that I finally tried this year. I love listening to podcasts and have always wanted to have my students make their own. However, the whole idea of it really overwhelmed me. I had never made a podcast myself, so I wasn’t sure what type of program or app to use, how to encourage students to choose a topic, or what guidelines I should provide.
But I told myself: this is the year I figure it out. So I did some research and found that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel at all. The New York Times Learning Network has tons of free resources for using podcasts in the classroom. To be honest, I felt that overwhelming feeling creep back up again when I first started sifting through their materials because there was just so much that I felt like I would never figure it out.
But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was doing this. And you know what? One afternoon and one evening was all it took for me to come up with a game plan. I spent the afternoon learning about the podcast contest the NYT puts on for students each year. In short, the contest is for short podcasts (5:00 or less) in any topic or genre. The NYT also provides a unit plan for teachers who wish to have students create a product to submit to the contest. They guide you on how to introduce the project, how to help students select a topic, and how to use past contest winners as mentor texts. I have a 30 minute commute to and from work, so I spent my ride home that day listening to a variety of the mentor podcasts and selecting those I thought would engage my students the most.
When I got home, I just had one more step to figure out: how to actually make the darn thing. But once again, the NYT Learning Network had my back with this step-by-step guide for teaching students to create their own podcasts. Several websites/apps are suggested, but I decided to try Anchor at the recommendation of the IT professional at my school.
After finding out how easy it was to use Anchor, I was kicking myself for waiting so long to try this project. Within minutes, I was able to not only create an example, but I also was able to use Screencastify to create this tutorial video for my students. I then spent the rest of the evening putting all of the project guidelines, rubric, instructions (all from the NYT), plus my tutorial video onto Schoology for students. And voila! My planning was complete.
To create a podcast episode, students have to go through the exact same process as they would to create any piece of writing. Therefore, we began this unit the same way we would begin any writing unit: by examining mentor texts. We looked at six different examples of past contest winners. I chose a variety of genres to show students the possibilities were endless and had them complete a “Hot Takes/Cool Questions” chart, where they listed thoughts and questions they had about each mentor. Then, we spent the day discussing the “do’s and don’ts” of podcast writing.
The contest allows students to work in groups of up to three students, so I allowed my students to do the same. I showed them my tutorial video for Anchor and allowed them to play with the program and talk with their group members for a whole class period. I’m glad I showed students how to use the program before having them commit to a topic because exploring the program and how it worked helped students think about what kind of podcast they might want to try. I also gave students the option to try other programs as well if Anchor wasn’t meeting their needs.
The next step was for students to come up with topic ideas and make a plan for their project. I had students complete a planning guide that I grabbed from the NYT unit plan (link above). The plan required them to think about their purpose, what type of interviews would be needed (if any), their approach to an intro and outro, and a rough outline. I also took the opportunity on this day to give some tips for conducting interviews.
Just as I would in a writing unit, I had conferences with my students throughout the process of creating their projects. I required each group to meet with me and discuss their project plan with me before they were able to begin. This allowed me to ensure all topics were appropriate and offer advice. I helped students think of some potential roadblocks they might run into and gave some ideas for alternative interviews, intros/outros, etc.
I continued conferring with students throughout the creation of the project and the editing process, checking in with each group daily. The biggest snag we ran into was scheduling; because the project was at the end of the year, there were a lot of field trips that prohibited group members from meeting daily, therefore slowing their progress. The issues we had with Anchor were very minor. While the podcasts were mainly recorded on student iPads, they found the editing process to be much easier on a Chromebook or desktop computer.
The students were initially reluctant to listen to the podcasts as a class, but I’m glad I made them. They ended up really enjoying listening to what the other groups came up with, and it was a perfect end-of-year activity. Some of my favorites were Ashton, Giada, and Felicia’s exploration of what it’s like to be a new student at school and Brynn and Macy’s analysis of the American working lifestyle. If you have time, check them out!
As it turns out, following the NYT Learning Network’s guidelines was the perfect way to dip my toe into the world of podcasting in the classroom. Keeping the project very open (students’ choice of topic, genre), gave me flexibility as I learned what my students’ needs would be during the process, and it allowed my seniors to get creative and have fun with one last project before graduation. The fact that students had already written in a variety of genres throughout the year and had the opportunity to finally choose their own genre at the end was also a nice way to tie a bow onto the end of the year. And while I really loved ending the year this way and would do it again in a heartbeat (How often can you say that?!), the experience has also opened me up to different ways of using podcasting throughout the school year as well. A monthly podcast requiring facts from credible sources, perhaps?
It’s an awesome tool that I now have at my disposal. And I wouldn’t have gotten there without forcing myself to try something new.
What is something you were reluctant to try in the classroom but were glad you did? Tell me about it on Twitter @TimmermanPaige!
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