Podcasting for Student Poets, Explorers and Scholars

This semester I’ve started playing around with podcasting in my classes, taking it slow, thinking about how pulling sound into our blogs serves the learning experience. When people hear about this work and also discover that I’m not a foreign language teacher but a writing and literature teacher, they tend to be surprised. And some look at me wryly with that, “There she goes again playing around with the cool new tools because she’s determined to be out front and to be hip” expression.

And now that I’m hoping to have more than my personal iPOD to use with my students (at last!), and because yesterday I received an email from a writer at Edutopia working on a podcasting story, and because my students are about to move into another round of podcasting, it’s on my blogging mind again.

–For anyone wanting to find out more about podcasting, last December Brian Lamb of the University of British Columbia laid out an excellent introduction to podcasting, (he also gives a comprehensive overview of wikis in the Educause Review)–

I came to podcasting in a rather roundabout way, through digital storytelling, a time-intensive yet highly productive integration of multimedia narrative into the writing and literature classrooms. The most difficult (and the most crucial)part of the process comes with writing a compressed, lively script to record as a voiceover. The students did pretty well telling stories with images and music, but when it came time to pull in the recorded narrative, they balked. They didn’t like hearing their own voice, or they sensed that the story itself sounded strange out in the air.

This uneasiness with crafting the oral work prompted my decision this semester to take a break from the full digital story (while continuing to play with images in other ways)in my two writing classes and try out podcasting alone–several kinds of assignments designed to give students experience with oral presentations, oral narrative, and the pleasures of soundscapes. I want them to listen to the shapes of words, the structure of stories, the building of arguments.

In Writing Workshop II (the equivalent of a comp course), the first experiments consisted of a student reading an excerpt from an assigned reading and then commenting on it. The other students were invited to respond the podcast via written comments. Victoria’s podcast on a passage from Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge prompted responses not only from students in our class but from students in Héctor’s class. Victoria found the discussion stirred by her recording quite remarkable and rewarding, and she’s now eager to do more podcasting, to gain skill at articulating her thoughts about literature orally as well as in writing. Recording, publishing, listening, responding–together these steps provide an effective means of learning how to present ideas coherently and convincingly. Bowdoin College has posted a news item about their Oral Comunication Project that speaks to the growing need for college classrooms to teach public speaking. Podcasting, it seems to me, creates a magnificent opportunity for students to develop oral presentation skills without gobbling up an inordinate amount of class time. Granted, it is altogether a different experience recording readings and comments in the privacy of your own room than looking out at a crowd staring at you expectantly. And so, I aim to couple the podcasting commentaries with oral presentations of the same material. In a couple of weeks, the students will come into my office, record three-minute summaries of their research papers to be placed on the blog. Then in class they will have to give three-minute presentations (with notes but not written speeches) to the full group. I’m thinking of recording those, too, for comparative self-evaluative purposes.

In my creative writing class, as we move from fiction to poetry, we’ve been talking about the loss of the oral storytelling tradition and how helpful it is to both fiction writer and poet to HEAR language, and to speak words carefully, deliberately, one by one into the air. We’ve played around in class with making and telling stories on the spot; we’ve taken a sound walk and written (and then read aloud) poems of sounds, not words, and then translated them into language. On the blog, several students have been discussing the pleasures of listening to writers read their work aloud. They have grown to love my reading something aloud to them every class, and to hearing one another read from their own work in the workshops. And yet yesterday when I read aloud Seamus Heaney’s “The Singer’s House” and Eavan Boland’s “Quarantine” from a longer poem, and asked them what they had noticed about the forms and the speakers, they could not say. One student had “gotten lost” in the soundscape; another heard the lilt of a story and just felt its flow but not its actual words. The rest of them looked shocked that they had been lulled by lovely sounds but couldn’t speak to my questions. Since early childhood, most of them have had little experience being read to, and even less experience reading aloud.

Earlier in the semester each student podcasted one of their writings, and put them on the blog. Now they will podcast favorite published poems and their own poetry–knowing that the poems will not only live on text spaces of the blog but in the sound files as well may well have interesting effects on the work. Certainly the young poets will attend to the sounds of the language and to the rhythms of the lines in ways they probably haven’t, for the mostpart, up until now. Being able to return again and again to the recordings of the poems adds a dimension to the course; coupling this experience with the pleasures of the in-person one-time-only sharing of stories and poems in class extends our time together and deepens our commitment to their learning collaborative as well as to the work itself.

Finally, I am working on plans to send iPODS out into the world with the pilot-project Blogging the World bloggers next fall, encouraging the students to record their impressions of place and experience as well as to write them–letting their readers listen to the sounds of the places they visit and to the blogger’s commentary alongside the written, more reflective pieces.

The more I think about preparing our students for the world, the more I see how effective it is to pull the sound dimension into the classroom blogging as a means of teaching writing and critical thinking and community building.


One Response

  1. I desire to develop the same plan as you are starting- let us communicate by email

    I am just learning podcasting ( computers)
    and blogging.

    I teach online and have for 4 years
    I await your email to get started helping each other- I too am creative and will move rather fast in this adventure
    dr. leon

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