By Megan Motley
Call me a millennial, but if we chat long enough, I will inevitably insert “I heard about that on a podcast” into our conversation. According to the Pew Research Center, I’m not alone; in 2021, 41% of Americans ages 12 or older have listened to a podcast in the past month, up from just 9% in 2008. Secondary students listen even more than the average American, with 48% of students aged 13-17 reporting listening to a podcast in 2020 according to a study by Marie Götting.
This relatively new form of media offers a dynamic way for students to learn as listeners and creators.
I loved listening to podcasts with my students because of the flexibility of the genre and its use in the classroom. Want to provide background before starting a new unit in science? Check out “How Galaxies Work” by Stuff You Should Know. Debating the inherent selfishness or selflessness of humans as you read Lord of the Flies? Listen to this real life example of challenged humanity from The Science of Survival: “The Everest Effect.” Need to show students how to approach a controversial topic in a nuanced way? “30-50 Feral Hogs” by ReplyAll begins with a question about gun control and ends in Texas investigating a feral hog infestation. No matter what you’re studying next: there’s a podcast for that.
The flexibility doesn’t end with content. How you use them in the classroom is up to you and the needs of your students. Listen together so you can pause, question, and discuss, offer an episode as an alternative to reading the textbook to gain background knowledge, link a podcast on a choice board, add an episode to stations…. When it comes to listening, flexibility and differentiation are the name of the game for you and your students.
A note before you press play: while listening is in the Colorado State Standards, it is rare that we ask students to learn exclusively through audio. They are familiar with following along during a read aloud, watching a video, or looking at slides during a lecture. Scaffold their listening comprehension accordingly with graphic organizers, time to pause and process, and the option to go back and relisten if necessary.
One of Jeffco’s tier one tech tools is an audio recording program called Soundtrap. In my experience, secondary students need very little technical assistance in getting started recording with Soundtrap. Unlike many things in the classroom, you don’t need to be an expert in this program before bringing it to your students; if students run into technical problems, both Soundtrap for Education and the Jeffco Ed Tech team provide tutorials and support.
Like listening, recording podcasts lends significant flexibility in content, purpose, and differentiation. In my classroom, students worked in groups to research, write, and record a podcast about a moment in American history as their first semester final. The cumulative project took weeks and gave me the chance to assess a wide range of skills students had been practicing all semester. During finals week, rather than take a test, we had a podcast party and listened to everyone’s recordings. Listening to the podcasts in class meant that students were each other’s audience and that I didn’t have to bring a stack of essays home to grade at the end of the semester (win-win!). Every year I looked forward to the creative ways that my students would incorporate their research, music they composed, primary source audio, and synthesis into their podcasts.
Podcast recording does not have to be a giant summative project. Students can record one minute book reports or reviews, explanations of concepts to share for class-wide study materials, PSAs as formative practice for argumentative writing… No matter what you’re studying next: there’s a podcast waiting to be made for that.
If you want to learn more about creating or listening to podcasts in your classroom, contact your secondary ELA TOSAs, Megan Motley and Robyn Kehoe Ramsey. We are excited to support you and your students in exploring this dynamic text type.
Curriculum & Instruction