When I was younger my parents used to always listen to talk radio (especially 700 WLW, a Cincinnati radio station) during long car trips. At the time, I thought it was lame that I could identify Bill Cunningham’s voice, now it informs why I love listening to podcasts during my daily 1.5-hour long commutes. They are nostalgic to me. They remind me of my youth, while informing my future. Because I’m an English teacher and love grading student writing every night for two hours, I rarely have time to indulge in topics that interest me. I’m able to listen to news programs, book talks, psychology of art, and discussion of trends in psychology. All of these programs range in length and rigor. So, if I’ve had a rough day and my mind is exhausted, I might listen to short podcasts like 60-Second Tech or 60-Second Civics, podcasts that take a topic and provide a short, condensed look at the primary issues. Or, if I’ve had a day that has inspired me to absorb and take in all that I can, I might listen to Big Picture Science, an hour-long podcast that explores issues in science in ways that connect to everyone’s lives or Slate’s Culture Gabfest, a weekly look at all things pop culture with an analytical, critical spin on its larger significance.
However, podcasts can easily make their way into the classroom. Before starting a podcast assignment with my students I ensure they have listened to several podcasts in class or for homework prior to even introducing the assignment. Some of the podcasts I bring into the classroom are
- This American Life: episode 449 (from 10/28/2011) is a great companion piece to any coming of age novel, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Separate Peace, Great Expectations, and Catcher in the Rye. The episode details the lives of middle school students and highlights themes of insecurity and the role of pressure, topics faced by characters of all ages.
- UPenn 60-Second Lectures: we have posted on these episodes in previous posts; however, they deserve a second look. They are brief and concise while still asking students to critically examine their texts.
- Slate Audio Book Club: This is probably my favorite of the audio book clubs because this organization chooses contemporary works but also works from the canon, which perfectly sets up the assignment introduced on Wednesday. They speak critically and analytically about many of the works read in English classes, including the Harry Potter series, Killer Angels, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rabbit Run, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Road, Beloved, and The Year of Magical Thinking.
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Writing: These grammar episodes are humorous, easy to follow, and engaging for learners of all ages.
All of these podcasts can be downloaded from ITunes but most can also be listened to online.
To introduce the podcast assignment to the students, I ask them to listen to the first five minutes of a podcast in class and generate a list of 5 things that are happening within the podcast (it could be quality of comments, or the structure, or the format). This then sets them up for creating their own. They are aware that they need a leader, someone who introduces each participant, opens the discussion, and is responsible for wrapping up the discussion.