8 Reasons Why Podcasts Deserve a Place in Your ELA Classroom (and in your life!)
When it comes to using podcasts in the classroom, I can see where you’re skeptical.
- What the heck *is* a podcast even, and
- How the heck am I supposed to align these with my ELA standards?!
In other words, how can audio consumption + production genuinely lead to critical reading–even writing–growth?
Good thing you showed up today because this post has some A’s for your sweet Q’s.
Having your students listen to podcasts has its benefits. But it's pretty magical, actually, just how much of the writing process, in particular, is tucked neatly inside the creation of a single podcast episode: from brainstorming to field research, crafting catchy intros, organizing ideas, and more.
…let’s talk podcasts!
Do you listen to them yourself?
According to Jay Baer’s ‘13 Critical Podcast Stats of 2018,’ you ~just might~ because apparently more Americans know what a podcast is than who the Vice President is…yowza.
Even still, I have a hunch that, more than likely, you do NOT listen to podcasts.
Yo, I’m not judging you! Take a look at the numbers with me:
In 2018, just over half the U.S. population alone had ever even *heard* of podcasts. Less than half had ever actually *listened* to a podcast episode (and even less who were tuning in regularly!).
*Pauses. Crunches thoughtfully on numbers. Digests.*
But here’s the cool part: those numbers are *swiftly* on the rise.
It's one year later, and just over half the population is actively subscribing to the podcast scene.
There might be less than a million podcast channels right now (compared to the 500 million blogs available online today), but that number is expected to GROW…
Just as blogging has grown + flourished over time, audio and video are the next in line, so it’s a great time to be introducing our students to these mediums!
Well-noted authorities in the communications industry–like NPR, for instance–use podcasting as a staple for content sharing, so the chances of students needing some kind of production prowess in this regard shouldn’t escape us.
Not to mention, this medium is naturally growing in popularity among their age bracket!
‘Well-noted authorities in the communications industry use podcasting as a staple for content-sharing, so the chances of students needing some kind of production prowess in this regard shouldn’t escape us.’–Jill Pavich, CCO, edPioneer
But let me back-it-on-up for a minute…
What IS a podcast?
In brief, a podcast is an audio-only recording you can download and listen to in your home, in your car, or otherwise on the go.
A modern radio, more or less, where the ‘channels’ are the shows you subscribe to.
Added perk? You get to listen to the episodes whenever it’s convenient for you (so it’s got that on-demand, Netflix-y vibe that we love, #bingeworthy).
I remember shying away from Podcasts for-EVER. I’d look at the purple app–which was complimentarily added to my phone when I bought it–and just *refuse* to click it.
I told myself it was because it didn't have anything to offer me. (I had NPR already, after all)! But truth be truth, I was actually afraid to click into the app because I probably wouldn’t know what the heck to even do once I got in there!
Eventually, I wisened up, and now… I’m obsessed!
So, assuming you DO decide to trust the digital universe and cross over to the podcasting side, let’s talk about the overarching benefit of
- having your students listen to podcasts, but also
- having them produce them!
So what’s all the hype about? Why are podcasts are so popular?
Five-paragraph-essay-style, I’ve got three reasons.
Apart from it being absolutely FREE to access, listening to podcasts…
1 | allows us to be in two places at once.
It might be scientifically proven that you can’t listen to one thing while reading something else at the same time, but you *can* certainly listen to podcasts while doing a variety of tasks such as driving your car, cleaning your house, doing your laundry, or–my personal favorite–while you squeeze in a workout!
In other words, podcast-listeners have the stealth of Hermione Granger with her Time Turner in the Prisoner of Azkaban. This ‘two places at once’ consumptional magic spans beyond even that of video and print books.
It's especially cool for busy teachers because we can familiarize ourselves with the tool (and learn from it!) while doing other things.
But it can be super useful for busy high school students just as well. For instance, instead of printing out a ridiculous amount of articles on a potential research topic, they can do their reconnaissance on-the-go.
2 | encourages critical consumption.
Letting students pick and choose what they listen to isn’t merely consumption of information, it’s critical consumption. #CrucialDifference!
Kind of like sifting through book titles in a library and reading the first chapter before deciding if it’s right for “you”.
Letting our students pick a podcast to listen to grants them freedom to choose. Meanwhile, serious skill-work is in action–students have to weigh their selections wisely, which requires analysis and evaluation.
Now, admittedly, with the pressures of curriculum maps + anchor texts (i.e. curriculums that’re planned-slash-canned to speak to standardized assessment demands), we don’t always give our students voice + choice in what they read or write about.
So why not use the podcasting experience to fill that void?!
You can easily use podcasts in (or out of) the classroom to work on speaking and listening skills.
(Based on the numbers mentioned earlier, by the way, it’s an information source our students will actually use in the years to come. But I digress…)
Last, but ‘cliche-to-say’ not least, podcast consumption…
3 | challenges us to improve literacy skills.
Tons of classrooms are getting hip to the podcast Serial, an investigative journalism series packed with intriguing stories which peer into the human character when it comes to justice, murder, and truth.
In a recent interview I did with Samantha Krzyzanowski, an ELA teacher at the Country Day School in Costa Rica who is currently pioneering podcasts in her classroom, she shares how she’s using this show in particular to scaffold research + writing skills and to model student podcast creation for her learners.
Like Serial, tons of podcasts take this ‘story-style format’, which is why it’s double-plus-great for the ELA teacher since it aligns so well with literature standards.
Solid point raised in an article on Medium:
‘Humans think in stories…our brains gravitate towards narrative [because they play a major role in] shaping our understanding…podcasts offer a special ability to share incredible stories.’
The author points out that when we hear stories, it releases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’ responsible for social bonding. This therefore helps us feel empathy toward others.
(And who doesn’t need a dose of that, right?!)
Bottom line: we can use this medium to scaffolding critical reading skills, because while a single podcast episode or series might be presented via auditory, it has the same elements we encourage students to analyze when reading standard text!
So in addition to our traditional methods for exposing students to stories and literature, we now have a fresh approach worth exploring.
Remember how I said the world of podcasting has the potential to shape writing skills as well? This is where the unique benefits of letting students produce their own podcasts comes in.
I’ve got 5 benefits to share, which appear here countdown-style, in reverse order of awesomeness:
5| Since the creator must rely on audio only, students have to think creatively about communicating ideas.
Since they literally cannot ‘show’ the audience what they mean, students have to be able to think on a different, creative wavelength.
Working with podcast creation naturally guides them in precision and word choice because they have to paint pictures with words while also keeping ideas focused and organized.
Plus, they have to think creatively about who they’re communicating to and how best to reach that listener with their message.
4 | Podcasts offer our students an authentic audience to create for.
When creating something like a podcast, students are no longer rushing to hand in their work and move on with it.
Instead, they let themselves get lost in the process because someone other than the teacher is actually going to hear it. They quickly realize that there needs to be an actual purpose behind their work beyond getting the grade or because the teacher ‘said so’.
Unbelievable insights on this point in particular, during my interview with Ms. K.:
3 | It sharpens their ability to articulate ideas, which demonstrates deep understanding.
Truth be told, we know *nothing* until we can articulate it ourselves. The best way to show mastery is to teach it yourself.
This is where podcasts play an important role. If students can get on the microphone and have a conversation in which they can stand confidently behind their message and for their ideas, it’s certainly evidence of learning.
For those students who struggle with writing, speaking ideas into the mic first might feel more natural and less intimidating, so this medium can provide a gateway for budding writers.
Meanwhile, talking through ideas in ‘real-time’ can be a challenge for students, too! Rather than drafting points little by little on the page, recording a podcast episode requires deep thought but quick response as words are strung together and presented.
Sounds like both a challenge and a win for multiple intelligences!
2 | Podcast creation demands a sense of honesty and authenticity from the producer/host.
Today, fake news is everywhere. You can find it on blogs, in social media, and in video. But it’s a lot harder to put out false content when you’re a podcast host.
As Shiva Bhaskar points out, podcasts become a trustworthy place to turn to for information because the audience has gotten to know the host–his or her communication style, perspective, and message–over time, which then affords listeners the ability to rule in or rule out the person behind the mic.
The host’s reputation and show rankings are on the line for this reason, so there’s a big ‘something’ at stake. It becomes crucial that they offer quality information.
Likewise, the success of our students' work depends on how credibly they appear to their audience and how well they can build that trust. Students learn quickly that this can only be done by composing the best work possible for their listeners.
During my interview with Ms. K., she talked about her students’ realizations in this regard:
“They realized: ‘I want to make sure that when I share this out…that it’s worth something. [That] people will trust it and trust me as the creator.’ They saw how important it was to be a trustworthy speaker and writer.”
In short, podcast creation teaches our students about integrity, bias, and quality work.
And finally, can I get a beat drop for my *favorite* reason why students should be creating podcasts in your classroom?!
(wait for it…)
1 | It helps our students develop their identity alongside their writing.
First and foremost, I’m going to recommend your students podcast about the things that matter to them because that helps them ponder their interests, talents, and values as human beings. My digital course, Make Writing Real, covers student podcast creation and focuses intensely on that notion.
But there’s more to it, yet.
Lots of traditional writers are asked to write content first, then polish it by adding in ‘voice’.
Quite opposite, being a podcast creator requires our writers to find their unique voice and style first.
As they formulate their show concept + frame-out episode ideas, they have to think about who they are and what they stand for. And they have to think about how they need to ‘show up’ in order to reach the audience they seek.
“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that [we] don’t care about.”–Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California
Eventually, as our learners become more confident in who they are behind the mic, they naturally begin to create stronger content. And before long, that voice + confidence finds its way right onto the page.
To wrap it all up…
According to neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “it is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that [we] don’t care about.”
Student podcast creation is an excellent way to teach students the foundations of writing (through speaking and scripting!). It helps them tap into those things they do care about, while simultaneously developing critical and creative thinking skills.
(Again, something this world could totally use a dose of, right?)
Best of luck launching student-produced podcasting projects in your classroom, and if you do go for it, you’ve *got* to share your good times with this funky bunch of trailblazers here at edPioneer!
Post your comments below, and let’s celebrate your classroom wins!
Got a rad, little lesson plan with a trailblazin’ twist that you’d love to share?
Email me at email@example.com and tell me all about it for a chance to be featured on the edPioneer blog!