Monday, 5 October 2015

A Pod What?

Two of my loves

My love of John Campbell is long standing. It well and truly predates the Canterbury earthquakes, but was made deeper by those events and his determination that all Cantabrians who needed to be heard would be heard.

And once, on Campbell Live in 2012, he looked slightly off camera and gently corrected the autocue, explaining exactly where the apostrophe should have been put.  I tweeted something about how I would happily run away with him and he tweeted back, “Phooooaaarr!!!”  My children were both alarmed, and proud. My husband looked mildly amused.

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A few years later I cried with Hilary Barry at the stupidity of his departure from our screens. And wondered who would give voice to the seldom-heard-but-should-be-heard New Zealanders now.

Podcasts are a much more recent love.  I was probably bored when I wondered what that long ignored purple app on my iPhone was… unaware of the voices and expertise of teachers around the world about to be opened up to me.  Over the past 12 months I have moved from listening for professional development, to using for curriculum delivery and creating for formative and summative assessment.

Podcasts for Professional Development

imgres.jpgAbout the same time I discovered education podcasts I was heading back into the classroom after a two year break. Technology advances and curriculum alignments had surely left me behind and I was certain I was going to humiliate myself.

To try and get ‘up-to-speed’ my commute across town to the new job became about listening to education podcasts…The Google Educast, K-12 Greatest Hits, Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips, Education Talk Radio, Edutalk, Edtech talk, Talks with teachers ...and others. Some were brilliant, and some became white noise as my mind drifted to other things but ultimately, I learned a lot.  And I realised I still knew some stuff and was some way from my ‘used by date’ yet.

A useful list of educator blogs to begin with can be found here:

Nota bene: I don’t always stick with the podcasts I start. There is enough choice that if it is grating, or light on valuable content for you personally, you can just move on to the next one.

Podcasts for Curriculum Delivery
At some point I discovered Serial. It is a compelling and addictive podcast about a 1999 murder case.

Listen to it. Once you have listened to it you will understand why last year I took it into the classroom the first chance I got. First to my Year 9s–what do you think? we love it, Miss?–and then to my Year 10s–can we hear the next episode, please?! Please?!

It astounded me that in this attention-economy, where we barely step away from screens anymore, a room full of teens could stare into nothing, tuned in and engaged for the full 50 minute period, then ask for more the next day.

Happy NZ childhood memories include sitting around the radio on a Sunday morning in the seventies listening to Bad Jelly the Witch and Flick, the Fire Engine and other stories. All other senses were stripped away as we concentrated earnestly on Tim and Rose and their search for their cow, Lucy. This 2014 appreciation of an old fashioned medium seemed counter intuitive. Delicious.

  • This year, I created some listening comprehension tasks to justify introducing the medium to a new class of Year 10s. It received the same positive response. Several went on and finished all 12 episodes in their own time. I heard from parents how much they had enjoyed it. Next year, I hope to include a full unit based around Serial in the junior course work.

  • We also used Hilary Gilbert and the BBC Bookclub in class. My Year 12 IB girls and I listened to Bernhard Schlink discuss with her his book ‘The Reader’ toward the end of our study. Her interviews are well-crafted, and crisp, with plenty of audience voice. No one can explain the author’s intentions quite like the author.

  • The Year 11s did the same, taking notes pertinent to ‘author’s purpose’ and ‘beyond the text’ from Hilary Gilbert’s interview with Malorie Blackman about her novel ‘Noughts and Crosses’.  

I recommend all English teachers have a look at If you don’t discover something to share with your class, you will no doubt discover something to listen to for your own enjoyment.

Creating podcasts

Soon enough it occurred to me to have the students create their own podcasts.  

  • My Year 13s broke into groups, and researched the history of the short story along with the background to New Zealand short story master, Owen Marshall. Their task was to then distill this information into a podcast recording. Mixed quality resulted, but the collaborative group work was evident and understanding gained. Some were brilliant recordings, which I hope to seek permission to share with future classes. I learned a lot.

  • My Year 10s, at the conclusion of a poetry unit, were given ‘Dulce et decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen and asked to close read it in small groups, recording their findings as a podcast.

  • My Year 12 IB girls have done similar exercises twice, once recording a group discussion around references to Dante’s poetry in ‘If This is a Man’ by Primo Levi and once recording a podcast discussing aspects of ‘Antigone’ by Jean Anouilh.

Following on from the above dabble into podcasting for formative work, four of my Year 13s elected to use this medium for their Oral Presentations and the results were superb. Next year I plan to set this as a task for all Year 13s at the end of each literature unit - to create a ‘revision’ podcast to share at the end of the year.

How? I actually don’t really know

Here is the question I am most asked when I say we have been recording podcasts in class: What software or app do you use? That is the beauty of it all as the teacher!! I have NO IDEA what they use. They use the phones in their pockets to record and they edit them probably on Garageband or Audacity or similar.  Then they export them and email or share the completed file with me.

These students know how to do this stuff, and if they don’t, they know how to find out from each other or online. They don’t need me over-explaining it. All I need to know is that when they slip out of class to find somewhere quiet to record, they don’t disturb the other classes on the way!

I do go through the traditional aspects of oral language which apply to podcasting, and we talk about variances of sound and voices and their value in making up for loss of eye-contact and body language. They will need to have heard a podcast too.  Again, Serial is good. Here is a sheet I share with them about the elements of a successful podcast:

And we always put a time minimum and maximum. 4 to 6 minutes worked well for most of the tasks above.

And John Campbell?

What has my reference to John Campbell in the introduction got to do with any of this? Open up that purple app, and search Radio New Zealand First Person.  Last week I found John, and some of the seldom-but-should-be-heard New Zealanders there. And it was podcasting brilliance.

Jacq Gilbert
English Teacher - St Margaret's College


  1. This is fabulous - as JC might say! Another idea for my list of things to try. Thank you.

  2. Cheers, Hilary. Podcasting could work across all subjects — it would be fun to record one while on a field trip

  3. Well written Jacq, can see the uses in Yr 9 Health. I'm nowhere near coherent and intelligent enough for the blogosphere!!!

    1. You so are!
      Yes, would work well in health. It is a pretty efficient way of collective formative data—especially of group work.

  4. This is awesome, Jacq. Had no idea how great JC was; I feel like I wasted all my years of living in NZ. Will try podcasts - I've become lazy about adopting new classroom technologies. Need to give the poor kids a break from my endless droning... or at least put it in a new form!

    1. Hope you can find some time to listen to JC's First Person. It is a confronting and moving piece of journalism.

  5. This is such a fantastic post Jacq - love your way with words! Brilliant topic - you've got me inspired about podcasting! Will definitely hook into JC's;-) Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks for twisting my arm to share! It was actually a pretty useful exercise; I hadn't really done a 'stocktake' of how I was using podcasts until I wrote this.

  6. Jacq you and A S are inspiring me to look into this technique also. I saw your girls at work preparing their podcasts and they were so focused that they were unaware of me observing them. Thanks for sharing the ways you have used them and how this could be used widely across the curriculum.

    1. Always good to hear your students are focused when you are not with them! Thanks for that! :)

  7. Awesome post Jacq - so great to read of the amazing things you are doing in your classes with our students

  8. Thank you. I have lots more holiday reading and exploring as a result of this post!

    1. Would love to hear your ideas after an explore—I'm sure you'll have plenty of good ones.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this post, Jacq. I am a huge podcast fan; like you, I loved Serial and was really sad when I finished the final episode. There are some great podcast resources here. I can't wait to explore them. Thanks!

  10. Thanks, Bridget. Do let me know if you ever come up anything you think is a good match for Serial. I'd happily take any of your recommendations.

  11. Wonderful! You rock, Ms Gilbert!

  12. Made so much easier to do this stuff when you have fab colleagues to bounce ideas off, Ms McLaughlin.