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Starring: Nancy Beebe

 

"Podcasting gives students an authentic purpose to practice what they are reading over and over in order to give a good performance for our listening audience," reports Nancy E. Beebe. "I have aligned our podcasting with the language arts standards. My students love to perform and their reading fluency is steadily improving."

 

At Enos Elementary School in Springfield, Illinois, many of Beebe's fifth graders struggle with reading and have poor oral language. While working toward her master's degree in instructional technology, Beebe learned to create podcasts with the software GarageBand. Combining her newfound skill at making podcasts with her desire to provide an authentic way to address reading fluency, Beebe began recording her students' readings. In groups, students create weekly podcasts that focus on themes that complement the material they encounter in class, usually in social studies, reading, science, or about a special holiday.

"I look for Readers' Theater scripts that are of various degrees of reading difficulty," Beebe told Education World. "Many of my students are struggling readers, so I like to challenge them one week and then give them a script the next week that makes it easier for them to have success."

Another consideration is the number of parts contained in a play. Beebe sometimes retypes the text to combine roles so that a script will work well for a podcast team of four or five students. She also breaks up longer parts into smaller chunks when necessary. Her students use expression more effectively when their individual parts are not too long.

Fabulous Finishers


Poor self-esteem is another problem Nancy Beebe frequently encounters among her fifth graders. To boost their morale and encourage them to do and submit their work, she established the "Fabulous Finishers' Club."
"I try in many and varied ways to make my students feel special," said Beebe. "I created the Fabulous Finishers' Club several years ago as a way to recognize students who complete and turn in their assignments each week. On Fridays, I take a group picture of the Fabulous Finishers and put it on our Web site as well as on display in the hall."
Beebe also sends home a certificate of recognition with each child who has turned in all assignments during the week and includes the names of weekly Fabulous Finishers in her bimonthly parent newsletters. Starting with the second semester, students who receive that distinction take part in a "Popcorn and Read Your Favorite Book Party" each Friday.
 

"Podcasting is fun because you get to record on the computer and people all around the world get to hear your podcast," says Alexia, a student. "It is fun because they can listen to you and say, 'I heard your voice on that podcast!' It is really fun to be recognized."

Kalvin recognizes that podcasting improves his reading skills. "It can tell you how good you can read," he adds. "It's fun 'cause you work with groups, and you get to be on the Internet."

It is the compliments the class receives that most impress class member Catelynne. "Podcasting is cool because people from Europe mail you letters and say that you have a great voice. You also get your parents to find out what you did," she shared. "It might be a little embarrassing, but most of the time they like it, and they are proud of you."

To harness the "power" of podcasting with students and improve reading fluency and language skills, it is vital to use the technique often. Beebe's students look forward to podcasting each week and ask almost daily about the next theme. They also contribute to evaluation by listening to each podcast and grading it with a rubric. Each group collects its results, tallies the data, and discusses ways to improve the quality of its performance.

"Something that really motivates my students to do their personal best is our traveling podcast trophy," Beebe said. "I had a local business make a trophy for my class. It is tall and gaudy, and the kids love it. I award it each week to the podcast team that uses the best reading fluency and oral language in their performance."

The trophy sits on the desks of the group that receives it for the entire week. The students who "own" it during that time are very proud, and there is no poor sportsmanship from the other groups. The competition only inspires them to work harder the next week, and this is evident even in their attendance, which is stellar on podcasting days. If a scheduling conflict occurs, the students promptly recommend that Beebe move up their podcasting activity so that it won't be missed. The students wear flashy "movie star glasses" when they record their podcasts as a fun reminder to read like real actors.

"When I first started podcasting, I was amazed that my students who struggle with reading are so willing to practice and practice and practice their parts with their team," Beebe observed. "By giving them an authentic reason to reread text, it allows those students to stop being embarrassed about the way they read and enlist students in their group to help them with any words that give them problems."

Another pleasant surprise for Beebe is the willingness of her better readers to jump in and assist other students who need help with their parts. It builds respect and cooperation among class members. Students also manage to remain engaged and positive while they work together to prepare and record their podcasts. Beebe facilitates the activity by traveling between groups, but the students largely take control of their own learning during the experience.

"I was thrilled by how quickly parents began to take a strong interest in our weekly podcasts," stated Beebe. "Parents have the ability to access our podcasts as soon as they are posted on our Web site each weekend. They receive immediate feedback about their child's reading fluency. Podcasting directly links parents to classroom learning."

The effectiveness of podcasting came through at a moment in one parent-teacher conference this school year. In Beebe's presence, a boy who truly struggled to become a more fluent reader told his mother, "Mama, you have to listen to my team's podcast from last Friday. I read my part like a real reader. I did so good!" He asked his teacher if they could listen to the podcast before they left because they did not have a computer at home.

"The mother's eyes filled with tears, and she hugged her son," Beebe recalled. "When she regained her composure, she shared with me that podcasting has completely changed her son's attitude about trying to become a better reader. She went on to say that in previous years he was so discouraged that he had just given up and refused to read out loud at home or at school."

The podcasting experience has been so positive in Beebe's classroom that she recommends it to all teachers. It is important to start small and increase the activity as you gain confidence in all aspects of podcasting. When she began, Beebe used just one play and broke it into acts. Each group performed one part of the play. She has other tips to share.

  • Get your principal on your side. Sit down with him or her and explain how you are going to use podcasting as an effective technology tool for your students. Explain podcasting and how you are integrating language arts benchmarks with technology benchmarks. If possible, let the principal listen to a podcast. Also, invite him or her to come to your classroom and observe how engaged students are during this special time.
  • Buy an inexpensive USB microphone. Beebe's groups record in their classroom with all students present, so a microphone greatly improves sound quality and helps filter out background noise. Her first microphone cost only $20 and worked well for more than a year. In addition, at $40, Beebe's USB speakers provide great volume and sound when students listen to their podcasts each week.
  • Post podcasts online with an RSS feed. Parents and others in your listening audience can subscribe to the podcasts, which is a strong motivating factor for the kids.
  • Be very clear about your behavioral expectations in the classroom during recording periods. Beebe's class role-played exactly what the classroom should look like and sound like while podasting occurs. Each week, she gives students very clear directions about what they should be doing at their seats while others are creating podcasts.
  • Post a "recording in progress" sign on your classroom door. It will let teachers and other staff members know when you are recording and not to be disturbed. Beebe also notifies the office so the period isn't interrupted by intercom announcements.
  • Purchase an expanding file for each team. The file helps groups organize their materials, such as scripts, podcast planning sheets, rubrics, standards and benchmarks, and so on. Beebe bought plastic expanding files for about $6 each, and they will last for several years.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Updated 04/25/2012

- See more at: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/teacher_feature/teacher_feature182....

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Updated 04/25/2012

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Updated 04/25/2012

- See more at: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/teacher_feature/teacher_feature182....