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Teachers Use Podcasts to Teach Storytelling and Critical Thinking

Podcasting has had a large cultural effect over how we view content creation and delivery and has revolutionized the broadcast industry. Podcasts have also renewed an interest in the serialized narrative.

National Public Radio creates content now solely for podcasts and some of it can be a good fit for the classroom. As reported in the Mind/Shift piece “What Teens are Learning From ‘Serial’ and Other Podcasts,” NPR hopped onto the podcasting trend early, and with good reason. The podcast “Serial,” created by This American Life producer and reporter Sarah Koenig, took the attention of millions of listeners, and remains one of the most popular podcasts of all time. It focused on Koenig’s personal investigation of the murder of a female high school student from Baltimore. 

Now, "Serial" is making its way into classrooms. Michael Godsey, a Morro Bay High School English teacher, brought the podcast into his California classroom in a growing trend of educators utilizing podcasts for education. “Serial” in specific offers a tantalizing and tragic murder mystery that offers in-depth reporting at a time when long-form journalism strives to find a home in a world of seemingly decreasing attention spans. 

All five of his grade 10 and 11 classes were hooked to "Serial" after the listening started. This type of innovative motivation is just one way educators are appealing to the new standards set by the Common Core, one of the most important of which is the listening and compression skill set. 

“I had kids cutting other classes so they could come listen to it again,” Godsey explained. “Kids who were sick, who never did their homework, were listening at home.”

Another educator, Eleanor Lear, teaches English at an all-girls private school, has used NPR over the past four years now, taking the “This American Life” and “Radiolab” podcasts to another level as they work to teach students about current events, real-world issues, and all while they grow attention spans and enhance their ability to listen and track narrative efficiently and effectively. 

“I think the kids really appreciate getting the story told to them, as opposed to so much hitting their senses,” Godsey said. “They’re not overstimulated by it.” 

This method of information sharing provides a refreshing stance on focus in a technologically-driven world that offers more and more reasons for multitasking and distraction, as highlighted by Godsey when he compared podcasts to radio shows that predate television. 

Former public radio reporter and producer Monica Brady-Myerov, who now runs the audio educational resource site Listen Current, noted that most students can listen to and properly comprehend audio content that is two to three grades above their reading level. Listen Current presents a plethora of educational applications to the enriching audio content. She also included that ESL students can benefit simply from listening to the spoken English while they follow a transcript of the audio. 

“Serial” is specifically successful with high school students due to how it handles the movement of information, going from interview to interview, angle to angle, while presenting a relatable level of draw for students who don’t often hear serious stories that revolve around their age group, and even some of their situations, Godsey pointed out. 

“They enjoy it so much that they don’t realize they’re learning at the highest level,” said Grade 10 English teacher Alexa Schlechter of Norwalk High School in Connecticut.

Schlechter believes that “Serial” helped develop sharper analytical skills in her students as they interacted with the content and they used the same skills needed to be critical readers during listening sessions with transcripts in front of them. Students answered questions on discrepancies in the case, and debated the cases outcome as a class. Students also tracked the case’s events on Google Maps under Schlechter’s instruction. 

Both Godsey and Schlechter let their personal interest in “Serial” guide their teaching tactics, and it’s partially where they respectively accredit the method’s success. 

For more on Godsey’s next venture into podcasting, and the rest of the story, visit here.


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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