Audio Adventures in the Classroom: 5 Engaging Podcasts

By Pam Goble, Ed.D., and Ryan R. Goble, M.A., authors of Making Curriculum Pop

Audio Adventures in the Classroom: 5 Engaging PodcastsWhen people talk about literacy, they usually are thinking about “the two Rs,” reading and writing. That leaves the other essential talents of speaking, listening, viewing, and representing (what we like to call #BIGLIT) underutilized and underrepresented in many classrooms across the country. However, recent studies by Edison Research suggest an increase in younger podcast listeners—a trend teachers can use to motivate student listeners.

So far, research on podcasts in the classroom is anecdotal, but great teachers know engaging the ears can be a powerful way to get kids involved in the world of words. Jim Trelease, in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook, has encouraged reading aloud for years. Podcasts offer the same opportunity for students to hear a good story. Another study by Whittingham et al. saw a significant change in reading skills and attitudes toward reading when students used audiobooks. Podcasts, like audiobooks and reading aloud, offer students different opportunities to read the world while developing their literacy skills.

We use podcasts with students of all ages. Here are a few podcasts that helped us create #BIGLIT classrooms.

Old Time Radio (OTR)
Our present podcast renaissance has its roots in the Golden Age of Radio from the 1920s through the early 1950s. The brilliant use of sound effects and the theatrical dispositions of these audio pioneers continue to draw people into these timeless tales. You can stream a variety of OTR shows at archive.org or purchase episodes on CD or for streaming through the Radio Spirits website. We’ve found that students love classic audio, such as Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” and adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories like “Zero Hour.” Since the 1970s, Garrison Keillor has kept the spirit of old time radio alive with the Prairie Home Companion variety show. (Starting in the fall of 2016, Chris Thile will take over.)

To give students a sense of how these shows were created, we recommend showing clips of radio artists at work in films like Woody Allen’s Radio Days or Robert Altman’s film adaptation of A Prairie Home Companion. Documentaries like PBS’s American Experience episode on The War of the Worlds (2013) or the Ken Burns documentary Empire of the Air (1992) also give students background knowledge on the precursor to podcasts (the radio).

This American Life
Ira Glass launched This American Life (often referred to as TAL) in Chicago in 1995. This show defined the broad genre of narrative journalism that was explored at length in Jessica Abel’s excellent graphic novel Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Other narrative shows like Snap Judgment, The Moth, Vocalo, and the breakout podcast sensation Serial feature former TAL producers. Some important TAL episodes directly relate to education, like the hilarious episode “Middle School,” a two-part show on the violence surrounding Harper High School in Chicago’s south side, and another two-part episode on school segregation titled “The Problem We All Live With.”

While it is easy to search TAL’s episodes on their website, Ryan wrote a two-part blog on teaching This American Life in every discipline for School Library Journal (part one and part two) that will get you started.

Radiolab
There are many podcasts for folks interested in the sciences, including excellent shows like Invisibilia, “a show about all of the invisible things that shape human behavior”; Hidden Brain, “a conversation about life’s unseen patterns”; and Science Vs, “the show that pits facts against everything else.” But Radiolab stands a notch above the pack. Their brilliant use of sound effects brings ideas to life for students. Favorite episodes of ours include “A Very Lucky Wind,” which is about the mathematics of randomness; “Patient Zero,” which is about the science (and math) of outbreaks, featuring the tale of “Typhoid Mary”; and “Even the Worst Laid Plans?” which is about the perils and bizarre possibilities discovered in a toxic lake in Montana.

BackStory with the American History Guys
If you’re looking for fun explorations of big themes with quirky narratives related to American history, BackStory with the American History Guys can’t be beat. Each host is a professor at the University of Virginia specializing in a century—18th, 19th, and 20th Century Guys, respectively. The episode “On the Clock: A (Brief) History of Time” is exemplary an episode, as is “Another Man’s Treasure: A History of Trash.”

Hardcore History
For those interested in world history, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is epic in scope but definitely worth a listen. Additionally, the famous nonfiction author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Outliers) is launching the Revisionist History podcast in which he goes back and reinterprets an event, person, or idea from the past.

On the Media and Planet Money
Both of these current events shows take a deeply interdisciplinary approach to the world around us. On the Media shines a critical eye on the biggest news events. Their series of Breaking News Consumers Handbooks on topics like elections, migration, terrorism, and diets are always enlightening and include little printable guides for each topic.

Planet Money tries to make “the dismal science” of economics accessible to everyone. A stunning multimedia production like their “T-Shirt Project,” where they followed the production of a cotton T-shirt through the global economy, is an excellent example of what the show is about.

While podcasts can be used in any discipline, they tend to be most useful in the secondary and post-secondary classrooms. The Atlantic recently published the article “Where are all the Kidcasts?” lamenting the lack of podcasts for three- to ten-year-olds and their parents. It is true that this is an underdeveloped area, but we would like to highlight the Stories podcast. They are not yet using the full range of sound possibilities available to them, unlike many of the shows above—or the new WHYY kidcast The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified, “a radio adventure series for the whole family”—but the show has great interpretations of classic nursery rhymes and some original stories that younger listeners seem to enjoy. Old Time Radio remains your best bet for younger students.

We hope that exploring these auditory adventures expands your students’ literacies in a #BIGLIT world!

Author Pam GoblePam Goble, Ed.D., has been a middle school teacher for over thirty years and has taught education and literature courses as an adjunct professor for the past fifteen years. She has presented at numerous conferences, such as NCTE and AMLE, and has been published in Journal of Staff Development. Pam specializes in interdisciplinary learning, gifted education, curriculum and instruction, leadership, literacy, the humanities, and adult education. She lives in Chicago.

Author Ryan GobleRyan R. Goble, M.A., is an adjunct professor in the education departments of Aurora and Roosevelt Universities. Formerly a classroom teacher, he trains educators in active learning and new media in classes and workshops around the country. His work has been featured in Teacher Magazine, The Boston Globe, The New York Times Learning Network, and elsewhere. Ryan also shares many exciting resources with teachers through his online social network Making Curriculum Pop. He lives in Chicago.

Making Curriculum PopPam and Ryan are the authors of Making Curriculum Pop: Developing Literacies in All Content Areas.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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Teaching Kids the Importance of Trustworthiness

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Teaching Kids the Importance of TrustworthinessThis past May, I shared a list of books that enrich different core character education values. My next few posts will suggest activities to intentionally teach those virtues and traits. Let’s begin with trustworthiness.

When teaching the value of trustworthiness, consider starting with Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Most children have heard of this story, so start by asking one of them to retell it.

Here’s a brief synopsis: For his own entertainment, a young shepherd boy screams that a wolf is attacking his flock of sheep. The people in the village are very alarmed and come running to his aid. But they find that there is no wolf, and the sheep are not in danger. After the shepherd boy pulls this stunt several times, the villagers realize that he is lying. One day, a wolf actually does attack the sheep. But this time when the boy cries out for help, the villagers recall that he is not trustworthy, and they ignore him.

Following a reading or telling of the story, discuss the importance of telling the truth in building trust. Use questions like these: What happens if someone lies once? How many times does someone have to lie before they are not trustworthy? Why didn’t the people believe the boy when there really was a wolf? Has this sort of thing ever happened to you or someone you know? How can you make sure people believe you? Will it be easy for the boy to change his reputation? Will it be possible? How?

Use Discussion Dilemmas
Discussion Dilemmas can be very effective for helping children wrestle with character choices. When talking about trustworthiness, try these questions:

  1. Is cheating the same thing as lying? If not, which is worse?
  2. How common do you think cheating is? Why do people cheat?
  3. If a cashier gives you too much change and you knowingly keep it, is that stealing?
  4. How does cheating, lying, or stealing affect trust? How do they affect friendships?
  5. What should be the consequences of cheating? Of stealing? Of lying?
  6. What might happen if a news reporter exaggerates or makes up details of a story? Is that lying?
  7. Is there ever a time when it’s okay to cheat or steal? If so, give an example.
  8. What might you do if you catch a friend cheating or stealing?
  9. Is it ever okay to tell a “little white lie” (for example, to spare someone’s feelings)? Why or why not?
  10. Why is it important to keep your promises?
  11. What happens when a friend doesn’t keep his or her promise to you?
  12. How important is it that someone keeps your secrets?
  13. What type of secret wouldn’t or couldn’t you keep?

These reflection questions also make interesting journaling prompts or class circle conversation starters. When you’ve finished discussing these questions, make up some of your own and encourage your students to do the same.

Build a Solid Wall of Trust
Whether or not they realize it, our students are building their reputations—or what I call their Wall of Trust—with every choice they make. Here’s an activity using cardboard bricks (or tissue boxes!) that can visually show students how important that construction work is.

Give students a brick and ask them a question like, “What do people like about you?” or “What makes you a good friend?” or “In what ways are you trustworthy?” Have students add their brick to the wall as they give their answer aloud. Their answers will vary from “I’m kind” to “I keep my promises,” “You can count on me,” or “I tell the truth.” With each answer, lay the bricks, overlapping them at the seams so they’re not stacked directly on top of one another, to make a pyramid-style wall.

After the wall has been constructed, talk with students about how it represents their solid friendships. Wouldn’t you want to be friends with someone whose Wall of Trust is this tall and this strong? Next give students a dilemma like the following: “What happens to your Wall of Trust if you promise to hang out with your friend but you forget and don’t show up?” Let them answer before you strategically and slowly knock a block out of the middle of the wall. Tell students, “When you mess up, you gotta fix it up,” and ask them what you’d have to do to fix that hole in their Wall of Trust.

Ask students to consider another imaginary situation: “Suppose you need a partner for a class project. The same friend who forgot to show up to play last time wants to be your partner. Do you trust this person to show up to work on the project? If so, what happens if she or he forgets again?”

This time, knock down the top half of the wall to show what happens to our Wall of Trust when we’ve let someone down too many times. Ask how difficult it is to trust someone whose wall is broken down in this way and what that person would have to do to strengthen it again. Make sure that participants know that trustworthiness is always about owning and fixing mistakes so that people can count on and trust them.

Make Friendship Kits
Trustworthiness is a crucial ingredient for a healthy friendship. An activity I’ve used to make friendship a bit more tangible is putting together a Friendship Kit.

Gather the items listed below and put them in a clear zip-top bag. Before showing students the Friendship Kit, ask them what they might put into a Friendship Kit and why. After they share a few ideas, show them the kit—but don’t tell them what you think each item represents. Rather, pull out the items one by one and ask how that item might represent friendship. For example, “Why do you think there’s a button in the kit?” Make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers so students feel free to brainstorm whatever comes to mind. Prepare for some amazing reflections. One boy once told me that “just like a button completes a shirt and holds it together, a friend completes you.” Boom! What do all of these items have to do with trust in a friendship?

  • button
  • toothpick
  • cotton ball
  • rubber band
  • sour candy
  • sticker
  • bandage
  • dog tag
  • flashlight

If you have a budget, you can purchase these items in bulk and let the students make Friendship Kits for themselves. When I did this, it cost about ten cents per kit.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Suggested Resources
Knowing and Doing What’s Right
Kids’ Daily Dilemmas In a Jar®
The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends


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Teaching Kids to Use Positive Self-Talk

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Teaching Kids to Use Positive Self-TalkBelieve it or not, one of my proudest parenting moments happened in the middle of the night when I was lying in bed. My daughter, who was about four years old at the time, had gotten out of bed to use the bathroom, but instead of using the one right next to her room, she padded down the hall and through our bedroom to use ours (no idea why). The problem with that bathroom is that it has no windows, which makes it hard to find the light switch at night—particularly if said light switch is over your head. My daughter would often get frustrated and wake one of us up to help her turn on the light. But instead, on this particular night, I heard a little voice saying over and over, “I can do it. I can do it.” And sure enough, she did. I smiled to myself and rolled over to go back to sleep.

What my daughter was doing is something she had learned in her social-emotional skills program at school (and yes, from her dad and me, too) called positive self-talk. She basically convinced her own brain that she was capable of doing a task that she had yet to be successful at, and it worked. And although there’s plenty of research on how positive self-talk—also called affirmations or positive thinking—can help us with everything from professional sports to relationships, the research really only confirms what common sense has told us all along: We’re only as good as we think we are.

So how can you make positive self-talk work for your child? First, identify the problem. Is it that test coming up? A soccer game? Working up the courage to ask the teacher for help? The more specific, the better.

Next, make sure the self-talk focuses on what your child can actually control. “My teacher will give me an A” isn’t practical because your child can’t control how his teacher gives out grades. But he can control how hard he works and how well he prepares for a task, so “I’ll do my very best on the test” is a better choice.

The next step is to practice, and that’s where the word “talk” really comes into play. In order to help your child get into the habit of focusing her mind on these positive messages, have her say them out loud. It doesn’t have to be loud or boisterous—she can just mutter them under her breath if she wants—but encourage her to speak her affirmations whenever possible rather than just thinking them. It might help your child relax if you say them with her the first few times. If your child can read, consider putting the phrase on a sticky note where she’ll see it at least a couple of times a day—the bathroom mirror or her bedside table, for example.

Hopefully after a few days, positive self-talk will become a regular habit, and you and your child will start seeing the fruits of your labor. Whether it’s making a hole-in-one on the mini golf course or just flipping a simple bathroom light switch, you’ll find that positive self-talk helps immensely and has many more practical applications.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon and Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Suggested Resources
Be Positive! A book about optimism
I Like Being Me: Poems about kindness, friendship, and making good choices


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5 Ways to Make Character Education Work in the Classroom

By Garth Sundem, author of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character

5 Ways to Make Character Education Work in the ClassroomIn a 1978 episode of the Muppet Show, Sam the Eagle says to rock star Alice Cooper, “Let me come right to the point. You, sir, are a demented, sick, degenerate, barbaric, naughty freako!” For educators of a certain vintage, this was our first experience with character education. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Cooper says, “Why, thank you!” and poor Sam the Eagle chalks up one point for freakos and zero for civilization. Since lecturing students about their character flaws does about as much to instill grit, kindness, creativity, humility, persistence, and courage as a moralizing puppet’s attempts to reform Alice Cooper do, the question is, what does work?

One good source for answers is a report titled “What Works in Character Education” by Marvin W. Berkowitz, a Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor in Character Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education, and Melinda C. Bier. It is a summary of research-based character education programs.

“Character education is not optional in school—it is inevitable,” Berkowitz and Bier write. According to their research, here are five characteristics of successful character education programs:

1. Family and/or Community Involvement
In some successful character education programs, parents, families, and community members are “consumers” of the program themselves—they learn about character along with students. In other programs, family and community are partners in character education, working with schools and teachers to implement and deliver a character education program. No matter the mechanics of exactly how parents and the community are involved in a school’s character education program, this involvement is an important feature of a program’s success.

2. Explicit Agenda
Character education takes place in the background of everything you do every minute of every day in your classroom. The extent of this background learning depends on the unmeasurable, and sometimes ephemeral, sum of how you interact with your students and how you shape your students’ actions and attitudes in your classroom. However, Berkowitz and Bier find that programs designed to specifically improve character do best when time is set aside for character education. When you’re teaching character, tell your students that you are teaching character. In addition to the implicit learning of your classroom environment, when it’s time for character education, make the learning explicit.

3. Integration into the Academic Curriculum
On the surface, this seems to contradict the previous point: How can you set aside time for character education while making it part of the curriculum? What Berkowitz and Bier mean by this is that character education shouldn’t be a modular tack-on to the “more important” work of content-area education. Integrating character education into the academic curriculum means recognizing it as a tool to “promote academic learning and achievement.”

4. Professional Development
Teachers have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of training in the best ways to help kids understand and become skilled in content areas like language arts, science, and math. The idea that we are qualified to teach character education because our own lives have (supposedly) turned out okay seems a little thin. Instead, effective character education programs invest in their teachers’ skills. Whatever character education program your school uses, Berkowitz and Bier show that it is most effective when teachers are trained to use it.

5. Providing Models and Mentors
“Many programs incorporate peer and adult role models (both live and literature based) and mentors to foster character development,” Berkowitz and Bier write. Every good writing class teaches the lesson “show, don’t tell,” meaning that a reader can best understand a fictional character through the character’s thoughts, words, and actions rather than through the writer’s blunt statements about the character. Berkowitz and Bier show that it’s the same with character education—like Sam the Eagle, we can tell our students all about character, but being inspired by the presence of character in action goes about a light-year further toward affecting students’ expressions of character after the bell rings.

Berkowitz and Bier show that character education, when done right, works, leading to long-lasting effects on the “head” (knowledge, thinking), “heart” (emotions, motivation), and “hand” (behavior, skills). Evidence also shows how to do it right . . . and, by extension, how to do it wrong. Using these guidelines can help students not only know character, but also feel it in a way that will help them carry character outside the classroom and into the hallways and homes where life happens.

Author Garth SundemGarth Sundem is a TED-Ed speaker and former contributor to the Science Channel. He blogs at GeekDad and PsychologyToday.com. He has been published in Scientific American, Huffington Post Science, Fast Company, Men’s Health, Esquire, The New York Times, Congressional Quarterly, and Publishers Weekly. Garth grew up on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two kids, and a pack of Labradors.

Free Spirit books by Garth Sundem:

Real Kids, Real Stories, Real ChangeReal Kids, Real Stories, Real Character


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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The Dog Ate My Homework: How to Handle Students’ Excuses

By Shannon Anderson, author of Coasting Casey

The Dog Ate My Homework: How to Handle Students' Excuses“I’m sorry, but my uncle’s roommate’s brother’s fish died and I was too upset by the tragedy to do my homework.”

We’ve heard them all, haven’t we? How should we handle all of the excuses students use?

Although I do not assign a lot of homework, when I do, I have a purpose for assigning it and want students to do it. I get a lot of “I forgot to do it” and “we were too busy last night” comments at the beginning of the school year. How can we help students prioritize and set goals in a way that will set them up for success?

  1. The root of the excuse. Is there truth to their reason? On rare occasions we will need to be compassionate and extend a deadline. If the root reason is really because they didn’t want to do it, didn’t understand it, or just blew it off, then we need a “sit-down” to discuss our options.
  2. The sit-down. This is actually a regular conference held with students with the purpose of goal setting and discussing progress. (I meet with five students every day during independent reading time to do this. By the end of each week, I have met with all of my students.) This meeting is a great time to discuss and deal with some of those root reasons for goals not being met.
  3. Setting goals. I have a goal board in my room that has a spot for each student on it. They put sticky notes by their names with their current goals. If they meet a goal, the sticky is placed in the students’ binders on a “Personal Goals” page where they explain what strategies they used to achieve their goals.
  4. Growth spurts. When a student doesn’t meet a goal, we put that sticky in the binder on the “Growth Spurts” page. (A growth spurt is what we call our mistakes that we learn from.) Under the sticky note, a student writes a sentence or two about what he learned from the trial of the goal. He then creates a new goal with this in mind. Maybe he needs more time to accomplish it, maybe he needs better resources, or maybe he needs a completely different plan of action.

Students need to learn that we have to prioritize and be responsible. If they understand the importance of what they have been assigned to practice at home, it will be more meaningful. If something is important, kids will find a way; if it isn’t, they will find an excuse. I want my kids to become problem solvers and find a way. I help them with this through our regular weekly sit-downs.

Notice I said that I get a lot of excuses at the beginning of the school year? Once students realize that the excuses are not going to get them out of an assignment, the excuses start tapering off.

As I said before, I do not assign a lot of homework. I believe in giving my third graders 20 minutes of reading each night and an at-home project three times a year. I also assign self-paced multiplication/division fact mastery practice. I feel like my kids work hard enough in school all day and need their family, play, and rest time when they get home. Sometimes the reason students don’t get their homework done is because there is simply too much of it, and the kids need a break or really don’t have enough time to finish it all.

If we develop good relationships with our students, help them understand the importance of our expectations, only assign meaningful practice as homework, and help them set and make progress toward goals, they will be much more proactive and successful.

So the next time your student says that her wood-burning stove was out of wood and she had to sacrifice her homework to the fire so her family wouldn’t freeze to death, you may want to have a little sit-down and begin the process of goal setting and problem solving.

Shannon Anderson, author of Penelope PerfectShannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is a literacy coach, high ability coordinator, adjunct professor, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Coasting Casey Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild

 


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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