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Episode 11: Elevating Youth Voice with Podcasting

Note: The audio versions of all episodes are available on the DOE Digest webpage.


[upbeat background music]

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. It is a platform for information exchange, in which the Department will highlight the work being done by innovative and transformative educators around the state.

I have been working to redesign the Department of Education to what I call NJDOE 2.0. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading and learning, and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. I hope you enjoy today’s topic.

Ken: Hello and welcome to the DOE Digest. I'm your host, Ken Bond. In this episode, we're going to be exploring digital media, specifically podcasting for students. We're going a little bit meta talking about podcasting on a podcast, but I'm really excited to dig into this subject.

Apple has confirmed that over 500,000 podcasts exist on its platform and over half of all Americans have listened to a podcast. NPR has recently released a student podcast challenge ending March of 2020, and we would really like to see a New Jersey student win the grand prize.

There's so many opportunities in podcasting and this episode will be highlighting two districts that are doing amazing things in podcasting, as well as have a sample from a student who created her own podcast on a subject that she was passionate about.

The first segment will feature Bridgewater Raritan School District and the second will feature Red Bank Regional. Let's dive right in.

Bridgewater Raritan School District

Leigh Woznick, School Library Media Specialist

Leigh: My name is Leigh Woznick and I am the School Library Media Specialist at Bridgewater Raritan Middle School in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Ken: The first thing I wanted to ask is, as you're thinking about digital media we're gonna be talking about podcasting today, but even digital media more widely, "how can you leverage digital media to really amplify youth voice and student voice?"

Leigh: Generation Z [laughing], as they're known, they are the first generation born into a world of digital technology. It's our job to use digital media to stoke their curiosity, to develop their voice, help them develop their voice, and to grow critical thinking skills. Because it's not about the tech, right? It's about the skills. But digital media does give us an opportunity to help them share their voice with an authentic audience, with a wider audience.

And one thing that I, in my experience, Generation Z is also passionate about the things that they care about. And so it's up to us to help them share that passion with the world.

Ken: How would you define a podcast?

Leigh: Well, when I first started looking into doing podcasting, of course like everybody else, I googled it. And anybody who googles it will find, you know, those standard definitions about archived audio and all that other kind of stuff.

But for me, podcasting is about storytelling. Humans connect through storytelling. It's how we learn about each other. It's how we teach each other. It's how we live in others’ experiences and other people's lives. It's how we learn empathy. And…it's how we make sense of the world and find patterns in the chaos. We learn better, we remember better, when it's done through narrative and that's what podcasting is. Podcasting is storytelling, and so that's what I want to teach my students--is those storytelling techniques.

I'm definitely a book person, but human voice is such a great way to connect. I've--I can't remember where I read it, but I heard somebody say that when they listened to a podcast it felt intimate. You're listening to it. You've got your headphones on. You're listening and it feels like they're talking directly to you. So it feels—even though it's not really an interactive conversation--it still feels like they're talking to you and that's really powerful.

Ken: How can--how can students use podcasts and how can we equip students to use podcasts to promote equity in their schools and their educational settings, wherever they find themselves?

Leigh: Podcasting is perfect for that because it gives everyone a voice. Everyone can participate. Everyone has something to say and it's a--it's a perfect way to share marginalized voices. It's a perfect way to really be inclusive.

Listening to podcasts and--and the act of making them, and depending on how you use it and what kinds of topics you have the kids podcasting about, is a way to teach them respect for other voices and other perspectives…and to include those. It encourages civil discourse and active debate if it's done properly.

NPR has this great infographic about podcasting too, and one of the elements is about “how can you use this podcast to be fair to the people and ideas it represents,” and I think that's a really important element to include.

I had one group of students this year who were podcasting. It was interesting because it was two Asian American students, one East Asian and one South Asian, and they were talking about racism. It was a really, really powerful opportunity for them to share any racism or microaggressions that they've experienced in their own lives.

And so I think…it's hard sometimes for students to talk about that, but I also think they want to talk about that-- that kind of stuff that they were experiencing. These are their experiences and when they can share their experiences, that shares their voice. It empowers their voice.

Ken: How can educators make the idea of student podcasting, of equipping students to podcast, a little bit less intimidating for themselves, so that they can introduce it in the classroom?

Leigh: You can incorporate it into anything. There are some fantastic lessons and step-by-step instructions on NPR--fantastic. They're geared a little more slightly towards older students, but you can certainly adapt them. Also, on the New York Times Learning Blog and Read Write Think has a great one, and Edublogs, Edublog has a fantastic list of, like, 50 ways to do podcasting in the classroom. So, you will get so many ideas just from looking at that.

My district tends to be a little conservative about sharing students’ information publicly, so many of the things that I've done we've had to keep within the district.

So, for example, um, the ones that I did last year with, there were three different teachers where we did social justice issues. And I created a Google site and we hosted them on the Google site--that's something, we're a Google district, so we have that already in place. We already have Chromebooks, so we were able to use free tools that we already have. And it just made it very, very easy.

There's a fantastic, there's a guy, Andrew Fenstermaker out in Iowa, who is awesome and he's been podcasting with his fifth graders. And he had them create their episodes on WeVideo, which is another free Google tool. And then he had them post them on FlipGrid.

There are some great recording tools that are free online, like Online Voice Recorder and Vocaroo. There are so many. But there's also some editing. There's-- Audacity is free now. That's on PCs; it doesn't work on Chromebooks. Um, but that does some editing.

But there are also some fantastic tools, like Anchor, which—which, uh, your podcast is hosted on.

Ken:  [at same time] Yeah. That’s where we host.

Leigh: Anchor's awesome. It--just this year it was bought by Spotify. So now their philosophy is that it's--it's all free and it's unlimited. So you can host as many as you want, as long as you want. It stays up there.

There are some other hosting sites that sort of give you limited free versions, and I always try to, you know, when I'm facilitating with teachers, I always try to recommend things that are free, but also things that are just really super easy to use.

Anchor is wonderful because you can record right in it and you can also do some editing, and I think it has music as well. You know it's not going to take any teacher hours and hours of figuring out how to use this; it's really intuitive and super easy to use.

Ken: We’re gonna be playing a clip of one of your students who did a podcast. And I want you to just explain a little bit about what --what's behind the clip, how this impacted you, and, you know, why it--why it's important for people to hear it.

Leigh: I loved doing this project. It's a teacher that I work with a lot. She's game for anything. [laughing]

Actually, she approached me first and she said that her students were on fire about social justice issues, and she wanted to give them an opportunity to do some research about it.

So, of course, I mean I, always, you know, in doing my collection development I make sure that I have, whatever the latest issues are, I have materials on those, whether it's print or databases, whatever.

So they came in and they did some research here. And I said to her, “let's have them do a podcast about it.” And the kids were totally game for being guinea pigs. It was the first one I had ever done—the first time I'd ever done it with a class, and they were totally game for it.

And I gave them some choices of different tools to use. So the clip you're gonna listen to is Pragathi. And the topic that she chose to do was about classism and how it affects students in middle school, and I thought it was a really interesting choice.

Some of the other students in her class did things on transgender rights, uh, poverty, education of girls in third-world countries. There were just some amazing of [unclear]. And they came up with these topics by themselves. We didn't even give them, you know, a list. They came up with these topics themselves and that was just inspirational.

Ken: Now let's listen to a shortened clip from Pragathi’s podcast “Rank Class.” Listen to the way that she uses this platform to elevate her voice on this important topic.

[transitional music]

Pragathi, Student

Pragathi:  Hello, and welcome to the “Rank Class” series of podcasts. I am Pragathi and today we are going to be talking about recent popular topic, class. Now class is a big topic but today we will be focusing on classism that takes place in school and how it affects students.

First of all, if you don't already know what class is, it's basically the social status or economic standing in the world. And we will be talking about how this influences kids at school.

Just think about this. Let's say that a teacher says to her students, “Study well, you don't want to be making minimum wage.”

Now what if there was a student in her class that had parents making minimum wage. How would that make that student feel?

Now this is just an example, but this example is what is really driving this topic for me. Obviously, well I think, they will most likely feel ashamed of their parents and that can affect their education.

I'm not blaming teachers for this. Really, in my opinion everyone should understand the lives of poor people. For poor people to get out of the working class it is very tough.

We middle and upper class people are not aware of these problems that they face. Some live in cars and try really hard just to get food on their plates.

From the Teaching Tolerance website, I found an article called “The Question of Class.” And is has this really, really meaningful quote and it really spoke to me.

The quote says, “we must recognize that students and parents from poverty simply do not have the same access to material resources as their economically advantaged peers and that many of us take for granted.”

Just think about this. To get a good score on your SAT, most parents [unclear]--parents choose to send their kids to a tutor or some learning center. But think about poor kids. They may not be able to afford these classes or they may not even have a ride to the place, either because they don't have a car, or because both parents are working and are using the car.

[The] teacher is not blaming or singling them out again, even put the blame on the kid's parents if the kid does not care about their education. They may be poor and are just trying to help their family in any way to survive by providing food and working many hours, or even multiple jobs, just to get money. You should understand their pain before putting a blame on them.

Some kids, right after school go to work to get money and support their family. You have to take many long hours shifts or multiple jobs to help their family, even if both parents are already working.

I can tell that this would put tons and tons of stress on the kids since they have to balance both their jobs and their schoolwork.

By providing every kid with good education many of them can change the fate, you could say, of their family and their future. I think it is important to share this and be aware of these problems so in the future, or maybe even now, we can do something to support and help these types of families.

We should accept people for who they are and not for their social standing in the economy. By being open-minded, we can change all that.

Thank you for being a part of this “Ranked Class” episode, and hopefully you got something meaningful out of it. Bye.

[end of “Ranked Class” podcast clip]

[end of “Bridgewater Raritan School District” section]

Red Bank Regional School District

Ken: Whole communities and schools can embrace podcasting for social change and for student and youth voice. This next segment features staff from the Red Bank Regional School District, and I'm so excited to show you how they have made podcasting an integral part of the fabric of their school.

Louis Moore, Superintendent

Lou:    My name is Louis Moore. I’m the superintendent at Red Bank Regional High School.

Ken:   So there's a lot of podcasting going on in your district. Can you just talk a little bit about how you think about it and what administrators can do to support podcasting in their buildings?

Lou:    I think it's--it's fantastic the students are engaging in this work. I'm very grateful to the teachers, to the staff, and especially April Bunn, our media specialist, who really got this in motion.

It's really taken on…it's taken hold in multiple departments across multiple subjects. I see students coming in and out of the pod room frequently, ‘cause I think they're coming to April now. Whether or not it's a class assignment or not. They’re –they’re  enjoying the podcasting experience.

I'm so proud of that work and I think it--I think it's helping with a larger purpose that we embrace at RBR, which is to give students the opportunity to generate work that’s meaningful, work that goes beyond just, sort of, putting it on the teacher’s desk. But work that connects to their lives and also to their aspirations.

And I think it, you know, the larger--a larger focus is to give students more and more opportunities to publish, share, and celebrate their work.

An idea that we hope to implement this year is to create an online platform in which students can publish and share academic nonfiction. And we also, by design, we want it to take multiple platforms.

So the most conventional approach is gonna be students--an opportunity for students to share their writing. And that could be reports. It could be lab--lab inquiries. It could be research papers. So that’s sort of wonderful stuff in the conventional sense.

But we’re also hoping that these podcasts become archived and published on this platform. And also some of the, uh, visual work, films, documentaries, that students are engaged in.

We also would like to share that with our school community and with the larger community. And the – that’ll be for 2020 as we go forward into the—into the semester.

April Bunn, School Library Medial Specialist

April: I'm April Bunn. I am the school library media specialist at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, New Jersey.

Ken:   April heads up the studio at Red Bank Regional and I wanted to get her perspective on how she works with teachers, educators, and students to integrate podcasts into their work.

In terms of getting students into the library, starting to work with them, what is it look like? What are the steps to take them from point A to point Z, or whatever -- to get them podcasting and to get the podcast from an idea to an actual product that they can share with their friends?

April: Teachers were looking for another way to do an assessment, or an option for a project. So they'll do the, uh, traditional, visual,  "You can choose a poster. You can read a story. You can do an out loud performance.” Now they're adding podcast to that list because they realize it's an option and a lot of kids will choose it. So much so that kids will ask to come at lunch and work more on their podcast.

So you know that it's a project they really care about and it's something that they can work on individually, as well as group. Because you can record a section. You can edit that section on your own. You can add it to a group project. It really makes everyone accountable.

And what I'm hearing from a lot of the teachers that deal in English, or anything with writing, they say that you can't record something without good content. So it's making better products. Their assessments are actually becoming better products.

What we're doing right now is very different from where we started. I think you grow to figure out what works for you. In the original times of this, we would just launch right in after they wrote something. We would send them into the room and turn the equipment on. And show them how it worked and went.

Now we've learned that starting with editing a podcast on the front end, and looking where there's flaws ,or if I'm saying "um, um, um," a bunch of times. Looking for those errors, looking for where sound effects would be effective, things like that on the front end. Give them a document. Have them sit outside with Audacity or Twisted Wave or something, and editing software, fix that. Then you assign the project with all the parameters. And then, um, get a nice rubric and send them in to start recording. They now know that we do it kind of backwards now.

So they come in the room in a group. We'll ask them to come in in like groups of six. I'll introduce them to the equipment. Usually it's a very easy turn-key thing. Show it to the teacher...and their group. And then we weed it down, eventually kids are showing each other. The teachers now have been doing it so long, the ones that use it the most, they're actually showing the other teachers how to use it. So, I've had--been able to step back on that - the technical part.

As far as content, I'm noticing that kids will ask in Study Hall, or after school, to come in and just talk. And so that's actually, maybe, what I should say is the start. Let them get comfortable and just sit and say whatever they want. They're really into con--uh, conspiracy theories. Kids are into...they wanna talk politics.

So they'll sit and record five minutes in here after school on their own and then delete it. They don't even care. They just wanna talk and so...those, I think getting them to do that first might be a good step.

And then as far as equipment, I just have to say I've been to plenty of workshops on podcasting and they said, "You don't need fancy equipment." You do need to think about some quiet recording, like we're doing right now, and some recording that happens at the football game, in the cafeteria, with ambient sound that actually really helps someone understand where you are. A school isn't really quiet like this all the time. [Laughing]

So, getting them to understand that they don't have to podcast in a room, they could do it on the bus. They can use their phone. They can use fancy equipment. They can use headsets and microphones. So I've morphed a lot on my directions with that, and I think I'm still growing on "what's the best way to introduce it." But they're getting more savvy on what a good podcast sounds like.

So I think I-- they know the end product should be, and so I'm trying to work with the -- the first kids to understand how to speak clearly and carefully. And I'm working with the more advanced kids to really edit it to its perfection and submit it to contests like NPR's podcast challenge and other contests in the country.

Ken: So, when it comes to…equity, I know that you have a really diverse population of students here. What do you think about when you think about equity and podcasting and the intersection of those two?

April: That's great. I think that is really my biggest passion is getting this equipment out to all students. One, I want to honor the grant that I was so generously given from our foundation of parents that do all this fundraising. Secondly, I want every teacher to think this is for them.

There are many times you hear of someone getting a grant in a school, or getting new equipment and they're like "That's not for us. That's for another department." In this case, we've been able to appeal to our English language learners, which is a really interesting and exciting, new group. Those teachers were immediately interested on how we could use it. How they could use it for measurable things like the SGOs. How they can use it for just allowing these students to hear this language that they are just acquiring in their headphones. In our case, in our rooms, they all listen to themselves and I think that's really important.

You'll hear a lot of people in workshops that say "It doesn't matter. Only one person needs to wear the headphones." In language acquisition, especially we're talking about equity, in this case, I'm using English-language learners, as well as the higher level assessments in foreign language learning, and those students hear their language and often will say "Hey, can you rerecord what I just did? I didn't say that correctly." You're not gonna have that in a normal conversation.

We’ve been collaborating about having some kind of a—a project that turns into a podcast where they maybe write it in their -- in their first language, and then they translate it. So that's part of the lesson. And then they record it in maybe both of those languages, showing them to be, eventually, hopefully what we would love them to be, which is bilingual students, not one language or the other. Right? And so that they can acquire the new language and keep still--- and still keep their primary language.

So equity in even the Special Ed. department, I have a special ed. student who comes in regularly. He's learning how to use it. He's on the spectrum and he uses it with a speech teacher as well as, uh, for his own enjoyment. And what I'm seeing in that, as far as equity, is he feels likes, this is equipment that, maybe, would have otherwise been only used by students with less of a processing delay, and he feels totally comfortable in this room.

So, as we grow it, I think the equity is incredible. Really, I can't imagine a group that couldn't find a reason to use it and feel like it was meant for them, teachers as well. A teacher who's not a techie can use it, all the way up to the teacher who is a computer science teacher.

[transition music]

Kelly Moylan, ESL Teacher

Ken:   April mentioned benefits of podcasting for English-language learners. I was able to sit down with Kelly, an ESL teacher at Red Bank Regional, and talk to her more in-depth about what some of those were.

Kelly: I’m Kelly Moylan. I’m a teacher at Red Bank Regional High School. I teach ESL and I'm the ESL coordinator.

Ken: You work with English-language learners, correct?

Kelly: Yes.

Ken:   So, can you tell me a little bit about the ways that you've organized podcasting when you're working with English-language learners? How you've used it so that they can--they can engage in podcasting?

Kelly: Sure, so one of the things that we've done is I've just given the students a topic. They've pulled it out of a hat. And they sit in groups of three or four and they just talk about the topic.

The other thing that we've done is that we've read literature and then we've chosen a character. They've taken perspective of the character. They've written an interview about their character and they responded as if they were that character. And then they interviewed each other on podcasting.

Ken:   So, can you talk a little bit about the advantages of using podcasting vers[us] just doing, maybe, a play in your classroom where you do that same thing where they have to interview each other as--as characters?

Kelly: I think it's a good buy-in for the kids 'cause it's...more fun than just like playing it out, in they're using technology and they're used to it.

The other thing I think is that I like that they can hear themselves back, and they get to, from an ESL perspective, they get to hear their pronunciation. Being able to hear this back...makes them more self-aware of...I don't think they realize how good they are. You know? And they fear that and they're nervous. And I think that they almost surprise themselves when they hear it back. So I think the more we practice, the more they get used to it.

And especially, like, I feel like more of my quiet--quieter students, when they got in here...Alex was like, right away, he sat down and he's usually very reserved and very quiet, and he almost took over like he was the D.J., or like leading a radio station. And he was like "alright, guys. So what's your favorite food and what do you have for lunch today?" And he just, like, led the whole thing. And it was really great to see him shine.

[end of section]

Ken: I wanted to end this episode with this challenge from April for all the educators in New Jersey who are thinking about podcasting.


April: I would say to a teacher listening to this that you have your lesson plans, you pull them out of Google Drive every year. You get them out of a filing cabinet. You say "I'm gonna do this same thing every year." To challenge yourself to, like, look to something different this year or next year, or with a collaborative team say, "How could we bring in something with digital recording?" Maybe you're just going to play some famous serial podcasts. You're gonna put in the Moth Story Hour. You're going to find something, get your kids kind of excited about it. You start listening to it on your own, and then find a way to, sort of, switch something you've been doing for a long time to meet the needs of--of our new learners, digital learners. And even if you are to look at, like, some of the standards, they--they say things like, the literacy standards say something like "adapt the speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate." So it takes it out of the written word and it really says "you need to have students who can communicate."

So spontaneous speech is something we haven't talked about yet, but I think they don't always need to be scripted. Having your student have to answer you spontaneously makes a word choice, there's this whole synonym thing happening in their head. "Oh, I just said awesome four times." Or "Wow, what am I doing? I'm not using a variety of speech." And listening to it back recorded will really tell them that.

So I don't want a teacher to feel like it's some really hard thing to do. You already do it. You're already speaking to them in class. They're already responding to you. Now maybe make them respond, maybe, privately or in a group, or however you want to do that, and respond to you and you can listen to it in your google classroom, or wherever--whatever interface you want them to submit it in.

So, I think we're already doing it. It's just a different format.

[end of section]


Ken: Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. I am so very grateful for everyone who joined in to #NJEdPartners Twitter chat or who listened to the podcast in 2019.

We are going to be having our first NJEdPartners Twitter chat this year, January 21, 2020. I hope that you can join us. And just as another reminder, the NPR student podcast challenge will run through March 2020. Please consider having your students submit their work for this challenge.

We look forward to continuing to connect and engage with you about educating the 1.4 million students around the state and hope to talk to you on the #NJEdPartners third-Tuesday Twitter chat.

You can subscribe to the podcast channel for DOE Digest through your iPhone, in the Apple podcast app, or wherever else you listen to podcasts so that you can get new episodes when they are released.

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Neither the New Jersey Department of Education, nor its officers, employees or agents, specifically endorse, recommend, or favor views expressed by those interviewed. Discussion of resources are not endorsements.

Thanks so much for listening.

[closing music]

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