Reading & Literacy Opinion

The Power of Podcasts and a Love of Books

By Starr Sackstein — August 23, 2016 4 min read
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When a reader falls in love with a book, it is deep connection that doesn’t fail.

Even as we grow and our context changes, the book holds a place in our hearts that sometimes can’t be displaced. It is an endless source of solace and excitement, sadness and joy and depending on when the book or series of books has taken hold of us, it has the ability to bring us back to those moments with just the reminder of a few lines.

For me, the Harry Potter series has filled this really sentimental place in my heart.

Recently I’ve stumbled upon “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” which is a weekly podcast done by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile.

Since I’m eternally obsessed with Harry Potter and how it connects to education, I was ecstatic to learn about this podcast that both discusses the text from a number of different and creative thematic angles, and employs excellent close reading and critical thinking strategies to consider texts in a variety of ways.

After listening to the teaser and first episode (they’re done weekly, a chapter a week with a different theme), I’m filled with ideas about how I can use podcasts and this one in particular to model and explore texts with my students.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

    • Since each episode centers around one chapter and one theme, it is done in very easy bites. Kids need to look at text in small pieces, and this format really does make it accessible and focused. It would allow students to really explore text deeply and with purpose which is essential for connection and a richer understanding of text as a whole.
    • Because it is a listening format, coupled with a reading one, students can hear modeled discussion of how to talk about a text through a lens which can also develop discussion and questioning skills as well as a jumping off point for argument discussion in class. For auditory learners, this can be a great way to employ different skills while reading and reinforce ideas.
    • In addition to the theme in each episode, the hosts compete to give a succinct and detailed recap of the chapter in 30 seconds or less. This would also be a good way for students to show their understanding of a text on the comprehension level, weeding out all unnecessary information and just sharing what is most important about what they’ve read.
    • On their website, they also have a trailer about Petunia Dursley which I love and I think that it would be a great way for kids to make a trailer of their own about texts they are learning about. This can be a great model. Here’s what it looks like:

  • One of the models they use in the episodes is to look at a random quote from the text (selected by opening anywhere and putting a finger down and reading where you land) in the chapter on four different levels based around a specific religious practice. The four levels they use (and I’m paraphrasing here) are 1. Narrative, 2. Symbolic or allegorical 3. Personal connection 4. Invitation or call to action. Each person discusses the quote from their perspective on each level and then goes back to the discussion. This can be a rich way to hold a book discussion teaching kids to look deeply a quote which can develop critical thinking skills on the micro-level.
  • The chapter ended with “blessings” for a character and this was a great way of offering thoughts about a particular character based on what happened in the chapter. This would give students an opportunity to really tie ideas together after a fuller discussion.
  • Because it’s a podcast, it has the added benefit of being able to be stopped in the middle to talk about what is being heard and really offer students a chance to dig deeper. The replay is a great way to get students to have the repetition they need to really get it.
  • For students who enjoy the format, it may be cool to let them develop a podcast around a text they love in this way. Get them talking about books or science or math or anything that can provoke a deeper understanding while having fun and sharing ideas with peers.
  • Couple the podcast with a class blog and now the class can continue interaction whenever they feel moved to and also can engage a dialogue/discussion outside of class in an authentic way, using audio, visual and writing to develop ideas around a text.

As an English teacher, writer and Harry Potter lover, I can’t wait to dig deeper into the archives of this great new podcast. As I listened to Zoltan and ter Kuile discuss chapter one through the lens of commitment, I couldn’t help but be swayed about how I felt about the Dursleys and even there thoughts about Hagrid and Dumbledore gave me cause to pause. I’ve read these books so many times, both alone and with my son and I hadn’t considered so of the ideas addressed. Makes me want to start re-reading again!

Rethinking the text and hearing the personal connections of the hosts of the podcast make me smile and at the same time help me reconsider the different characters and the empathy we can have for all people. What a great way to help students see how to find the positive in everything.

The podcast is engaging, amusing and smart and short enough that listeners don’t lose interest. The focus is clear from the onset and I was glad to see that they have a website too. I’m only sorry I didn’t think of the idea first. After all, to me, Harry Potter really is like a sacred text, the movies an endless source of solace and connection and I love that smart people are talking about it like it matters.

Do you use podcasting in your classes for exploring concepts and texts? Would love to hear your experiences? Have you heard of this podcast? What do you think? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.