Reading & Literacy

Teachers Are Turning to Podcasts as an Instructional Tool

By Sasha Jones — February 11, 2019 5 min read
Kindergarten teacher Kimberly Calhoun posts photos of her students and the podcast scripts they’ve created at the Mount Washington School in Baltimore.

When Kimberly Calhoun read through Baltimore City schools’ new curriculum, she found an assignment that surprised her: Her kindergartners were expected to podcast.

“The kids are [still] peeing their pants, and they’re supposed to be doing this crazy thing,” Calhoun said, echoing a response that teachers across the county were sharing on social media.

She had listened to podcasts before, but had never produced one herself, let alone had her students do so. But, after a colleague across the hall had her students try podcasting, and advised Calhoun on tools that make the process easier, Calhoun was inspired to do the same.

Although it is unknown how many teachers use podcasting in the classroom, the medium has seen a general increase in engagement in the past few years. According to Nielsen’s Fanlinks survey data, in the fall of 2016, 13 million homes identified as “avid fans” of podcasts. This number increased to 16 million by the fall of 2017.

In part, the rising popularity of podcasts may be due to new software and streaming services that make it easier to both create and listen to podcasts.

LISTEN: Kindergarteners wrote and read sentences on what they liked best about themselves for “The Best Part of Me” podcast in Kimberly Calhoun’s kindergarten class in Baltimore.

Some websites, such as Anchor and Audacity, are free to use. Anchor allows users to record and edit podcast episodes, all through an app on their cellphones. The service distributes and uploads episodes to streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and provides analytics following publication.

Other tools, such as GarageBand and Adobe Audition, can provide a more hands-on approach for creators, with each program ranging in cost and difficulty of use.

Getting Acclimated

Ryan O’Donnell, a high school social studies and technology teacher, and Brian Briggs, a district-level director of innovation and instructional technology, host “Check This Out,” a podcast on education technology. They say they have seen more teachers interested in podcasting, both on their own and in the classroom. But they advise educators to get comfortable with the technology themselves before introducing it to their students.

“What got me started when I was exploring more, [was] the land of Twitter,” Briggs said. “A lot of podcasts have a Twitter presence, and [I was] reaching out to them and asking for their advice.”

Kindergarten teacher Kimberly Calhoun and her students write scripts, in which students discuss the “best part” about themselves.

Once teachers have mastered the basics, O’Donnell recommends orienting students through a “podcast walkabout,” where students are each assigned a podcast, go for a walk as a class while listening to it on either a phone or a speaker, and then return to the classroom for a conversation about what they may have liked or disliked about the podcast.

For Calhoun, podcasting served as a way for kindergartners to practice writing, reading, and using their “strong voice” for presenting. Throughout the project, each student wrote a sentence about a farm animal, practiced reading the sentence, and then recorded themselves reading the sentence. In future podcasts, she hopes to have students write and read up to three sentences.

And she’s changed her mind about her students’ ability to use podcast technology.

“The kids are better at the tablets than some of the adults that come in [the classroom], so if you can’t beat them join them,” Calhoun said.

In higher grade levels, podcasting may be used as a tool to reinforce readings and lessons covered in class, in addition to developing writing and speaking skills.

A Tool for Writing

At University Liggett, an independent pre-K-12 school in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., 6th and 7th grade English teacher Stevie Stevens and Nicholas Provenzano, the maker space director and technology coordinator at the school, have teamed up to launch a podcast where their 6th graders interview each other on the books that they read for class.

“It’s a great way to allow some of those kids that may struggle with their writing to feel successful in discussing a book,” Provenzano said. “Traditionally, it’s write, write, write, write, write, and if you’re not a strong writer, you may start to think you’re not good at an English class in general.”

Podcasts that require scripts similarly encourage students to explore writing formats that stray from the traditional essay.

A kindergarten student practices reading her script before recording it.

"[Students] think ‘Oh great, I can talk, but you really can’t just talk,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a wonderful way to trick them into writing.”

By posting their podcasts online, Stevens and Provenzano have also seen students develop a better understanding of what writing for an audience is and overall feel more motivated to produce better work.

“When it’s just my eyes seeing it, it’s one-on-one and I’m the safety net,” Stevens said. “Even when you open it up to their classmates, they realize ‘OK, I’m going to be judged by them,’ and then you open it up to the internet. It’s a big deal.”

Last spring, cinematic arts and broadcast journalism teacher Michael Hernandez introduced his 11th and 12th graders to podcasting to teach them speaking skills that could be necessary for upcoming college or job interview.

“They could really hone in and focus on interview skills … rather than focusing on video and lighting” said Hernandez, who teaches at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “It’s going to somebody you may or may not know and asking them questions that potentially could be scary or embarrassing or challenging to ask.”

In one assignment, students created a series on love. One group asked elementary schoolers what love is, while another questioned high schoolers about their experiences.

LISTEN: A high school student explores the meaning of love through interviews with young children in a podcast created for a class taught by cinematic arts and broadcast journalism teacher Michael Hernandez.

In addition to producing the podcast, students design art work and consider marketing surrounding the project.

But for Hernandez, such assignments are not just about sharpening interviewing skills, they are also about providing students with a voice while teaching them to listen and consider the perspectives of others.

In another assignment, students were asked to seek out and interview “unknown voices"—individuals who students do not often encounter. Hernandez’s students returned to the classroom with stories on immigrants, LGBTQ students, and students who choose to take unconventional paths following high school graduation.

“We just don’t understand each other or other people in the world,” Hernandez said. “If we haven’t talked to people, and we haven’t listened to their stories, then we won’t understand.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Teachers Are Turning to Podcasts as an Instructional Tool


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Popular 'Wonders' Curriculum Shows Gaps in Alignment to Reading Research
A new review claims that the curriculum has gaps in its alignment to reading research, and doesn't offer enough supports for teachers.
6 min read
Image of a girl selecting a book in the library.
Reading & Literacy Pandemic Prompts Some States to Pass Struggling 3rd Graders
As families wrestle with online learning, a pandemic economy and mental health difficulties, some states are delaying 3rd grade retention.
Aallyah Wright,
8 min read
The Mississippi Department of Education offices are seen in Jackson, Miss. on March 19, 2020. The state's board of education decided this winter that it would suspend the retention policy for third graders this year, allowing all students to pass on to the fourth grade even if they fail the standardized reading test.
The Mississippi Department of Education offices are seen in Jackson, Miss. The state's board of education decided this winter that it would suspend the retention policy for 3rd graders this year, allowing all students to pass on to the 4th grade even if they fail the standardized reading test.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Reading & Literacy Opinion Seven Strategies for Grammar Instruction
Five educators share instructional strategies for engaging and effective grammar instruction.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy & Language Education
In this Spotlight, review what may be missing in teacher training and the supports offered to students plus more.