Technically this post is about using digital audio in almost any form in the classroom – podcasts, audio books, audio clips, music — for which I tend to use my iPod.
Why Use an iPod?
Audio files are terrific for the audio learners in the classroom. It’s perhaps a bit obvious, but it’s important. Audio learners can tune out to my familiar voice, but can be snapped back to attention when a different voice or music presents a concept. It’s a simple way of engaging them.
Fortunately, the iPod has a “cool” factor that also hooks a huge segment of the classroom: the guys. Forgive me for this gender stereotype, but it’s useful in this case. While we’ve all encountered “reluctant readers” of both genders, we also know that they will most often be male. It is no mean feat to get a teenage boy to sit up and take notice in an English class, and any tool that helps me do so wins points with me. The iPod offers instant eye-candy and immediately interests many of the students in the day’s lesson.
Finally, creating audio files can provide an entry point for students who are reluctant to present or read in front of the class. While they will at some point in the course personally present something to the class, for some of our earlier presentation assignments I provide the alternative of creating an audio presentation. It works well.
Playing the iPod
There are innumerable ways of using the iPod in the classroom . I’ll share with you some of my favourites, with applications for specific units of study.
- Listening to part of a dramatic scene. If you look at the King Lear unit of study, you’ll find that in almost every lesson we listen to some part of the play via the iPod. I’ve found that since I’ve started doing this, students understand the play far sooner and better than if we simply read it ourselves. Sometimes we compare an audio clip to a movie clip of the same scene, which leads to some great discussions about the choices that were made in creating them.
- Listening to poetry. Poetry is wonderful when read aloud, and it’s terrific for students to encounter a range of reading styles when we study poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” is an excellent example of a poem that is read in a wide range of styles, and it connects with students. I’ve also convinced my colleagues to each read their favourite poem aloud while I recorded it; students then have fun trying to imagine which teacher selected and read which poem. And of course, there’s the music that accompanies so much of today’s poetry. We listen to The Tragically Hip or Leonard Cohen in class and talk about Canadian poetry today.
- Analyzing news. In some classes, I want to help students understand news as a construction. I’ve found that it works well to listen to a news podcast and compare it to the newspaper, or a news vodcast, of the same day. The difference in the story selection and the amount of space given to each becomes readily apparent.
Creating for the iPod
I have students create audio files for several assignments. Here are some of my most successful:
- Reading. Some students that I work with in literacy classes are reluctant to read aloud, even if I am the only person in the room. To get around this, I’ve been able to install them in front of a microphone and have them happily read aloud for me to listen to later.
- Reader’s theatre. Usually with one dramatic unit in a course, often the Shakespeare unit, I offer students the option of creating an audio file of a dramatic reading of a scene, complete with sound effects. The students dive in and study the script to figure out what’s going on so that they can get their sound effects right, and then take care in their editing to get it just right. The use of technology enables them to perform in a way that they wouldn’t if I asked them to do the same in front of the classroom. For more about this type of assignment, you can read about using Audacity or my reflections on this assignment with Julius Caesar.