Podcasts: When Students Speak in Class, the World Can Listen

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember.  This week, an example of how podcasting technology is being put to the test in American schools.


Write a story about your life.  It sounds like a simple project, especially for a group of high school students.  But not for these students at Mountain View Alternative High School in Centreville, Virginia.  They are among a growing number of students at schools in the United States that use podcasting in their classrooms.

Podcasting is like radio broadcasting, except it uses the Internet.  Anyone with a computer and a microphone can record a show about any subject.  Anyone with a computer and an MP3 player can download the podcast and listen.

Podcasting does require some technical knowledge, but not very much.

Many education-related podcasts are aimed at college students.  But a growing number are created for, and by, students in middle school and high school.


The students at Mountain View have spent several weeks preparing for their project.  They have written their stories.  And they have recorded music and other sound to use in their podcasts.  Next, they bring together the different elements on a computer.

Their teachers help by offering comments and suggestions.  The students have made decisions about how to present their information.  They have decided how it will be read, and how other sound will be used.

Some students decide to read their story themselves.  Others choose to create a different effect by having someone else read parts of it.

Through voices, music and sound effects, the students are able to create something deeply personal.

In this podcast, nineteen-year-old Tamim uses traditional music from Afghanistan to create the atmosphere of his homeland.


Through his story, Tamim brings us along with his family as they flee Afghanistan after Taleban forces capture their city.  He and his family live as refugees in Pakistan for two years before coming to the United States.  But his difficulties do not end there.  Once in the United States, Tamim struggles to learn English.

TAMIM: "The funniest thing about being in the U.S. was that I could not talk to my cousins. My cousins didn't know a word in Farsi and I didn't know a word in English.  It took me about months till I start understanding what my cousins were talking about."

Other students use different methods to tell their stories.  Marvin tells the story of an experience he had as a young child.  He was walking to the market, the mercado, in Guatemala City where his mother worked.

MARVIN: "[music] I'm here to tell you a story about me, about my childhood - about something that left a scar not physically, but mentally on me."

Marvin goes on to tell about walking across the rail lines as he often did on his way to the market.  But on this day, he falls down on the rails just as a train is coming in the distance.

MARVIN: "I could see the entrance to the Mercado.  Suddenly I fell over the railroad and then I could hear a train coming in the same direction towards me [train warning sound]. From that moment on, I got so scared that I couldn't even stand up. For myself, a woman with long hair came out of the nothing just to pull me - just to pull me off and save my life [train sound].  And the only thing I remember is that I was crying so bad and my brother did not even realize it. At that moment I thought that I was going to die."


In another podcast, Jonathan, in his last year of high school, describes his life in terms of basketball.  He tells us his story by visiting different places he has played the game.  He explains what he has learned about life while winning and losing.

JONATHAN: "I guess that вАШs the story of this court.  The winners come back because they love to win and the losers they come back because they hate being losers, and that's what keeps the circle going [music]."

Jonathan recorded the sound of a basketball hitting the floor.  He says he wanted to give the listener the feeling of being there with him.  Jonathan wants to become a professional basketball player.

But in his story, it sounds like he does not think that is possible, because of mistakes he has made in his young life.

JONATHAN: "Man I felt  like  I was on the right road for years. I never was. You have all the support of the coaches until something happens. Then you're out of school and you can't play for a team if you're not enrolled, you know.  But I don't blame them.  I take full responsibility for my actions. [music]"

Jonathan says he now wants to help his younger brother to reach his goals.

JONATHAN: " I want to be the coach of him I never had. I'll teach him everything I know about basketball and life.  I just don't want him to make the same mistakes I made in life, ya know what I'm saying?"

With podcasting, students are using their skills in writing, reading and public speaking.  At the same time, they are learning several new skills.  They learn to work with the computer programs that are used for podcasting.  They also gain experience in communications, broadcasting and problem solving.

Podcasts are being used in English classes and social studies, as well as foreign language classes.  Being able to listen to recordings of their own voice helps students to hear mistakes.


There are tens of thousands of podcasts on the Internet.  They can be found on almost any subject, from current events to financial planning, religion and poetry.  People are now recording their thoughts on just about everything.

Any MP3 device can be used to play podcasts off the Internet.  But the name comes from the iPod devices made by Apple Computer.  IPods can also be used to record sound.  Some schools are purchasing them for their students.

For the project at Mountain View Alternative High, the students used hand-held tape recorders or recorded directly into a computer.


An alternative school is different from a traditional school.  At Mountain View, many of the students come from difficult situations that have interfered with their schooling.

Some are adults returning to finish their requirements for completing high school.  Others just need a program that can fit their work or family situations.

This project was the first time that teachers Ann Bearden and Peter Garvey used podcasting in their English class.  Both agreed they want to continue to use the technology for similar projects.

Ms. Bearden says the students knew that a podcast can possibly be heard by millions of people through Web sites like Podcast.net.  So it increased their desire to do a good job.  Or, in the words of Marvin, "I put a lot more heart into this one."

MARVIN: "The one thing I have learned is to help others."


Our program was written by Brianna Blake and produced with Caty Weaver.  I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus.  Read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com.  You can also find a link to some of the podcasts from the students at Mountain View -- and download Special English podcasts.  We invite you to join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.