Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Podcasting the Immigrant Experience

Students in Tyler Thornburg's class interview
an immigrant about her journey to the U.S.
Eighth grade students at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School in Tulsa, Oklahoma spent the last month of the school year working on a podcast project to enrich the immigration theme of the school year. While many students at the school come from immigrant families, not many of them had heard their families’ stories about how they came to the United States. Teacher Tyler Thornburg seized an opportunity for authentic learning and engagement.

The idea to develop student-created podcasts on the immigrant experience arose after listening to a “This American Life” podcast on National Public Radio about an immigrant named Abdi, a Somali refugee, and his epic journey to the United States. Thornburg wanted his students to create something like this podcast, which they could then share with their families. He was hoping for students to tell the story of their family’s journey to the United States (or someone else’s they knew) and then ask the people they were interviewing if the sacrifices they made were worth it.

Many of the conclusions reached by the immigrants interviewed surprised students and helped them to develop a fuller understanding of immigrants and immigration. Thornburg’s students had often only experienced the difficulty of living in the United States and thought that life in Mexico or a country in Africa had to be better than here. However, many of the people interviewed said they would not go back if they could because of the impact that their decision has had on their children and grandchildren. These answers forced students to look at their life and the immigrant experience from a larger perspective and to see that small decisions over a lifetime can have a profound impact.   

Practice and Patience

As is often the case, new experiments in the classroom don’t always go as planned, but they offer rich learning experiences for teachers and students. Thornburg said:
Our eighth grade class was behind on our curriculum for the year, so we worked on the podcast at the same time as finishing the school year. If I were to do the project over again, I would only focus on the podcast project and not do any other content. The way the lesson plan is written is how I decided to do things, and some of the things we did, did not take an entire day, while other things took more than one day, and other tasks were somewhere in between. I tried to write the lesson with some flexibility so teachers could use their own creativity to make any and every change.
Reflecting on the project, Thornburg offered some words of advice for teachers wanting to create podcasts with students, primarily regarding practice and patience:
Practice is something both students and teachers need. Create a podcast yourself for students to listen to so you are prepared to show students how to use the software  and hardware. There isn’t a more frustrating moment as a teacher when students ask  you how to do something and you don’t know what they are talking about because you haven’t done it yourself. It’s also important to have your students practice. My students needed a lot of practice and probably could have used more when they were creating their podcasts. 
The two areas that students needed the most practice is recording and editing. The recording is picked up much faster than the editing, and this is where patience comes in. Plan more time than you think to allow students to practice. You will thank yourself later. The thing that I needed to realize is that for many of my students this was the first time they had ever created a podcast and edited audio. They know what the final product is supposed to sound like, so I advise letting them discover how to get there. This forces the teacher to allow the students some autonomy, which can be scary, but they will rise to it if you give them enough encouragement and support. 
Lastly, and this was the most difficult thing for me teaching six preps, is that feedback is essential for students. Students need to know what you are expecting of them and where they can improve. I was surprised at how much they wanted to edit and change things when I gave them feedback. The stories that arose as a result of this project were amazing and the interaction of students with immigrants and technology was incredibly inspiring to watch as their teacher.
  • Click on the link to download student-created podcasts to Music Player for Google Drive or your computer's audio device. These podcasts can serve as exemplars for project-based learning.