Episode 1: New Beginnings

Hola, fellow listeners,

The idea to begin a creative project in one of my classes has been floating around in my head since I began to teach, eleven years ago. It wasn't always a podcast I wanted. My first year as a teacher I wanted to begin a literary magazine, a place where students who wanted to write short stories or poetry or who had a particularly exciting essay could submit this work and see it printed and bound on a monthly basis. But, it didn't work out. I narrowed my vision and instead focused on creating a literary magazine for poetry only. But, that didn't come through either. When my wife stopped working at our school I had my car all to myself and I began to listen to different podcasts on the way to and from work: Car Talk, Invisibilia, This American Life, Radio Ambulante, Love + Radio and others. I fell in love with podcasts. I knew I had to start one myself. The creative cloud that had sat dormant in my brain for a long time began to vibrate, to billow. I would make it happen.

I learned from my previous attempts to launch these types of projects. I'd previously failed because of lack of preparation. The projects I desired weren't bad or unrealistic. They were just ill-conceived, poorly planned, horribly executed (That's an interesting phrase, right? Ill-conceived.) I had these ideas swelling inside my brain but I had no concrete plan for how to break them down into all the parts that made them whole. I let my excitement about the end result blind me to all the steps I would have to take to get my students to produce what I had envisioned. It never occurred to me that these creative projects, though they lived outside of my regular curriculum, were not at all different than any of my other class projects. I didn't want to think of them as "class projects" or as "assignments". I thought these labels robbed them of the mysticism I'd attributed to them, like if me touching the ideas with pedagogy would turn them from cloud to stone. This realization made me question my relationship with some of my current 10th grade projects (but that's another story).

I didn't want to fail with this podcast. I wanted it to exist. I wanted someone to hear it and be touched by it. I wanted it to begin but I also wanted it to last. This meant it could not live as an untouchable cloud. I would have to touch it with pedagogy. So, I thought about the final product--a podcast put together by my AP English class with specific themes in mind (like This American Life)--and I began to think about what it would take to create such a thing. So, I did what I do whenever I create a new project for my English classes: I do the project myself. If I have an idea for a new essay I write the essay myself. If I'm asking my students to read an article and annotate it I read it and annotate it myself. I need to see the obstacles students will run into and then shape my lesson plan accordingly. So, I sat and created an episode of the podcast from scratch and made sure it became as close to the product I wanted my students to produce. I took careful notes about every step I was taking while creating the podcast and realized how much about producing an episode there was for me to learn. I realized it would take many lessons and a lot of exposure for my students to understand what a podcast could be. I realized they would have to be in teams. I realized I would have to create roles and the roles would need specific tasks and that these tasks should be outlined somewhere. I realized I needed to teach them how to come up with a thesis that fed into the overall theme of the episode, how and where to physically record this thesis, and how to make sure their stories tied in to their thesis. I needed to teach them how to record their narration, how to export what they recorded, how to import it into GarageBand and edit it with the same software, where to find sound files that aren't copyrighted and how to tweak the sound levels. There was so much to do.

But, it got done. The cloud now thunders.

Our first episode is on the topic of "New Beginnings". Our focus: the challenges and the growth that these brand new experiences create. What better time to tackle this topic than the beginning of the school year? New beginnings are plentiful during this time. We have new students, new teachers, new staff, new graduates, new seniors. The possibilities were many.

In case you're wondering, this assignment is a treasure trove of standards and pathway outcomes for our school.. 

So, here it is. Enjoy.

-The Four-O-Eight

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