Essay v. Podcast, Round 2

Posted: January 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about the essays I assign 5th graders. (To give you some idea of what to expect from 5th graders, at the beginning of the year many of them think “essay” is “SA”.) I’ve also been thinking about the podcasts we’ve been doing this year. If this were a title fight, who should win?

I say this is round 2 because in round 1 podcasting got disqualified, something about paperwork not being in on time. Anyway, so in round 2 (that would be now) podcasting is here and all official.

Boxers by Keith Haring, Berlin (1987)

So let’s meet our opponents:

In one corner, in the striped trunks, we have the traditional essay. The essay is a recognized champion. It fits in with how any serious thoughts used to have to be presented. It has lots of impressive sponsors. It’s not always very agile in the hands of 5th graders and gets obsessed with details. When everything comes together though, it can blow you away.

In the other corner, wearing polka-dot trunks, we have the podcast. The podcast is the challenger. It is hip, casual, and plays a little loose with the rules. It is part of the new digital crowd where folks present ideas in a variety of ways. It can get too free-form when it mixes with 5th graders. You have to watch out for being swayed by its cool factor, but when taken seriously, style and personality of the students come through loud and clear.

Here’s my blow-by-blow recap: I would feel I was doing my students a disservice if I did not teach them to express their ideas in written form. That means reading carefully first, thinking and putting ideas together second, planning what to include and the order to put it in third, and finally drafting and editing a final essay. That said, one of my stated goals of this type of assignment is the be able to use it for some sort of assessment–of thinking and writing. So, while the essay allows me to asses grammar, all those little errors sometimes overwhelm some solid thinking. But I have noticed as I have listened to the podcasts my students made that it is easier for me to see beyond the grammar when I am not in fact seeing the grammar, but listening to the power or lack thereof of ideas.

I have added podcasting as a final step, not substituted it for writing. There are very few people who probably should just speak off the top of their heads and be assessed on it, and I would guess none of them are 10 years old. When I listen to their essays, I get to hear the students stressing the parts they think are important (which of course more experienced writers can do just in text, but we’re not quite there yet). I get to hear each student breathe life into that flat paper statement.

So who wins this round?

I have to say it’s a split decision for me, folks. I’m keeping both of these powerhouses in my class; they’ll just have to get along.
Photo by Achim Hepp used under creative commons license.

(Not sure what it is with my chosen metaphors lately; they seem to relate to activities in which I do not participate as I neither sing nor box.)

  1. Margaret Haviland says:

    Dear Wendy,
    Great blog. I experimented with something along these lines recently with my 11th and 12th graders. They had to stand and present their argument to the rest of the class the day before the essay was due. I didn’t record it this time, but I will the next time (and there will definitely be a next time). Now I just need to get the peers to be more critically though politely involved in responding to the brief (five minute) summaries.

    Thank you for reminding me where 5th graders are.

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Margaret, thanks for commenting.

      In thinking about your project, I wonder if they should present their ideas more than a day before the essays are due? Would that make altering their arguments more of an option, in terms of time? I sometimes give my 5th graders peer-review rubrics to guide their comments for others. I’m sure 11th and 12th graders can do so much more without nearly as much guidance. If it’s a new format for your class maybe more guidelines would help to start.

      Thanks again for reading.

  2. Great blog–I think that integrating technology into traditional writing (rather than replacing traditional writing with something like a podcast) is a great way to get the best of both worlds. I’m definitely going to try this!

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