Using All of Our Senses

From Guest Blogger, James Watson, English Teacher at Seattle Academy


Inspired by an on-line course called “21st Century Literacies” through the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE),  I set out to enable my students to use their technological skills to engage in authentic and creative projects in their English classes.  The work of a teacher on the East Coast, Chris Shamburg, caught my eye.  Through his book Student-Powered Podcasting, Shamburg inspired me to design the Senior elective called Podcasting and Audio Essays.   My approach was ready-fire-aim.  I proposed this course long before I had a definitive plan for how it would proceed.  I settled on using Audacity an open-source software for recording and mixing. Our librarian had usb Blue Snowball mics to lend and before we knew it we were off and running.

The first assignment was for students to read a poem of their choice.  Bjorn Watkins stole the show for this assignment.  He used original music that he had composed to perform “Poem on an Underground Wall,” by Paul Simon. Click on the link below to hear the podcast.

Project #1

For audio theater,  students formed self-selected groups to create a dialogue or skit from a few lines I had given them, perform the skit, and add a soundtrack and background noises.  Many of them wandered around campus searching for noises to add to their podcasts that included tires screeching, doors slamming, footsteps, simulated gunfire, and zippers opening and closing.  Others used audio files from websites to enrich their scenes.  This podcast was produced and performed by Kyle Shurtleff, Corey Parchem, and Bjorn Watkins.  The music was composed, performed, and produced by Bjorn, specifically for this project.

Project #2

The third assignment was an audio theater production of  Act 3, Scene 3 of Julius Caesar in which Cinna the Poet meets an angry mob in the streets of Rome.   Sam Tritt, Michael Brennan, Peter Summerville, and Michael Ottinger performed and produced the scene I have included here.

Project #3

Originally I had planned to ask the students to perform personal essays or memoirs but after speaking with several seniors, it became obvious that they were burned out on personal essays as they had just finished rigorous college applications.  I do, however, see great potential for students to use podcasting to produce their personal essays for college. It also became clear that the students prefer to work in groups on projects that give them more creative liberty.  As long as they are producing quality work and having fun, I support that creativity.

I have had a blast teaching this course.   I was amazed at how fast my students picked up the recording and mixing software Audacity.  My students are engaged because they make creative choices and they see the relevance of their work to the real world.   As they form their groups, I see different students contributing to their projects according to their strengths.  The students with acting experience and rich voices tend to volunteer as voice actors for audio theater, the kids who love creative writing volunteer to write the scripts for their projects, and those who are best at organization tend to direct the overall project.   As a result, the atmosphere of the classroom is relaxed but productive.  I look forward to teaching this course again.

[For more information about Seattle Academy activities and events click here.]

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One thought on “Using All of Our Senses

  1. Someone at my publisher came across your post and forwarded it to me…I’m glad you liked the book.

    Great work on the projects. The vocals and mix of the poem reminded me of PM Dawn.

    You took the “I’ve been waiting for you” to an other level. Great job on the Cinna too. I love the audio foreshadowing at the beginning.

    I’ll keep following your blog—it looks like you do some interesting work at your school.

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