Chris Shamburg

To cite this article, use the following information:
Shamburg, C. (2008). Podcasting and Fluency. New Literacies: A Professional Development Wiki for Educators. Developed under the aegis of the Improving Teacher Quality Project (ITQP), a federally funded partnership between Montclair State University and East Orange School District, New Jersey.
Available from: http://newlits.wikispaces.com/Podcasting+and+Fluency
Chris Shamburg: http://web.njcu.edu/sites/FACULTY/cshamburg/Content/default.asp



Introduction

Podcasting has the potential to engage students in writing, reading, speaking, revising, and collaborating and to improve fluency and comprehension. Students can mindfully prepare written texts and then thoughtfully rehearse and read them aloud. The success of podcasting to improve fluency and comprehension does not come automatically with podcasting. Podcasting, does, however, have many traits that would lend it to interesting and engaging applications for kids if it is done in student-centered activities. With inexpensive microphones, free software, and even with only one computer in a classroom, you can give students in grades 5-9 a meaningful experience with podcasting and improve their fluency. In fact, most of the suggested activities are more powerful if they are not done in a computer lab, but in a classroom that feels more like a studio--with students using a computer as a purposeful part of a collaborative endeavor.
This wiki article has five sections:
  1. "What is Podcasting?" — An introduction to podcasting with a focus on middle school fluency
  2. "Gold Rush Tutorial" — A tutorial that teaches about free, multitrack audio software that can be used by teachers and students from grades three to graduate school
  3. "Readers Theater" — The Next Generation”—A classroom activity that focuses on audio editing and "fluency” which can be done by a class in a one-computer classroom.
  4. "Suggested Podcasting Ideas" — Teaching ideas for podcasting in the Language Arts classroom, all with a focus on fluency.
  5. "Related Resources" — A list or resources for tutorials, copyright-free audio, and podcast hosting services.


What is Podcasting?

Podcasting is the creation and distribution of media content on the internet. Podcasting includes both audio and video, though audio is more popular and has greater potential to improve fluency. Because of the relatively low cost of producing audio and, more importantly, the benefits of audio production to support fluency, we will focus on audio.

With podcasting, the creative powers of teachers and students are unleashed with multitrack audio editing software. Multitrack audio editing software allows a user to collect and mix audio from multiple sources (e.g. adding a background soundtrack to a speech). It also allows a user to manipulate individual tracks (e.g. move that soundtrack to a specific part of a speech and subtly increase its volume as the speech goes on). The Gold Rush tutorial below will review all of the major features of audio editing. The tutorial focuses on a free multitrack audio editing software Audacity, and should take between 20 and 40 minutes to complete.

After creating the audio, a podcast involves the syndication of that audio. Syndication is the means by which you share a podcast on the internet. For some projects, you might be happy with simply having the students’ work limited to the classroom or sitting on the internet. For others, you might want to make it a part of a regular show to which listeners can subscribe.

Syndication gives a podcast its legs. Syndication (through an rss feed) allows listeners to subscribe to your podcasts and receive immediate updates and information about new podcast shows. While this may sound technically sophisticated and daunting, there are numerous free commercial services available that will host and syndicate your audio files. Once you create your audio files with multitrack audio editing software, it is as easy as attaching text to an email to have them syndicated. See the Resources for a list at the close of this article for podcast hosting and syndication services.


Gold Rush Tutorial


Overview

For teachers who do not have access to current Mac computers and Garageband software, I am strongly recommending Audacity, a free audio editing program. It can be downloaded at http://audacity.sourceforge.net. It is a favorite of podcasters and audiophiles because of its versatility and simplicity. David Murphy writes in PC Magazine that “the program mimics its more expensive brethren — Adobe Audition and Sound Forge — in providing recording and audio file–editing tools, and it's easy enough for beginners while including plenty of advanced features for audiophiles” (April 5, 2005,http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1814231,00.asp). The program is easy to learn and to teach. You can understand the fundamental procedures in a half an hour. It was developed through SourceForge (www.sourceforge.net), a collaborative website for developing and hosting open source projects. All you need is a computer and a microphone. If you do not have an internet connection, you can download it on another computer, save it on a CD, and then install it. There are both Windows and Mac versions. However, if you are a Mac user, you are most likely hooked on Garageband, Apple’s audio editing and podcasting software.


Getting Started

You are producing a radio show about the California Gold Rush. Part of the show is to bring to life the actual words of the people who lived and participated in it. This particular segment is based on a letter from Lucius Fairchild, a young man from Madison, Wisconsin, who left home at age 18 to strike it rich in California in 1849. The letter comes from Library of Congress’s American Memories Project (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/).

For this tutorial you will work with multiple audio tracks, record original sounds, import existing digital sounds, loop sounds, move individual audio tracks, add special effects, and export your final file as an mp3. The aim of this lesson is to help teachers and students gain a fundamental understanding of multitrack audio editing using Audacity software. I have used it successfully to show teachers from Kindergarten to Graduate School teaching contexts how to use and teach multitrack audio recording with Audacity. You can do this lesson on your own to learn multitrack audio recording or use it with your students. This will provide you with enough skill and knowledge to complete a variety of projects with audio in your classroom.

These instructions and resources are very specific. As you and your students become more familiar with the software and procedures, you can develop different projects and allow the students more choices and flexibility in their work. After this lesson, I have suggested projects for a variety of grades and topics.
You will first need to download Audacity from http://audacity.sourceforge.net and install it. Also, download the Lame mp3 Encoder (lame_enc.dll) from the same site; you will need this file to export mp3s.

You will record the narration of a letter from a miner in the California Gold Rush and then mix in sound effects and music. You will record and edit each of the three tracks (narration, sound effects, music) separately and mix them together. Download the music (My Darling Clementine) and sound effects (Mining Sounds) at http://ccmixter.org/files/cs272/15786 They are in a zipped file called “Oh My Darling.zip”. I created these sounds and you have complete permission to use them for this project.

Open up Audacity and go to File/New to start a new project. You should have a blank screen like this.

figure_1_Audacity_Work_Space-1.jpg
Figure 1. Audacity Work Space



Click the record button and speak into the microphone. You will read the excerpt from the letter. You can rehearse if desired.

Figure_2_Recording_the_Narative.jpg
Figure 2. Recording Narration


Text of Narration:

February 12, 1850

To J. C. Fairchild and Family,

...I think we are in the poorest diggings in the country and we have made as much this winter as any store in Madison can make in a year. About four weeks ago the river rose very high and drove us on the highest part of the bar where we supposed there was no gold of any consequence, but to our surprise we found it the richest part so we all took our ground and went to work, since that it has not rained and we have all done well. Ed & I have taken out over Twelve hundred dollars or over 2 ounces a day which is good wages...

I remain Your affectionate Friend, Son, & Brother

(From" "California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900. The California Letters of Lucius Fairchild". Library of Congress’s American Memories Project retrieved January 4, 2006 from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cbhtml/calbkbibTitles01.html).

You should get something that looks like this (Figure 3). This is your first track. If you have dead air before your narration because of stage jitters or an eager trigger finger, you will be able to edit it out.
Figure_3_Narration_Track.jpg
Figure 3. Narration Track



Importing Existing Audio

After you download the zipped file from http://ccmixter.org/files/cs272/15786, you will extract each file inside and have Clementine.mp3 and Mining.mp3 on your computer harddrive. You will import them one at a time into your project by going to Project/Import/Audio.

Figure_4_All_Tracks_of_Pro...jpg
Figure 4. Project Tracks



You can play a single track or combination of tracks by using the Mute and Solo buttons on each track’s control panel. You can also move, rename, and do other actions to the tracks by clicking the top bar of the control panel.

Figure_5_Tracg_Control_Panel.jpg
Figure 5. Control Panel


We will now manipulate the individual tracks. First, we will loop the mining sound effect so that it repeatedly plays throughout the recording. Second, we will arrange the music and sound effects so that they both start before the narration. Third, we will make the music and narration louder before the narration and lower during the narration. To do any editing your clip must be stopped, not paused.

You will work with the Selection and Time Shift Tools.

Figure_6_Selection_and_Tim...jpg
Figure 6. Selection and Time Shift Tools



Looping a Track

Looping a track involves replaying it over and over to seamlessly convey a continuous sound. To loop the mining track, select it using the selection tool, copy it, and then paste in on the track next to the original selection. Repeat until it goes about 10 seconds beyond the narration. The bottom of the toolbar has a timeline in seconds. You may have to go to View/Zoom Out to get a better view of all the tracks.

Figure_7_Mining_Track_High...jpg
Figure 7. Mining Track Highlighted

Figure_8_Mining_Track_Past...jpg
Figure 8. Mining Track Copied and Pasted Three Times



Shifting a Track

We will use the time shift tool to move the narration back 10 seconds. Make sure your recording is stopped. Hit the Time Shift Tool in the top right of your screen. Drag the narration back ten seconds.
Figure_9_Shifting_the_Narr...jpg
Figure 9. Shifting the Narration of the Track


Hit the play button on the top of the screen to hear your creation.


Adding Effects

Finally, we are going to lower the volume on the mining sound effects and music when the narration is playing. We will lower the volume on the mining track first. Using the Select Tool, highlight the section of the mining track that is concurrent to the narration.

Then go to Effects, Amplify and lower the amplification. You will have to experiment with the exact levels based on the recording of your narration. Along with amplification, you can add a variety of other effects such as echo, changing the pitch, or speed of a selected section or track.
Figure_10_Adjusting_the_Am...jpg
Figure 10. Adjusting the Amplification


Repeat this with the Clementine track. Play the entire audio project. Make minor adjustments to taste. Your final project should look something like this (see above).


Creating an mp3

Now you have to export your project as an mp3 file. You should save your project as an Audacity project (which will keep all of the tracks and effects distinct so you can go back and edit the Audacity project). You should also Export as an mp3. This will mix all of your tracks into a single mp3 audio file.

Figure_11_Exporting_as_an_...jpg
Figure 11. Exporting the mp3




The first time you export an mp3 you will need to tell Audacity where the lame_enc.dll file is (you should download this from the audacity.sourceforge.net site). It’s a simple step that only needs to be done once.

Because of software patents, Audacity cannot distribute the the lame_enc.dll file. Please see http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&i=lame-mp3 for instructions.

Figure_12_Locating_the_lam.jpg
Figure 12. Locating the lame_enc.dll file




Assessment

If you want to do this project with students, below is a rubric you can use.

Poor
Acceptable
Excellent
File
No mp3 audio file or narration is inaudible or non existent
Single mp3 file and narration is audible
Single mp3 file, narration is audible, and the file is under 60 seconds in length
Sound & Music
No music or sound effects

Music and sound
effects are present
Mixing
No loop of sound effects, narration does not begin after music and sound effects start, AND volume of narration is not louder than music and sound effects.
No loop of sound effects, narration does not begin after music and sound effects start, OR volume of narration is not louder than music and sound effects.
Sound effects looped, narration begins after music and sound effects begin, and volume of narration is louder than music and sound effects.


Readers Theater: The Next Generation

This activity is based on the popular comprehension and fluency-building technique of Readers Theater, and is geared to grades 3-5. For teaching ideas for older students, see the Suggested Podcasting Ideas listed at the close of this article. Readers Theater helps students speak and comprehend prose by converting it to simple and accessible performance pieces. Readers Theater is characterized by minimal props and costumes and the inclusion of all students. Traditional Readers Theater uses the transformation of prose to performance to include many readers seamlessly, to emphasize the spoken word, and to simulate the contexts of dialogue more naturally. Because written language functions at its root level as the encoding of spoken language, reading written text silently and aloud becomes more fluent with practice in speaking it aloud. It is important to keep in mind that written language as we know it would not exist without spoken language (This accounts for the difficulties in teaching silent reading to intelligent students who are either nonverbal or hearing impaired).

You need a working knowledge of audio editing software to do this project. Completing the 30-minute tutorial Gold Rush (see above) yourself and with your students will give you a strong foundation to work with this as well as any of the other projects listed here. Projects such as this can be completed in a one-computer classroom. However, if you have several computers, you can put your students into smaller groups and adjust the number of “Sages.”
The text below is adapted from Aesop’s Fable “The Bear and the Two Travelers.”

Prose Version

“The Bear and the Two Travelers”
Two men were traveling together when a bear suddenly appeared in their path. The first traveler shouted, “Here comes a dangerous bear!” and climbed up quickly into a tree and hid. The second traveler was worried that he would be attacked and fell flat on the ground, “I’ll pretend I’m a rock and won’t make a move,” he said. The bear came up and poked the second traveler with his snout, and the man did not make a move. The Bear soon left him. When the bear was gone, the first traveler descended from the tree, and joked that it looked like the bear was whispering in his friend’s ear, "Ha Ha, when I was in the tree it looked like the bear was telling you a secret.” "Yes, he was whispering to me”, the second traveler replied. “He told me to never travel with a friend who leaves you when danger comes." The lesson of the story is that adversity lets you know who your friends really are.

Readers Theater Version of “The Bear and the Two Travelers”

Characters: Sage 1:
Sage 2:
Sage 3:
Sage 4:
Sage 5:
Sage 6:
Sage 7:
Traveler 1:
Traveler 2:

Sage 1: Two men were traveling together when a bear suddenly appeared in their path.
Sage 2: The first traveler shouted
Traveler 1: “Here comes a dangerous bear!”
Sage 2: and climbed up quickly into a tree and hid
Sage 3: The second traveler was worried that he would be attacked and fell flat on the ground
Traveler 2: “I’ll pretend I’m a rock and won’t make a move”
Sage 3: he said.
Sage 4: The bear came up and poked the second traveler with his snout
Sage 5: and the man did not make a move
Sage 6: The Bear soon left.
Sage 7: When the bear was gone, the first traveler descended from the tree, and joked that it looked like the bear was whispering in his friend’s ear
Traveler 1: Ha Ha, when I was in the tree it looked like the bear was telling you a secret.”
Traveler 2: "Yes, he was whispering to me”
Sage 1 the second traveler replied
Traveler 2: “He told me to never travel with a friend who leaves you when danger comes." ALL (or entire class): The lesson of the story is that adversity lets you know who your friends really are.

You can record this as a class, have the students work on it in groups at computers, or have the students work on it in groups and then take turns recording it at one computer in the classroom. Irregardless, rehearsal and a safe, low-stress environment is crucial.

You and your students can then add 2-3 musical clips and a sound effect to the spoken recording. The learning and fluency come when students are analyzing, discussing, and deciding what should go where, using the text of the script.

Here are 15 sound clips that can be used before, during, or after the recording (http://ccmixter.org/files/cs272/15836). You can filter this group down to 4-5 and then have the students pick 1-2.

Similarly, below is a link to the sound effect of a growl. Allowing the students to discuss and decide where to put this sound effect is an engaging and educational process.http://www.freesound.org/samplesViewSingle.php?id=49127

Both the music and sound effects come with Creative Commons Licenses (a voluntary alternative to copyright with fewer restrictions). You and your students should simply cite the sound effects after the audio play with this script.

The music for this project is Ambient Sounds by cs272 from ccMixter. The growl sound effects is Monster_growl_01 by aesqe from the Free Sounds Project.


Suggested Podcasting Ideas

Below are four ideas for teaching with podcasting and audio editing. These projects are easy to modify based on your grade level, resources, teaching style and temperament of your students.


Media Reviews

Students choose a book, TV show, comic, or video game to review. They should have wide latitude in selecting the material, as long as it is not Adult or Mature rated. In the prewriting of the review, teachers should emphasize the importance of addressing a particular audience’s prior knowledge, interests, and needs. For examples see http://podcourse.blogspot.com/2007/03/media-reviews-this-episode-shares-some.html


Memoirs

For this project students are going to create and record a memoir. A working definition of "memoir" is a true story from your own life that is funny, sad, or exciting — it just has to be interesting. Because the memoir writing will connect to their lives, student will invest extra care in it. This care is further accentuated because they can be producing for a potentially worldwide audience. Turning a written work into an audio product focuses on fluency. Students will need to focus on the power of the human voice - its cadences, inflection, speed, and silences - to emotionally affect an audience. For examples seehttp://podcourse.blogspot.com/2007/04/memoir-project-part-1.html


Poetry Walk Remix

This project is based on the fact that many people listen to podcasts as they walk or run. Students will create a mix of poetry and music to accompany a listener on a particular walk or run. You can give students a set of poetry or have them select lines from various poems themselves. Instead of reading entire poems, this activity works well if students have to judiciously select 5-10 lines of poetry from 3-5 poems. Here is an example for a walk in the city: http://podcourse.blogspot.com/2008/05/poetry-walk-remix-city.html


Director’s Cut DVD

For this project students write a commentary to a scene for a movie. They write and revise the commentary and time it so that it synchronizes with the action of the scene. They then record it. The introduction to their commentary will then include directions to cue the video to play with the commentary. The goal is to give a viewer of the movie a commentary soundtrack similar to the bonus features of many DVDs that include commentary from the director or actors. Here is an example: http://njcu3partpodcast.blogspot.com/2008/06/dvd-directors-cut-harry-potter-and.html


Related Resources


Audacity Related Resources



Music and Sound Effects



Podcast Hosting Services