Moving on Up!

9 05 2009

It’s that time of year again. The time when all fifth graders start worrying about moving up to sixth grade. The transition from top of the elementary school to bottom of the middle school is not an easy one to make, as I so clearly remember.

So, as part of our CoETaIL course 2, Chrissy, Diane and I have developed a fun, quick and simple project to help ease the transition to middle school for our grade fives. Last year Diane and I did a very similar project with her ESL students and it was a huge hit!

One important facet of the project is to realize that all fifth graders around the world are going through the same challenges, so, as one aspect of the project, we have created a very simple VoiceThread (and wiki) and would love to have other students contribute and share their concerns:

We would absolutely love it if you and your students would be willing to share their thoughts about moving on to sixth grade with us! If you’re interested, please add your info here or leave a comment on this post and we’ll contact you directly.

There are a few things I particularly love about this project

  • The emphasis on natural conversation, which is really difficult for grade 5 students when working from a script and recording themselves (as you can hear when listening to our excellent, but very scripted grade 5 podcasts).
  • The focus on bringing in our students’ individual cultures and personal experiences by asking them to reflect on a specific inspirational saying in their first language. I have this vision of the conversation our students are having with their parents when they ask them about inspirational sayings and how this can help them deal with the challenges they might face in life.
  • The looks on the students faces when they realize kids all around the world have the same concerns as they do, that we’re all the same in so many ways.

Just in case you’re interested, here’s our UbD unit planner for grade 5 core classroom and ESL pull-out:

Established Goals

ESL specific

  • Extend oral language through conversation
  • Build confidence with oral language, especially in a conversational format

Grade 5

  • Retain natural fluency during presentations and/or recording
  • Build confidence to engage in spontaneous dialogue based on focused topics


  • Develop and uncover strategies to cope with life changes, through the lens of transitioning to sixth grade

Enduring Understandings

  • Conversational language is crucial to efficient and clear communication
  • Conversational dialogue requires all participants to be responsive
  • We all have cultural teachings to draw upon when facing difficult situations

Essential Questions

  • Why is conversational language important to communication?
  • How can we improve our conversational language?
  • How can the words of wise people help us discover changes we can make within ourselves?


Goal: You will produce a podcast that showcases strategies, teachings, inspirational sayings and experiences to help fifth grade students succeed in sixth grade around the world.

Role: You will work in teams to research, author, record and broadcast your podcast

Audience: Students moving on around the world though iTunes, class blog, and the internet.

Situation: You are moving on to sixth grade and need a variety of strategies, teachings, inspirational sayings and experiences that will help you succeed.

Product Performance: Your podcast will be posted on the class blog and on iTunes. A successful podcast will include:

  • Strong, clear speaking voice
  • Modulated voice with emotion and emphasis
  • Teachings or inspirational sayings that can directly provide guidance for students transitioning to sixth grade
  • 3 strategies linked to an experience that sixth graders will have designed to help fifth graders succeed
  • A written script with proper grammar
  • Engaging language, intro & outro, and audio enhancements.


  • Video podcast
  • Adding still images to the podcast
  • Personal podcast

Six Facets of Understanding

Explain: After completing a self-assessment of your oral language (through GB recording), explain which areas you, personally, need to improve upon, why and how you will you have improved.

Interpret: Share an inspirational saying via the class blog (in translation if not in English) and describe a personal experience when this saying was beneficial. Sayings could include personal images, or audio recordings.

Apply: Collaborate with partner classes around the world to produce a VoiceThread describing the challenges and opportunities of moving on, as well as find commonalities among all students.

Perspective: Listen to a “real” podcast or book about a life change (anything that can be found and is appropriate). Discuss as a class, or in partners, how the broadcaster or author coped with the change using strategies, inspirational sayings or teachings.

Self-Knowledge: Personal Action Plan: Begin with a personal reflection of a similar experience to determine your successful coping strategies, develop an action plan to put those strategies, along with the new ones learned during this unit, into practice next year.

Empathize: In partners, role-play the first day of school – one person is the teacher, one is the student. Reflect on the experience with your partner.

Final Thoughts

We would love for you to join us in this project! Please feel free to leave a comment here or add your school to the wiki. We’ll be working on the VoiceThread during the last week of May, but please feel free to add your comments whenever you’re ready!

Podcasting Power

11 03 2009

Three of our wonderful grade 5 classrooms (Chrissy, Robin and Ali) have been collaborating all year on a Reader’s and Writer’s workshop project with 4 other schools around the world.

We initially made the connection because we were looking for a meaningful, year-long, collaboration based on our curricular focus for the year (Reader’s Workshop). Luckily, we were able to find four schools using the same curriculum structure to teach reading and writing.

We started the year (and the project) by sharing student writing and reading and commenting on each other’s blog posts. However, one of our major goals for the project was to develop a weekly, entirely student-produced, podcast focused on reading strategies called Students Teaching Students.

Considering none of us here at ISB have ever done a regular podcast with students, we knew it might take a while to get it off the ground, but we wanted to make sure it was meaningful, appropriate, and authentic use of the technology to enhance our curricular goals.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve finally gotten the podcasting part of the project off the ground. It was surprisingly easy!

Here’s what we did to get started:

Chrissy, Robin, Ali and I spent some time brainstorming the steps that students would need to go through to produce a thoughtful podcast on a weekly basis – and how to make it practical within our laptop cart teaching environment.

We decided that we would use our student book club groups for the current Historical Fiction unit as the podcasting groups. Each week one group would produce a podcast during Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop time. To help ensure they are able to produce their podcast independently, we provided a checklist of steps.

Once we had the process organized, we introduced the idea to the students over two lessons.

During the first lesson we listened to a sample podcast (I chose a language-learning podcast so that students would be able to focus on the introduction and the features of the podcast instead of the content).

As we listened, students were asked to think about the different features of the podcast. They then brainstormed in teams what makes a good podcast. We came up with this list:

  • Exciting, catchy, but short, musical introduction.
  • Music is quiet while speaking.
  • Clear introduction of each speaker, all guests, the “big idea” of the podcast, this episode number & title, and the topic of this episode.
  • The speaker uses enthusiasm and excitement in their loud, clear voice.
  • Use first names only.
  • The show should sound like a conversation between podcasters.
  • Keep it interesting for the listener.
  • Stay focused (when writing your script & when recording).
  • Everyone in the group needs to have a speaking part in the script.

Once we had an idea of what a good podcast sounds like, we talked about the quality of the intro and outro music. Students were given the challenge of creating their own intro and outro music for the entire class’ podcast based on the criteria we brainstormed:

  • catchy
  • calm – not distracting
  • not too loud
  • fades out at the end
  • fast-ish to get listeners excited
  • include a catch phrase (optional)
  • relate to our topic – gives a feeling for our topic
  • less than 30 seconds (including any catch phrases)

They spent about 30 minutes using Garage Band (which they had previously learned about in music class thanks to another fantastic teacher, Vince) creating either an intro or an outro (in small teams or individually). At the end of the lesson, we voted on which songs would be used for the entire class.

Once we had our music for our class podcast, we were ready to practice creating a podcast to learn how the different tools work and to go through the process of brainstorming an idea, writing a script, producing a podcast, and exporting the file into proper format.

We spent an entire language arts block (1.5 hours) going through the process, following the checklist. Here’s how we broke it down:

15 minutes to brainstorm an idea for the podcast. All groups had to create a podcast for students learning how to be a better reader using the different Reader’s Workshop Strategies they had learned that week. Once they chose a strategy, they had to be able to explain it and share how it helped them read their current book.

45 minutes to write a script following this basic outline which we brainstormed and agreed upon at the beginning of the lesson:

  • Welcome to Room 229′s Historical Fiction Podcast Series
  • Episode Title: This is Episode 1
  • This episode is brought to you by:
  • Introduction of podcast (what is this podcast about for first time listeners)
  • Introduction of cast (speakers)
  • Introduce the book (or series of books) you’re reading
  • Introduce the Reader’s Strategy that you’re going to be talking about
  • Describe the strategy
  • Explain how you used the strategy to help you read this book
  • Share examples
  • Closing
  • Looking forward to learning with you next week

20 minutes to record their podcast (no editing due to time constraints).

At the end of the lesson, we listened to all the trial podcasts to share constructive feedback for each group.

I was very impressed with the quality of podcasts that the students were able to produce in such a short time frame, especially for their very first experience!

Since this trial run, student podcasts have been produced in small groups, one group per week, during the Reader’s Workshop time. We even decided to create our own channel on iTunes to share our podcasts with our global partners (and anyone else who’s interested in Reader’s Workshop strategies)!

Overall, this was a surprisingly easy project to put into place. I’m always a little intimidated and nervous when I try something new, but this ended up being even easier than I expected. Garage Band is so easy to use, the students were so excited to share their learning, the book groups were such a natural fit for creating podcasts, and uploading the files to a podcasting host (G-cast) and then creating the iTunes channel were a breeze!

Although we’ve only really just gotten started, I can already see how powerful this process will be for our students. Since I’m a newbie at podcasting, what else should we be doing?