Casting a spell

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Podcasting might sound like the domain of advanced techies but all you need is some basic IT and something to talk about. Jodie Collins explains how it works

Podcasting used to be something I only heard about during Chris Moyles's breakfast show on Radio One. I thought it was something just for radio DJs.

That was only two years ago. Now it is a word I hear daily, and not from the radio. I hear it at my school from other teachers wanting to use it as part of a lesson or assessment. I hear it from other schools via Twitter or at conferences. Podcasting has become a part of daily life at many schools. Children love it and teachers do not have to be experts in order to blend a podcast into a lesson.

In its simplest form, podcasting refers to any sound file saved to the internet so that people can listen to it online anywhere in the world and, if there are many episodes, subscribe via an RSS feed, which syndicates content automatically.

It sounds technical, but for the person making and uploading the podcast it is wonderfully easy and - more importantly for schools - cheap. All you need is a microphone, a computer, an account on a podcast site and internet access.

At my school, our first foray into the world of podcasting coincided with the launch of a school radio station, but they do not have to go together. We put our podcasts online via the free London Grid for Learning service (Scottish schools could use Glow), but there are many other free sites.

We copy our podcasts and add them to the playlists on the radio station for within school, while those outside our school can access the material via the web and subscribe to our podcast channels.

Our podcasts range from early years children singing nursery rhymes and telling stories to Year 6 (P6) children making multi-layer jingle tracks using Audacity, the free editing software.

I first used podcasting with my Year 5 (P5) class two years ago, when we were studying the performance poetry unit within literacy. By listening back to recordings of their poetry readings, the children were able to adapt and improve their performances, making their poetry more interesting for the listener. They then put these skills into practice when performing their final class poem for a video, which we uploaded along with the podcasts onto the school learning platform.

Until children hear themselves, they often have no idea of whether or not they are providing a good level of emphasis for the reader. Podcasting is useful in these situations.

Our next unit was persuasive writing, and, as the children loved podcasting so much, we decided to use it again. This time it was more complex: the children had to make adverts. They had to write the adverts and produce a script for radio. They then used Audacity to record their script and add backing music and sound effects.

The result was some professional podcasts, turning some very average- looking scripts into really persuasive adverts which everyone in school loved listening to. We even had a vote for the best advert on the learning platform, with a prize for the winning group.

One of the benefits of using podcasts was that the less able writers in the group were still able to make a valuable contribution to the project.

Year 1 (P1) also used podcasting in their traditional tales unit. After a whole-class podcast production of The Gingerbread Man, each child wrote and recorded their own version of the story. This captured their imagination and the teachers were very impressed with the results.

Through our Getting Into Literacy project ( we have showcased our podcasts and other multi-media literacy work to the wider community and the children have even more motivation to use podcasting.

We now have an after-school podcasting group which interviews other children and teachers in the school, a roving reporter who updates us all on school trips and other activities, maths tutorial songs and many more adverts for our summer fairs and Saturday school.

As well as being a fun and exciting tool for children, podcasting can serve a practical purpose for teachers. I spoke to Richard Goucher, an advanced skills teacher at Bristol Brunel Academy, who has been using podcasting as a means of assessment in maths.

His Year 7 (P7) pupils are doing a mid-term numeracy assessment where they have to test a hypothesis: do teachers drive small, silver cars? They conduct a survey, analyse the results and draw a conclusion, but the main part of the assessment is to produce a podcast explaining what they are doing, the maths they use, what they find out and if the hypothesis is correct.

To introduce the work, resources are available via the school's virtual learning environment. These include a podcast produced by Mr Goucher as an exemplar of work, so that they have a model of what is expected of them.

Pupils are responding well to the podcast; they can listen in their own time at their own speed, and get the idea that they must explain in small steps and be concise in their explanations. It is a nice way of assessing how pupils explain maths.

Jodie Collins is ICT co-ordinator in south-east London.


For e-safety purposes, make sure children only include their first names on podcasts or use pseudonyms.

If you have a VLE this is a great place to showcase work, as well as on the school's external websites via an RSS feed to the podcasts.

Be creative with podcasts - listen to some online to find the variety out there. You really can podcast anything.

LGfL schools in London have access to a free podcast site, but schools without a service can sign up to for a free account.

Microphones do not need to be expensive but a USB one will give clearer sound - you can find them for about pound;15.

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