Monday, July 21, 2008

Podcast Reviews and Standards Assignment

  1. The website ESLPOD offers a series of close to 400 podcasts by experienced ESL educators on everyday topics, such as how to talk in English about feeling angry, to more advanced topics, such as important cultural figures like photographer Annie Leibovitz. The website also includes a number of teacher resources, including a blog and learning guides; however, there does seem to be a fee involved for these ancillary features. The podcasts I listened to ran about 15 minutes and included a dialogue followed by a discussion and explanation of the language used. The podcasts seemed to be geared toward an older audience. For example, in the podcast about how to talk about anger, the speakers referred to someone as a "schmuck" and said he was "foaming at the mouth." As such, I could see this resource being useful as a listening exercise in a high school or adult ESL class, but I do not see myself using it with my elementary students. If a teacher is willing to invest, the learning guides seem like they could be really helpful because they include the following items:
  • Complete transcripts
  • Definitions
  • Sample sentences
  • Comprehension questions
  • Additional explanations
  • Cultural notes
  • Tips on improving your English
2. The podcasts found on ELT Podcast seemed more like something I could use in my classroom that includes students in grades K-8. These podcasts also employ dialogues to focus on basic conversation skills and themes, but they are generally much shorter and simplistic. Also, the speakers perform the dialogues three times at varying speeds, which I think would really help with differentiating the listening task for differing levels of beginner students. The podcasts on this site are free and include transcripts, as well.

3. The podcasts on Interesting Things for ESL Students also seemed useful for my particular classroom. More specifically, I was pleased to see that this website had podcasts that could be used with my younger students, which was something I didn't see on other websites. For example, this website had a podcast on learning the song "A Bicycle Built for Two" and other songs that native English speaking children know. Additionally it included the lyrics for the song and other links to related resources, like a youtube video of the song. Besides songs, the website had podcasts teaching different verb tenses, which could be useful for older students. The website appeared to be an entirely free resource.

Connecting ESL and NETS Standards
When reading through the ESL and NETS standards, I noticed a distinct overlap in their mutual emphasis on critical thinking. More specifically, ESL standard 3 requires students to, “listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation,” while NETS standard 4 mandates that students “use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.” It would seem, then, that the NETS standard 4 is an extension of the ESL standard 3 in that it asks students to go beyond just critical thinking and evaluating and actually employ those skills to solve problems and make decisions.
I honed in on these complementary standards because I have been working to imbue each of my lessons with a critical thinking component. In a previous course on ESL and the content areas, I created a thematic unit entitled “Whose Stories Are Told?: Significant American Women of the 20th Century,” in which students were required to think critically about what kinds of narratives are perpetuated in American culture, whose stories are sometimes told if you look hard enough, and whose stories are virtually always ignored. Moreover, students were asked to interrogate why our society values certain stories and silences or erases other. In creating this unit, I devised several activities that easily include both ESL standard 3 and the NETS standard 4.
For example, in one project, following an in-class study of excerpts from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, students were asked to explore the Conservation International website and find out their own ecological footprint. Next, they were asked to hypothesize whose ecological footprint is larger and therefore more damaging to the earth: people who live in the city or people who live in the country? Subsequently, the students interviewed in person and via email people who live in the country and people who live in the city to calculate their ecological footprint and created a graph that portrayed their findings. All of these steps embody the ESL standard 4 that asks students to think critically and evaluate. However, the students did not stop there. The final step of the project asked students to devise a plan of action for both people who live in the country and people who live in the city to reduce their ecological footprint and present their findings and plan of action in a formal presentation to the class. In this concluding step, students moved beyond critical thinking and evaluating and began to solve problems and make decisions, part of NETS standard 3.

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