By Rebecca Schmitz
Fifth graders at Crozet Elementary showcased their writing, editing, researching, and recording skills at the school’s Community Night on March 17, treating parents and other attendees to professional-sounding, radio-style web broadcasts known as “podcasts.” Students spent two months working either alone or in small groups to produce the 3-minute segments, which covered topics such as art, sports, baking, Disney trivia, spooky stories, and even the best way to redesign indoor recess. The podcasts were an inventive approach to helping the students master the Virginia Standards of Learning in writing. As a bonus, they got a taste of the complexities of broadcasting by researching and incorporating sound effects and music, and by creating scripts with lively, engaging dialogue. “The entire thing was self-created, start to finish,” said fifth grade teacher Brandy Garbaccio.
Garbaccio came up with the idea for using podcasts as a learning and research tool this summer. She had noticed that some students weren’t comfortable speaking up in class, and thought podcasts might be a more low-pressure way for them to gain confidence expressing themselves. As the students honed their oral deliveries in the sound studio, she was pleased to see the more reserved students gradually open up and appear more at ease. “Everybody was animated,” Garbaccio said. “It also really brought out some stronger writing. Because they were invested in their topics and as their words gained a voice, they were motivated to edit their writing.”
Plenty of work went into creating the short broadcasts. After selecting a topic that interested them, the students had to find and evaluate resources, decide how they wanted to structure their broadcast, write and edit the script, incorporate sound effects and music using a free sound website, and practice recording. They edited and critiqued each other’s work throughout the process. Listening to each other’s broadcasts created a sense of healthy competition, which encouraged them to revise their own work to make it more distinct and unique.
“Each student had to develop a ‘niche’,” Garbaccio said. “We had three groups who were interested in dogs. One ended up focusing on the different kind of breeds. Another focused on how to train a family-friendly dog. And another portrayed herself as a dog expert helping you to decide on whether a dog is right for you.”
In addition to creating a script and recording, the students had to develop a logo that represented and advertised their broadcasts. This presented a challenge, Garbaccio said, as many logos for topics such as DC Comics or Minecraft are copyrighted. “The students created a logo unique to their show and its theme. They had to add their own technique, their own ideas.” Students also created their own “handles,” or nicknames, which they used on-air, so that their actual identities were protected.
Once the scripts were complete, the students practiced their podcasts in the room where morning announcements are recorded. Kinsley Campbell and Maggie Inge, both avid soccer players, had created a podcast that explained the various soccer positions, which were their favorites, and why. They inserted upbeat music, and the sounds of cheering fans, to complement their banter. “We have the sounds queued up. We have royalty-free sound effects. The kids highlight in their scripts where they have music or where they have sound effects, so it’s ready,” Garbaccio said. Between “takes,” she encouraged them to relax and have fun. “We usually do a run-through first. If we like it, we stick with it. If not, we listen to it, and then we critique it.” Garbaccio recorded the students on her phone, crouching in front of the table where they sat in the recording studio. “Voice memo works beautifully to upload it to iTunes. It’s been really ideal for us.”
The two girls seemed at ease behind the microphone. “We liked talking about soccer because we both play soccer and we’re both good at it,” Kinsley Campbell said. She did note that the most challenging part was “…trying to get everything set up, and trying not to laugh!”
Emmy Franklin and Eliza Schultz based their podcast on their mutual love of baking. Franklin said their podcast is “…kind of like ‘baking wars.’”
“We announce names and give tips to them,” Schultz said. “It was fun, and we liked making the logos.”
Other interests were also well-represented. Eli Scarbrough, Jaden Steppe, Braden Selmer, and Ayden Wyant commented on a 2001 Heat vs. Celtics basketball game. Sam Simmons and Owen Jones debated the respective merits of DC Comics vs. Marvel.
Technology played a role in the unveiling of the podcasts to parents. Students were told to keep the topic of the podcasts secret from their parents. At Community Night, parents could download an app to their phone that allowed them to scan the logo of each podcast. When the logos were scanned, the identities of the voices behind each podcast were revealed.
The podcasts were a welcome addition to the school’s popular Community Night. “It is a night that radiates throughout the Crozet community,” Garbaccio says. “Former students come back to say ‘hello’ and to see their teachers’ reactions to how much they’ve grown. Also, students bring family members to the fifth grade to check out what the ‘big kids’ are doing.”
“Overall, this project proved to be a great example of an engaging way to cover all of our writing standards of learning,” Garbaccio said. “All the students have enjoyed showing what they know!”