Podcasting to Teach Content Literacy

Posted by Dana L. Grisham

This week’s post is targeted to teacher educators as well as teachers.

If you have ever taught secondary teacher candidates the required course in content literacy (secondary reading), you are probably aware of what a “hard sell” it can be. Teacher candidates who will be teaching their content area or discipline in middle and high schools tend to be, first and foremost, experts in that content or discipline.  They care deeply about art, music, mathematics, science, social science, world languages and English. They believe that by communicating their love of content to Grade 6-12 students, said students will develop a similar love.

Often, they are doomed to disappointment because they may not understand that teacher passion and expertise does not guarantee student learning in a subject area. Certainly, love for and knowledge about one’s discipline is necessary, but the ability to teach one’s discipline often relies on knowledge of what the student needs in order to learn. This student-centered stance toward teaching is often difficult to convey.

One of the important aspects of disciplinary teaching is the development of vocabulary and academic language.  Zwiers (2008) argues that all secondary teachers, regardless of content area, need to develop their students’ academic language.  For example, when trying to explain why academic language was not necessary in physical education, a teacher candidate in my content literacy course stated, “After all, I’m in kinesiology!” Upon encountering a sardonic look from me as he used the term “kinesiology,” he looked sheepish and muttered “Oh, now I get it.”

At the same time, we are in the midst of such rapid technological change that we must also prepare “tech savvy” teachers who are flexible risk takers ready to challenge their grades 6-12 students. Thus, teachers need to consider the teaching and learning of their content areas, but they are not always aware of the intersections of content learning and literacy processes. And in today’s world of rapidly changing technologies, composing is not wholly a writing task. While teachers and students typically conceptualize composing processes in terms of words on a page, composition also involves the manipulation of new or complex ideas that are also possible with multimedia tools including the audio file known popularly as a podcast.

To assist secondary teacher candidates to recognize the important of literacy processes to teaching their content area and to differentiate instruction for the varied content area teachers represented in the course, I asked them to create audio podcasts according to criteria as noted below.


Sample Podcasting Instructions

Literacy Strategy: Based upon the requirements of your subject area choose a reading/literacy strategy from your textbook. Read two additional published scholarly articles that indicate the usefulness of the strategy for students in your content area.

Write a Script: Your podcast script should sound much like a radio broadcast when recorded and should include the following components:

• Name, the date of your broadcast, content area, and the school level (middle, high school) where you would use the strategy

• Your concern about students being able to read complex text in your subject area; why they may have a problem (use the textbooks in this course to support your concern)

• The textbook from which you took an appropriate strategy to support the students’ reading of text in your content area

• The strategy and your rationale for choosing it (what will it do to support student learning in your content area and how will it address the need you identified)

• Identify sources, authors, dates published and then summarize the additional research that supports the use of the strategy. Connect this back to the reading problem identified

• A brief explanation of how you will introduce this strategy in your own class.

Record the Podcast:  Using an MP3 recording device, record your podcast. The podcast should sound much like a radio broadcast when recorded. Be sure to practice so that it doesn’t seem like you are merely reading the script you have written.

Post your script: After you have emailed the audio file to the Instructor, go to the Blackboard assignment (in the Course Materials section of this class) and post your podcast and written script there.


Secondary teacher candidates submitted some truly wonderful audio podcasts—what I like to call “generative” in the sense that teacher candidates had choice in what they featured in the podcasts, they had general parameters to meet, but could also create their audio podcasts in diverse ways, and, most importantly, they learned new ways to communicate their content! A post-course survey indicated that 90% of the 48 teacher candidates felt positive about the experience and felt they had learned something useful.

I believe that what made the difference between failure and success was the degree of collaboration between participants. They helped each other extensively, from the recording to the posting, to making scripts more interesting, and adding creative touches, such as music and sound effects. Lieberman and Mace (2009) suggest that such collegial action around new learning provides the teacher with the most meaningful professional development in a learning community.

So, 48 audio podcasts on literacy topics are available in my library with permission to use them from my students. For this post, I am making 12 of these available. Remember that there is a written script for each podcast!  I have posted the script of one of the podcasts below, so you can see what a script looks like. But remember! They need to be HEARD to get the full impact.

Beyond the use of audio podcasts to teach the importance of literacy processes to teacher candidates, the use of audio (and video) podcasts can be extended to the K-12 classroom.  Some uses are offered by the secondary teacher candidates themselves (such as podcasts of student performances). A colleague and I used audio podcasts with PPt. slides for authentic responses to literature for special day class students and found students’ vocabulary growth and engagement positively affected.

Where can you post podcasts?  Well, if you have a website or your school does, podcasts can be posted there. You can also use a couple of websites that are freely available. One is Podbean (www.podbean.com) and with a bit of effort, a Google site (as I have used). If you are interested in more on this, just search “podcasting” on Google Scholar. Now that you’ve heard the teacher candidate podcasts, I’d like to throw out the following question:   How can you use audio podcasts in your classroom?


Lieberman, A., & Pointer-Mace, D. (2009). Making Practice Public: Teacher Learning in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education, 0022487109347319. doi: 10.1177/0022487109347319

Zwiers, J. (2008). Building academic language: Essential practices for content classrooms. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


A Sample Podcast Script by John for Mathematics

You have just tuned into John’s Podcast for Thursday, July 31st, 2008. On this podcast, I’ll be talking about a strategy that I would consider using in my future high school mathematics class to teach my students how to read a mathematics textbook.

Now, I understand what you may be thinking. “Why would you want to teach students how to read in a math course?” or “What does reading and language development have to do with numbers?” or “Why did John’s voice suddenly get very annoying?” To address those first two questions, I invite you to think back to your wonderful times in a mathematics course when you were a high-schooler. Do you remember how every new section in the chapter would involve a number of bolded new terms, and they were generally built on previous chapters’ bolded terms? I am a mathematics major, and I can attest that learning these new terms was not a walk in the park. My main concern about my future students is that they will pick up the textbook, read through the examples, follow it like a cookbook when doing the homework, and then close the book. They would either not find a point to learning the new terms, or find it to be difficult to remember. But I suppose there isn’t a great harm in that. I mean, when would you really use the words “numerator” and “denominator” in any other context than mathematics, or perhaps the floweriest of the flowery essays? It would be so much more convenient to say, “You gotta make the bottom numbers the same on each number thingy, then times that number to make it the same number to the top number for both thingies before you can add the top numbers, but you gotta keep the bottom number the same.” Archimedes would roll over and over in his grave hearing this obscenely basic monologue describing adding fractions. I would not want my students to be viewed by society as being ignorant to the long history of mathematics, nor sound so ineloquent as to destroy the meaning of their statements because they are judged by how they say, as opposed to what they say.

So as a preventive measure, I’ve enlisted the help of Martha Rapp Ruddell. Okay, so I just perused her book, but I did see a literacy strategy to help students with the learning of those academic mathematical terms. Ruddell discussed an instructional procedure called CSSR. No, this is not the Soviet Union reuniting for another world tour. CSSR stands for: Context, Structure, Sound, Reference. This is a system of vocabulary research that can help students address the issue of not learning the terms because they don’t understand how to figure out the definition of the new term. It works in 4 steps with 3 of them being conditional steps. When a student encounters a new term, say for example, “polynomials,” the student would read the entire sentence and guess the meaning based on the CONTEXT in which it was used. If it makes sense, then great, they move on. If not, then they move to step 2 where they analyze the STRUCTURE of the actual word. In this case, if the student understands the prefix “poly” as meaning “many,” then they are already halfway towards understanding the word. If it still does not make sense to them while putting that into the context, then they try step 3 and SOUND it out and try to associate that word with other words that they have heard before. Step 4 is the most disruptive, yet surest form of definition, which is to look into a REFERENCE location such as the glossary, dictionary, or other people. I can appreciate this system because it is versatile enough to be used in any subject area that has subject-specific terms, which is, umm…all of them, and this self-directed learning will help with retention as they cycle through step after step of repeating the word to themselves with different perspectives on it.

And to be sure that Ruddell wasn’t just full of it, Jane Harmon asserted in her article, “Constructing word meanings: Strategies and perceptions of four middle school learners,” that the most proficient reader in her study utilized a system similar to this while encountering new terminology. She published her findings in 1998 in the Journal of Literacy Research, Volume 30, Number 4. And specifically, pages 561 through 599. Other supporters of developing in-depth word knowledge, which is promoted by the SS and R parts of CSSR, are E. Sutton Flynt and William G. Brozo. Their article, “Developing Academic Language: Got Words?” was published in the 2008 issue of The Reading Teacher, Volume 61, Number 6, pages 500-502. Both of these articles support what CSSR is trying to accomplish with student readers.

Lastly, how we do educate the students of this system? As Ruddell plainly spells it out, telling the students clearly and drawing a schematic to illustrate the procedure will help cement this system for the visual and auditory learners. After using this system a few times, a quick assessment by discussion would ultimately decide if the system is effective for my students.

And that wraps up this podcast. Thank you for spending time listening to me yap, and good luck to the Future Teachers of America. Team 06!


2 Responses

  1. […] nature of audio (MP3) files. Previously, in this blog I have shared teacher candidate podcasts (https://literacybeat.com/2011/04/15/podcasting-to-teach-content-literacy) and in another project special needs students made audio retellings of a folktale in a PowerPoint […]

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