By Eileen Anipare

The children in Year 5 at St Mark’s Primary School in Mitcham love podcasting!

It all started when the school invited an award-winning, non-profit, social enterprise called Enabling Enterprise to visit. The whole school had a week of various projects assigned to appropriate age groups with the aim to equip the children with the skills, experiences and aspirations needed to succeed in life.

Year 5 chose podcasting. We downloaded Audacity and used the built-in laptop microphones to record and produce our very first podcast.

Catching the ‘Podcasting Bug’

Technically, it left a lot to be desire but the children caught the podcasting bug. The Podcast club was soon set up, the beginning of a very creative and stimulating journey. Their enthusiasm, hard work and dedication to producing each and every podcast are surpassing all my expectations.

We’ve since produced three more podcasts and are currently working on the next one. The school invested in a Zoom H2N, which not only vastly improves the sound quality of the podcasts but also allows the children to make field recordings.

Recording directly into a laptop isn’t exactly the most portable option, but adding the H2N accessory pack turned the device into a truly professional microphone, making the children even more eager.

How did we Layout the Podcast?

Hoping to expose the children to various formats, two of our podcasts are what I’d call ‘feature-length’, (around 30 minutes long) with the other being just under five minutes.

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The first option required an understanding of how to make individual segments flow one into another (from news into sports, and then into book reviews, etc.)

The second allowed for the listener’s short attention span (especially primary school age children; 7-11 year olds). It’s also quicker to produce, so can be more spontaneous and reactive to what’s happening at the time.

We meet once a week, 45 minutes before the school starts. Various ideas are discussed and decisions made about the content of the podcast. The children, split into smaller groups of two and three, are assigned segments.

It’s then that you see their passion and eagerness. They spend their breaks and lunchtime researching, scripting and drafting, all the time developing their writing, IT and teamworking skills.

I discovered that choosing the right jingle, sound effects and copyright-free music are some of the most popular activities at this stage.

The next club session is dedicated to read-throughs which helps with their reading skills and finalising the order of segments as well as last minute amendments. The recording of various segments follows, with a great deal of spoken language skills coming into play. The final stage is sound editing in Audacity. This further develops their IT, listening and fine motor skills.

So far we’ve only produced one short podcast, at just under five minutes. The advantage of keeping it short is that it focuses on just one topic, as opposed to exploring several different areas. That means they can be produced significantly faster, at around two days.

A Success for the Kids?

The success of podcasting at St Mark’s Primary has been immense.

The children have dived in head-on and are eager to learn and produce more. We’ve started uploading the podcasts onto our school website, giving the children ownership of their work and an opportunity to showcase it to their friends and families.

We’ve also put up a Podcast mailbox for the entire school to give their comments and suggestions to the club. This makes the whole experience more interactive and gives the club a better understanding of their target audience.

As a reward for their hard work and dedication, the children were given a tour of the local community radio station, Radio Jackie. This was also a chance to introduce the kids to podcasting and radio outside of school.

One of the station’s hosts, who is a podcaster himself, spoke to the children about what working in radio is all about, as well as listening to the children’s podcasts, giving them tips and advice. We even had a shout out on live radio!

I watched as the children confidently handled the H2N, scooping interviews with the radio employees and using their reporter’s notebooks to sift through a number of questions that they had prepared earlier.

On our way back to school, the little podcasters were buzzing with excitement and drafting their next podcast about their trip to the radio station.

Looking to Create a Podcast in your School?

I’ve been asked to include some tips and advice, do’s and don’ts for teachers who are thinking of starting a podcast in their schools.

In the first instance, I would thoroughly recommend it.

More importantly, however, I’d advise taking it slow and giving the children plenty of room to learn and experiment.

DO:

  1. Guide and supervise, don’t dictate.
  2. Before you start, think of the format of your podcasts: do you want to keep them short and sweet, giving the children more independence and keeping the projects more manageable? Or do you want to make them longer and teach the kids how to link the segments seamlessly?
  3. Get inspiration from the children themselves. What do they like to talk about and listen to? It could be audio drama productions, news and sport (school-based or national), jokes, riddles, etc. Are there amazingly talented individuals, who perhaps would like to sing, rap, recite poetry?
  4. As to the technical side, keep it simple. You could start, like our school, with recording straight into the computer using Audacity (or other free to download software). Further down the road, feel free to invest in additional equipment (a microphone or a digital recording device).
  5. Stress the importance of practise and vocal expression.It’s important to keep perfecting it if the children want to produce a good podcast.
  6. Structure the production of the podcasts so that the children fully understand and have a go at all the stages. Start with the idea/theme, then go on to development, research and scripting. After that, the recording and sound editing. If you’re not confident about these two final stages (sound recording or editing), there’s plenty online to learn from (including The Podcast Host). Also take a look online for loads of licence-free jingles and sound effects, the children’s favourite!
  7. Include children of all abilities: each and every child brings a different perspective.
  8. Finally, reward the children by either playing the completed podcast in assembly or producing CDs which they could take home with them to play to their families. Or, as we did, put them on the website and make it a regular event.

DON’T:

  1. Suggest themes which the children can’t t identify with or aren’t interested in. I semi-forced the children to prepare material about the elections in Northern Ireland and what I got back was utter gibberish. The children didn’t understand what they blindly copied from the internet.
  2. Write for the children. You can correct their grammar or spelling, type up what they’d written by hand, but it has to be their text with only a few additional suggestions from you, eg. more introduction, rethink ending, add some humour, etc.
  3. Agree to include pop music (from the charts, radio, CDs, etc.). I got a lot of those requests and it took forever to make the children understand about royalties.

Do it, and Have Fun!

Whatever route you decide to take, I can guarantee both the children and you will have a lot of fun trying, failing but also succeeding and taking great pride in the completed project.

I can’t stress enough the value of exposing children as young as primary school age to podcasting. They learn so much through play and enjoyment which is the ultimate aim of any teaching.

Listen to the St Marks Primary School Podcasts

Eileen Anipare is a Teaching Assistant at St Mark’s Primary School in Mitcham.

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