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Why limit learning to a 45-minute time slot?

Technology now
enables students to learn where and when they want
Eric Langhorst

Test Review with StudyCasts

here does leaming take place for your
students? Does it begin and end in your I experimented with podcasting during summer 2005,
das5room? Or do you use technology to creating a collaborative podcast titled "Speaking of History."
extend your students' learning beyond the Fellow history teachers and 1 described projects we were
classroom walls? doing in class and suggested lesson plan ideas. However, 1
Technology has enabled me to do just that. In my 8ih grade wanted to find a way to use podcasting that would have a
American history class in Libeity Missouri, my students now more direct effect on my students.
read books and blog about them with people who live in Using Audacity, a free audio-editing program that works
different states, interact online with authors and panels of with Macs or PCs. 1 recorded myself discussing major
experts, and study for tests where and when they want by concepts thai students needed to know for an upcoming unit
listening to infonnation downloaded lo their MP3 players. test. These test reviews, which 1 call SiudyCasts, are 15-20
Our world is increasingly about having media—music, minutes long. After recording the review, 1 upload the MP3
video games, phone calls, or file to the Intemet and place a link
streaming video—at our convenience on our class Web site. Students can
anywhere and anytime. New kinds of Students said they then access the StudyCast wherever
media and technology are also they have Intemet access, or they can
changing the face of education. listened to test reviews download it to an MP3 player, such
Colleges are offering increasing as an iPod. 1 also make the StudyCasl
numbers of courses online to fit while walking the dog available at no charge through iTunes
students' busy schedules. The for students who use the Apple
convenience of this (lexible leaming or doing chores music store. Students who don't have
environment is gaining traction at the Intemet access at home can request a
K-12 level as well, Last year. around the house. CD of the StudyCast, which they can
Michigan passed a bill thai requires play in a standard CD player.
all graduating seniors in the state to StudyCast started as a novelty but
complete at least one online class. Missouri has embarked on has now grown into an important part of the review practice
an ambitious program to offer virtual courses to K-12 for many of my studenis. At school conferences, parents have
studenis who would benefit from online, as opposed to tradi- commented favorably on the StudyCasts. Some have
tional, classes. mentioned that they listened to ihe audio re\news with their
Teachers can use the same tools that make online courses students, which enabled them to take a more active role in
successful to expand leaming opportunities in the classroom. tbeir child's study routine. One parent asked me to show
Today, anyone can publish text, audio, images, or video on other teachers in the school how to create their own Study-
the Web quickly and at no charge using blogs, wikis. Casts. Students said they listened to test reviews while
podcasts, and \'ideo-sharing sites like YouTube, Students use walking the dog, doing chores around the house, or as they
these social networking tools and applications to visit witb were riding in the car, 1 realized how essential the StudyCasts
one another, entertain themselves, and view media of their had become when, one night before a test, students and
choice. Why not use these tools to deliver content to students parents e-mailed me about an error in the URL that I had
and assess their understanding? provided. They asked me to fix it as soon as possible so they


could use the StudyCist to review for requires much of a special education discuss a historical novel about our local
the test. In an end-of-lhe-year survey, 85 teacher's time during assessment, area at the start of the American Civil
percent of my students expressed the Students can replay the test as often as War—Guenilla Season by Pat Hughes.
hope thai other teachers wil! start needed, enabling special education Of course, finding a time and piace for
recording their ovm SiudyCasts. teachers to work with other studenis. 300 students to discuss and share their
The special education teacbers have The StudyCast has also generated thoughts aboul a book is physically
found that the StudyCasts benefit global interest. A man from Spain e- impossible. So 1 decided to launch a
siudents with reading disabilities. mailed me to say that he had listened to \irtual book cluh, which I created using
Siudents can repeat portions of the the StudyCast for my test on the Amer- Blogger, a free Weblog publishing tool.
recorded review or listen to the entire ican Revolutionary War. He noted that Students can access the blog from
session as many times as they wish. although 1 had described the role the anywhere they have Intemet access—
StudyCasts aiso help the special educa- French had played m helping the school, home, the librarj', and so on. We
tion teachers use their time more effi- colonies gain independence from wanted to include as many people as
ciently in the resource room. A student England, I had not adequately described possible: with the blog as the meeting
can listen to the SLudyCast for an the contributions of the Spanish. He gave place, anyone could join.
upcoming test, freeing up the teacher to me the name of a book that describes Pat Hughes, die author of the book,
work one-on-one with other students Spain's role in the American colonies' joined the discussion at our invitation.
who need specialized help. struggle for freedom. Since his e-mail, 1 We also welcomed an 8ih grade
The same technology can help special have made an effort to describe both the language aris class from Califomia, a
needs students during assessments. French and Spanish contributions. college professor in Louisiana, and an
Teachers can use a recorded version of audience of viewers that eventually
lhe written lesi to help students who The Virtual Book Club numbered in the thousands from all over
require that their test be read aloud—a My fellow history teachers and I wanted the world. Over the course of four
common modification that typically our roughly 300 students to read and weeks, 1 posted several different discus-


sion questions on the blog. For the sake In a short survey at the end of tbe Technology didn't kill the book; it gave it
of online safety, students used pen project, an overwhelming majority of more life and enabled it to grow beyond
names when submitting posts, and as StudenLs (Q3 percent) said thai having individual experience.
moderator, I approved all comments the author of the book involved in the
before posting them. We added images, discussion was important to the project's At Their Own Pace
podcasi interviews with the author, and success. Technology also enabled lhe book
external links relating to the novel. Because creating a blog tising Blogger project to reach a new audience—
Toward the end of the project, the blog is free, the only cost associated with the students with reading disabilities. At the
became an online showcase for student project was the cost of the hooks. More- start of the project, as 1 described the
work pertaining to the novel; we over, the project is easy to replicate. general plot of the book and the number
included mo\'ie posters thai students During spring 2006, we created a book of pages that students needed lo read
created based on the book and audio blog using Tht' Year of the Hangman by each week, I could tell thai some of my
iniervmv's with characters. Gary Blackwood; in January 2007, a students—the struggling readers—were
Student reaction was incredible. One teacher in Florida whose class was ambivalent about the project. They
student read the book with her father; reading the same novel used our blog as thought it would be hin but difficult for
together ihey posied questions to the a template for his own. Many of my them to participate in because the pace
author. Another student read the book students participated in lhe Florida of the reading would overwhelm them,
with her grandmother, who lives in a class's discussion. A special education teacher in our
different state. This project became more Could we have read Guerrilla Season building. Lance Huebner, look it on

The goal in raising one's child Is to enable him, first, to discover who he wants to be,
and then to become a person who can be satisfied with himself and his way of life.
— Bruno Bettelheim

than jusi reading a historical novel—it as a class project and discussed it in a himself to create a solution. During his
became an experience that more than traditional manner? Sure, but discussing evenings at home, Lance read Guerrilla
300 students shared with both the issues in an open forum and receiving Season aloud and recorded the narration
author and the community When is the immediate feedback from the author with a portable MP3 player. We received
last time the president of your school made this a more dynamic leaming pennission from lhe author to use the
board joined in on a reading assignment experience. Traditionally, reading a book audio files only to help the students
vv-ith an 8th grade class? is a linear process. The author writes the with reading disabilities as they
One week, lhe discussion on the blog book and, at a later time, the reader followed along with the text. Students
focused on the similarities between the experiences it individually However, the listened to Lance's narration and kept
guerilla warfare tactics used in Missouri book blog provided a ditlereni, richer pace with the reading. The audio
during the Civil War and lhe current war experience: Reading the book became a component empowered the students,
in Iraq. In other posts, students asked two-way street in which inquiry was enabling them to fully participate with
Pat about how she had researched the possible for both reader and auihor. their peers in a reading project—an
book; in her response, she explained Does this mean the end of lhe tradi- unprecedented experience for them.
how she tised the Intemet for research tional book? Will audiobooks on iPods The students abo chose an audio format
and for finding details relevant to the and Iniernet-driven text make books for their final project. They recorded
story and confirming lheir accuracy extinct? Our book blog project is a mock interviews with one of the book's
Details like these, she noied, contribute perfect exatnple of how the two formats characters, tumingin their final project
111 making a historical novel believable. can complement each other. My students as an MP3 audio file.
She even described an incident in which still curled up on the couch and read
she almost made a mistake. She had Guerjilla Season; some students brought Experts in the Classroom
included a description of prairie dogs in the book with them to lunch to read a Access to experts in specific fields has
Missouri—but then leamed thai they couple of pages between bites. However, never been easier for teachers and
were not native lo thai area. She caughL later on they could go to the blog and students. During our study of the
and corrected the error just before the join in lively discussions with other Oregon Trail, 1 showed students a PBS
book went to press- students, adults, and the author herself. documentary on the Donner Party, the


famous wagon train that became lost in
that the situation was quite complex,
the Sierra Nevada Mountains during lhe resulting from a combination of several
winter of 1863, largely because the
members of the group followed the
advice of Lansford Hastings, who prom-
factors. The experts also acknowledged
the high caliber of the debate, which
was highly rewarding for students.
ised a shortcut. The tragedy of the
Donner Pany never fails to capture ihe Promoting Flexible Learning
imagination of my 8th graders. It Will technology magically save [he U.S.
includes poor decision making on the education system? Certainly not, but to MEANING OF
pan of the wagon trains leaders and effectively teach all students, we clearly EDUCATIONAL
stories of cannibalism as people strug- must begin to use some of the tech-
gled through [he winter to survive.
nology that has so dramatically changed
One hotly debated issue concems our lives outside the classroom.
who was responsible for the tragedy and It's not about the "wow" factor—it's
whether the Donner Party should have about effective instruction. Students
trusted Hastings. Before we watch the bring multiple leaming styles to school;
\ideo, 1 divide the students mto two not everyone is best served through
groups. One group documents evidence lecture-based content delivery and
in the film that proves that Hastings was assessments based on written text. Blogs
responsible for the fate of lhe wagon and podcasts can more flexibly meet the
train; the second group records needs of individual students both in and THE NEW MEANING OF
evidence that proves that he wasn't OUI of school. Delivery and discussion
responsible. In pasc years, this debate of content can take place in the form of
was lhe extent of our discussion. Fourth Edition
a blog entry a student makes at 8:30
p.m. on a weekday evening. Or a Michael Fullan
But this year i did something 352 pages/Paperback, $27.9S/Cloth, $58
different. I checked the credits at the end studeni may decide to investigate a
of the documentary lor ihe names of the topic that we discussed in class—at
history consultants involved in the 7:10 a.m. in the computer lab before
production. 1 also researched authors homeroom,
and experts on the Domier Party over I would encourage teachers to
the Intemet. I sent e-mails to several of discuss with their students how to
these indiv-iduals describing my class's make content more accessible through
interest in the topic and explaining how technologies that students regularly
the students were debating the responsi- use. Why not deliver conient using
bility of Lansford Hastings in the matter. iPods and MP3 players? Or a teacher THE POUriCS
I asked whether they would be willing to could create a short video that explains AMEHICA'S SCHOOL3
listen to a short debate, e-mailed to them a concept on a tesi and post il on
as an MP3 file, and then judge the merits YouTube for students to view at home.
of each side's position, adding their own We teachers can be positive role models
personal reflections. Within 48 hours, and show students how to use such
three Donner Party experts contacted nie networks productively
to say thai they were willing to take part
The brick-and-mortar school, aiong PLEDGING ALLEGIANCE
in our project.
with teachers, should be the core for The Politics of Patriotism
Each group of students had two leaming. But we cheat our students if in America's Schools
minutes to share their evidence and one we continue to think of school as a class Edited by Joel Westheimer
minute for a rebuttal. The experts' feed- period that begins and ends with Foreword by Howard Zinn
back was invaluable. They delivered a abeil. \B 240 pages/Paper. S18.95/Cloth, S50
detailed commentary on the recorded
debate, pointing out additional informa-
Eric Langhorst teaches 8th grade Amer-
tion that the documentary had not
ican history at South Vaiiey Junior High Teachers College Press
included. They emphasized the role of
the weather in the tragedy and showed
School in Liberty, Missouri; elanghorst 800.575.6566