Reader's Theater Podcasts

Reader's Theater is a reading fluency strategy in which students perform scripts in groups. Importantly, reader's theater as it was originally conceived was completely aural. Thus, podcasting was an excellent match of technology with a proven reading strategy. Students and teachers did not have to worry about costumes, sets, movements, etc., making the focus entirely on finding meaning in the script and reading with expression. This project was the result of a research study evaluating the combination of reader's theater and podcasting which was presented at the International Reading Association conference in May, 2008. Second and third grade students at three schools (including two Title I campuses) participated by practicing scripts in groups and recording the scripts weekly for ten weeks. My research partner, Sheri Vasinda, and I designed the study. I supported the technology use with short training sessions for teachers on the use of Audacity. I also created and provided an Audacity click sheet that was used by students as they worked with the software. To evaluate the effectiveness of the reader's theater and podcasting combination, the teachers administered pre- and posttests of reading fluency and comprehension. Sheri Vasinda and I also conducted focus group interviews at each campus with students from each participating class. Finally, teachers were asked post reflections to a private blog during the study and to complete a written questionnaire for feedback after the study.

This project closely matches my educational philosophy statement in several ways. First, this work is certainly authentic, as many adults create podcasts for a variety of reasons. The public nature of the podcasts is also an important factor that broadens the audience and thus raises the stakes for the students' work. Second, the students themselves described the work as fun but also admitted that aspects of it were hard. This hard fun is an important feature in the pedagogy of curiosity. Finally, students maintained a significant amount of control over the work. In the classrooms, students connected the microphones, recorded the podcasts and, in some classes, also edited the recordings.

In focus groups, students noted again and again the importance of listening to themselves. Their statements moved beyond the importance of teachers and parents listening, which is certainly an important aspect conveying that the work is important and worthy. Indeed, students are transcending parent and teacher sentiments and discerning for themselves that their work is important and worthy. Teachers even noted in their questionnaire feedback that many times students would be listening to reader's theater when they should have been working on something else! I believe this is a powerful aspect that I would like to further explore.