Using podcasting to improve reading comprehension and fluency

How to use podcasting to improve reading comprehension and fluency.

This past week I started using free audio recording software called audacity to help primary students improve their reading comprehension and fluency. The software provides the students with visual feedback in the form of sound waves so that they can monitor the volume of their voices and the timing of their speech. The students can listen to their voice recording and make any adjustments necessary before making another one.
(source: audacity)

What I like about this approach which is documented by Vasinda & McLeod (2011) is that it uses evidence-based literacy strategies along with educational technology to enhance specific learning outcomes. The literacy strategy is called Readers Theatre and uses an authentic audience and engagement to help students to become better readers. Students rehearse scripts and use their voices to provide dramatic effect to the characters and scenes in the reading passages. Because there is no visual element that the students can provide with their performance they need to really understand the roles they are performing (i.e. using expression, intonation and volume to communicate the emotional state of the character). In order to understand when and where to employ these methods students need to have a very good understanding of the story line.

The software is available on our network or can be downloaded for free from the audacity website. It is fairly simple to use and the students enjoy hearing themselves speak. They are motivated to practice their dialogues because they want to provide their best performance for the recording. There is a period of adjustment at the beginning as this is a novel experience for many of the students (for some the visual feedback is a bit of a distraction). Using independent stand-a-lone microphones is probably the best option. We only had the combination headphone & microphone sets available which made it difficult to share between speaking partners and compromised the quality of the recording. We will also need to give the students more specific instruction on how to use the visual feedback to improve their volume and fluency.

Once the students become more familiar with the process we will convert and upload the audio files to create podcasts so that family members can listen to the recordings. This will greatly expand the audience and make the experience more authentic for the students.

I really endorse the way in which the authors of the study chose to use educational technology to achieve learning outcomes that would otherwise not be possible because that is what leads to innovative teaching.

Stay tuned for more progress on this project. I will be using the same approach with my French students to help them to prepare for their oral presentations.

Vasinda, S. and McLeod, J. (2011), Extending Readers Theatre: A Powerful and Purposeful Match With Podcasting. The Reading Teacher, 64: 486–497. doi: 10.1598/RT.64.7.2