How a Podcast Sparked a Fire of Inquiry

Children crave attention. They are hard-wired to seek out attention, affection, and time from their families from their first breath. By the time they enter 3rd grade, their vision of the world extends well beyond those who share their home. Social relationships develop, communication skills grow, and their need to be seen, heard, and celebrated expands. This year, in consultation with our Media Specialist and Digital Lead Teacher, I am harnessing this need for attention as motivation for high quality work.

Last year, after reading Comprehension and Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, I began a research routine with my 3rd graders. My hope was to increase the level of inquiry in my classroom and expand the content we discussed beyond the standards I am responsible for teaching. Additionally, I hoped that this process would reveal for my students their own ability to answer questions through research, and as a result increase their self-efficacy.

It has been a wild success.

The structure is simple. Each day, during our Afternoon Meeting, I ask for Wonder Wall Questions. Students share any curiosity on their minds, we record it on a sticky note, and add it to our Wonder Wall. Each week, students choose any question from the Wonder Wall, take it to the library, and find a resource to help them answer it. Our Media Specialist and my Assistant Teacher help kids use online search programs and the library catalog to find sources. Each child brings their source back to the classroom and completes a notecatcher to help them record the information they learn.

When we began this last year, that was it. Students researched questions and shared that with me through their notecatchers. Occasionally, I would ask a few kids to share their research with the class. At the beginning of this year, however, my Media Specialist suggested that we find a way to connect their research to an audience through a blog or a podcast. My immediate reaction to this suggestion was one of hesitation. I already felt strapped for time during the school day, and could not see a way to incorporate this sort of process into our week without sacrificing something else. I thanked her for the ideas, and politely stated that I’d think about it. Admittedly, I let it go.

Then, one afternoon, as I was preparing to have a few kids report out on their research, I realized something. Podcasts are often just recorded conversations. Why not record this? So I did. Right there, in the middle of a group of 20 students, I launched our podcast by opening the Voice Memo app on my phone and pressing record. It was so simple!

As soon as my students realized what was happening, their interest in the experience shot through the roof. A chorus of “Are we gonna be on YouTube?” filled our classroom.

That afternoon, I emailed the audio file to their families and the response was overwhelming. Parents were excited, intrigued, and ready for the next episode. Kids were more engaged in our research routine, knowing their families were listening.

Over the past 3 months, my students have researched topics stretching from ancient times to current events, and across almost every discipline imaginable. Their natural curiosity has extended their 3rd grade experience well beyond the standards I am responsible for teaching them. They have been on fire about the Wonder Wall, going to the Library, and recording our podcast. The addition of a public audience through our podcast sparked this fire by giving them a motivation I had not offered them before.

We have now launched a real podcast, called Research Reports. Additionally, we were featured on our local news station, WLOS, through their Thanks to Teachers campaign.

This process of inquiry, research, and reporting to a public audience has taken us beyond elementary content, beyond elementary questioning, and beyond elementary expectations.