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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Using Technology to Develop Writing Skills

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Jane Cunningham and her colleague Mike McSweeney discuss the creation of an English unit on journalism, which promotes skills such as the use of technology, conducting interviews, and working with others.

Teacher: Jane Cunningham

School: Reading Memorial High School, Reading, MA

Grade: 11

Discipline: English

Lesson Topic: The power of narrative podcast project

Lesson Month: June

Number of Students: 18

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Create a piece of new media with an audience in mind; understand the importance of data collection and multiple perspectives; explore what it means to be a good journalist
  • Literacy/language objectives – Write an engaging, cohesive, and relevant script for an audience using an authentic voice
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Collaborate with others, including connecting and interacting with interview subjects

Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts 

    Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
    Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
    Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
The featured lesson took place midway through a six- to eight-week unit on journalism in the fourth quarter of the school year. The unit was created to enable students to use traditional English language arts skills while also developing 21st century skills such as working collaboratively, having an impact on the community, and creating something of value for an audience. Students were asked to create seven-minute podcasts for This Reading Life, which is loosely modeled after the radio program This American Life.

Before the Video
Before this lesson, students had read a feature article called “Pearls Before Breakfast” and looked at how it was created. They spent one class period examining questions such as: How many interviews took place? What was the timeframe? How did the reporter create suspense? What might have the reporter cut?

Students also listened to a portion of an episode of the radio program This American Life to get a sense of what their podcasts might be like. They then listened to and critiqued podcasts that students from Reading, MA, had made in previous years. Students also learned how to use Audacity, a free digital audio editor and recording application.

Students decided whether to work alone or with a partner, selected topics for their projects, contacted subjects to interview, conducted interviews, and wrote drafts of their podcast scripts. They then worked in groups with a peer-editing handout to offer feedback to each other. Ms. Cunningham also looked over their scripts and noted three things that each group should work on.

During the Video
At the beginning of the lesson, Ms. Cunningham asked students to work on their conclusions because she had noticed that many of the scripts had weak endings. The class talked about effective journalism and the purpose of the conclusion. Students continued working on their podcast projects during workshop time. Some students met with Ms. Cunningham to discuss the notes that she had written and any other questions that they had about their projects. Because of the nature of the project, students were at different places at all times. Some students were working on writing, some were revising scripts, some were editing audio, some were searching for music or sounds to include, and some were still conducting interviews.

After the Video
After this lesson, students continued revising and editing their podcasts. On the last day of the unit, they presented their final product in class.

Teacher Prep
Before this lesson, Ms. Cunningham read and commented on the scripts before class. For each script, she noted three or four things that could be improved upon.

Prior Knowledge
Any student, regardless of skill level, could participate in this project.

Differentiated Instruction
This project worked for a range of students because they were able to work independently and have help as needed. Students could choose to work alone or with another student, and they were encouraged to select a topic of interest to them. Ms. Cunningham was available for one-to-one conferences and individual instruction in the lab. In addition, on workshop days, she provided a list of possible things to work on for those students who needed suggestions.

Group Interaction
Students could choose to work alone or collaborate with another student for the project. However, all students developed interview skills: how to approach a person, how to make an appointment and follow through, how to listen, and how to ask questions. The unit also contained a peer revision component—students worked in groups and provided feedback to each other using a peer-editing handout.

Resources and Tools


Formative Assessment
Ms. Cunningham provided feedback to students throughout their projects. For example, students submitted project proposals at the beginning of the unit, they handed in drafts of their scripts, and she was available for conferences during lab workshop time.

Student Self-Assessment
Students were able to assess their own work throughout the unit using a rubric that Ms. Cunningham gave them at the beginning of the project.

Summative Assessment
Ms. Cunningham assessed the final podcasts for a grade using the rubric that she had provided to students at the beginning of the project.

Impact of Assessment
Ms. Cunningham was able to offer advice and guidance to individual students and groups as needed. For example, she responded to trends that she saw in the drafts of the scripts by addressing a common weak area—the conclusion—at the beginning of the featured class.

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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4