Listen Edition user Tom Diaz is a history teacher at Boston’s Middle School Academy. Read this article, re-posted from Boston Public School’s Department of History and Social Studies, about his experience using Listen Edition in the classroom.
I guess my wife is glad to see my car pull into the driveway in the afternoon, but she has had to get used to the way I sit in the garage for a while before coming inside. I’m almost always listening to something that I have to finish. Sometimes it’s an audio book—right now, Master of the Senate, Volume 3 of Robert Caro’s incredible biography of Lyndon Johnson. Otherwise it’s the radio—always NPR—with some story that is so different and engaging I don’t want to miss the end. If I want to get caught up in something but lack a full hour to listen to someone like Caro, NPR can usually deliver.
I teach grades 6, 7, and 8 at the Middle School Academy in South Boston. We are one of the district’s alternative schools, for students who have struggled in the more typical, larger schools. Usually, that means students who have problems with attention and problems with social skills. If you teach in a regular school with a typical student load, you are a classroom management expert, able to make your way in a class of 28 students. Still, there always are two or three kids in a class who are disruptive and absent frequently and who are very hard to reach. Many of those challenging students will come to the Middle School Academy. We have smaller class sizes but are otherwise a school like yours. We have the typical percentages of ELLs and special needs students, and we teach the standard curricula. As a result, I have all the usual reasons to want lessons and materials that are engaging—dare I say, fun?—and that are aligned with the state and Common Core standards and that allow me to individualize as much of the teaching as possible.
At an event last July, I learned that Monica Brady-Myerov, the former NPR reporter, is well aware of what she calls “the driveway factor,” and she is building an education business around it. Her startup company, Listen Edition, provides science and social studies lessons built around selected audio clips from NPR new stories. When they say lessons, they mean it. For many of the audio stories, Listen Edition provides fully developed lessons, written and tested by practicing teachers in the Boston area. They come complete with lists of materials, objectives, necessary background knowledge, vocabulary to preteach, and homework assignments. Listen Edition has the potential to save you what may be the most time-consuming task in planning: finding a text—in this case, an audio clip and transcript—that is relevant and highly engaging.
There is a connection that goes right from Listen Edition to me, and very possibly to you. The Common Core is changing my work and my methods. I agree with and like most of the new ideas, but it does mean I have to shelve some of my trusty lessons of yesteryear and create replacements. As you know, “create replacements” is a lot easier to say than to do. Right now I am doing a DBQ with my 8th graders about campaign propaganda. It’s ten times more interesting and fun for them than more textbook-based lessons, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do all the research myself to choose the six campaign documents, come up with the questions, decide on the lesson activities, and gather the exemplars of student writing. The authors of the DBQ binders spend years putting each one together, and it’s easy to see why.
So, I reasoned, if Listen Edition can provide me with lessons to use through the year, each of which is relevant to Common Core and state standards, I’m way ahead. I provided Monica with our middle school curriculum maps and pacing guides, and she and her people are trying to provide as many lessons as they can that are relevant to what we are teaching in Boston. I hope that with their work and our pilot feedback, we will have at least a dozen lessons that we can use directly.
I appreciate what Monica and the Listen Edition team are trying to accomplish, since I had a career myself, before teaching, that included starting a technology-based business. I came from a family of teachers and expected to do that after college, but I got on a long and interesting sidetrack in the computer business, from 1973 to 2003, which culminated with starting an ebook company in 1998. I came out of retirement in 2008 to join up with you, via the Boston Teacher Residency, as a history teacher. Anyway, I can see that Monica is showing the kind of dedication and personal involvement it takes to make a business successful.
Based on the two Listen Edition lessons I have taught so far, the project is promising. For example, their lesson on “Town Government” fit well into my series of lessons on levels of government in 8th grade. If you teach ancient history, think about using it later in the year as an example of direct democracy being used in a small Vermont town.
Our use of the Listen Edition material is a pilot program. The company is still developing lessons for its many selected radio clips, and they will be getting feedback from the pilot participants on lessons they use. Other participating teachers are Brooke McMillan, Christina Di Pietro, Emily Spooner, John Hynes, José Valenzuela, Kate Borne, Lori Brodeur, Robert Cho, Ron Shelburne, and Trish Kelleher. If you are working near one of them you might want to check to see whether the program is working for them. If you have further interest feel free to contact me, Tom Díaz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.