Guest post by Listenwise Advocate Laura Krenicki, a 6th grade world cultures/geography teacher at William J. Johnston Middle School in Colchester, CT

Part I of our series on App Smashing with Listenwise.

Appsmashing to Build Student Inquiry

Last year, Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water was the Global Read Aloud middle grades book selection. We had used this book in the past, but we were thrilled to read the book with global partners using Flipgrid, a video discussion app, to share our thinking. Early in the school year, we introduced the Question Formulation Technique with students so they could develop their own questions as we read the book. Themes began to emerge from their inquiry – leadership, family/relationships, war/refugees, and, of course, water.

Building Listening Skills with Listenwise & Speaking Skills with Flipgrid

This year, we used the same format and invited global partners, but we added resources from Listenwise to help students gain more insight into some of the themes. For example, while students were considering parts of the book on Flipgrid with global partners, we listened to the Listenwise story “What is it like to be a refugee?” which discussed a traveling exhibit by Doctors Without Borders where visitors could simulate the experience of being a refugee.

In the audio story, a visitor to the exhibit felt that the experience was “too real.” We asked students, “What can you infer from this quote? ‘It feels too real now. I don’t want to – I don’t know. Part of me doesn’t even want to sit in here ’cause it’s too real. Like, I don’t want to go. I want to go home, not here, you know.’” Students needed some practice in speaking/listening skills, including making inferences, and the Listenwise story allowed them to listen for tone and intent.  They then recorded their thinking on Flipgrid, stating which five things they would take with them if they suddenly had to flee their homes. Students from around the world had access to this Flipgrid topic (and the Listenwise story), so they could share their thinking, too.

Since the book is about the Sudanese Civil War and the plight of the “Lost Boys” of southern Sudan, students also listened to the audio story “Lost Boys of Sudan.” They watched a documentary, God Grew Tired of Us, which followed some of the “Lost Boys” as they made new lives for themselves in the USA. They also viewed related videos, including  a Ted Talk by Salva Dut, the main character in A Long Walk to Water, and interviews with Linda Sue Park, the author. The Listenwise story moved the narrative even further – to a more current time-frame – so students could see how events continue to evolve in Sub-Saharan Africa. Again, they were asked “What can you infer from Daniel [interviewed in the Listenwise story] about the future of South Sudan?”

We took students to the local Holocaust Museum to learn more about how genocide can force people to become refugees. There, they met with survivors or family members who described how life can change quickly when a group is targeted. Real-life examples helped students to recognize that refugees face challenges not only in faraway places – some may be our neighbors. Students wanted to know how they could help make life in a new place for refugees more welcoming and accepting. The Listenwise story about Helping Refugees Adapt to U.S. Culture was another relevant resource to support student inquiry.

These resources informed the students’ inquiry and helped them determine their positions on the question: “Is A Long Walk to Water a book about water?” They expressed their positions through videos, using Adobe Spark Video, Google Slides (with Screencastify), iMovie, or whiteboard animations to post on Flipgrid. The project also set the stage for further exploration of the international Sustainable Development Goals, on which we base the rest of the school year’s curriculum projects.

We have found Listenwise stories to be excellent introductions to units and topics for inquiry. For example, when preparing for the New Zealand Read Aloud (#NZReadAloud) book, An Unexpected Hero by L. P. Hansen, students learned about a conscientious objector, Muhammad Ali. Again, we used Flipgrid as a vehicle for global collaboration and discussion, and the story prepared students to reflect on why someone they knew might be considered a conscientious objector. In addition, some students will be reading Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, which addresses the issue of child marriage in India. One student noted, “I liked the story about child brides because I am the same age as the girls in the story and I can’t imagine being married at this age.”

Connecting Listenwise stories to themes of novels or to the Sustainable Development Goals helps students tackle difficult subjects by introducing them through engaging, relevant, accessible stories. For example, a student was researching the SDG #14, Life Below Water, and listened to Ocean Plastic Cleanup Hits a Snag which was based on a student’s efforts to clean up the trash patch in the Pacific Ocean.  This story connects to Ocean Warming is Forcing Coral Reefs to Adapt, which is another aspect of the Global Goal. Listenwise has been a helpful resource for supporting students’ inquiries and connecting them with the world outside the classroom.