Guest blog by Alexis Bryant, Fifth and Sixth Grade Literacy Teacher, Language Arts Department Chair, at The Avery Coonley School in Illinois. Alexis joined The Avery Coonley School as a Literacy teacher in 2013. Ms. Bryant has worked in education for the last twenty years, with the majority of the time spent as a middle school English teacher.

During the initial stages of the quarantine, and my first foray into online teaching, I found myself face-to-face, or screen-to-screen, with an abundance of educational resources, now available for free. I knew that if I planned to incorporate another educational website into my curriculum, the resource had to be not only engaging, but it had to be of quality. After viewing one of the many education articles espousing available education technology, I came across Listenwise. I was immediately intrigued by its premise: utilizing high quality podcast clips with a focus on listening comprehension skills. What I loved even more was that much of the content was geared toward middle and high school students. 

I signed up immediately and started exploring the available content on the website. I found a story that was a great way to introduce Lois Lowry and her novel The Giver. The students really enjoyed hearing Lowry share her thoughts on her novel. Plus, the story facilitated a great online discussion, specifically about the power of memory, and the students would refer to said story over the course of our analysis of the novel. After that success, I knew that for the upcoming school year, the humanities department at my school needed access to this wonderful educational tool.

Flash forward to present time: We are using Listenwise with our students in 5th through 8th grade social studies and literacy classes. While the majority of our students spend the entire day at school, we have a small group of students who are joining our classes virtually. Listenwise has been a wonderful tool to bring both our in-person and at-home learners together. As of now, we have utilized Listenwise activities in class, so we can take the students through the process of logging in and accessing the story we selected. By taking them through the components of the assignment, as well as our expectations, it helps to ensure their success on the task. Then, they are off to work independently. 

In only 4 weeks of school, I have been able to use Listenwise for various lessons:

For literacy class, we used Listenwise to introduce a mini-author study of Jacqueline Woodson. The story allowed the students to learn about Woodson and her work “Brown Girl Dreaming.” We adapted some of the questions to have the students reflect on the diversity in their independent reading choices. After, the students read, annotated, and analyzed an excerpt from “Brown Girl Dreaming” as well as another work by Woodson. The students’ annotations included connections they made from the Listenwise story to each work. At this point in the school year, we provide the students with specific annotation areas in which to focus. For this activity, we modeled how they could connect the Listenwise story to Woodson’s writing. These connections really helped in deepening the students’ understanding of the texts and added thoughtful commentary, spanning from discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement to Buildungsroman examples, in our discussions. 

As a starting point for a poetry writing activity on mementos, we chose the story “Keeping Special Mementos” and tailored some of the questions to help guide students through the brainstorming process for their poems. For example, we asked students to think about and then share which mementos held significance to them and why. The story provided background information and examples which aided as the students wrote about their own mementos through a figurative lens. Their free verse poems focused less on the physicality of the object and more on what they object represented to them and their lives. While we had some required elements, the student had a lot of freedom within the structure to create a powerful and personal piece of writing. 

Focusing on listening skills is essential at every age; it is great to have an education program created with such care and intent to help students at all levels engage in thoughtful content. Our team looks forward to continuing to incorporate Listenwise in our respective curriculums.