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The Power of Podcasts and a Love of Books

When a reader falls in love with a book, it is a deep connection that doesn't fail.

Even as we grow and our context changes, the book holds a place in our hearts that sometimes can't be displaced. It is an endless source of solace and excitement, sadness and joy, and depending on when the book or series of books has taken hold of us, it has the ability to bring us back to those moments with just the reminder of a few lines.

For me, the Harry Potter series has filled this sentimental place in my heart.

A while ago, I stumbled upon "Harry Potter and the Sacred Text," which is a weekly podcast done by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile.

Since I'm eternally obsessed with Harry Potter and how it connects to education, I was ecstatic to learn about this podcast that both discusses the text from several different and creative thematic angles and employs excellent close reading and critical thinking strategies to consider texts in a variety of ways.

After listening to the teaser and first episode (they're done weekly, a chapter a week with a different theme), I'm filled with ideas about how I can use podcasts, and this one in particular, to model and explore texts with my students.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Since each episode centers around one chapter and theme, it is done in very easy bites. Kids need to look at the text in small pieces; this format makes it accessible and focused. It would allow students to explore the text deeply and with purpose, which is essential for connection and a richer understanding of the text as a whole.

Because it is a listening format coupled with a reading one, students can hear modeled discussion of how to talk about a text through a lens which can also develop discussion and questioning skills and a jumping-off point for argument discussion in class. This can be a great way for auditory learners to employ different skills while reading and reinforce ideas.

In addition to the theme in each episode, the hosts compete to give a succinct and detailed recap of the chapter in 30 seconds or less. This would also be a good way for students to show their understanding of a text on the comprehension level, weeding out all unnecessary information and just sharing what is most important about what they've read.

On their website, they also have a trailer about Petunia Dursley, which I love, and I think it would be a great way for kids to make a trailer of their own about texts they are learning about. This can be a great model.

Here's what it looks like

One of the models they use in the episodes is to look at a random quote from the text (selected by opening anywhere, putting a finger down, and reading where you land) in the chapter on four different levels based on a specific religious practice.

The four levels they use (and I'm paraphrasing here) are 1. Narrative, 2. Symbolic or allegorical 3. Personal connection 4. Invitation or call to action. Each person discusses the quote from their perspective on each level and then goes back to the discussion. This can be a rich way to hold a book discussion teaching kids to look deeply at a quote which can develop critical thinking skills on the micro-level.

The chapter ended with "blessings" for a character, which was a great way of offering thoughts about a particular character based on what happened in the chapter. This would allow students to tie ideas together after a fuller discussion.

Because it's a podcast, it has the added benefit of being able to be stopped in the middle to talk about what is being heard and offer students a chance to dig deeper. The replay is a great way to get students to have the repetition they need.

For students who enjoy the format, it may be cool to let them develop a podcast around a text they love in this way. Get them talking about books, science, math, or anything that can provoke a deeper understanding while having fun and sharing ideas with peers.

Couple the podcast with a class blog, and now the class can continue interaction whenever they feel moved to and engage in a dialogue/discussion outside of class authentically, using audio, visual, and writing to develop ideas around a text.

As an English teacher, writer, and Harry Potter lover, I can't wait to dig deeper into the archives of this great new podcast. As I listened to Zoltan and ter Kuile discuss chapter one through the lens of commitment, I couldn't help but be swayed about how I felt about the Dursleys, and even their thoughts about Hagrid and Dumbledore gave me cause to pause. I've read these books so many times, both alone and with my son, and I hadn't considered so of the ideas addressed.

Makes me want to start re-reading again!

Rethinking the text and hearing the personal connections of the hosts of the podcast makes me smile and, at the same time, helps me reconsider the different characters and the empathy we can have for all people. What a great way to help students find the positive in everything.

The podcast is engaging, amusing and smart, and short enough that listeners don't lose interest. The focus is clear from the onset, and I was glad to see they have a website too. I'm only sorry I didn't think of the idea first. After all, to me, Harry Potter is like a sacred text, the movies an endless source of solace and connection, and I love that smart people are talking about it like it matters.

Do you use podcasting in your classes to explore concepts and texts? Would love to hear about your experiences. Have you heard of this podcast? What do you think? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in August 2016


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