When I started Listenwise four years ago, I spent almost all of my time in classrooms. I brought in public radio stories from NPR and played them for a variety of grade levels to determine the best fit.
Did third graders understand a complex story about bone structure? Were fifth graders able to understand a story about black holes?
At that time Listenwise wasn’t much more than an idea. We had a simple website and a few users.
Now, we have a platform with more than 1,000 curated public radio stories and the ability to test listening, build differentiated assignments and support English language learners. And I don’t get much time to spend in schools.
But, recently on a trip to the Washington, D.C. area, I was fortunate to reconnect to my startup beginnings and visit two classrooms teaching with Listenwise.
What I saw refreshed and inspired me.
Real-Time Testing of Startup Features
One high school classroom was using Listenwise for English language learners in a unit on immigration. The teacher asked me to lead the class.
Me, teach a lesson on a platform I developed? I was game!
I had the students sign up through Google single sign on integration, which they did on their phones, iPads and laptops. This experience helped me see how important an easy sign on process is to implementing technology.
I used our listening discussion questions to prepare the students for the story they were about to hear. I chose an English-language arts story about a recent immigrant from Somalia and how she has adapted to life in America.
I saw in real time the importance of the listening discussion questions and how they bring out the social and emotional connection the students make to the audio story. I learned that the students in the class were mostly immigrants themselves, from Central America, and I was impressed by their comments and connections they made to the immigrant’s story. The conversation was rich and rewarding.
Support for English-Language Learners Critical
My next stop was a high school in Baltimore City that was also using Listenwise with English learners. Some of them were below our recommended usage level of WIDA 3 and above. Because our content is based on adult public radio story content, we recommend our content for ELL students who are intermediate to advanced language learners.
The teacher used a social studies story about Chinese footbinding in a lesson that was focused on why women alter their bodies.
To provide background knowledge before listening, the teacher used images from our website and other media she pulled together to build a visual background of what footbinding looks like. She led a discussion about the ways in which women alter their bodies today.
The students were eager to contribute. Students shared other ways in which how women may alter their bodies through tattoos, eyebrow plucking and plastic surgery.
Sitting next to students who are early English learners, listening to the NPR story about footbinding and listening to their learning process, helped me understand how difficult it can be to learn the academic language I take for granted.
The reporter in the story spoke quickly and had a British accent. The teacher used the slowed audio feature, which made comprehension easier. And I could see the students were able to follow the audio by using the listening organizers in which they check off parts of sentences as they heard them.
It made me see our scaffolded supports through their eyes and realize how vital they are in helping students comprehend.
I came back to the office with a list of ideas for improving Listenwise, a renewed commitment to what we do for all learners, and a lot of admiration for the teachers who use Listenwise every day.
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