Sunday, March 10, 2019

Announcing: The Can We Talk About This? Podcast

Among the many reasons I consider it a privilege to work with middle grade kiddos is the opportunity it is to be present in their journey of self-discovery as they seek understanding about themselves and the world around them. That I can offer them stories to climb inside of and characters to walk alongside, all the while sharing in their thinking and reasoning and wondering is a most important position that I do not take for granted. And, listening to their thinking as they process what they have read and what it means for themselves and the world they are living (and leading) perhaps the most fulfilling part of the work.

The session I presented at NCTE this fall (with Sabina Khan, Kate Messner, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Jen Petro-Roy, and Renée Watson) was entitled Brave Conversations: Sharing Stories that Empower Student Voices in the Real World. As I prepared to share my perspective on teaching with books that invite students to ponder
and explore big themes and topics, I called upon a small group of students from the previous year to join me in conversation after school one day so that I could interview them about these kinds of books and their experiences reading--and talking about--the books' themes and issues.

We were only partway through the questions I wanted to ask when a student first asked, "Can we do this more often? I miss having these kinds of conversations."

Little did she know that her appeal fit like a puzzle piece to an idea that had been smoldering in my head for months. It was time to take a chance.

In the next few weeks I would: share the idea with my principal (and get her blessing), purchase the equipment, approach the students' parents, and eventually, invite the four students themselves to this brand-new project. Would they like to make a podcast with me where we would read books like a book club would and then record our thinking to share?

Their yeses led to today's release of the first-ever episode of the Can We Talk About This? Podcast.

A quick selfie before recording S1, E1: The Seventh WishThe readers felt
strongly that a Kate Messner title should be their first, and 
this one
narrowly edged out
Breakout because of our community-wide read.
These four readers have helped make this podcast exactly what it is. They determined books featuring social issues and related themes would be the focus of the podcast. They selected the podcast name--which came directly from part of their interview with me--and designed the podcast's image. (Oh, the thoughtful conversations and debate that involved!) They nominated books and agreed upon the first book to be featured (and the next two after that, too, but those episodes aren't ready yet). I wrote the introduction and the closing--the parts that are in my voice on the recording--but otherwise, they have been responsible for preparing questions, responding, and otherwise scripting the podcast. For now, I do the editing, but they inform me about what to keep and what to cut. I guide them, sometimes slowing them down and offering feedback about the wording of their questions or what they may not realize they are saying or implying, which has led to fruitful conversation, too.

They are really excited about the way this first episode of the Can We Talk About This? Podcast has turned out. I am proud of them, and I also know this is just the beginning. Their work will continue to develop with more episodes and the feedback we receive. You can listen to our first episode on now, and we hope you'll let us know what you think.

After the opportunity to engage with my students a few years ago, a friend asked me, "How can you amplify your students' voices?" I still think about that challenge, often. I hope the Can We Talk About This? Podcast will be one answer to that challenge. Though this is only the first episode of the first season, it is my hope that these young people will inspire other young people and that the podcast will grow. More reading and more talk would be very good things.