Thursday, August 1, 2013

Using TED talks and iTunes U to Develop Students' Listening Skills

One of the goals set out in the Common Core standards is to make students better and more discerning listeners. More specifically, the standards require students to "Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric" (CCRA.SL.3). This standard considered in isolation can appear daunting. Put in exaggerated terms, it would require a regular round of speakers invited into the classroom and/or a heavy dose of student presentations. Both of these options are important in developing students' listening skills, but neither can happen on a consistent enough basis to provide the repeated practice students need to master this standard. But students can receive a steady diet of engaging presentations through online resources like and iTunes U. In addition, when videos from these online resources are embedded into units focused on Big Ideas or Big Questions, students are motivated  to do the hard work it takes to delineate a speaker's reasoning and evaluate the speaker's point of view on a topic.

First, and iTunes U are both excellent repositories of video presentations on a wide range of topics from a diversity of speakers. is best for concise and polished presentations since each speaker is only allowed eighteen minutes to communicate a message, a format that forces each speaker to narrow the topic. Anyone can stream the video directly from the TED site or download it for offline use. There are many lists available online of TED videos that are good for classroom use. In the last year, has also developed TEDEd, which is a collection of short, captivating videos teachers can build lessons around. iTunes U is another source of videos for classroom use. As the name suggests, it requires iTunes to access the videos and is generally geared towards upper academic levels. But if you are teaching Night by Elie Wiesel, the interviews available here will definitely supplement your unit. Of course, Youtube deserves a mention, especially if your district has unblocked Youtube for schools.

Second, videos discovered in the ways described above are most effective when embedded into units that focus on a particular novel, theme, big idea, or big question. This gives students a reason to watch the video and do the hard work it takes to understand the message that is being communicated. In this way, the videos, along with the fiction and non-fiction being read in class, become another source for considering the big idea or theme of the unit. For more information about designing units based on big questions, I would recommend Jim Burke's book What's the Big Idea? The first chapter of the book can be found here.

This year I plan on incorporating more video into my big question units to provide my students with more opportunities to practice their listening skills and to provide captivating sources for considering answers to our collective questions. On a side note, I am still trying to develop a helpful graphic organizer for delineating and evaluating a speaker's point of view, so if anyone out there has some ideas, please let me know.

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