Using “This I Believe” Podcasts to Elevate Student Voice – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 13

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.


We kick off our final week of Summer Institute with Joanne Mann. She’s going to present to us on using “This I Believe” podcasts to elevate student voice. Can’t wait!

Joanne begins her demonstration by having us arrange ourselves along a value line as she reads us a series of affective statements such as “Violence is sometimes necessary,” “Everyone is basically good,” and “All students should be required to speak English.”

Quickwrite: Which one made you think the most? Did others’ positions influence where you stood?

“Love lasts forever” probably resonated with me the most. To begin with, I don’t believe in soul mates. For me love is something that’s built up over time through the accumulation of shared experiences and the continued rejection of outside threats. I also try to think about my family and spouse dying a few times a week. I started doing this after reading about it on a mindfulness website. As a way to remind myself of life’s impermanence and to truly live in the single moment. In one sense, love lasts forever because it, and the memory of it, can remain in someone’s mind. Time’s up!

Here are the objectives for today’s lesson:


We’re doing this for a few reasons. It helps students develop technology skills. It helps them to reflect on their voice and to understand that their voices matter.

We listen to a podcast on Muhammad Ali from Muhammad Ali. This is the first draft reading; we sit and take it in. After this Joanne passes out the transcript of the podcast. Ali discusses his confidence growing up and how Parkinson’s Disease has affected him. The story culminates in Ali holding the Olympic Torch at the 1996 summer games. As he felt his trembles take over he heard a thunderous ruckus storming down from the stadium. Terrific story.

Next we do our second draft reading, annotating the transcript as we listen again. We share out. I discuss how Ali’s story seems quintessentially American. The idea that will and determination can triumph over everything. Others mention that Ali must have experienced failure and disappointment, but he chooses to focus on the triumphant aspects.

Then we create categories to make observations on about the text and fill them in on the following sheet. She runs is through two examples first (the guided release model) before having us work with our partner:


We come up with categories like theme, details, and structure/organization. After sharing out Joanne has us turn out attention towards another podcast. We have a few to choose from. I choose “A Grown-Up Barbie” from Jane Hamill (all of these come from the This I Believe book). I read it and analyze it for structure, theme, and details. I also jot down anything I notice about the piece. Joanne’s methodology here fits in with the type of model-based analysis currently popular among secondary English teachers.

Now that we’ve listened to a podcast, read two transcripts, and discussed both it’s time for us to create one ourselves.

our turn

So, what do we believe? Why do we believe it? What happened to us that created that belief? How has it been reinforced? She passes out a planner (I love planners, btw! I know they’re frowned upon in some circles – and I get it – but my attention deficient brain finds them extremely useful in organizing my thinking). Here’s what I come up with.


After completing the planner we spend time crafting our own brief “This I Believe” essay. The ultimate goal is to then record them using free software (such as the Voice Memos app which comes installed on every iPhone). Let’s give it a shot!

“Honey. This is ridiculous,” my wife said, frowning down at my desk with her hands on her hips. I had to agree with her. My massive white desk, once cramped with books and papers, was now completely obscured by composition text books, histories of education, and expensive books on pedagogy.” 

Crud! Out of time! 

Joanne ends our lesson by playing a couple examples from her students. Outstanding!



  1. Pingback: Resources and Reflections from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2016, Part 2 | The Writing Campus
  2. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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