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FHS Sophomores learn communication, rhetoric skills through podcast project

Ferndale High School sophomores learn about a wide variety of topics and skills in their English class: narrative form, rhetoric, communication, and public speaking, to name a few. Traditionally, students would have a presentation or large essay tackling these subjects for a final project at the end of the semester. 

But this year, the sophomore English department decided to switch things up. Instead of an essay or speech, students instead demonstrated their new knowledge by creating a very 21st Century form of art: a podcast. 

“Knowing that students have more access to technology and need to use it more, we decided to try a podcast,” said English teacher Wendy Rice. “We thought this would be a great way to bring all their topics together.” 

Some students certainly didn’t mind a change of pace. 

“It’s a lot better than writing a giant paper,” joked sophomore Justin Melendez. 

“We’re excited, but I’m a little nervous,” added fellow student Mirna Cruz. “I’ve never done anything like this before.” 

In Rice’s class, students chose between four general topics for their podcast: “Something teens know that adults don’t understand,” “What it’s like to be a student at FHS,” “How COVID-19 has impacted you personally,” or “What it was like to be under quarantine as a teenager.” Students, either working individually or in teams, had to research information on their chosen topic to back up their point or argument, create a storyboard for their podcast, then record. At the end of the semester, the students listened to every podcast recorded by their classmates and reviewed them. 

Students also listened to professional podcasts, from National Public Radio and other groups, in their classes to learn more about the wildly popular format. A 2020 survey showed that 37% of Americans age 12 and older listened to at least one podcast a month, according to Forbes Magazine. Some FHS sophomores said they already had favorite shows, covering topics as varied as romantic relationships, sports and murder mysteries. For others, this was an entirely new medium. 

This project not only taught students about the classic rhetorical methods of ethos, pathos and logos, but it also was a less-stressful alternative to a traditional public speaking project, said Rice, who has taught at FHS for 16 years. 

“Especially with COVID, students have so much anxiety,” she said. “This was a softer way of teaching presentation skills and professionalism and using some levels of argument.” 

Katie Sharpe said her group’s podcast was focused on the positive aspects of quarantining last school year. 

“We decided not everyone focuses on the good and the bad, they only focus on what bad came out of quarantine,” she said. “We’re trying to focus on the good, and what changes came from it.” 

Gurkaran Bisla’s podcast was about how online learning effected students’ ability to complete work on-time. 

“Last year, when we went online, I kind of procrastinated, where I wouldn’t work for a week,” he said. “That’s kind of carried over to this year as well … and it’s hard to get yourself out.”