04.20.17

“American Dream” Podcasting in Grade 8

Brian Kaufman
Humanities Teacher for the Middle Grades Program, Upper Division, Avenues: The World School

Avenues 8th graders just wrapped up their longest World Course unit of the year, on “The Dream, Identity, and Immigration.”

We began by delving into the origins of the middle class in the United States and of the concept of the “American Dream,” and debating whether or not that dream is accessible to all people. We then spent the month of January looking at broad trends in immigration, looking into case studies of different immigrant groups throughout our nation’s history.

Then it was time to personalize things! As the culmination of our unit, 8th graders continued their exploration of the role the “American Dream” and identity play in the lives of immigrants by conducting interviews and producing a podcast outlining the subjects’ experiences as immigrants.

Collaborating with one another.

Collaborating with one another.

Students began by selecting an interviewee – either someone who has had an immigration experience himself or herself, or someone who knows someone else’s immigration story well. Interviewees ranged from students’ family members, to family friends, to sports coaches, to members of the Avenues community and represented immigrants from every continent. Many, but not all, had immigrated to the United States, and some students even chose to conduct their interview in a language other than English!

Before recording, students conducted pre-interviews, observed and analyzed live interviews that their teachers conducted in class and did research in order to be fully prepared with lines of questioning relating to the themes of the unit, including identity, discrimination, assimilation and the Dream. They also showed off their improvisational skills as opportunities for follow-up questions arose during the interview.

Storyboarding for the podcasts.

Storyboarding for the podcasts.

We then listened to and analyzed an episode of This American Life to see how professional audio storytellers create a cohesive narrative by interweaving different interviews and adding their own voices and music as narrative glue. Students then worked in groups of two to three to find common themes in their interviews, demonstrating excellent collaborative skills. Their final edited podcasts (listen to one below) were truly engaging, fascinating pieces of sociology that featured a wide range of diverse voices.