The Return of Radio Days

On August 1, 1981, MTV played their very first video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. It was the beginning of the end in terms of the impact that radio would have on society. Today, in this age of podcasts and downloads, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when free music could only be accessed through radio (tell your kids about the 3 channel TV with no remote and they’ll think you grew up third world!).

image1Over the past two weeks, a group of students at Rick Hansen Secondary School of Science and Business have gone back in time – not to 1981 but rather the Golden Age of Radio in the early 1920s when televisions didn’t exist and radio was the medium of choice for scripted programming, sports and music.  In his English 11 class, Dennis Neufeld has led a project based learning experience with his students around the creation of classic, old time radio stories. He explains:

Students borrowed books from the resource room (the students’ favorite books, actually) and began converting them to radio plays.  The goal was to deliver a set of audio books that would enhance the reader’s experience through voice acting, sound effects and music.  The students did all of this the old fashioned way, through live performance and recording in a single take – no multi-track recording, overdubbing techniques or alternate takes [Orson Welles would have been proud!]. Students had to script each story, taking into account that the reader would be turning pages to follow along.  They then spent the next few days discovering how to create sound effects from scratch as well as rehearsing their play.

Here’s a great video that captures all of the details of one group’s recording session of “Swamp Water” by Robert Munsch:

As a celebration and in making their product public, the English 11 students invited their peers and the teaching staff in the Resource Room for ‘story time’ and good company. From here, the students would like to take their work to the greater community and make a difference by addressing the importance of literacy and reading. Their plan is to share these audio books with their feeder elementary schools so that students and teachers may have the option of using them during their own story time.

In the end, a great literacy project that allowed Mr. Neufeld to work closely with active, engaged students doing high-quality, meaningful work, and in this case, extending their learning beyond their four walls by helping their greater community discover the joy of reading and listening alongside others. Congratulations to students Jade Erickson, Anthony Hiebert, Kameron Nielsen, Jake Price and Melanie Sawatzky – outstanding work!

What I really love about this whole project  is that the emphasis placed on performance based learning is a passion for Dennis. I believe that if we are going to ignite students in our classrooms, help them to understand that school isn’t about passionpreparing them for the real world but actually is the real world (and it better be if they are spending 35% of their waking hours here for 12 years), then they have to know what being passionate looks, sounds and feels like. Passion leads to engagement which encourages rigour and leads to mastery: passion-engagement-rigour-mastery. Passion may be innate but it needs to be modeled within an educational context if we are going to help our students engage in their work. This doesn’t mean standing in the front of the class with pom-poms and leading the class in some cheer that cannot be sustained nor have any long term resonance. Rather, it’s doing the work that you love and having your students tap into that level of intimacy so that they in turn can become intimate with their own passions and in so doing discover their own admirable purposes .

The power of the return of radio days? For me the story lies in this: passion and engagement are the states of being that underpin all of the educational C’s (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity) that are on display  in this video. Without them we cannot empower our students, we cannot help them find their own distinct voices – those same voices that, encouraged by Dennis Neufeld, are now providing literacy support to students in the larger community of Abbotsford.