School Radio: Phase two

During a very busy first half term as an NQT I only really scratched the surface with my school radio project. I carried out an experimental project in our Learning Agreement Time, but in my second half term I decided to develop it a little further. As this had to be balanced with a similarly hectic half term for me, I only really managed to being to lay the groundwork for what I want to achieve. However, we managed to do some really good work, and I am feeling positive about kicking it all off ‘properly’ now I am in my second term.

Types of radio

I have felt for a while that there are two main strands to school radio work, and that each can be hugely beneficial in terms of learning. The first is what many school are doing; that is pre-recorded, content heavy podcasts. By their nature these can be linked closely to other curriculum subjects, and provide a focus on planning, content creation and perfecting delivery. This medium offers opportunities for tightly focused, well planned content delivery, and detailed reflection as part of the recording and editing process.

The second is that of live broadcasts. I think this offers slightly different benefits, as more of the focus is on the live performance aspect than creating perfection. Although planning and preparation are equally important here, live radio also offers opportunity for ad-libbing, problem solving, and immediately facing the consequences of any deficiencies in the preparation, and having to problem solve your way out of it. I have always found live radio incredibly exciting to be involved with, and think it is a very important part of the experience of school radio I want to offer to my pupils. Unfortunately live radio often requires more equipment than pre-record (which can be achieved with only a PC and a mic), but luckily we have the technology at our disposal to push live radio forward in a big way at our school.

Developing Podcasts

Following on from my previous work testing the water with school radio, I decided to continue to develop the medium of podcasts that we had started earlier in the year. In that case a small group had spent a one week producing and recording their own podcast. I am really keen for Robin Hood Radio to become more than just an ‘extra curricular’ activity, so I decided to focus on producing a podcast that could link in curriculum work and be used as a vehicle for sharing this. Mixed in with a rethink of how we organised Learning Agreement Time we implemented this as a project group working on learning how to use the radio station equipment, whilst satellite groups from years 3 and 4 created spoken pieces based on the work they had been doing leading up to Christmas. This took place in the first hour of every day for a couple of weeks, and the pupils produced and presented a podcast which you can find at our radio blog.

Going live

During the work on the Christmas podcast I was really impressed with how quickly the pupils took onboard the technical aspects of producing a radio show. As I taught them skills I asked them to do short ‘mock shows’ to put these skills into practice. They were so competent at this that I decided to set up a series of live broadcasts in the week leading up to Christmas.

Using Icecast and WinAmp plugin system (both free), I set up a live stream of the output from our radio studio which could be picked up on any computer on the school network. One of my pupils suggested that we should broadcast into the classrooms and main hall where the children eat their lunch, so I set up the PCs in those rooms to tune into the station using Windows Media Player, and set them up before lunchtime every day.

I then began by presenting a show myself, inviting the pupils who were trained up on the equipment to observe and listen to the output. I think this modelling is very important, as our radio station is new the children had no expectation of what they could achieve using it, and I think a standard needed to be set for them to aim to replicate. With the equipment we have there is really no reason why our radio cannot sound as professional as any FM station, and I wanted to show them that all they needed to do was develop the skills and they could reach this standard. After one modelled show I invited groups of children to join me, and I supported them in the organisation of hectic live shows. I was really impressed with their technical skills. The fact that they seem to find these so easy to take on board is brilliant in my eyes, because it allows us to concentrate on the really valuable learning surrounding the radio station- developing their speaking ans listening, planning, presentation and content creation skills.

The shows were really well received by children and staff, and pupils didn’t want to go outside after their lunch as they wanted to carry on listening. Some outdoor speakers would be a very valuable next purchase… On the final lunchtime we had our staff Christmas lunch, and although I spent some time doing a show I asked the girls who were producing the show if we could finish early. They were very reluctant, so I let them carry on- thinking it might not go very well but that by then most of the pupils had moved outside anyway. I left for the staffroom and tuned into the station to hear a fantastic show which they presented completely without planning. They had interesting chat, smooth mixes between songs, jingles and a real confidence to their delivery. With me out of the way they really started to make the show their own, talking about school issues that mattered to them, and presenting a great discussion of advice for children when they fell out with their friends. I was left very impressed, and excited for the next stage of our radio station.

Phase three

The next phase begins this week, and after experimentation in both live and pre-record I now want to start developing the radio station in a more organized way. A colleague and I have set up a weekly afterschool club, where I will teach groups technical operation of the station while she works with them on content production skills. Given the speed that my previous groups have picked up the technical skills I am hoping that by Easter we will be able to start a rota of regular lunchtime shows several days a week. This should also create a pool of pupils who are skilled at the technical side of producing content, and I am hoping to encourage these pupils to lead their peers and their teachers in developing use of the radio station to support work across the curriculum in lesson time. Luckily I am surrounded by colleagues who are really open to the children taking the driving seat, and more than happy to suggest ideas for utilizing resources like this and letting their pupils run with them, despite the fact they may not have direct experience of using this medium.

Despite successful work already, for me the truly exciting side of radio at our school is just starting. It is an ambitious project, but I think the really valuable learning will start when the pupils have to start delivering shows on a regular basis, evaluating each other and building up their skills. I ran this by an ex colleague of mine from my student radio days and he seemed to think I was slightly mad. However, lots of people thought that when I proposed taking our student radio station from 4 weeks of the year to full time and we managed to make that a huge success. It might be hard work, but if we let the children take ownership of it and delegate the responsibility to them I think it will be a manageable and very beneficial undertaking.

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