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Using Listenwise to Meet Content Standards

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As a tenth grade World History teacher in California, I know from experience that many social science educators feel like we are slogging through a sea of standards. Our content standards started off too big and they tend to grow each year. A number of bills have recently been approved by the California state legislature, all of which will likely add to content standards instead of reducing the amount of content social studies teachers sprint through between September and June. These bills include SB-895 and SB830, and several others.

Before the advent of College Readiness and Common Core, which added speaking, listening, reading and writing standards to all disciplines, a McREL study found it would take educators 22 years to adequately cover all of our content. Thankfully, we have help in the form of tools like Listenwise, which curates 3-5 minute audio stories from National Public Radio that align with content standards.

(See the larger infographic here.)

Research is very clear that listening instruction improves reading comprehension, increases reading speed and expands students’ vocabulary. My students clearly enjoy using Listenwise to improve their historical understanding prior to engaging in historical inquiry. Many stories cover multiple content standards across various grade spans, which enable California Social Studies teachers to spiral, or revisit content standards. The following table illustrates alignment between Listenwise stories with quizzes and the corresponding California History and Social Studies Standards.


Listewise offers a premium service featuring automatically-scored quizzes and a dashboard that tracks student listening skills. So far this year, my students have ten Listenwise reading quizzes. Reports show me which questions I should review with students before moving on to other topics. The data helps me see who is experiencing difficulty with which types of questions and follow up with personalized instruction.

They also offer discussion questions that open the door to inquiry projects, as recommended in the C3 Framework. My students listened to Greek Influence on Modern Culture, which aligns with CA-HSS standard 10.1: “Students relate the moral and ethical principles in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.” I paired this story with additional readings and had students conduct a civil conversation on Athens vs. Sparta.  Listenwise discussion questions like, how was democracy in Ancient Athens different than democracy in 21st-century America?, model how to ask big questions that fuel inquiry projects. Teaching students to ask and answer their own questions improves engagement in class.

I have seen my students take deep dives into inquiry projects when they are allowed choice with the topics they research. I had a gifted student spend hundreds of hours authoring a video game based on Greek Mythology. This student did not want to stop learning about the Ancient Greeks. Fortunately, Listenwise provided me with nine other stories on Ancient Greece and Rome to continue feeding his passion.

As a teacher moving toward inquiry-based instruction, I wonder, “Should I teach content or turn students loose to figure out things on their own?” Thom Markham clearly articulated this dilemma in a previous KQED story. I believe it’s time for social studies teachers to reduce the amount of time they spend on direct instruction, increase the amount of time they spend on student-led inquiry projects, and use their professional development time to collaboratively evaluate and provide feedback on authentic student projects.

Markham argues that sooner or later inquiry-standards will take precedence over content-based standards. He recognizes that students need information, facts and specific knowledge for successful learning outcomes, but feels that information should be gathered during the process of creation. This leaves subject teachers like me caught in a gap between the curriculum and reality. Assigning Listenwise stories can help us “cover” content standards, so that we have more time to spend on student-centered, inquiry-based education that engages our students.

Editor’s Note:

If you want to learn more about how to integrate multiple forms of media into your instruction, take our free, online course Using Media as Core Text on KQED Teach.

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