Planning to be spontaneous

(a gentle warning to readers: I am writing from a Starbucks in Newark Airport at 6:15 a.m. having taken the redeye from San Jose and yes I am punchy)

One of the sessions I attended at BlogHer was about podcasting. One of the women who talked about “best practices in promotion” was Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends radio. Clearly she has found a wonderful niche for herself and her audience. but here are a couple of notes from her session that I found, er, intriguing…

–Anita’s shows are 1 hour in length. She scripts the entire show. I mean, the entire show. Her theory: you have to plan to be spontaneous. Oh my. This is where the Blogher world and the edublogging world (and my subset therein of the edubloggers …the L2bloggers…) diverge… I want my students to create audio that is authentic and unscripted, because the moment they start to read (or memorize): the fluidity, the flow, the creativity, the experimentation goes through the floor. I love it when my students make mistakes as they record…and then about 2 seconds later, they realize it and they correct it. When they are cognizant of their errors and make the changes, regardless of whether it is immediately or not, then I believe the learning is happening. Of course, being encouraged to make mistakes and then fix’em is something they are not encouraged to do in other classes (wait? you –want– me to make mistakes? Yes, but I also want you to find’em and fix ’em too, ).

–Anita also told us to get rid of our er’s and um’s when we podcast. Someone suggested we attend Toastmasters to really get the job done. Oh my.

–Many podcasters usepodsafe music for their shows. Podsafe music is the Muzak of podcasting. Stop the madness…move away from the mixer…just say no and don’t use it.

Learning is messy. Learning to speak a language is even messier, i believe. Making mistakes and falling flat on your face is 90% of the language learning process. And letting all of your imperfections be in full view (of the world) via a podcast on the web is uncomfortable, to be sure, but that is when the learning begins. This past semester I was extraordinarily grateful for and in awe of Camino Bueno at the Universidad de Pamplona in Navarra, Spain who, on her own, took it upon herself to listen to my students’ podcasts, and then send them her own podcasts with corrections, suggestions, encouragement… And yes, Camino corrected me on occasion too (I am –not– a native Spanish speaker, I too am a L2 learner, although I have about 20 years more experience with the language than my students…) I will link to these files when I return to terra firma.

Learning to not cringe when you hear your own voice, especially in an L2, can be a battle.

Learning to take gentle criticism and corrections is hard, learning how not to skewer yourself for your own imperfections is even harder.

I would rather hear 5 one minute podcasts with my students struggling to communicate meaning on their own or with others, and then give them the opportunity to re-do (but not erase!), review, rethink vs a five minute polished podcast that is memorized and shiny… and yet also lifeless and flat. (Note: not all rehearsed podcasts are lifeless and flat… however there is a remarkable difference in the sound and the cadence and “chispa” when a learner is recording spontaneously vs in a planned fashion in a second language. My students cannot believe I can tell when they read, but I can…the intonation flattens and all personality drains from the recording…. samples to follow!)

—but now it is off to make my connecting flight.—

more later

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Ryan · July 31, 2006 Reply

    The culprit isn’t planning, I don’t think – good planning can and does leave lots of room for spontaneity, creativity, and experimentation. Take improv theater, for example – the structure is there, and the players have a sense of where to begin and where they are headed. How to get from A to B, however, is completely up for grabs. The real culprit, as you alluded to, is scripting. That’s when things get stale.

    And I completely agree – podsafe music is No One’s Friend.

  2. Nancy White · July 31, 2006 Reply

    Well, I would disagree with much of what you noted from the presentation, but I’m all messy like that anyway. By the time an hour’s worth of material is scripted, it dies for most of us. That said, an hour is too long for this ants-brain attention span of mine.

    Now, aside from all the podcasting goodness, I just wanted to say it was FANTASTIC to meet you at Blogher. I am dying to get a copy of the list of our imaginary URLs becaus eI remember I want one of them, but can’t remember what it was. (Remember what I said about attention span?)

    And remember, STOP DOPA and the Cultcha of Luv! 🙂

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