Written by: Victoria Jenkins
Date: June 3, 2020
Keith Leonard, an Upper School English teacher at the Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio was recently recognized as WOSU Classroom’s 2020 Impact Teacher Award winner for his student podcast experience. “As a teacher, I think I try to model how to fail well to my students. I’m constantly trying new things—new courses, new types of assignments, new books—to see what works best. Luckily, I work at a school that encourages my wildest ideas and doesn’t so much as frown when things go awry. That’s how I was able to bring audio projects into my classroom,” said Leonard.
When incorporating podcasting into the classroom, Leonard instructed his students to select a story of interest and conduct research and interviews on that story. His students have explored a variety of topics, including why the ever-popular “Pokémon Go” app is so addicting, the urban myth of the Loveland Frog, and the hurdles the formerly incarcerated face on the job market. However, one student’s topic choice remains particularly intriguing. This student chose to do a story on the Clown Scare of 2016 and found a much more interesting story. “In interviewing real working clowns… [he found] how that scare affected the local Columbus clown culture,” said Leonard.
But, Leonard’s podcasting creativity in the classroom did not stop there. This past trimester he co-taught a Radio Drama class with the Wellington School’s Theatre Director, David Glover. And when classes shifted to the online platform Zoom as a result of the coronavirus in Ohio, he found himself surprised at how well his students adapted to working on their projects from home. Students remotely collaborated and recorded “Radio Dramas” based on the theme “Recipe for Disaster,” many creating spoofs of popular television shows like “Chopped” and “The Great British Baking Show.” Students expressed their creativity through their ability to use ordinary “objects in their homes to create dynamic Foley sound effects,” said Leonard. He believes these long-term audio projects became “a way for students to socialize in a purposeful, but fun way.”When asked what inspired him to become a teacher, Leonard shared that “like probably most teachers, I’ve had incredible teachers and I see myself as carrying on their tradition. Those teachers cared deeply about how their students learned, not just what their students learned. It meant those teachers had learned to listen well, then adapted a classroom to their students’ individual needs out of care. That’s the type of teacher I try to be.”
So why podcasting? “It seemed like a great way to get students to explore subjects they were already interested in,” Leonard said. With no background in audio engineering, he learned the basics of podcasting through the Student Podcasting Experience course offered through WOSU Classroom. From there it was full speed ahead. He states that “the WOSU education website and professional development classes have been a fantastic resource for getting started,” and “encourages any teacher to bring audio projects into their classroom.”
In addition to being a passionate educator, Keith is also the author of the poetry collection Ramshackle Ode (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), and recipient of the 2020 Ohio Arts Council Award.
We would like to congratulate him once again for his commitment to his students and their education.