Author Archive Helps Migrant Students Use Audio Content to Learn

May 16, 2007

picking while listening

Teacher: Marty Jacobson

Students: Junior High through High School, ages 12-18

Audio Content: Latino USA, and Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom by Bob Woodward


In the summer of 2006, the Montana Migrant Education Program teamed up with to provide a unique opportunity to migrant students to learn even as they were helping their families earn a living in the sugar beet fields and cherry orchards of Montana. I work with migrant students in a 24 foot mobile computer lab that travels all over Montana during the summer. The junior high and high school students travel here from Texas and Washington to work in the sugar beet fields and cherry orchards, and they attend school in the evening. Many are working on finishing up credits because they had to move before the school year ended or are working on courses that they would usually take during summer school in their home district.

A big challenge in completing credits in a migrant summer school program is time. The migrant students typically work from sunrise to 3 or 4 in the afternoon and then come to night school for 3 hours. They are only in the state for a matter of weeks, but we have high expectations that they will finish their credit work (and most do finish at least one credit). But in order to deepen the learning experience and to give students the opportunity to finish more than one credit, it would help if they could work on some things outside of school time. Unfortunately, their work schedule makes that very difficult. With an audio book, however, the students can listen to school material while on the way to and from the work site and while on the bus to and from the school. Some were also able to listen while in the fields hoeing beets or in the orchards picking cherries.



Students complete course curriculum online during night school through a program that is recognized in their home state, and they work on credits that they need in order to graduate from high school. Many of the online courses contain an offline component as well. So that students wouldn’t miss out on any course time, the lessons I used fulfilled the offline course assignments. For an economics course, students needed to read a biography of an economist and write a report about the book. For a computer skills course, students needed to complete a PowerPoint presentation that included narration, audio clips and pictures.

For the economics course, the students listened to Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom by Bob Woodward. This biography was relatively short (4 hours 30 minutes) and it was about a contemporary economist. However, the vocabulary in the book was a little above the student’s level. So to help them along, I had them keep track of how vocabulary terms from an earlier lesson were used in the book. Then in their writing, they needed to use the terms correctly and show their impact on Alan Greenspan’s economics.

In the computer skills course, the students needed to produce a PowerPoint slide show. To give the assignment a cross-curricular component, I had the students create a show that other students could use independently to learn more about current Latino issues. I had them listen to Latino
USA, a National Public Radio program. They listened to several days’ material and then chose a story that they would like to know more about. Then they researched the story on the Internet and inserted additional information, relevant pictures and citations in their PowerPoint show. As an introduction to the issue, they used a clip from the original Latino USA story. To conclude they narrated a slide with their own conclusions they drew from the story and from the research they did.

Use of Technology:

The biggest challenge in the use of Technology was listening to long pieces on the iPod Shuffle. If students accidentally reset the Shuffle or ran it out of batteries, it would reset the position in the book back to the beginning. Then it took a long time to find where they had left off. If using an iPod shuffle, I would recommend listening to short pieces, but I’ve had better luck with the regular iPod for novels.


The students were successful in listening to and understanding some fairly difficult non-fiction material. They produced interesting work that showed that they had understood the non-fiction content and could work within the digital medium. Also, by using the audio books and news programs, I saw that students were less dependent on the structure of the authors when it came time to write a summary themselves. Because they couldn’t go back and copy what the author had written, they had to rely on their own understanding of the material and use their own words. This served as a great jumping off point for a discussion of summary versus plagiarism and how a good summary internalizes the main ideas but restates them in the student’s own voice.