A round table for the Knights

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The English department at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington has found a way to harness the power of the Internet to give students access to classroom discussion anywhere. A weekly podcast, the English Department Round Table, brings faculty members together to discuss their favorite books or focus on what students are working on. The Round Table is accessible through any computer or mobile device.

The idea for the podcast came about as the department's response to a winter's worth of snowstorms, according to English teacher John Meehan.

"Teachers love to talk shop with colleagues in their free time. But with so many snow days away from school last year, a number of us began to feel out of sync with our curriculum and we worried that our students might likewise be losing momentum after so many days away," said Meehan. "That's when we put our heads together and decided it might be helpful to give students at-home access to some of our in-class lectures and departmental discussions. One microphone later, the Round Table podcast was born."

More than 25 episodes have been recorded since last March. In some installments, members of the English department "fly solo," and take listeners on a closed reading or sample note-taking techniques. In others they discuss literature with guests. So far, the department has recorded episodes that cover topics such as research paper tips, changes in the school library and in-depth discussions of the novels that are required reading.

"The Round Table allows us, as teachers, to model discussions about literature and to help our students understand how they can bring that type of conversation into the classroom and onto their papers," said Meehan.

Senior Robert Murator expressed a similar sentiment. "These podcasts have helped me think about themes that I can bring up in class discussion and in research papers."

Last spring, when students began working on their research papers, the Round Table featured episodes dedicated to helping students write college-level papers.

The podcast did not take a summer break, focusing on strategies for summer reading. The Round Table provided insights on the major themes of the books, helping students understand what teachers might want to highlight in each work.

"One of the goals of the Round Table is also to help our students become better listeners - and, in turn, more interested in engaging in classroom discussions," said Meehan. "These are skills that are transferable, not just in English class, but all throughout life."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015