Friday, February 16, 2018

News Circles 2.0

This is my first post in nearly three months; a few days after my last post, my family got caught in what I'm now calling the "feedback loop of illness" in which my daughter would get sick, then me, and then my wife, and by the time one bug had finally worked its way through our family, my daughter would get sick with something new and the process would repeat itself.

So far we've managed to make it through flu season unscathed, and are finally feeling collectively healthy again for the first time in a long time.
On top of that, with the debate season over, I finally felt like I had the time and capacity to blog again this week!

In September, I wrote a post about News Circles, a new routine for the beginning of class in which several students would share news from an assigned region of the world.

My intention from the beginning was to eventually hand over the reins to the students, an intention which I publicly announced in December.  I invited students who were interested in re-tooling the News Circles assignment to form a committee.  Ten students responded, and I met with them at a lunch meeting before Christmas break to remind them of the parameters:
-News Circle time should take five to ten minutes at the beginning of class, Tuesday to Friday.
-The organization should lend itself to a variety of topics, as well as a global perspective (i.e. not only news from Japan, or news from North America).
-Students should read at least two sources before sharing their news story and consider what differences, if any, they noticed between the sources.

Other than that, literally everything else could be reorganized.

The News Circle Committee rose to the occasion and came up with a far more interesting and workable system than the one I had in place first semester:

Instead of being assigned to one of seven regions, the committee opted instead to assign three or four students to particular days of the week, on a two-week rotation.  One of the issues in my set-up from first semester was that students could easily forget when they were supposed to bring a news story to share, as it was on a different day of the week each time.

Now, the students are assigned to Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and either to 'A'-week or 'B'-week.  In other words, if a student is assigned to Tuesday A, they will share on Tuesday every other week, with those assigned to Tuesday B sharing on the other Tuesdays.  This has been much more intuitive, and easy for the students to remember.  While students here and there still occasionally forget, that number has gone down dramatically.

To ensure a variety of topics, the committee created a rotating topic system:
-Sports & entertainment
-Science & health

Because there are five topics and six days of news stories in each cycle, the topics rotate, and the students will share on a different topic each time they present.  Within this, the committee asked that the students assigned to a given day communicate ahead of time to ensure that they are reporting on stories from different parts of the world.

The committee chose to set aside Friday as a discussion day, to either talk in greater depth about a particular story somebody shared that week, or to address breaking news that nobody had the chance to report on.  Although some weeks have been "slow news weeks", and the resulting Friday discussions cursory or quiet, we have also had engaging class discussions on such topics as North Korea's involvement in the Winter Olympics and gun violence.

The News Circle Committee has created and maintained a calendar of the daily topics, and with my encouragement, has even taken responsibility for getting class started on Tuesdays through Fridays. I told them that because the new and improved News Circles (News Circles 2.0, as we call it) are their baby and not mine, they should be the ones to initiate it each day.  This means that I am sitting quietly at my desk when the students come into class, and that without any prompting from me, they begin the News Circles for that day when the bell rings.  The News Circle Committee members have even started to ask the students sharing on a given day to kick things off so that the committee members do not always need to do it themselves.

This has become such an ingrained part of the routine that when I was absent for the debate tournament last Friday, my sub reported to me that the students started their discussion of the week's news like clockwork and that she had enjoyed listening to a lively, engaging discussion before taking attendance.

This has been a good reminder of the power of giving students ownership and agency in their learning.  I am already starting to think about other ways to give students more ownership in other areas of class in the future!

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