Friday, September 15, 2017

A News Routine

We are now three weeks into the school-year.  As a former cross country runner, these first few weeks have felt like the start of a long race where the pistol goes off and a period of chaotic sprinting follows as each runner seeks to find a good starting position in the pack before settling into their race pace.

For me as a teacher, some of the chaos (and I mean that in the best way possible) has come from putting into action plans which only existed on paper (or at least on GoogleDocs) until three weeks ago.  I made some big adjustments to what a typical week of class looks like in an effort to utilize the time more effectively, and introduce a clear routine.

Already, I can tell that one of my ideas is a keeper: news circles.

I first had this idea after a conversation with my principal near the end of the previous school-year, as we and one of the Senior teachers were brainstorming ways to improve the Senior Comprehensives process.  We realized that if we could get the kids to follow the news before their Senior year, that habit would go a long way towards preparing them to choose a global issue for their Senior year which they had some level of investment in.

So after no shortage of brainstorming, tooling and retooling over the summer, I came up with the idea of starting class on Tuesdays through Fridays with a 10-15 minute news circle time.

I divided the students into seven regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania.  We simply rotate through the regions on a day-by-day basis--for example, this past week, we heard from Africa on Tuesday, Asia on Wednesday, Europe on Thursday and the Middle East on Friday.

The students assigned to a particular region must coordinate to ensure that they are all reporting on different stories.  Once they have found a news story to report on, they must read about it from at least two different news sources, and then prepare a one-minute (ish) summary to share with their classmates, hitting the basic journalistic questions--who, what, when, where, and why.  They must also talk about what differences, if any, they observed between the news sources they examined.

The catch?  The students are not allowed to read from a script.  They must prepare a note-card using the template below:

While their classmates share their stories, the rest of the class takes notes on a note template I put together for them, and they may ask questions at any time during the activity.

We have now made it through one full cycle--each region has presented once.  Though there were some bumps and glitches the first few days (no note-card, students forgetting to mention the differences between the news sources, students reporting on the same story), it went tremendously well over all, and I have been pleased to see how engaged the rest of the class is, diligently taking notes on the news they receive each day.

This is a formative assessment--in other words, its intent is not to measure student understanding or skill, but build it.  For this reason, it is not a big grade in the grade-book, and it is binary (either they submitted a notecard to me, or they did not).

However, the purpose I hope it will serve (and which it is already starting to serve) is profound:
1. I hope that it will keep the students up-to-date with the news around the world this year.
2. I hope that it will make following the news into a habit for my students.
3. I hope that it will make them more cautious as they read the news, and more aware of the various biases inherent to different news sources (and even which news sources to avoid entirely).
4. I hope that it will boost their confidence as public speakers to have a near-weekly, low-stakes chance to practice speaking to their classmates.
5. I hope that it will sharpen their presentation skills to regularly practice speaking from notes and not a script without the fear of me marking them down for their expression.

I'm excited and invigorated by what I've seen and heard so far, and am looking forward to watching my class' global awareness deepen as the year goes on--I'll definitely write an update on this later in the year!