Every morning at about 6:30 a.m., the Daily Skimm arrives in my inbox. I sometimes wonder if there ever will be a morning when the headline is that there are no stories for the day. I don’t think that will ever happen. This world just keeps churning out news– one of the reasons why Journalism is a great unit to teach: there are always news stories!
Since last summer, Meghan Hargrave and I have been teaching writing classes online. Of all the classes, Journalism was the most popular six-week class. It was also one of the most fun. Because we taught the unit weekly, it’s hard to know how it would translate to a unit with daily instruction. My guess is about three weeks, and sometimes a short unit is a welcome friend at the end of the school year when attention spans are waning. Here’s a peek into how we presented and proceeded with the students who were third, fourth, and fifth-graders.
Launch: Immersion and Topic Development
The first session involved exposing students to a variety of articles presented on a Padlet. Students had their choice of leaving their comments about the articles on the Padlet itself, or keeping notes about what they noticed. Because this group of kids had never met before, some definitely felt intimidated by posting their noticings publicly during the first session! However, in about a half hour, all of the students were able to participate in conversations about what they noticed in terms of craft— not what content they learned from the articles.
Students spent the rest of the session and some of the next one filling out a What’s in Your News? chart. Inspired by Sara Ahmed in Being the Change, Meghan created columns for national, community, and personal news. I had my sample one that I taught from, and students filled out their own. What was really great about these was how much we learned about students and how quickly. In many ways, these were as revealing as an identity map because they showed what students cared about.
Moving Along With Writing
Many of the students were ready to write at that point, even with very little intentional instruction. The exposure to other pieces and having a topic they were excited about was enough. It was in this unit that I created a survey for students that I will use whenever and wherever I teach in the future because it asked them about their writing identities. While several expressed the importance of mentor texts, a couple of them leaned more on lessons and trying out new ideas. (Interesting that all of them reported video lessons did NOT help them!)
Throughout the sessions, I created these charts as I taught, giving you a window into some of the lessons:
Additionally, there were lessons about the differences between feature articles and news stories, as well as how to plan for an interview, how to establish and maintain a tone, and the punctuation that typically appears in news articles.
Students had questions about whether to use personal experiences which was fun to analyze. (We agreed from studying the mentors to stay away from them!) One especially fun lesson involved short broadcasts that Meghan had collected, and students loved thinking about how their story/news could be relayed through a broadcast. As they listened, I challenged them to think about constants in all the stories such as:
- The headline
- The history
- The additional information
- Other interesting and related stories.
We had a great time when it came to sharing the pieces. I created another Padlet for students to use, and some of them posted their written work, but others had a great time with the audio and video features of Padlet. Padlet makes it fairly intuitive to post across modalities. Since students were home, they had easy access to stuffed animals. A couple of them were both hilarious and effective at empowering a stuffie to interview and respond.
Volume and Reflections
As you can see in the survey, I offered students the choice of creating more than one piece, and a few took me up on it. I also had students go back and forth between a news story and a feature article. For example, one person wrote about her dance studio’s flexibility over the last year, and she wrote a short news piece about it, and then a longer piece with interviews and more analysis and perspectives for her feature article.
This is a unit that inspires students to write personally without as much vulnerability as personal narratives sometimes require. However, I still learned SO much about what these students cared about and who they are as people! Additionally, the feature articles challenged them to consider various perspectives, an important skill to develop for community and global citizenship. And, a final and VERY appreciated aspect of this unit was the fun it provided. Even serious topics had elements of fun when it came to video production with stuffed animals. I can’t wait to teach this unit again!