Magazine article District Administration

Use the News: Teachers Leverage Students' Interest in Current Events to Build Higher-Level Reading and Writing Skills

Magazine article District Administration

Use the News: Teachers Leverage Students' Interest in Current Events to Build Higher-Level Reading and Writing Skills

Article excerpt

Allowing students to explore news articles that spark their curiosity can provide a bigger literacy boost than having them read nonfiction texts about random topics far removed from a youngster's interests.

At Lancaster Middle School near Buffalo, New York, students read news articles to help write stories for a classroom magazine and to prepare for debates in social studies. The articles are a highly effective tool to teach students how to summarize and organize information in their writing and their arguments, says Christine Stockslader, a librarian at the school, which is part of the Lancaster Central School District.

"When students read and understand current events, they are extremely interested and form strong opinions," Stockslader says. "This interest is an excellent tool for teachers to instruct on comprehension, skill-building and fluency."

This engagement also allows Stockslader and classroom teachers to build students' abilities to make valid inferences, and to compare and contrast content and how it is presented. Students are further captivated when they spot links between today's news and historical events they're studying in other classes.

"Understanding the connection between current events and past history is a higher-level critical thinking skill that is extremely important," she says. "When students are able to make those connections on their own it is very powerful."

The same emphasis on critical thinking and nonfiction has led many more educators to use news to teach literacy, says Susan Gertler, co-founder and chief academic officer of the Achieve3000 literacy platform.

"These sources of informational text can move students from the basics of reading comprehension to the higher-order, evaluative skills," Gertler says. "The beauty of using news is that it crosses multiple disciplines--for this reason, engagement is virtually assured by the wide variety of topics from which to choose."

'Controversy happens'

At Middle School 322 in New York City, sixth-graders read news articles to build general fluency and also to develop deeper levels of comprehension, says ELA teacher Becky Camhi.

"We're teaching them how to be good readers but also to be thinkers," Camhi says. "If they're reading a news article that makes them wonder what it's like to be a scientist working in Antarctica, it sparks more inquisitive types of questions--news articles lend themselves to that."

Camhi doesn't block her students from reading controversial stories. She wants them to consider all sides of an issue, and learn to delve into the gray areas that exist in many situations. News articles also link different academic subjects: When students study environmental issues in science, for instance, they can read the latest reporting on pollution and endangered species in language arts. Reading also helps students develop a healthy skepticism, she says.

"We read nonfiction to make comparisons to our own lives, to figure out what the author is trying to teach us and what their bias is," she says. "Once we start teaching those skills, the students look at everything with this sideways glance."

On a more basic level, the daily nature of news helps students develop the critical habit of reading every day, says Todd Brekhus, president of the myON literacy platform. Readers of myON s digital books now have access to student-oriented news articles written and reported by a company called News-O-Matic. The new service is called myON News. "Lessons are so much more interesting if you have daily information," Brekhus says. "Your textbook could be seven years old."

News-O-Matic writes articles at different reading levels but students aren't shielded from controversial issues or potentially anxiety-inducing events such as terrorist attacks. In fact, by discussing these topics, teachers can help students process their emotions--particularly if that support isn't provided at home, Brekhus says. …

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