Growing up, my parents subscribed to the local newspaper in my town. So, every morning, I had something to read while I enjoyed a tasty breakfast of Lucky Charms and orange Juice. In high school, this habit helped me stay on top of current events in my world. I knew a little about what was happening outside of my sphere of influence. This made me more empathetic to others and self-aware of the world. I was interested in politics and cared about what happened in the world. While I don’t read the newspaper every day anymore, I do try to stay abreast of news happening around the world. It allows me to facilitate discussions amongst my colleagues and students, as well as be informed.
My students, on the other side of the spectrum, care very little about current events and the world around them. They are still so self-absorbed that if it doesn’t directly affect them, they don’t seem to care. My goal as their teacher is to change that. I need to prepare them to live meaningful lives in a global society. Part of this means being aware of the world around them. So, each week in Humanities class, we discuss current events. The students read about various, engaging current events for homework and then we have different types of discussions about what they learned in class the next day. While many of the boys read about topics that interest them, they sometimes miss the big subjects or events. So, to be sure they cover what we feel they need to know and be aware of, we, as their teachers, also discuss one or two events as a whole class.
Over the years, we’ve tried different ways to engage the students in discussions about current events. We’ve tried the whole class discussion model, which works for some but not all of the students. Plus, staying focused for 30 minutes in a whole group setting is quite challenging, even for adults. So, we try to keep the whole class discussion to no more than 10 minutes in length. Then we tried having them meet in small groups to discuss pre-selected current event topics. This can work if all of the participants are focused and interested. That’s not always the case. So then we tried providing the students a broad guiding question to discuss in small groups. For example, how does your current event affect the world around us? This seemed to foster better conversations, but was by no means the perfect solution. Is there a better way to engage the students in a discussion regarding current events?
In Humanities class yesterday, we tried something a bit different. We had the students share what they learned from reading about current events the previous night with their table partner. This kept most of the students focused. We had this go on for about five minutes. Then, we brought them back together as a whole group and generated a list of possible small group discussion topics. The boys created three groups. We then had the students split into one of the three groups. They could choose which one they went to. Most of the groups struggled to stay on task. One group was composed of two students, both of whom had not read about the topic but were interested in it. So, they hypothesized about the topic. This lead to them acting out epic battle scenes. Clearly, not effective, albeit fun for them. The other two groups included conversations and discussions lead by only two of the group members. The other students sat, doing nothing. Were they even listening? They certainly didn’t seem engaged. So, after about eight minutes, we brought the class back together and discussed noticings. What did you see happen in your group? Was it productive? One student pointed out some of the flaws he saw in his group while another student raved about how much he liked the discussion group he was in. My co-teacher and I provided the students with feedback on what we noticed to help them learn from their mistakes and improve for next weekend.
While this lesson was certainly not a disaster, it made us realize that we need to rethink how we discuss current events in class. There are clearly more effective ways to do this. What about giving the students one of three articles to read on Friday night and then break them up into groups based on the current event they read about? This would give them a chance to be educated on the topic they are discussing. It would also give them a shared text from which to pull. I like this idea. Or, what about giving them a news focus each week. Next week they could read about national news from America. Then we could have a full class discussion on the state of affairs in America. We could even break up into smaller groups based on subtopics such as politics, government, military, etc. This too is a great idea. Wow, I’m full of brilliant ideas today. It must be the sun and tasty coffee I’m drinking. So, I have some fodder for next week. I’ll bring my new ideas to the discussion table with my co-teacher and see what we come up with for next Saturday. I’m excited about the prospects. Our students need to be aware of what’s going on in the world outside our little school bubble. But, doing it in an engaging manner is vital to the weight and value it carries for our students.