Black and White and Read All Over (Our School)
Newspapers as Informational Text
It's not often that high schoolers chase down their teachers to talk about the Bo Xilai scandal in China, or an art installation in the East River, or the possible discovery of Richard III's skeleton. But that's what is happening these days at High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J. Students are engaged in current events, reading and writing about them daily. They have even begun blogging and tweeting during presidential debates. As teachers, our classroom is reinvigorated because of one addition we made to our curriculum in response to our state's adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
After analyzing the Common Core standards and our teaching, we felt that the best way to meet the standards' emphasis on writing and reading informational text would be through newspapers. We convinced our parent organization to help fund hard-copy subscriptions to both The New York Times and The Asbury Park Press for the entire year. Newspapers provide students a literal flood of informational text every day that is current and topical. Every morning our 9th graders read at least one article from the paper. Then they respond to a short prompt, meant to take 15–20 minutes, designed in accordance with the standards.
The change in our classroom has been astounding. Our students, gifted in STEM subjects but often resistant to humanities, are engaged and enthusiastic. They beg to read more from the paper each day, and the background knowledge they are building is incredible. The growth in their writing is quantifiable, with all students improving in just a few weeks. Now students who used to try to avoid writing have journals bursting with argumentative, informative, and narrative writing samples horizontally integrated with our other subject areas.
As the students are writing, we are able to walk around and conference with individual students, providing us with the opportunity to differentiate our instruction. We have also taken this program further, extending an invitation to local newsmakers to come speak to our students. We have scheduled senators, CEOs, scientists, writers, and many others to come into our class this year for town hall–style meetings with our 9th graders. Most recently, our students were able to speak with a sitting state senator who was running for U.S. Senate. The students were knowledgeable and informed, pressing him on issues important in their lives—education, the environment, and the national debt crisis. None of this would have been possible without the background knowledge gained from reading the daily newspaper.
This year, we are also collaborating with The New York Times Learning Network Blog. Our students are field-testing our prompts and providing feedback. Then, the prompts are posted on the Learning Network for students throughout the world to use. Our students have even been able to share their own writings as mentors for some of the prompts. The prompts can be found on the Learning Network blog on Friday mornings. Our students look forward to seeing their work in print and knowing that students across the globe are using their ideas in class.
Using the newspaper as a daily part of our classroom has revolutionized our teaching. Our 9th graders are fully invested in the experience and are growing into informed citizens who are able to think critically about issues they are facing. We are able to meet all of the Common Core standards in reading and writing without sacrificing history content or English literature. The newspaper enhances our classroom, complementing the curriculum already in place.
Sarah Gross teaches English and recently completed her National Board Certification portfolio. She blogs at thereadingzone, where she regularly reviews young adult literature. Jonathan Olsen teaches history and serves as his school district's curriculum coordinator. Both Sarah and Jonathan are regular contributors to The New York Times Learning Network blog.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 6. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.