By Ms. Jenson
Lessons from the TrenchesUploaded: Feb 12, 2014
Last May, in the midst of CSTs, final projects, grading, and prepping students to move on to their next academic milestone, my boss asked me if I'd be interested in teaching a journalism class, and I freaked out. I said no, I can't do that, I'm not qualified. Cue summer, and the time for reflection on my practice. I thought, maybe I can do that... Then I read a bunch of books, scoured journalism education sites, talked to all the teachers I know, and came up with a plan. In the fall, I was ready to say, yes, I can do that. So began my introduction to one of the most powerful projects that I have done with my students.
I teach an 8th grade Exploratory English class that is based on the idea that students can learn more by engaging with new ideas and participating in critical debate than they can from the "sage on the stage" style of teaching found in traditional classrooms. The topics of projects that we complete are varied, but a common thread through all is that students create meaning for themselves, and then show off what they have learned with some end product. It's an awesome way to teach, and, I hope, to learn.
The journalism unit was run in the same very open-ended way. Students applied for a specific news job, chose the paper name, chose their own article topics, did their own research, edited each other's work, created the website, uploaded all the docs - I was only in charge of, well, being in charge. They took over, and I watched. And learned. It was hard to let go. It was scary to see the creative chaos that overtook my room. It was awesome. Some ah-ha's and reminders that I had while in the trenches:
*8th graders are far more capable than the world at large gives them credit for. They took over this task with enthusiasm and gusto, rarely wanting my help or advice. And the results are impressive.
*A little "sage on stage" isn't a bad thing. After forcing my way back onto the "stage" for just half a class period to talk about basic news article structure (and a quick grammar refresher), the revised articles were light years better than before. (It was good to know they still need me for something!)
*Audience matters. The effort my student journalists put in because this work is going to be seen by the public and their peers far outstripped anything that they had done for me before. I need to be more aware of the WHY of writing in all my classes.
*8th graders are still kids. By pulling back and watching them work in groups, at their own pace, on their own schedule, I get to see more authentic student interactions. They giggle, poke, pull hair, watch cartoons on Youtube when they think I'm not looking… I love that even though I am trying to prepare them for the responsibilities of high school, they're kids. And cute. (Don't tell them I said that!)
*I love my job. It's creative, it's challenging, and the students are inspiring. Love.
And now, with proud-mama-smiles, I'd like to present the Crittenden Chronicle, created completely by the student journalists of CMS. Read and enjoy!
Cheers, Ms. Jenson