Building skills while connecting to real life


School lunches.



Taking responsibility.

LGBT issues.

One of my favorite units in my introduction to journalism class is opinion writing. There are so many lessons within that unit. We begin with the dull parts about the different kinds of editorials: argumentative, explanatory, persuasive, commendatory, and even humorous, if you can pull it off. At that point, they almost seem the same to half the class.

We read some examples I’ve culled from texts, the Internet and friends. I slip in one or two of my own from when I was managing editor at my college paper and the short time I worked at the local paper.

Then we brainstorm potential topics. I try to blow them away with my own list, not just to blow them away, but to show them how limitless ideas really are.

They narrow their own down to favorites, and then, staff meeting style, we go around the room and each of them pitches their best idea. I love this day. I love to hear what they are passionate about, and I love to hear what their classmates, their “staff,” have to say, the suggestions they make to help them with fine-tuning angles. I love it when they offer up opposition even, because in that place, in that newsroom, there is tolerance. They realize they can express themselves safely there in that room. They have a voice. Students so seldom have a voice in anything.

At first some of them bring up their ideas tentatively because, though they sense that I’m going to be OK with most things, they are also accustomed to knowing that certain topics are just off limits at school. I haven’t run across anything yet that I won’t allow a student to explore. After all, it’s going to mean research and backing up your position.

Then the research and backing up your position begins. Everyone’s is different, so there’s no “how did you answer number three?” They are pursuing their own topics, and they are interested in what they are doing.

They draft in Google Docs. Good heavens – what did we do before Google Docs? By nearly the middle of the year and the third thing they’ve written, they know the drill. Draft in Gdocs in the folder shared with Snider (so I can peek in at progress whenever I want), but when they’ve finished, they share with a classmate for comments. And oh, my goodness. I peeked at some of the commenting today, and they have really stepped it up there. We’ve gone from their first attempts early in the semester when they hesitated to say anything but “I like it!” to real, real editing. And I don’t mean correcting spelling. I saw good constructive comments, and that really makes me feel like progress has been made. To be able to give and receive comments like “That’s a little harsh. Could you say it a different way?” when earlier they were just afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings – that’s real growth. And in reverse, I think they really desire feedback to help them make their own pieces better.

I can’t wait to read more drafts and to see all the finished products. Chances are several will be of publishing quality, so in addition to choosing their own topics, participating in the peer editing process, reading good pieces by peers, they may get published, too.

It’s all win-win.

I love my job.

About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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