Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Current Events Cove Conundrum

Pictured to the left is my classroom's Current Events Cove. It's essentially a cork board that contains timely and relevant newspaper and magazine articles. So far I've been the only one contributing to it.

Next year I would like to get the students engaged, and encourage and empower them to make it their own. I'm thinking of having a weekly sign-up sheet, where one student from each of my five classes brings in an article, presents it, and posts it to the cove. I'm thinking of having it count as a single (perhaps double?) homework "check."

Does anyone else have experience with integrating current events into their curriculum? I'd like this to be some type of "starter" activity that I might pair with journal writing at the beginning of the period.

Last year I had my students write for five minutes every day in writing journals. They were graded on quantity, not quality, and they could essentially write about whatever they wanted. This served to help mellow the students and get them ready to focus on the day's lesson. It also gave them an outlet for personal non-fiction writing and reflection.

The students I had this year were more easily engaged than last year's group, and I ended up abandoning the freewrite activity about halfway through the year because I found it was taking too much time away from the bulk of my classroom instruction.

Next year I plan to bring back the freewrite journal. It will still be a place for personal writing, but I'd like the entries to be more focused, either in response to current events, a profound quotation, or a pensive question.

I'd like to spend 5-8 minutes three days a week writing at the beginning of class. I'd also like to have the flexibility to nix this start-of-class writing in the event I need more class time for a particular lesson or activity (classes are 55 minutes). I plan to require a minimum number of entries, - perhaps 20, two-to four-paragraph responses per quarter - and students may be asked to spend time outside of class to complete their journals.

Do others incorporate journals into their curriculum? When do students write in them? What do they write about? How are they graded?


Midwest Teacher said...

I very much plan to have journals be a part of classroom life. I think that ANYTIME students are writing is valuable. Currently, my idea is to try to tie the writing into what we're learning for the day, each day, but on Fridays let it be a freewrite. And yes, I'd grade on quantity, not quality. I've also heard that for sanity sake, a teacher should only read 5 journals a week, but not tell students which journals are read. I'm still working out the logistics, in my head, as to how grading this will work, but...
ps: LOVE the current events idea too.

Mr. B-G said...

In the past I have collected journals from different classes on different dates, which I let them know ahead of time.

Next year I imagine I'll do something similar.

A lot of my homework and in-class writing assignments usually - if not always - deal with what we're reading. I like to think of the journal as this "other" space - a space that's more independent, more personal, and, essentially, self-directed. That's why I really want to keep the options open regarding what the students can write in them.

As for grading them, in the past I've either given a "check" (you, on average, satisfied the length requirement every time), "check minus" (your entries average about half of what was expected), or "zero" (you did less than half of what was expected, wrote only one or two sentences per entry, had missing entries, etc).

It's easier to grade this way, and lets the students clearly know what they need to do to earn full credit. Unless I learn of a better/easier way, I'll probably stick with a similar formula next year.

happychyck said...

The coolest thing I've ever seen for current events was from a hs social studies teacher. His students had a running time line around the top of the classroom. So, whenever students felt something important happened, they added it to the time line. It's been a few years, so I don't remember exactly what it looked like, but I think it was simply copy paper taped up, with sheets added as needed.

You might also check into Newspapers in Education. At our school we've set it up with the local newspaper to receive papers every day. Different teachers sign up to take and use the paper in their classrooms on different days. For most of the year I took a set for my journalism class. They perused the paper and wrote 5 things that were happening locally and in the world. I will expand on that next year, as my journalism students have more time to work with current events than my English students do.

The New York Times also has some educator resources that might be too large for your purposes, but they might give you some ideas of other ways to approach current events.

I've never tried the current events as a journal writing each day. I have used and abandoned journal writing as a "warm-up" many times over the years. I like the idea, but too many times I had students who somehow worked the system in such a way that they did just enough to get a grade but didn't improve their fluency or ideas, and then I felt like I was wasting precious class time. I DO like the reflection journals in the middle or end of the class. Good luck in your OWN reflections and planning.