Monday, May 31, 2010

Motivating journalism students

Do I have apathetic students? Sure.
But do I also have motivated (or willing to be motivated) students? Yes.

I motivate my journalism students by reminding them of their power and obligation as knights of the keyboard. I let them know that they will sink or swim on their own merits. I do my best not to edit their work for grammar and typos. As staff writers and editors, it is their responsibility to catch these things. Will I advise them on content and organization and leads and quotes and meaning and subjectivity and prominence and newsworthiness? Of course. But I refuse (despite strong inner-yearnings to do the opposite) to be a copy editor.

For some of our most important stories, I will read them over and offer general feedback. Rarely do I make specific suggestions. Instead, I'll say that sentence needs to be cleaned up, is awkward, rambles, etc. I'll say the lead doesn't do the story justice. I'll alert them to problematic areas. But they need to fix them. It is their paper.

Our school's publication has been around for 90 years. I let the students know that they are torchbearers, keeping alight a flame kindled long before we walked the earth. Once kids buy in and put forth effort, they will win awards. And suddenly they've created an award-winning paper. And they feel good about that. And they will be intrinsically motivated to continue that tradition and keep the flame burning for their successors.

Student journalists preserve history. What they do matters, and has repercussions far beyond what most of them can currently perceive. As teachers and advisors with the benefit of greater vision, we must remind them that their work will be felt across time, and we must challenge them to live up to the weighty obligations they took on when they signed up to be part of the school newspaper.

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Mr. B-G said...

This post was spurred from a conversation on the Journalism Education Listserv about student motivation and apathy at the end of the year.

HappyChyck said...

Powerful stuff! Thanks for you inspiration as I fight against simply being a copy editor to my students who write without care or conviction. My project for the summer is reworking my approach to my publications class.

Mr. B-G said...

Next year will be my sixth teaching a journalism class. I'll be reworking my approach too! It's trying to find a balance between direct instruction and independent production time. It's working the ratio between individual evaluation and holistic assessment. It's getting the students to reflect and take control, while simultaneously guiding gently and authoritatively.

There really is no panacea. The mix of students and their individual levels of motivation and ability have a lot to do with the approach I'll take in any given year.

Good luck!