Drawing parallels between the racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and recent Black Lives Matter protests isn’t simply a current events lesson for veteran English teacher Kelley Hutchison, who teaches at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton. It’s a way to help make literature vivid and relevant for her students.
“It’s so easy for us to read history or literature about our past societal flaws and point fingers at how terrible or ignorant we ‘once were,’” Hutchison says. “But for students to see a thread of our humanity–the good and the bad–and also to recognize how our past is forever bound up with our present is so crucial to creating the next educated generation.”
Bringing the news into the classroom isn’t just for social studies and history teachers anymore. Thanks to the Common Core’s focus on nonfiction texts, it makes sense for English/language arts teachers to connect current issues to the study of literature. Some teachers like Hutchison have been doing it for years.
In response to this growing need, KQED’s news education blog the Lowdown has launched weekly lesson plans to help teachers connect the news to the classroom. Every Monday, lesson plans designed to be taught in one or two class periods will provide opportunities for nonfiction analysis, questions for class discussions, quick-write prompts and options for multimedia projects. All lesson plans are aligned to Common Core reading and writing standards and also draw from the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards.
San Francisco teacher Julie Phelan says using the news in her classroom helps students build critical thinking skills and practice drawing conclusions based on evidence.
“The drive for English teachers to cover required fiction literature can often prevent the use of real world resources,” says Phelan, an AP English Language and Comp and journalism teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory. “But we do a disservice to students if we don’t help them make connections between literature and what’s happening in the world.”
Teaching the news can be controversial and isn’t always easy, even if it makes educational sense. Both Hutchison and Phelan recommend choosing quality sources and making strong connections with the curriculum. Then, it’s time to take the plunge.
“Don’t be afraid to start discussions,” Phelan says. “Set ground rules, yes, but let students express themselves. Kids get really excited, which is so great to see. Expressing their own views in a safe environment helps students articulate their voice. It’s also a time to make sure they are using evidence to marshal an argument and listening to other views.”
Looking beyond traditional news outlets can also help motivate students. In addition to the Lowdown and KQED’s Do Now, Hutchison also recommends the New York Times Learning Network, Teaching Tolerance, TEDTalks, along with media her students use daily.
“(I recommend teachers) branch out. Bring kids a variety of media: podcasts, blogs, social media, traditional media,” Hutchison says. “Show students that they are already consumers, and that the places that they already go for entertainment can also be used to become more informed.”