Make it Real with News Content
Experiential Approach: Current Events Content Study
As students age, being “good” gives way to more mature concerns (avoiding addiction, curating digital footprints). Their sense of community broadens from friends, classroom and family to school and society. Current Events study, even when many students lack the context to understand it, begins to build a sense of the world beyond school, where what people believe and do matters. Current events discussions in class and at home prepare students for Civics education, which begins in 8th grade in Massachusetts. Civics asks students to consider their power and responsibility as social actors.
Although the dark cloud of misinformation via cable news (more for older people) and social media (more or younger) is more prevalent and harmful now than it has ever been in our daily lives and impactful choices, the silver lining is that news events lead us to consider its impact every week, perhaps every day. There are abundant object lessons to draw from current existential crises (the coronavirus pandemic, the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and extreme weather tied to the climate crisis). A moment of searching will turn up graphic details about what happens when people fall for misinformation, and delving will reveal case studies about how bad actors use digital media against unwary citizens.
Misinformation’s role in recent and ongoing catastrophes can be tied to content in all disciplines. To model reliance on trustworthy sources, teachers should find trending topics and share (for talk, if not reading) articles from newspapers of record like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Point out news articles that describe how social media and propaganda are making the world worse . Middle schools will have a hard time making sense of adult-reading-level publications, so these articles will need to be summarized, unless they have been covered by leveled digest students can read, like Newsela.
Here are four recommendations from Teaching Current Events in the Age of Social Media (Wolpert-Gawron, Edutopia, 2017):
1. Utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels.
2. Create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories (see Common Sense Media’s sources list).
3. Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false.
4. Teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes. Be transparent about what intelligent adults do (or try to do) to keep life in perspective.
News Content Candidate: NewsELA
Reasons to subscribe to Newsela.com
Content is drawn from real stories, and is then published at five reading levels.
Content is standards-aligned within three disciplines (ELA, Science and Social Studies).
Current Events section is free, although there are only two new articles per day.
News Content Candidate: The Washington Post
Reasons to subscribe to The Washington Post
The post uses advertisements, rather than a subscription model, so there is no paywall.
(Note: The New York Times is free to Title 1 Schools via a Verizon Partnership).
News Content Candidate: The Factual
Reasons to subscribe to The Factual
The Factual is particularly useful for seeing how different publications with different political biases slant news coverage. It covers all the big trending issues in US news. To help high school students see how polarization slants a story (and which publications are most willing to provide that bias), pick a topic and click on the "view all articles" button to see the highest and lowest graded articles. There is a small $25/year fee for access.
For an example, one of today's topics is Neal Young's ultimatum to Spotify about carrying Joe Rogan's vaccine misinformation, and how they responded: https://www.thefactual.com/news/story/313594-Neil%20Young