How I started my class news meetings

I began holding daily news meeting with my class about four years ago.  At the time, my son was in fifth grade, the same age as many of the students I taught, but in a different school near our home.

At one point about midway through the school year, without any intervention on my part, our conversations changed.  Overnight, we went from the typical, “What did you do at school today?” dead-end talks into him approaching me, telling me about cool innovations, asking me if I’d heard about events going on in the world, looking for  information about things he wanted to more fully understand.

What changed?  His class began watching a daily student news broadcast.  And I loved it. He was excited. He was engaged.  He wasn’t just learning, he was sharing — asking questions, looking for opinions, digging deeper.  I coudn’t imagine anything better.

Except then one night, we found the show online and watched it together. And I  didn’t love it. I was disappointed. It wasn’t the in-depth, thoughtful production I expected. It was a slick, fast-paced, loud and jagged broadcast that hurt my eyes and my brain.  I was glad he enjoyed it. But I thought: “If only someone would start something like this, but instead they used The New York Times.”

You know what it’s like when you have a thought that begins “If only someone…”  Your next realization has to be: Hey, I’m someone.

And in this case, the thought quickly followed that I wasn’t just any someone.  I was someone who actually could do this.  I’d spent the previous 15 years as a professional journalist, ten of them with the world’s largest news-gathering organization, The Associated Press.  I understood newspapers. I knew how reporters worked. And pretty much nothing about this intimidated me.

I sent an e-mail to my students’ parents, explaining my idea and asking if anyone would be willing to donate a subscription to the New York Times to our classroom. A few mornings later, I was pleased to look up and realize my students didn’t look like typical 10-year-olds. They looked like a group of senior citizens at a coffee shop, heads buried in newspaper sections, one occasionally leaning over to show another something they’d discovered.

And so, our adventure began.


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