Table of Contents
Table of Contents

How to Engage Students of the TikTok Generation

With fast-paced communication and media sources increasingly prevalent in our daily life, textbooks and other static sources can make classroom learning feel outdated and out of touch with the “real world.” While teachers cannot ignore the importance (and often, the requirement) of teaching history, methods, and stories found in textbooks, traditional lessons  must be paired with engaging content to teach critical thinking, research methods, and digital and media literacy skills.

One of the most effective ways to accomplish these learning objectives is by incorporating current events into classroom instruction and discussion.

Research confirms a range of benefits to using current events in the classroom

The instruction of current events brings students into the ongoing changes around them, and helps them understand how to critically approach them. With the necessary background knowledge, students will become informed citizens and lifelong readers. At the same time, engaging in conversation, considering differing opinions, and weighing various media sources in school enhances media literacy skills which prepares students to participate in conversations and issues outside the classroom.

Not only does the instruction of current events prepare students to be more engaged citizens, students enjoy the content. In multiple surveys, Education World found that students enjoy reading about current events in school and find the content interesting; the surveys also showed that students who read the news in school develop a greater interest in current events outside of the classroom and years down the road. The incorporation of daily current events in curriculums might be the key to capturing students’ dwindling attention-spans, particularly amidst textbook-based instruction.

Students who read the news have a greater interest in current events than those who do not.

Education World

There are added benefits beyond boosting media literacy skills and increased engagement in classroom activities.

Students who read the news often perform better on standardized achievement tests and display stronger “vocabulary, word recognition skills, and comprehension.” While each instructor may have different primary goals when teaching current events, it is evident that engaging with current and updated materials aid students in multiple  facets of learning.

Erica Silva, a math and science teacher, wrote about her experience using current events in the classroom. In her article, “Using the Election as a Teaching Tool,” she describes that teachers have a responsibility to teach monumental moments, and “need to create safe spaces to address the social and emotional needs of our students so they can focus on learning, while empowering them with the tools they need to think critically about the world around them.”

Incorporating current events in the classroom validates the importance of questions or confusion students might have, but gives them a safe space to explore and understand. 

Understandably, introducing controversial or sensitive topics like politics or crime can be difficult; teachers might be concerned to expose their opinions or topics that may be too difficult for their students to handle. For these reasons, it is important to establish discussion norms to help guide discussion behavior. 

Classroom guidelines to promote productive discussions, tolerance, and empathy:
  • Give everyone a chance to speak 
  • Listen actively and respectfully
  • Criticize ideas, not individuals 
  • Speak from your own experience; avoid generalizing
  • Commit to learning, not debating
  • Encourage students to weigh evidence
  • Encourage students to explain how their idea links to that of a classmate’s

Using current events to facilitate classroom conversation helps students learn from others who have different opinions. It is important for students to learn how to respect opposing viewpoints and the classroom is a safe place for this learning to happen. These skills will aid students in years to follow, as they continue to meet and interact with peers, coworkers, and even family members with different outlooks on the world.

How to begin

With the pressure of meeting Common Core standards, adding additional expectations and lessons can be overwhelming. There are a multitude of ways of integrating current events with teaching pre-existing, subject specific standards: 

  • Math: analyze voting patterns; create graphs and charts using election and polling data.
  • Reading: evaluate multiple sources and identify biases; discuss the power of persuasion.
  • Social Studies: compare and contrast moments in history.
  • Science: outline the hypothesis that would have to be tested for a scientific claim to be validated.

These classroom activities stand out because they prepare students to think and engage critically with the world around them, but also in the future, using materials and concepts pertinent to that subject area. By bringing current events into the classroom, students are forced to engage with the realities of their world. Contextualizing modern-day issues make historical problems feel real, important, and human, rather than abstract words on a textbook page.

When looking for ways to make material relevant and applicable, incorporating current events can act as a double-edged sword as it engages students with their world, and makes content appealing. 

Allow students to take the lead

Another way to engage students with current events is to invite students to help plan lessons. Instead of intermittent current event report assignments or discussions, have students engage with just one or two current events in a deep, meaningful, and consistent way. 

Teachers are fighting for ways to give their students the skills that come with engaging with current events, while also doing it in entertaining, fun ways.

The Juice Team

Meghan Selway, a high school English and Social Studies teacher, felt that her students were distant and uninterested when she taught current events. It turned out that her students were interested in current events, but because of their hectic school and extracurricular schedules found it hard to keep up with the constantly changing news. Instead of spending one day on a current issue, Selway changed her framework. She had her students pick two current events from a pre-established list. Then, in groups, students tracked certain aspects of the issue and “posted relevant news stories bi-weekly on a blog with accompanying questions.” Groups met in class, and then shared their growing knowledge with everyone.

Selway students enjoyed this approach and appreciated the class time dedicated to reading current events and developing an expertise on a topic. Selway reflected that students “underst[ood] current issues better as a result of this assignment,” and they also “developed invaluable skills in media analysis, researching, close reading, questioning, discussion, and deliberation.” Selway’s work reveals that current events create more engaged students while they strengthen media literacy skills, comprehension, and empathy. 

Selway’s experience is not the only success story of bringing current events into the classroom. In a New York Times article, 43 teachers describe how they use current events in their classrooms. Teachers are fighting for ways to give their students the skills that come with engaging with current events, while also doing it in an entertaining, standards-based way. The benefits of teaching current events are hard to ignore, and research confirms that students gain skills from studying current events that stretch across content areas and into daily interactions.

Bring current events to your class today

If you’re looking into more engaging ways to bring current events into the classroom, you are in the right spot! The Juice uses current events as its scaffolding because the news is engaging, relevant, and topical.

The Juice is a one-stop platform to bring current events to your students daily, inviting students to thoughtfully learn and engage with the world around them. 

Sign up for our Early Access program today!

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US Politics (Grades 11-12)

Biden Executive Orders Will Reverse Trump Policies

President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign a flurry of executive orders soon after his inauguration tomorrow. He plans to address what he’s calling the four crises facing the country. They are COVID-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.

An executive order is a written directive from the president carrying powers similar to a federal law. Presidents have historically used these orders to push policies forward quickly because they do not require approval from Congress. The downside of executive orders is that they are easily overturned by any new president. That is not true for federal laws.

Among other moves overturning Trump administration policies, Biden’s orders will return the US to the Paris Climate Accord and to the Iran nuclear deal.

Related to the pandemic, Biden will require face masks on federal properties and during interstate travel. Other orders will be aimed at safely reopening schools and businesses.

On immigration, Biden will order agencies to determine how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the US-Mexico border. Another order will end travel restrictions targeting majority-Muslim countries.

Other orders will address “equity and support communities of color,” criminal justice reform, and access to healthcare.

Photo from Reuters.

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