In keeping with Research and Findings’ 2018 theme, we look at one practical approach to teaching students to be critical and rational thinkers: turning students themselves into journalists. Establishing a classroom/school newspaper/letter can provide opportunities for students to learn how to be a responsible communicator; it also reinforces other skills, including English composition; knowledge of copyright—property rights and permissions; graphic design; video production; photography and professional written and oral interaction with others. As educational philosopher John Dewey advocated, one learns best by doing.
Author’s personal note: Decades ago, in my time as a teacher-principal, I made a point of starting school newspapers, which doubled as community newspapers, in each of my remote one- and two-room primary-elementary schools. In both cases the papers served their larger communities, since neither of these villages had a local paper. It was not difficult to gain the necessary permission of parents and educational authorities.
The papers were not democracies. After conversations with students, I appointed staff and acted as editor-in-chief with veto power. Students were assigned roles as reporters, a “beat” (music, politics, popular culture), and a deadline. Grades Seven and Eight students took leadership roles, but junior grades also participated. In the absence of a longitudinal study, I cannot guarantee that any students’ lives were significantly changed, or even that they learned what I’d hoped they would. As their teacher, however, I knew they were learning a great deal by doing, and that—apart from the editor’s critical comments and deadlines—they enjoyed the experience, especially seeing their names in print.
- Five Insights from Running a School Newspaper – English teacher Ray Salazar, writing for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website, offers five pieces of advice for teachers based on his experience with two Chicago high school newspapers: 1) He suggests making the project a journalism class, rather than an “after-school club;” 2) Teach, and have students follow, a journalist’s code of ethics; 3) Make the newspaper for the students, not as a marketing tool for the school; 4) “Make the administration your friend;” and 5) Focus on “…gathering perspectives.” He concludes, “I see more value in having students actually take on the responsibility of creating information. In this era of media skepticism and proliferation, high-school journalism combats the war against facts.”
- How to brainstorm story ideas and assign stories to student reporters – In the article on creating a school newspaper, Scholastic offers suggestions on the kinds of stories and articles that students can choose to publish. Among their suggestions, “Make a list of 10 hot topics at your school. When putting together your list, make sure to pick issues your fellow students care about the most.” The list could include cafeteria food, the school play, or an interview with the principal. A caution: this is a commercial website.
- How to Start a School Newspaper – Not surprisingly, you can find everything you need to know about starting a school newspaper online. This website presents an encyclopaedic amount of information and help, from getting permissions and choosing designs, to distribution. Not everyone will want to produce a print version, but here you can learn how to raise money and print your paper, as well. As for grade levels, MMN claims its site is applicable to “…college newspapers, high school newspapers, junior high school or middle school newspapers and elementary school newspapers.”
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