Conversations on Current Events

So you want to have current events discussions in your classroom, but aren’t sure how.

You may be a social studies teacher (like I was) and you may want to put a format together that is organized yet less formal to spur a spirited discussion that does not seem like an actual class activity. Maybe you are a teacher in a different content area where discussions on current events may be few and far in between, but you’d like to have more. Maybe you are a teacher who carefully reflects on the issues of our nation and how that impacts the students of color that are in your classroom and you wish to provide them an academic forum to gain knowledge and understanding on what is going on in the world around them. There are ways to make that happen.

There no greater joy as a teacher then when your students are facilitating their own learning in a spirited way and you can just sit back and take it all in. When I taught during my first few years in the classroom, it happened magically during circle time. Circle time was never on the schedule. It wasn’t included in the curriculum however there was no curriculum in the first place in my first school, but I digress. If something happened in the world that I deemed important enough to discuss with my students, you could bet we were having circle time in the morning. I developed my spin on circle time in my second year of teaching. That was the most magical year; easily my best year of teaching. I learned how to have spirited and fruitful discussions with my kids about almost anything. You might say, but you taught social studies so it was easy for you. I argue back, so what… you can do it to. The easiest way to have a current events discussion is to being by providing students with an article as the basis of that discussion. From there, follow the steps below.

Community Forum Article Discussion Steps

  1. Introducing the Topic/Article (STEP 1)
    1. Description – Here you will introduce the topic of the article to the class. Prior to completing step 2, ask students if they’ve ever heard of the topic, the issue at hand and characters involved. Give students an opportunity to answer those quick questions prior to reading or explaining the article.
    2. Quick Questions (You ask students these):
      1. Have you ever heard of this topic or do you know what the topic concerns?
      2. Do you know about or have an understanding of the specific issue as it relates to the overall topic? Ex. If abortion, the right to choose, is the topic, the issue maybe concerning if a woman should have the right to choose if pregnant after being raped.
      3. Do you know who the characters/people who are involved (ask this question especially if the characters/people are notable individuals or groups).
  2. Reading/Explanation (STEP 2)
    1. Description – Here you will engage in the article. Based on how much time you have, you will have to judge if you should read the article aloud yourself, ask a student to read the article aloud or simply describe the article yourself to the students. ALWAYS EXPLAIN THE ARTICLE AFTER IT HAS BEEN READ ALOUD.
    2. Decided According to Time Remaining:
      1. A student reads the article aloud (and you explain the article)
      2. You read the article aloud (and you explain the article)
      3. You explain the article
    3. Have the students identify the following after the article is finished being read and/or explained:
      1. What is the topic
      2. What is the specific issue/problem
      3. Who are the characters
      4. What is the outcome
  3. Time to Think (STEP 3)
    1. Description – Here you will give students an opportunity to think about what they’ve read, what you’ve explained and what they’ve identified together to be the topic, the issue or problem, the characters and the outcome. Give students 30 seconds to 1 minute to gather their opinions on everything.
    2. Quick Questions: Ask students to answer the following as they are thinking…
      1. What is your opinion on the topic
      2. What is your opinion on the specific issue
      3. What is your opinion on the article
      4. Do you have any facts to back up your opinions
  4. Discussion (STEP 4)
    1. Description – Here you will engage in discussion with your students about the article. Based on the quick questions you asked students to consider from step 3, you will begin to tease from students their thoughts and opinions. When speaking with students your job is to encourage deeper level thinking. What you do not want is yes or no answers to be the meat of your discussion. Use those quick answers to get the conversation started and when those 1 word questions have been exhausted, you must ask deeper meaning questions. Please refer to the figure (Figure 1) below for more information on how to ask questions. When asking question, attempt to ask more high-level questions. The other part of your job is to be a contrarian of sorts: you will have the job of playing devil’s advocate. That means you will attempt to poke holes and find flaws in the students thinking in order. That means that you may ask 1 or 2 quick follow-up questions, following that you ask the room if there is anyone who disagrees with the line of thinking posed by the student whom you have probed.

Figure 1 – Bloom’s Taxonomy Question Starters (Courtesy of Lindsey Howe at Curriculet) http://blog.curriculet.com/38-question-starters-based-blooms-taxonomy/

  1. Level 1: Remember – Recalling Information
    1. What is…?
    2. Can you name…?
    3. Describe what happened after…
  2. Level 2: Understand – Demonstrate an understanding of facts, concepts and ideas
    1. Can you explain why…?
    2. Can you clarify…?
    3. Who do you think…?
  3. Level 3: Apply – Solve problems by applying knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a unique way
    1. Do you know of another instance where…?
    2. What questions would you ask of…?
    3. What choice does … (people in article) face?
  4. Level 4: Analyze – Breaking information into parts to explore connections and relationships
    1. How is… similar to…?
    2. Can you distinguish between…?
    3. What was the problem with…?
  5. Level 5: Evaluate – Justifying or defending a position or course of action
    1. Judge the value of…
    2. Can you defend the person’s position about…?
    3. Do you think… is a good or bad thing?
    4. Do you believe…?
    5. What are the consequences…?
  6. Level 6: Create – Generating new ideas, products or ways of viewing thing
    1. What would happen if…?
    2. Can you see a possible solution to…?
    3. Do you agree with the outcomes?
    4. What is your opinion of…?
    5. What do you imagine would have been the outcome if… had made a different choice?

You too can have very fruitful and even tough conversations with your students about all kinds of topics going on in the world. Be deliberate, be thoughtful, be careful to consider the truths of your students and check your own bias and privilege. Your job is not to assert your own opinion, but rather to promote truth and empower minds to speak their thoughts with evidence and their own truth. Our kids deserve that.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark.

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