Newspapers as a great learning experience for students

I became a believer in the value of NIE my first year as a high school teacher — and not because of my newspaper advising.

I was assigned a sophomore English class that would now be termed an “at risk” class. All of the 35 students on the class roster — except for two — had IQs that would have placed them in a special education class. But the school had too many students for special ed that year, so they were assigned to a standard sophomore English class — mine.

I could share many, many stories about that class. Like the time I caught one student with his knife and carving on the desktop — FU

“Go ahead,” I said to him. “Finish it.”

“Really!?” he asked. The whole class was watching — waiting for a confrontation. 

“Yes,” I said. “Add the ‘N.’ School is fun.”

The whole group laughed — including him. He carved the N while we all watched, then gave me his knife, which I told him he could pick up after class.

When class was over, my pulse certainly was beating faster.

***

So what did NIE have to do with that group of students? 

The reading level of the group was very low. The state-approved books were not reading-level appropriate for the students, and the stories were very unengaging. 

One day, I took a set of newspapers to class. I gave them 15 minutes to read whatever they wanted. Most read sports or the classified ads. Then we took on some reading together. They learned vocabulary that was included in the stories. They read arrest reports, and we discussed the consequences of an arrest record. They learned to calculate interest rates when we read car ads and determined what it would cost to purchase a car over time. 

Every time that I took newspapers, the class was great. They read. They learned. And the class went smoothly. They were interested. What we were doing was relevant to them. The school didn’t have the money to purchase the papers, but I decided it was money well-spent for me!

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