Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
News Groups / Public Letters
News groups are small in-class groups that share information about current events. News groups may be focused on particular news areas -- such as scientific developments, environmental laws, or technological breakthroughs -- or they may look at a broad range of issues facing a single community.
Teachers should begin by assigning each student to a group and assigning each group a "news beat" to cover. Beats that a group might cover include social movements, the arts, the economy, education, medicine, urban development -- or any item relating to one small community or neighborhood. Teachers should ask students to scan newspapers or other electronic media for stories that relate to their particular beat. This can be done as an in-class assignment in which the teacher distributes different newspapers to the group so that they can look for stories together, or it can be done by each student with the newspapers and magazines they find at home.
Once students have gathered articles relating to their beat, they should list the major issues and trends they encounter, and draw conclusions as a group about where they feel society is heading with regard to their topic. (For example, students looking at medical developments may consider the growing interest in cloning, along with political and religious resistance to the idea. They may conclude that human cloning will happen in the future, or they may predict that human cloning will be outlawed.) Once students have made their predictions, they should produce a report in which they support or oppose the trends they see. As part of this report, students should provide evidence to support their stance from the news articles they've read; they should also produce a timeline in which they demonstrate how our society might reasonably be expected to change over the next 50 years.
Alternatively, teachers can ask their classes to compare their predictions with those of a cautionary science fiction author like Octavia Butler. In this case, students may try to figure out how the trends they see in the news might evolve in such a way as to create a world similar to the dytopian visions in some sci-fi texts. In whatever way students approach the subject, they should be encouraged to see the connection between the political situations brewing today and the world of the future.
Finally, teachers should ask students to take steps to halt, encourage, or alter the progress of the trends they have studied. Using the Internet, students might do research to identify individuals who have the power to shape trends. They can then target a single individual who is in a position to affect the situation at hand, and compose a letter to this person. The letters may use information from newspapers as well as personal arguments to lobby for or against the issue; they may also use basic rhetorical strategies to raise sympathy and awareness. The letter should be sent out, and a copy of it shared with the class.
By focusing attention on a specific area of the news, students become aware of how social and political changes take place on the day-to-day level. They begin to recognize how people can bring about change -- and how people can resist it. Ultimately, this strategy helps students understand that they are responsible for the course of history.
By working together in small groups, students learn to synthesize ideas and reach consensus with their peers. They create persuasive arguments by finding evidence that supports their predictions. By using science fiction as a corollary to their investigations, students come to realize that fictional works also make arguments based on social and political trends.
Finally, by writing letters, students learn to move from analysis to action, becoming familiar with basic rhetorical strategies and skills for incorporating evidence into a written argument. Through the mailing and sharing of these letters, they develop a greater awareness of themselves as powerful, responsible, political citizens.