Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
The year 2020 was certainly an eventful year. The year brought a global pandemic that has left millions dead, an impeached president who refused to admit that he lost the election, a sputtering economy and schools that have had to go completely online across the nation. On a more positive note, musicians gave us all free virtual concerts from the comfort of our living rooms via social media, drive-in theaters made a comeback and Zoom and drive by parties became a thing also in 2020. But not to be outdone, 2021 seems to have come in with a bang as well, the president was impeached once again, more chilling COVID deaths, an attempted insurrection at the nation’s capitol, and the election of the first woman and person of color as vice president of the United States of America. And all of these events have taken place in just the first few weeks of 2021. These news items are illustrative of human struggle and triumph and help us define who we are. They are what we call current events.
Four Tips for Teaching Current Events
One of the most important jobs of social studies teachers is keeping students abreast on recent news and upcoming events. There are many resources available that help social studies teachers integrate current events into their teaching. Heather Wolpert-Gawron in a 2017 Edutopia article offered four tips that are helpful in teaching current events in the age of social media. Those four components that are outlined and discussed are below.
“1. Utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels. Look at resources like Newsela to filter news stories not by topic but by grade level, so that articles are suited to your students’ emotional stages. After all, just because a student is academically ready to read a higher level of text doesn’t mean they’re developmentally ready to do so. Newsela helps to adjust levels so stories are age-appropriate without shying away from particular topics.
2. Create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories. Find sources that help students learn about human achievement and accomplishments. Start with Common Sense Media’s list of news sources for kids. Remember, however, that every site has articles that need to be vetted. Check out these sites for some possibilities for your students:
DailyGood: This is a great resource of straightforward pieces with an emphasis on the amazing and interesting. This site strives also to present news from diverse perspectives.
Yes! Magazine: The tagline for this magazine is “Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions.” It focuses on problems, yes, but also on how people are solving those problems.
Positive News: This site focuses on challenging stereotypes and sharing what people are doing to tackle the world’s challenges. It’s inspiring and easy to navigate. The menu breaks stories down by society, economics, science, environment, lifestyle, and perspective.
3. Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false. Every teacher should be taking this on, and hopefully your school or district has adopted a program to help teachers achieve this goal. However, there are resources out there to help individual teachers. From PBS to KQED, from Common Sense Media to The New York Times, there are many outlets out there to help teachers tackle this challenge.
4. Teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes. And while we’re at it, teach students that unplugging is healthy for their hearts and heads. We all need to detach from the news feed sometimes. Unplug, recharge, and oxygenate your brain with exercise. Be transparent about what intelligent adults do (or try to do) to keep life in perspective.”
Using Newspaper Headlines to Teach Current Events
Another resource I recently accessed from the Freedom Forum was a website that allowed people to see the front page of newspaper headlines from across the US for free. The site includes the Anchorage Daily News, the Montgomery Advertiser, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Posts, the New York Times and hundreds of others from across the nation. Please click the link here to go to the resource.
In closing, often when educators present current events they portray a perspective of the world that is primarily negative. But Wolpert-Gawron points out that:
“We need our students to leave classrooms knowledgeable and critical but also hopeful. We have a responsibility to balance the horrors with the hopeful and the frightening with what is also festive. Help kids focus on the good that is immediately before them. Make your classroom one of positivity so that they have a place to go to feel that the state of the news is not necessarily the state of their own lives.”
In other words, it is of the utmost importance to make students aware of troubling things that are going on in our world, but at the same time teachers should highlight the many good things going on in the world as well. Students should be able to know and celebrate the positive things. In this way, social studies classrooms are the perfect space to learn and celebrate both tragedy and triumph in our world.