This week over at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is ripped from the headlines. Look at local, regional or global news.
Now if there is one thing I have noticed about “the news” over the years, it’s that the news reported in the media is generally bad. Often the stories are meant to alarm or frighten. I think it must be easier to control a population through fear. A little scaremongering may go a long way.
Although the song is called It’s Good News Week, it doesn’t have much good news to tell.
I selected a few headlines (expressly for my purpose) from a recent Conversation:
- The role of water in Australia’s uncertain future
- The scariest part of climate change isn’t what we know, but what we don’t
- Stop, go back, the NDIS board shake-up is going the wrong way
- We’re overdosing on medicine – it’s time to embrace life’s uncertainty
- Australians less likely to survive home ownership than Britons
“They” can do it with Education too:
- Is your child less likely to be bullied in a private school?
- Uni drop-out rates show need for more support, not capped enrolments
- The slide of academic standards in Australia: a cautionary tale
- The absurdity of English spelling and why we’re stuck with it
All of these headlines state the existence of a situation or condition as irrefutable, like falling standards and failing students. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with headlines such as this one from the Conversation nearly two years ago:
Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom
In this article Misty Adoniou attributes the failure of some Australian children on national and international literacy tests to their lack of exposure and experience with standard English – they do not speak standard or “school” English at home. Adoniou says that is up to teachers to improve the language used by students and to make their understanding of correct usage explicit. However she says that many teachers do not have an explicit understanding of English and, as a result, are unable to teach it to their students.
I’m not sure how true that statement is. However, what I do like about this article is the advice Adoniou gives about teaching. She says that “all our teaching about language must be done in context and in the course of achieving real outcomes.” I couldn’t agree more.
Daily news – learning in context
In fact, from their first weeks of school I was explicitly teaching students about language and literacy using a strategy I borrowed and developed from the ubiquitous “show and tell”. I called this strategy simply “News”, and found it to be a powerful tool for teaching the skills of both reading and writing.
Its strength came from the familiar context, the connection to children’s lives and the importance it placed upon them. The teaching could be adjusted to suit different stages of development, to reinforce learning for some and extend the learning of others. For me, as teacher, it was a powerful learning tool. I was able to gauge children’s developing strategies, understand their needs and identify next steps for learning.
How it worked
A few children each day would have the opportunity to share their item of interest or “news” with the class. Class mates could ask for additional information or clarification if they wished.
We (teacher and children) would collaboratively compose a report, initially just one or two sentences, of what had been shared.
I would model the composition and the writing process, rehearsing what to write while involving children in thinking about what to write and how to write it. How much they were involved, and the detail of language and skills discussed could be easily adjusted to suit their development. There was always ample practice and repetition, in a meaningful context, for children who needed more time; and discussion of strategies and ideas to extend the most advanced students.
Some of the writing strategies children were learning include:
- Composition or rehearsal before writing
- Directionality of writing
- Translating conversational language into written language
- Changing first person spoken text into third person written text
- Identifying letters used to spell the sounds of language
- Awareness of punctuation
- Tenses, past and future, depending on what the children shared
- Rereading to ensure message is correct and what to write next
- Proofreading and editing
- Identifying the main idea through choosing a suitable headline
After the news was written, we would read it together to ensure it was correct and the child was happy with the way the news had been reported.
The text could then be used for developing a number of reading skills, for example:
- Recognising words by sight
- Noticing similarities in spellings, or differences in spelling of words with similar sounds
- Punctuation and its effect on reading
- Comprehension and grammar: who, what, where, when, and (sometimes) why
- Reading with expression
Each day I would print up the news for the children to take home to share with their family. It was a great first reading experience – about them, their friends and their families.
While this is only a brief overview of the strategy, the learning that can take place using children’s own language is obvious. Used as one small part of a rich literacy focused and literature-based classroom environment it is a powerful teaching tool. One day I will explain the strategy in detail so that others can use it too.
But back to the headlines and Charli’s challenge.
Over recent years I have noticed an increased use of ambiguity in headlines and the introduction of (attempted) literary expressions into the body of articles. I have drawn on that for my flash. I hope it works.
Bridge plans in jeopardy
She scrolled through the headlines, searching …
Minister passes over bridge in favour of tunnel
Minister fails to dig himself out of tunnel fiasco
Minister reveals hand on bridge impasse
Minister’s tunnel vision blocks bridge improvement
Minister jumps from bridge over tunnel plans
Talks with Minister over bridge collapse
Bridge closure forces Minister’s hand
She was sure she had heard something … it must be here … why couldn’t she see it?
Scrolling … scrolling …
“Finally,” she sighed.
Bridge players wanted, Tunnel Street Community Hall, Wednesdays 10 am!
A Day in the Life
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.