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Sometimes it feels like the news surrounds us. Increased access to social media has made current events a continual part of our daily lives. This is as true for our students as it is for us, sometimes more so. From the Starbucks Cup to ISIS, today’s young adults see the events of the world played out in live time and, in turn, develop opinions about them. Current events can be a powerful subject to cover in the classroom.
1. Set some ground rules.
It’s important to make your classroom a place where everyone will be comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Make it clear to your students that all opinions will be respected. Tell them that disagreement is okay, but insults and bigotry are not. Reiterate this if strong differences of opinion come up by praising students who discuss issues respectfully and reminding kids who don’t what the expectations are.
2. Talk about symbolism.
The big challenge this assignment poses is how to talk about complex issues in a visual way. This can be difficult for kids to figure out, so it’s up to you to give them some strategies. Thinking symbolically is a key idea. To teach this, select example artworks that address social or political events using symbolism and discuss them with your class.
3. Give them a choice, with support.
Let students pick issues that are important to them for this project, but expect some to have a challenge finding topics. To set them up for success, give your class a heads up that this assignment is coming a few weeks in advance. Next, ask them to pick an issue for the following week. These two strategies will give them time to look and think. Bring in a few newspapers for the few students who are still thinking.
4. Help them think it through.
This lesson is one that definitely requires scaffolding. Plan some activities that help with idea development, like brainstorming or listing. Walk students through thinking about this broad topic with a whole-class activity that involves sharing responses. This strategy will give students who are lost an opportunity to find some direction.
Current events are great fodder for theme-based projects. Providing students time to think about ideas and teaching them how to express ideas symbolically will help the lesson run smoothly. Allowing students to make art about issues that are important to them will make for a powerful learning experience.
Do you use current issues in your classroom? Do you have any tips for a great lesson?
How do you foster respectful discussions when disagreements arise?