Today, students have unlimited access to the news. A simple Google search on their smartphone yields countless takes on the latest political turmoil, celebrity scandal or environmental disaster. Students - for better or worse - are impacted by the constant barrage of worldly news.
And, partly because of social media, students today are more inclined to speak out on issues and have their voices heard.
In some classrooms, it’s gotten to the point where teachers can’t focus on their curriculum unless they address what’s going on in the world with their students.
Teachers can’t escape it.
So, how can educators talk about current affairs without the conversation blowing up in their faces?
Here are three ways teachers can have beneficial discussions with their students about current events.
Set the Tone with Respectful Conversation Strategies
Without proper boundaries, it can be easy for classroom discussions on current events to devolve into heated arguments or finger-pointing.
The last thing an educator wants is to raise tensions among students.
Here are some ways teachers can set the tone for respectful conversations:
- Establish learning and speaking procedures-Body language can set the tone for a conversation. Make sure students sit up straight and listen intently to other viewpoints rather than slouch or appear distracted by devices.
- Teach respectful vocabulary-Never allow cursing or other disrespectful language such as “you’re so stupid.”
- Teach the power of pausing-Take a short two-minute break if the conversation gets too heated and allow students to think about what they say.
- Encourage introspection-Make sure your students allow different perspectives to enter the conversation.
If teachers set firm ground rules for conversations, it allows students to share their perspectives more easily and without fear of judgement.
Give Them Full Context
The rise of “fake news” on social media and other outlets has made it difficult to know what’s real and what’s not—and how to discuss events in the classroom.
Make sure your students are given the full - and accurate - context of a situation or event before they run with an opinion. Create space for them to develop their own perspectives.
Teachers can do this by teaching their students context clues. There are five different context clues that students can zero in on.
A lot of context clues can be taught by reading a book. There are different sentences in a book that can be used to give meaning to unknown words.
This same logic can be applied to current events to help students understand unfamiliar terms or concepts.
Teachers, if possible, should avoid tainting the topic with their individual opinions.
Encourage Great Research Methods
Encouraging great research methods can not only help students understand the full context of an event but decipher what’s real and what’s not real.
Teachers can do this easily by educating their students on which sources are trustworthy and which ones aren’t. This starts with teaching students the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources early on.
Here are some examples of each source type:
- Primary sources - Academic articles, government reports, diaries, interviews, autobiographies, etc.
- Secondary sources - Textbooks, biographies, etc.
- Tertiary sources - Wikipedia, directories, guidebooks, manuals, social media, etc.
Encouraging students to develop a critical mindset, check their sources and examine who else is reporting the story will pave the way for class conversations that are truthful and meaningful.
Conversations or debates are subject to end in aggression if one or both parties is missing key information, or if the information isn’t from a reliable source.