Journalistic learning bridges the gap between school and the real world

“You’ll need to know this in the real world!”

How many times have you heard or maybe even said this in the classroom? Ironically, such statements imply that the classroom is some sort of abstract realm and anything but real. And you can imagine that if a teacher is saying this to their students, it’s an attempt to get them to pay attention — a big hint that the kiddos are disenchanted with the course material.

Scenarios like these are indicators of the very real gap between school and the real world; an increasingly apparent divide for students who feel overwhelmed by what they’re seeing online and in their communities, but aren’t allowed to discuss the issues they care about in class. This is due to the siloed structure of public education which keeps literacy in English Language Arts (ELA) and civics in social studies. (And it’s especially difficult terrain for educators to traverse today, thanks to the debates surrounding which social issues can be talked about in schools).

This division diminishes the value of both disciplines, hinders students’ natural curiosity, and ultimately prevents them from having the essential learning experiences needed to navigate today’s complex digital world. Journalistic learning, a systemic approach that infuses journalistic strategies into required ELA courses, brings literacy and civics together, bridging the gap between school and the real world.

A journalistic learning project, like Journalistic Learning Initiative’s Effective Communicators Course, invites students to investigate and research an issue that they’re interested in, interview a local expert on the matter, publish a news article of their findings, and all while teaching them fundamental media literacy skills. This approach bridges the school-world gap by empowering students to:

  • Engage in self-directed learning
  • Discover their voice
  • Cultivate media literacy skills
  • Connect with their community
  • Become informed global citizens

Engage in Self-Directed Learning

Being interested is the first step to becoming informed. A journalistic learning approach invites students to investigate issues in which they’re intrinsically interested. When their passions are honored in the classroom, students engage in self-directed learning and awaken to a heightened sense of curiosity. Suddenly, the classroom feels less like a wall between students and their passions and more like a facility for discovery.

Discover their Voice

The culmination of a journalistic learning project is student publication. By sharing their findings with an authentic audience, students discover not only that their voices can be heard, but that what they have to say matters and can make an impact. Now, their work won’t be languishing in the teacher’s drop box waiting to be read by an audience of one but will be seen by real people in their community.

Cultivate Media Literacy Skills

“How come we’ve never learned this before?!” This is something journalistic learning teachers have heard from their students after teaching them how to identify fake news and misinformation. Despite the unprecedented amount of time teens are spending online, they’re not immune to being deceived. Being able to tell fact from fiction is a skill that immediately benefits students and enables them to make informed decisions in their lives.

But media literacy isn’t just news literacy. It’s the ability to decode messages in media, assess the influence of those messages, and participate in media creation. These skills not only translate to students’ ability to navigate today’s ever-changing media landscape, but they’re also essential defenses for their mental health.

Connect with Their Community in Meaningful Ways

An integral component of a journalistic project is conducting interviews with community experts. Ten years from now, your students may have forgotten what “Hamlet” was about, but they will never forget when they got to interview their mayor, or local homeless shelter director, or the manager of their favorite pizza shop in their ELA class. The interview phase of the project not only connects students to members of their community but allows them to be heard in a real professional environment.

6th graders conducting an interview for their journalistic learning project

Become Informed Global Citizens

In 2022, the National Council of Teachers of English published guidance on civic education in the ELA classroom. It admonishes ELA teachers to “Tear down the classroom walls to engage in student-led inquiry, advocacy, dialogue, and action with community members.” Leading a journalistic learning unit in your class does exactly that. It prepares students to become informed global citizens.

The world is already at students’ fingertips, but connecting them with their community is the first step to helping them discover that they have the agency to contribute to an ever-expanding digital space. And the skills they gain from a journalistic learning experience become a permanent part of their toolbox they can use to turn outrage into advocacy and feelings of powerlessness into action.

By bridging the gap between ELA class and the real world, students will no longer ask themselves “When will I need to know this?” Because the answer will be now.

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