George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Baltimore’s Teachable Moment and Its Impact on My Students

May 4, 2015 Updated May 1, 2015

As I write this post, I sit behind my desk while my students work at their own. I know, I know, that’s a teaching faux pas. I promise, I am not typically THAT teacher. So, why am I sitting at my desk? I am having one of those moments. You know, one of those, I think I may be doing something right moments.

In light of the recent events in Baltimore, I warily decided to have my 7th grade students take on a bit of a spontaneous activity. I am finishing up a poetry unit, but I knew that if I wanted this lesson to make an impact, I had to do it now.

I had my students begin a research project. We started out generating questions about our topic. Students generated 10 questions, using various question starters, to help focus their research. Actually writing down the questions they had about the event helped them to understand what they didn’t know, what they wanted to know, and helped to guide their research.

Once they brainstormed questions, students began researching. Using credible online news sources like CNN, NPR, Time, Newsela (great for low level readers-choose a lexile!), and New York Times. Students each found four articles from four different sources. They then used an outline provided by me to draw out facts from those articles, paraphrasing them in their own words.

The next step will be for them to use their research to fill in a cause and effect graphic organizer. They will be looking closely at how certain events or situations led to the riots starting and at what is happening now, as a result of the riots. Eventually, when their questioning, research, and analysis of research is finished, my students will write a one page reflection. They will answer the question: How is truth nebulous? And yes, they will know what nebulous means.

Today, they are finishing up reading and pulling out facts from articles, and I find myself sitting here, behind my desk, in awe.

My usually totally distracted, distracting, and agitated student with autism is talking non-stop about the riots, getting excited about reading “up-to-date” news that is being uploaded THIS SECOND. My usually abrasive, openly volatile, English-avoiding student with emotional support needs was not only working *gasp*, he was doing so with a positive attitude. Oh, and those two students are usually extremely hostile toward each other. Today? Today one shared a pencil with the other and was repaid with a kind, “thank you very much.” My student with ADHD, who struggles to get engaged in his learning, is interacting in an intense discussion with my autistic student about the latest updates to the case, citing evidence from several different sources. He hasn’t tapped his pencil once. Three of my female students that are usually too busy gossipping to care about my lesson are actively reading articles and asking me about vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them. When I ask them how they might figure out what the word means without my help, they smile knowingly and immediately access an online dictionary.

My aide and I look at each other incredulously, wondering if we missed something. Who knew that giving students an authentic purpose for learning could result in such engagement from usually distracted, uninterested kids.

In a matter of 40 minutes, my students generated questions about a complex topic, read informational texts about real world, real time issues, learned the nuances between closely related vocabulary such as homicide and manslaughter, used online dictionaries to look up unknown words like presume and portray, participated in evidence-based, dynamic discussion with their peers, and chose reliable, veritable online sources to research news that is occurring in as they read. As a teacher, I am not sure that I could ask for more.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Media Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • 6-8 Middle School

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