Active News Circles

Several years ago, I was fortunate to take professional development training with the Korda Institute, specializing in teaching entrepreneurial thinking and other 21st century skills. During the training, I learned about their news circle approach. I love this approach to current events because it engages students to be active and take ownership of their learning. These news circles are naturally interdisciplinary; they can be used in any subject area, not only in Social Studies.

How and why I facilitate active news circles?
I use active news circles regularly in my classroom. After exploring how to research and find credible, relevant, current, and accurate news, I either request for homework or allocate time to read or watch a news story of their choice; this can be local, national, or international news. Depending on the time of year and theme we are studying, I may set criteria for the current event, such as the story must be related to a theme on energy, urbanism, or plastics, or take place in a specific geographic region. Then, once all the students have finished learning about a current event, we as a class create a circle. I initiate the discussion by asking for a volunteer to launch our active news circle by asking, “who wants to share their news story?” Afterward, I follow up with “what about that story did you find interesting?” After the initial student finishes responding to the broad prompts, other students in the class naturally begin to ask questions, share opinions, make meaningful connections, and build upon one another to extend their thinking.

I enjoy facilitating these active news circles regularly as students can follow their news stories over the course of several days, weeks, or even months. I love to see my students engaged in their learning; they also often connect the concepts we are exploring and uncovering in our lessons and projects to the stories raised. In addition, I can see firsthand the topics that my students are interested in, which helps direct my student-centered teaching. What is exciting about these news circles is you do not know where they will lead. For example, I had a student follow a story over a term which led to an inquiry project. Another student who adores math helped make mathematical thinking and perspectives more relevant for all of my learners.

I should also add that my students are comfortable speaking in public and are eager for their turn to share. As a classroom community to begin the school year, I facilitate ample activities and lessons to build a sense of community and trust, and most importantly, we co-create what I like to call a brave space. These classroom norms instinctively are present in our news circles.

So what about assessment?
My students are often assessed on a formative basis. Students can complete a self-assessment or reflection on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to measure their growth. Or through observations and checklists, I often use these circles to assess how my students are performing in some of the following curricular competencies:

-Think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts
-Exchange ideas and viewpoints to build shared understanding and extend thinking
-Construct meaningful personal connections between self, text, and world
-Access information and ideas for diverse purposes and from a variety of sources and evaluate their relevance, accuracy, and reliability

Social Studies:
-Assess the credibility of multiple sources and the adequacy of evidence used to justify conclusions (evidence)
-Explain different perspectives on past or present people, places, issues, or events, and compare the values, worldviews, and beliefs of human cultures and societies in different times and places (perspective)

-Demonstrate an awareness of assumptions and bias in their own work and secondary sources
-Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of evidence (qualitative and quantitative)

-Connect mathematical concepts to each other and to other areas and personal interests

Written by: Katelyn Jmaeff