Sherman students work collaboratively in groups to think, talk and write about current events. Photo by Justine Page

By Vera Naputi
Sherman Middle School

Consider the headlines from the last few weeks of summer break: “Hurricane Harvey floods Houston,” “North Korea threatens Guam with missile attack,” “Nazis march in Virginia.”

It’s hard to make sense of the news these days, even for adults. Given the dramatic summer headlines — from the political violence in Charlottesville to shootings on the streets of Madison, and a steady stream of sensational news coming from the White House — ask any teacher from Sherman Middle School and they will agree that an important part of academics is helping children develop critical thinking skills. When we teach children to relate to local and world news, it helps them to develop their own lens with which to filter the world. They learn analysis, as well as how to determine what is and is not credible news.

A common goal for teachers at Sherman is for students to examine issues from multiple perspectives. This can be challenging for students, but once they gain more experience and practice these types of literacy skills, they become more discerning and aware. “It’s awesome how interested and opinionated students are about news,” said Ashley Reinke, a seventh-grade teacher at Sherman. She believes current events provide one way to help students make informed opinions, which can lead to conscious actions to do good things in their community.

Parents agree. “Children learn from what is happening around them,” said Melissa Matson, mother of a sixth grader. She believes teaching current events is a non-negotiable in school and sees it as a pathway for hope. “All of the hatred and violence we see in the news can actually empower children to speak up and be allies,” she said.

Many teachers started the school year teaching strategies to promote discussion and practice thinking critically. Here are three basic tips to help children develop literacy about current events:

  1. Read or listen to the news daily so you are learning alongside your children.
  2. After reading or listening to the news, allow time for children to talk about an issue.
  3. Help children develop questions and form ideas that could push them towards service and leadership.

Talking with children about current events can be rough terrain, and it’s important to be sensitive to where they are developmentally. At Sherman Middle School, teachers value current events instruction as a way to build compassion and critical thinking, and at the same time, address students’ most important questions about the world.