SMYRNA — Among our newest readers are sixth-grade students at John Bassett Moore Intermediate School in Smyrna.
For two weeks, teacher Katie Maddalena used the Delaware State News in a newspaper literacy project that combined social studies and English curriculum.
“When I first introduced the paper, the students commented on how their grandparents read that and/or ‘that’s for old people,’” Ms. Maddalena said. “Before experiencing the newspaper, they felt like news itself was not relatable to them. It was important for them to realize that they have a place in the world.”
After the daily newspaper delivery ended, the students were asking where it was.
Daily readership is habit forming.
This editor asked them, “What did you read first?”
One said, “I really liked the horse racing page.” (Of course, this editor loved to hear that after spending a number of years writing about harness and thoroughbred racing.)
Their comic favorites – Peanuts, Garfield and “that one with the pig and the mouse” – are indeed great ways to start a day.
Ms. Maddalena challenged them to read through the whole newspaper, finding the national, international and local news. She taught them about advertising, obituaries, advice columns and more.
“The students were so surprised that there were so many different types of stories and sections they could explore,” she said.
“We did a scavenger hunt where they had to find various items such as a headline, caption, advice column, sports article, etc.”
And there was time afforded to the students to find items that piqued their own interests.
“They liked that they were given a choice in what they read first,” said Ms. Maddalena. “This served as a motivator to get them to read the paper. Yes, we did discuss particular articles, but it was surprising to see that some students were interested in the car advertisements despite not having a license, while some could not believe crimes were occurring right around the corner.
“Of course the comics and the sports were their favorites,” she added. “This definitely impacted their learning. The students were reading nonfiction without thinking about it. They were incorporating newspaper terminology such as headlines, captions, obituaries, etc. effortlessly, and they were also using the text features to increase their comprehension of current events.
“They felt so intelligent reading the ‘adult news’ and I think it boosted their confidence in their own literacy.”
Principal Elyse Baerga said she appreciated Ms. Maddalena’s approach with the newspaper literacy project, noting that it fit the need for non-fiction reading.
Ms. Maddalena said non-fiction reading is one of the key areas of state testing.
“It is a proven fact that students struggle more with comprehending nonfiction works than fiction,” said Ms. Maddalena. “In my experiences, students become so tired of only reading what is in their text books.
“It is my job as their teacher to provide students with supplemental texts/readings so they stay interested and motivated in their studies.”
The students’ daily newspaper discussions also covered current events — such as the President Obama’s time in office and the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
The students were also tasked with creating their own newspapers. On Wednesday, this editor got to review the JBM Times, the Smyrna Messenger, the Weekly Geekly News and others in their creative line of newspaper start-ups.
They created stories, weather charts, obituaries, sports images, comics, advertisements and employment classifieds.
The students talked about how the writing could be difficult. One shared how tricky a comic could be — making something funny, but keeping it simple. Another said it was easier to come up with a crazy story.
In their newspapers, there was a story on the birth of a foal on New Year’s Day, a story about the Trumps arriving for the inauguration, and an account of aliens being discovered.
They were afforded some creativity, but the result was a good representation of the five Ws.
“By creating their own newspapers, they were collaborating with their peers and considering nonfiction text features while being creative,” she said. “They were considering what newspapers and other nonfiction works answer — who, what, when, where, why, and how. It was fun for them to come up with their own stories or research current events to incorporate in their own newspapers. The activity kept them motivated to write which is so important.”
The best reporters always seem to be those that are most curious.
After spending more than an hour at John Bassett Moore, this editor believes the sixth-graders are on the right path.
They were full of great questions about the newspaper.
“How long does it take to make a newspaper?”
“Why do you use that kind of paper?”
“How do you get the pictures of the people that are arrested?”
“Is your job fun?”
One student asked if I liked President Trump.
We had a brief talk about why it’s important for the newspaper editor to remain neutral.
“He can’t be biased,” one of them graciously chimed in.
Ms. Maddalena’s efforts are greatly appreciated.
In all, two classes with a total of 63 students participated.
“The newspaper is a wonderful community resource that sadly many students at this age have never considered reading and/or do not have access to,” said Ms. Maddalena. “Many students at this age never really thought about how the events in the world around them play a role in their lives.
“By allowing them to have their own newspapers each day they felt grown up and looked forward to ‘catching up’ with the world.”
Reach editor Andrew West at firstname.lastname@example.org