Keep calm and follow the news

By Joannis Kaliampos

As Amer­i­can stud­ies and for­eign lan­guage edu­ca­tion schol­ars, we some­times tend to over­look the vast demand for teach­able online resources out­side of acad­e­mia. My work in the transat­lantic blend­ed-learn­ing edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tive Teach About U.S. has helped me to estab­lish long-stand­ing rela­tion­ships with high school teach­ers and edu­ca­tors in Ger­many and the Unit­ed States. Amid the cur­rent glob­al health cri­sis, these teach­ers are step­ping up to sup­port their stu­dents and find nov­el ways to engage them in edu­ca­tion­al activ­i­ties while they strug­gle with ‘the new nor­mal’ dur­ing the pandemic.

As schools have been shut down for weeks, many of these col­leagues have reached out to us, seek­ing advice on edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy and its imple­men­ta­tion. All too often, they are pushed to cre­ate makeshift solu­tions as their school servers are over­whelmed with the sud­den spike in user demand. Many col­leagues have shared their expe­ri­ence of set­ting up pri­vate chat and social media groups to share assign­ments and edu­ca­tion­al resources, unsure whether this may vio­late school and state rules.

With mis­in­for­ma­tion about the coro­n­avirus on the rise, a his­toric pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign in the Unit­ed States, and the press under attack from dif­fer­ent sides, I would like to share some of my favorite stu­dent-friend­ly news media as well as resources on media lit­er­a­cy for pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary school students.

A sig­nif­i­cant part of our school projects in Teach About U.S. is devot­ed to under­stand­ing the news and devel­op­ing media lit­er­a­cy in a for­eign lan­guage. Whether stu­dents are sup­posed to explore civic engage­ment to ban plas­tic bags in Cal­i­for­nia, wit­ness accounts of a gar­ment fac­to­ry col­lapse in Bangladesh, or find out how peo­ple in a select U.S. state per­ceive the elec­tion cam­paign – they must iden­ti­fy and assess their trust­wor­thi­ness. Pro­vid­ing them with the tools and resources to eval­u­ate infor­ma­tion online and engage in dis­cours­es affect­ing their own life is increas­ing­ly becom­ing a mat­ter of socio­cul­tur­al par­tic­i­pa­tion and learn­er agency.

Many of the sites list­ed below have proven use­ful in our school projects as they allow for­eign lan­guage learn­ers to gain insights into cur­rent polit­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al dis­cours­es in the U.S. For teach­ers, some of these plat­forms come with cus­tomized class­room tasks and les­son plans that help con­nect their class­rooms to the news­rooms and pub­lic dis­course in the U.S. and beyond.

With this said, it’s okay to take a break from the news at times or even just change the pace of con­sum­ing them. And so, as news media out­lets have been rav­aged by the pan­dem­ic, this might be exact­ly the right time to renew your local news­pa­per subscription.

News for (and by) kids and teenagers 

KQED Edu­ca­tion

KQED is a non­prof­it, pub­lic media out­let in San Fran­cis­co and oper­ates sev­er­al radio, TV, and dig­i­tal media pro­grams. Their edu­ca­tion hub includes news sto­ries for young view­ers and lis­ten­ers as well as les­son plans and stan­dards-aligned resources. Above the Noise, for exam­ple, is a video series inves­ti­gat­ing con­tro­ver­sial top­ics rel­e­vant to mid­dle and high school stu­dents; a recent episode asked whether hate speech should be pro­tect­ed as free speech. If you’re cov­er­ing the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion (and who isn’t?), their page Let’s Talk about Elec­tion 2020 fol­lows the cam­paign from the per­spec­tive of high school stu­dents, focus­ing on issues like cli­mate change, guns, and education.

VOA News – Learn­ing English

Voice of Amer­i­ca fea­tures a news web­site for Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers world­wide. News reports are sort­ed by lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy lev­el, and the web­site addi­tion­al­ly fea­tures lan­guage lessons as well as edu­ca­tion­al videos on “News Words.”

Stu­dent Report­ing Labs

Stu­dent Report­ing Labs pro­vides cap­ti­vat­ing video reports and jour­nal­is­tic pieces cre­at­ed by stu­dents about issues that affect them. Sto­ries have a local focus and fea­ture les­son plans use­ful for project-based learning.

YR Media

A net­work of young jour­nal­ists and artists report about issues from news to arts, from iden­ti­ty to technology.

Learning platforms

PBS Learn­ing Media

Does this resource real­ly need an intro­duc­tion? The Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem’s learn­ing plat­form pro­vides a vast amount of curat­ed class­room resources con­nect­ed to its var­i­ous news shows, reports, and doc­u­men­taries. Inter­ac­tive les­son plans and resources can be fil­tered by grade lev­el, school sub­ject, and stan­dards. In their Civics and Social Stud­ies sec­tion, inter­ac­tive lessons, such as “Why Is Fake News So Effec­tive?” and “We The Vot­ers” on civic protest can be accessed for free.

Teach About U.S.

This blend­ed-learn­ing plat­form, a coop­er­a­tion by the U.S. Embassy Berlin, Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg, and LIFE e.V., con­nects high school class­es in Ger­many and the U.S. The plat­form is entire­ly free and fea­tures inter­na­tion­al school projects, includ­ing the U.S. Embassy School Elec­tion Project 2020 – a mock elec­tion of the U.S. Pres­i­dent in which Ger­man class­rooms adopt one U.S. state, become its vir­tu­al cit­i­zens, and pre­dict how it is going to vote on Elec­tion Day. 

Resources and teaching guides on developing media literacy

Web Lit­er­a­cy for Stu­dent Fact Check­ers … and oth­er peo­ple who care about facts

This open-access book on web lit­er­a­cy by Michael A. Caulfield pro­pos­es that web lit­er­a­cy in the dig­i­tal age is less about check­lists than about four moves and a habit: look­ing for pre­vi­ous work, going upstream, read­ing lat­er­al­ly, cir­cling back, and being crit­i­cal. The book comes with loads of hands-on activ­i­ties eas­i­ly adapt­able to cur­rent news events.

Ver­i­fi­ca­tion Handbook

This is an open-access book on ver­i­fy­ing dig­i­tal con­tent of emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, authored by jour­nal­ists at the BBC, ABC, and oth­er news out­lets. While the book is intend­ed for jour­nal­ists, it includes short and insight­ful case stud­ies on aspects like ver­i­fy­ing user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent as well as images and videos.

Cen­ter for Media Literacy

The Cen­ter for Media Lit­er­a­cy pro­vides a trea­sure of resources and back­ground infor­ma­tion on media lit­er­a­cy in the class­room. As they state, “media lit­er­a­cy con­nects the cur­ricu­lum of the class­room with the cur­ricu­lum of the liv­ing room” – and this web­site shows exact­ly how it can be done.

Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for Media Lit­er­a­cy Edu­ca­tion (NAMLE)

The Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for Media Lit­er­a­cy Education’s web­site is a use­ful resource a vari­ety news lit­er­a­cy relat­ed to cur­rent events, for instance the col­lec­tion on the 2020 U.S. elec­tion or their most recent one on fight­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about COVID 19.

Next week’s blog will be our final post on dig­i­tal learn­ing tools.

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Joan­nis Kaliampos is a research assis­tant and PhD can­di­date in TEFL at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. His fields of research include task-based lan­guage learn­ing, lan­guage learn­ing with dig­i­tal media, and Amer­i­can stud­ies in the EFL class­room. He coor­di­nat­ed the devel­op­ment of e‑learning mate­ri­als in the Going Green program.