Curing the Ostrich Effect

The news can be overwhelming. Librarian Tammy Byram shares ideas for using current events in instruction without feeling in over your head.

Confession:  I am a school librarian. And I cope by “ostrich-ing.”  You read that right;  I tend to symbolically bury my head in the sand when it comes to news and, much like this swift bird, I run from negativity at top speed! I get the irony here.  As a high school librarian, this approach does not align with my very real desire to grow curious, empathetic, media-literate young adults. 

I realized that I’m not modeling what I expect my students to do–read and analyze the news to become participatory, informed citizens.  I know I need to delve into the world of news–the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Below are some of the steps I’m taking to be more informed without feeling overwhelmed.  

For starters, I subscribed to “Morning Brew,” and “The 1440,” both daily newsletters that present the news and interesting tidbits in a manner that is friendlier for a recovering ostrich like me.  I love it and started to see that they–or other newsletters like it–could be a great asset in a school setting. 

Here are my suggestions for current event newsletters, as well as possible ways to utilize them in a classroom or library.  I’ve learned that not every article is useful or appropriate, and not every day’s content is interesting enough to use; teachers should pick and choose what they think would be most beneficial for students.

Interesting/Useful Newsletters with pros/cons:

  1. The 1440 Daily Digest
  • Free (with some ads)
  • Unbiased
  • Has an “Etcetera” section with interesting article links!
  1. Morning Brew 
  • Free (with some ads)
  • Humorous
  • Always has trivia and puzzles (super fun)
  • Unbiased (but very business oriented)
  1. Need2Know
  • Free
  • Humorous
  • Variety of topics
  1. Newser
  • Free
  • Calls itself “a news curator with a kick”
  1. The Donut (The Dose of News Useful Today)
  • Free
  • Unbiased
  • Humorous (I LOVED The Office characters celebrating my sign-up!)
  • Has a section of “Donut Holes” (very brief news) and “Positive” (uplifting stories)
  • Can subscribe to various “versions” 
  1. WHRO News (As we know, WHRO manages the eMediaVA platform!)
  • Local news!  Some are specific to the Hampton Roads area, but a lot is state-related
  • Unbiased
  • Free
  1. Chartr:  Data storytelling
  • Information in graphic form
  • Some of it is not student-friendly, but we have used a few of the graphs (minus the title) to brainstorm what the graph could be showing.  We do this at the beginning of library time.

I’m not saying subscribe to them all (that defeats the purpose of quick news), but test drive a few and see if you like any.  I’m also not saying to tell the students to subscribe; this is a resource for YOU, the teachers, to use as you see fit!  What can we do with it once we subscribe?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Summarizing/paraphrasing practice:  I like to do the $2.00 summary, in which each word used is worth 10 cents, so be conscientious about word choice!
  • Check for comprehension: Read and then give a 3-question assessment or exit ticket
  • Fact-checking:  Find reliable sources that confirm this story
  • Text features:  Which text features are used in the article?
  • Compile some “curiosity questions:” After reading, are you left with questions for the writer or the subject of the article?  
  • Guess what the story is about: Give the headline at first (and even discuss whether it is “leading” or “clickbait-ish”) OR don’t give the headline and have them brainstorm titles.
  • Find a different perspective or counterargument regarding the topic
  • Put up an interesting tidbit or something and have the students wonder about it or just discuss it for fun!
  • eMediaVA has “PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs,” a series of short videos where kids (grades 6-12) talk about media literacy.  These would be great in conjunction with news tidbits.

Students need an environment that encourages them to be curious and opportunities to explore the world as it is currently unfolding. We want them to care about our world and be armed with knowledge.   Realistically, however, we have to understand that they need it in small doses and in terms that they can more readily understand.  We can meet them in the middle with bite-sized news stories ready for us to pick and choose directly from our inboxes.  I can say for certain that these emails have helped me learn “to ostrich” a bit less!

Tammy Byram is a middle school librarian in Spotsylvania County Public Schools.

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