When I listened to This American Life’s Back-to-School program on helping students succeed, I was reminded once again of all the great teaching and learning that happens in high school journalism/media classrooms.
Host Ira Glass talked with Paul Tough about his new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough has written about education, poverty, child development and politics, and this book illustrates how all those factors come together when school performance and teacher performance is based on student scores on standardized tests.
Tough said that teachers have been unfairly expected to solve every student’s learning problems and be responsible for every student’s test score. The psychologists and scientists he interviewed found that students who live in a stressful home environment have impaired ability when it comes to concentrating in class and dealing with frustrations. Those students often perform poorly in class and on tests.
There’s more to student achievement than test scores, Tough said. Not a surprise to those of us who teach.
Even though a student’s cognitive ability — what is measured on standardized tests — cannot be greatly changed once a child reaches school age, the student’s ability to perform successfully in school can be improved through character development.
What researchers found and pilot educational programs have found is that students can be coached to improve their character — those qualities that make them more reasoned, more resourceful, less impulsive, and more positive. And those character qualities can help them be more successful in school and life.
Tough says that teachers can help students build character in their classes through an almost coaching approach to dealing with situations.
Here’s the connection to high school journalism classes.
Think how much of a journalism/media experience for a student is character building in terms of character qualities — or leadership principles — that Tough says are important for students to succeed.
Resourcefulness — A day in a journalism classroom has its share of frustrations. A computer isn’t working. A source needed for a story is unable to be interviewed. The photographer forgot to bring the staff camera to school that day. The teacher and other students on staff are part of that working-it-through process. “OK, if that source isn’t available, who else could you talk with?” “We can reschedule and take the photo tomorrow — or we’ll change the page design and not use a photo.”
Professionalism — Journalism teachers help students realize how the way they present themselves is important. Attire, being on time, and having the needed materials (notebook, ad contract) influence how well the interview goes or whether the ad is sold.
Ambition — High school media programs promote ambition. Students are striving as a team to create a good product — newspaper, yearbook, magazine, blog — often trying to improve from the previous edition. Students as individuals are encouraged to be ambitious — move from being a reporter to an editor, consider media as a college and career choice.
Patience — In media classes, students learn to fact check before clicking “publish,” to interview one more source to make sure the story is thorough, and to wait days or months to see the published newspaper or yearbook.
And all that character building is going on every day in high school journalism classes with teachers working to motivate students and help them not only learn the cognitive skills required to create media but to cultivate the personal qualities that will help them be successful in media class — and beyond.