Buzz Around Learning as Students Create Newspaper

Having an authentic audience engages students and improves writing

Walking into a Grade Six class at École Brentwood Elementary, you would immediately notice the buzz in the room.  Groups of students are scattered throughout the classroom and hallway. Some students are sitting at desks huddled around a single Chromebook while having animated conversations.  Others are on the floor in small groups or individually with technology. A few may be around the teacher’s desk, seeking further clarification. One thing that each of these students have in common is a clear sense of purpose and urgency.  They are quickly approaching a deadline and there is important work to finish. The Grade Six teachers made one small shift in the writing process, which has increased student engagement and promoted a deeper understanding of the writing process.  Now what is that change, you’re asking? Adding an authentic audience.

Student Choice and Voice Promotes Ownership

Brentwood Star News is a student-organized school newspaper produced by a class of Grade Six photographers, writers, editors, layout designers, sponsorship and distribution team members. The school newspaper is distributed online and throughout the community.  They have clearly developed roles that the students rotate through on a monthly basis. Students learn a new set of skills as they go through each role.  Their processes and products are constantly being refined through experience.

“The Brentwood Star project is a showcase of the power of collective genius – from the collaborative process teachers engaged in to create the project to the collaboration of the students to create the newspaper. A true model of what Powerful Learning can do to engage students and build deep understanding.”
Garfield Gini-Newman, Critical Thinking Consortium 

Authentic Audience

The work is strongly connected to the Grade Six writing outcomes in the English Language Arts curriculum and it prepares students, in a meaningful context, for the article writing portion of the Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Exams.  An authentic audience increases a sense of urgency and importance for writing. Students are motivated to use writing techniques, such as captivating headlines, insightful photos and powerful interview questions to draw the reader in.  They pay attention to details like sentence structure, spelling and punctuation. Teachers structure lessons to enhance writing and students are encouraged to use these skills in their articles to connect with readers. One student described,

“I liked having an audience because it really made me try a lot harder. I didn’t write as well until we did it because I wanted to show others I could write well.”

Community Connections

Students are enhancing their writing skills and also thinking critically and creatively to powerfully share their information.  To pay for printing costs, the students sell advertising space to local businesses, requiring students to communicate effectively with adults in the community. Partnerships with the community provide skills that are not isolated to the classroom but are easily transferable between the classroom context and “real world” applications. Local experts have supported students to continue to improve Star News. Guests from the local paper have shared their experience and techniques. Photographers have worked with the students to include powerful pictures, enhancing the tone of the article. Students are attending community and school events with their press badges, cameras and recorders to highlight activities.   

Students are excited about the Star News project, eager to connect and contribute, and learning not only essential skills for the English Language Curriculum but also core competencies for success beyond the classroom. 

Download your copy of Star News

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