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Learning with Current Events

How do you respond when students disrupt your carefully planned learning opportunity with emerging news?

Student responses to current events can create tension in the classroom, or hot moments, and you may experience anxiety or stress in these situations. Teaching and learning research suggests that advance preparation can help faculty to transform these types of disruptions into moments of deep learning. See The Diverse Classroom to prepare for difficult conversations by becoming familiar with best practices in the welcoming classroom.

Below we offer a sample scenario to help you prepare to respond effectively to students who seek help in unpacking news stories. For help with more heated situations, see Handling Hot Moments.

Sample Scenario:
  1. Take a moment to gather your thoughts. If possible, count to ten and breathe deeply. Use that brief silence to assess the situation and prepare to respond.
  2. Acknowledge the student who raised the issue.

“_________ (student name), you’ve introduced ________________, a current event that raises challenging and controversial questions.”

  1. Observe that people in (and out of) the classroom may have a range of viewpoints on the issues related to this event.

“Our class readings and discussions have helped us to see that there are multiple viewpoints related to this topic, and your classmates’ views may differ from yours.”

  1. Assess your students’ interest in pursuing the topic.

“What do the rest of you think? Would it be useful to pursue this topic in more detail? Would it help us to achieve the learning goals for this course?”

  1. Assess your own readiness to discuss the issue right now. If you’d like to continue the discussion right now, try to connect it to your course goals. If students need time to prepare, ask them to freewrite for 5-10 minutes on the topic, or give them time to review a related reading that can build common ground.

“Okay, let’s explore this idea. How does it connect to the concepts we’ve been learning? Do you need a few minutes to reflect before we continue?”

If you want more time to prepare, schedule the discussion for another time. If possible, link it to an upcoming lesson or reading.

“Since so many of you are interested in exploring this further, let’s plan to discuss it next week. The readings for Tuesday will give you some additional insights for our discussion.”

Current Events Assignment Ideas

Link below to resources that could help you brainstorm ideas for integrating current events into your learning opportunities:

References
  • Huston, T., & M. DiPietro. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students’ perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development 25:207–224. Available from http://podnetwork.org/content/uploads/In_the_Eye.pdf. Huston and DiPietro use a survey to measure students’ perceptions of faculty in-class responses after September 11th; the results suggest that students found a range of responses very helpful.
  • Portland State University Office of Academic Innovation. (2017). Supporting students through political discussions. Retrieved from https://www.pdx.edu/oai/supporting-students-through-political-discussions.
  • University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2016). Teaching and learning in a tense election season. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/node/92763.
  • University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2016). Returning to the classroom after the election. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/node/93815.