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In my journalism classes, I used to teach using the building-block method. I would set up my class in chunks: present the material, assign a story, require follow up reports and peer reviews, and have students turn in an assignment. This process took about four weeks. Then I would do it again with new material, a new kind of story, and more follow-ups that resulted in another story. At this rate, I was lucky if my students could write four stories a semester.

 

The building-block method is good for perfecting old material before moving on to new material, but it went against my teaching philosophy for writing: "practice makes perfect."

 

Learning by Doing

 

Short deadlines and multiple priorities are hallmarks of the newsroom. No one has time to help anyone else because they’re so busy themselves. You don’t get a long, leisurely introduction to the job. You just do it.

 

Journalism, like public speaking, takes practice, practice, and more practice. You can’t teach someone how to feel when they’re interviewing an intimidating figure. You can’t teach them how to know when someone’s lying to them. You can’t teach them to know when the story just isn’t going to work out.

 

So how can you give your students lots of practical experience in doing what the pros do? Turn your classroom into a newsroom.

 

To replicate the newsroom, turn the first three weeks of the semester into Journalism Boot Camp, covering newsworthiness, the inverted pyramid, research, interviewing, and anything else you feel it's necessary to cover in a class setting.

 

After that, assign stories with deadlines and send the students out for reporting. The time they spend reporting takes the place of class time. By the end of the semester, students will write around 10 news stories.

 

But, what about all that grading?

 

Imagine 20 students per class, 10 assignments per semester. That’s 200 assignments to grade per class. What if you teach four classes? Now you’re up to 800 assignments. And that doesn’t include the labs, quizzes and tests that require attention.

 

That’s why the class is like a newsroom. In my class, students get four assignments at a time and can turn them in in any order they like. There’s a catch: when they turn in an assignment, they must make an appointment with me the next week to edit it. Since they are out working on stories, my class time is freed up for individual appointments. Each student gets 10 to 15 minutes of my undivided attention as I edit (grade) their assignment.

 

Most of my grading is done on the spot, in the classroom, with the student. No more sending back assignments with feedback they never read. No more wondering if they understand my feedback, or even care. Now I get to look them in the eye.

 

Collaboration

 

I do bring them back into class for a week near midterms and again near the end of the semester. They discuss how their stories have gone. They talk about what went well and what didn’t, much like reporters do in the newsroom. Students share how they handled situations that others found troublesome. They take suggestions from each other and offer their advice.

 

Students have even set up outside groups to discuss assignments and how to approach them. Our “newsroom” has become more collaborative.

 

The best part is that by the end of the semester they’ve gained a great deal of confidence, and I really enjoy grading their work.

 

Marti Gayle Harvey is a Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she teaches journalism. 

USING GROUPS TO TEACH WRITING

Some see writing as a solitary process. Some teach it as a solitary process. However, teaching writing as a group activity lets students explore how others approach learning the craft, allowing them to come up with their own approach.

The writing process generally goes from thinking of a topic, collecting information, crafting a message and revising it. When done in a solitary environment, feedback is important but lagging because of grading time. When done in groups, feedback is immediate and, since it comes from peers, it seems more like a conversation than a lecture.

 

HOW IT STARTED

I use a form of flip teaching. It consists of students being introduced to a concept through online content by reviewing materials for a basic understanding. When students come to class they work on a low-points, graded lab, applying the concepts to a concrete example. Finally, a classroom discussion among the groups allows for a review of the lab allowing the teacher to guide the discussion making sure concepts are covered and understood.

I found that the lab portion needed more pizzazz. Some students would finish labs early and just sit there waiting on everyone else. Others pulled out their phones. The room was quiet, and students were bored. I was, too.

One day I put them in groups of three, mainly because I could cut down my grading, but it also kept the room from sounding like a crypt. They had to talk to each other.

HOW DID IT GO?

I had them work on changing a story from passive to active voice. This is one of the hardest concepts for young writers. They must determine if the subject is doing something or if something is being done to it.

The exercise was a hit. I caught them explaining concepts to each other. They got immediate feedback. The lab results were much better, too. They “got it” much faster.

And they laughed. They laughed at each other. They laughed at themselves. Mostly they laughed when they tried something and it didn’t work. Eavesdropping on their conversations convinced me that they were having fun. They were learning.

 

SO WHAT?

I came to the conclusion that they learn better from each other than they do from me. One reason is that group work allows for highly differentiated learning styles.

Visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic learning styles adapt spontaneously to group work. If someone needs to hear it, there is always someone in the group willing to let them read it to them. If someone needs to do it, they can “break it down” for the other group members. Visual learners will understand the structure and reading/writing learners are usually the scribes of the group.

Another reason that group work works is because it is fun. Especially if it’s nothing more than a low-points lab. They get to explore concepts, don’t have a lot to lose if they’re wrong, and they get to do more than sit around on their phones waiting for the rest of the class to finish.