AASL Standards Spark Journalistic Inquiry

I advise the journalism program at my school, which absolutely illuminates my work as a school librarian. Studying journalism promotes information literacy. It promotes digital citizenship. It promotes collaborative learning.

The more that I thought about it over the past few months (and the more I played with the AASL Standards app) the more I realized that the standards were a very good fit for my program. That is, they align with my pedagogical goals, especially for my learners/journalists.

Our program consists of three courses that meet simultaneously in the middle of the library: Journalism, Honors Journalism, and Advanced Studies in Modern Media. Journalism students are staff writers, Honors Journalism students are editors, and Advanced Studies in Modern Media students are head editors who are also responsible for long-form projects.

All of the students collaborate to produce the Webb Canyon Chronicle, a student-run online newspaper. It was published only in print in the past, but we transitioned to take advantage of the affordances of a digital platform.

In my upcoming blog posts, I intend to walk through the AASL Standards, describe how they fit my program, and how the Learner framework is especially relevant to my journalists. My goal is to focus on one standard per post, eventually resulting in a collection of posts that could help you advocate for a journalism program at your school library or reinvest in one that already exists.

I. Inquire: Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems

A key goal of journalism is to allow citizens to get the information they need to make informed decisions and exercise self-government well. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel detail this very well in The Elements of Journalism. A robust method of inquiry helps journalists to think, create, share, and grow in ways that promote democratic practice and define community.

A. Think

1. Formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic
2. Recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning

My journalists always pitch ideas for articles based on their interests. While our publication has needs for coverage, journalists are given wide opportunities to follow their desire, whether in News, Opinion, Features, Culture and Lifestyle, Sports, or Technology. We added this last section based on a student recommendation, and it has been easy to see the overwhelming relevance of this topic in teens’ lives.

The opportunity to pitch freely is something the journalists routinely cite as a highlight of the program. My challenge is to share a journalistic method that helps turn these interests into productive questions, allowing journalists to search for answers that will be informative and useful to their audience.

As journalists formulate questions, it is helpful to find out what they already know about a topic or what relevant experiences they have had. It can be challenging to get teens to overcome a myopic worldview, but it is equally important to honor their experience and allow them to harness their expertise as they prepare to build new meaning.

B. Create

1. Using evidence to investigate questions
2. Devising and implementing a plan to fill in knowledge gaps
3. Generating products that illustrate learning

Evidence comes in many forms. While novice journalists like to take word as bond, it is important to teach journalists how to corroborate a fact. Often, this can be the thrill of the journalistic method.

In order to follow the evidence, it can be helpful to map out local experts and stakeholders to help fill in knowledge gaps. Journalists need to identify who has insider information to help illuminate a situation, who is responsible for a policy, and who is affected by it. Getting students in frequent conversation with peers, teachers, staff, and admin is an integral step to developing a plan to fill in knowledge gaps.

Once the journalist has done their research, it can be very challenging to determine the most apt form of expressing their understanding. In this way, our online platform is a blessing and a curse. That is, it offers nearly countless opportunities for expression via audio, video, writing, visualizations, interactive features, etc. A savvy journalist knows the most effective form to communicate information. It takes time, practice, and commitment to develop the skills to work across a variety of platforms. One aspect that I appreciate about our website service, SNO, is that they have many opportunities for personalized learning within their platform, which helps journalists choose the best way to illustrate their findings.

C. Share

1. Interacting with content presented by others
2. Providing constructive feedback
3. Acting on feedback to improve
4. Sharing products with an authentic audience

The journalism program is extremely collaborative; it demands sharing. Journalists enjoy joining conversations around school, in the neighborhood, around the world, and across media. It can be daunting to continually interact with content presented by others.

In this way, journalists serve as faithful companions across the program. That is, an integral aspect of our work involves generous and thoughtful engagement with peers’ work. Frequent drafts help improve pieces. Editors refine style, elevate discourse, and inspire new questions. Journalists count on this feedback and act on it to hone their work.

By peer editing, journalists get to imagine their audience before their work is set out in public, in front of an authentic audience. It can be intimidating to have work online, attached to your name. Teamwork is one of the strongest aspects of the journalism program and helps young journalists develop courage and confidence that it takes to speak up in public.

D. Grow

1. Continually seeking knowledge
2. Engaging in sustained inquiry
3. Enacting new understanding through real-world connections
4. Using reflection to guide informed decisions

One of my goals is to spark students’ curiosity and desire to seek new knowledge. Studying risks getting miscast as a slog if students equivocate it with worksheets, rote memorization, and fill-in-the-blank assignments. Journalism prepares new openings to citizenship, meaningful participation in public spaces, and a sense of efficacy.

I am heartened by the number of my students that keep pursuing journalism long after they have left our school and my school library behind. I see my job as preparing them to continue—preparing them to sustain their inquiries with skills and experiences that will allow them to join a new team and meet new challenges in publishing.

Do you have a journalism program in your library? If so, what works for you as you aim to foster inquiry? If not, start one! Join in the comments below and share the work that gets published in your library.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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