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Native Pathways to Education
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper


by Marilyn Harmon
North Slope Borough School District


One of the joys of teaching in the Arctic is having a school setting flexible enough to try out innovative ideas. We often have the opportunity to try teaching in areas in which we have had little prior experience. My first year in the Arctic I taught cross-country skiing. I qualified because I had been on skis once in my life. 

When I moved to the village, as the newcomer I was given the job of putting together the school newspaper. Not only was I new, but I was a "lowly" kindergarten/first grade teacher with no previous experience with newspapers. The school newspaper is generally assumed to be produced by high school students as an extra-curricular activity. However, sending an invitation to the high school students to work on the newspaper brought no response.

I explored my way through the job. First I spent hours figuring out the computer program that was used for publishing. Then I hassled the teachers and principal for news articles and student writings, and fortunately they were very cooperative. Then, of course, came the editing, layout, copying, stapling, and distributing.

I observed the community receiving the paper. The pattern seemed the same for all ages: turn to the puzzle in the back and then read through the articles looking for their own name or those of family and friends.


Changing the Idea a Bit

As I plan for next year's first and second graders, I would like to use the newspaper to increase the students' learning through a process-approach to teaching. Although the concept of a "newspaper" as a form of communication derives from Western society, it is something that will almost surely be a part of my students' adult world. Still, the publishing of the newspaper would only be a by-product of the wider range of objectives that I would hope to meet. My goals for the students are communication skills, research skills, organizing skills, decision making skills, and concepts of responsibility, cooperation, and interdependence. There are probably many more that could be addressed. These concepts represent skills that will last a lifetime -not just during an assignment.

There is also a need for flexibility for students to choose an avenue that I as instructor may not think of. With an open-ended project such as producing the school newspaper, students may brainstorm ideas of their own and pursue innovative ideas for articles. They may want to express their interest in a different way than writing. There may be an art idea, or research on approaches used by other newspapers. Thus, we are all in the learning experience together. I will set up a framework for students to have as many experiences as possible, but there is always room for student choice. It may not be as student-initiated as the spider research in the article on "Weaving Curriculum Webs" by Corwin, Hein, and Levin in LT/LL, but it does have the possibilities of expanding the curriculum horizontally (different activities at the same competency level).

I believe that most students gain from an active learning environment with as many varied experiences as possible. Students learn fastest when the information has meaning to them. Producing a product can create motivation with little extra effort.

This kind of project also lends itself to several grades in the same classroom. An individual grade always has a range of ability within it, but when you have more than one grade in a classroom, you must deal with an even wider diversity of ability. Producing a newspaper calls for different kinds of talent. Also, a reporter's job may vary from carrying a survey form to another person, to tape recording an interview for later writing, to actually writing the article. Even when writing, students' ability vary. A newspaper has room for all kinds of articles. Special writing assignments such as poetry can become an article for the newspaper. The possibilities are endless.


Overall Look at the Project

My students need to know that they are publishing the school paper. They will not write all of the articles, as the paper is going to represent the whole school. They will write the articles that pertain to our class. They will communicate with the other people in the school that turn in articles for the paper. They can compile the actual material into a newspaper, and then they can distribute it. I want them to take responsibility for their part of the job. I want them to realize that they are part of a greater whole and that their job is important. I want them to feel accomplishment when the job is done.

The whole class will be the reporters. They may work in a group of two or three on an article, but each will be involved in the writing directly or indirectly. There will be different types of articles that are included in the paper, so each month the students can rotate to a different type of job. One student in each group could keep the same job and be the tutor for the incoming group.

The whole class would also be divided into the other jobs that are needed to print the paper. Each month the job could rotate, again designating one student to be the tutor. A newspaper needs editors to screen and get articles ready to print. We could have editors-at-large. They would have the job of communicating with school personnel that are contributing to the paper. There are the actual constructors, who put the paper together and staple it. Then there are the distributors who pass out the paper, deliver it to the town store, and address and mail it to the district office and other schools.


Beginning the Project

It is best to build up a concept or a larger idea with concrete examples. Therefore, start the idea of writing the newspaper by looking at various examples of newspapers, including those the other schools in our district send us. Use movies on how a newspaper is published. There is quite a difference between a large city newspaper and our little ditto paper, so we can discuss and compare what we have observed. This is a way of bringing together information that the students may already have and information gathered from the exposure to other newspapers. Everyone should have been able to pick up a little about newspapers. Student sharing will help cement the data for others.

Next we might expand the discussion to looking at the different kinds of articles in the newspapers, and categorizing the types of articles that are included. The students will need to consider their audience, so we will discuss who is reading the newspaper. Next we can brainstorm ideas for articles for our village. The students need to decide what their parents and relatives would like to know.

There are many jobs in addition to writing the articles, such as the gathering of information, deciding which articles to include, and the actual compiling and distributing. If any of these jobs are not done, the paper cannot go out. A mini-demonstration of what is needed to put out the paper will show how the whole process is interdependent. The analysis of newspaper publishing could also lead horizontally to other products that rely on a chain of events to process.


Students Prepare the Material

There are five areas in which I would like to have students write, and I would place three students in each area. The students would either move to another unit for the next month's paper, or remain as the tutor for one month, the idea being that each student would have the opportunity to be the tutor at some point in the year. The newspaper would be published once a month.

The first area is classroom news, which is for the community to receive information about our class. The students can choose from their reading, language, social studies, science, or health classes. They would write or dictate a report about something that we are learning, keeping in mind the village as their audience and writing according to what they think their audience would like to know about. This writing would also tend to strengthen the students' understanding of what they are learning in school.

The second area is village news, in which the students can report on any events that are happening in the village. They may report on seasonal happenings, such as the different types of hunting, the fishing in the fall, or the time the river freezes. Seasonal dinners and events at the community center are always newsworthy.

The third area is interviewing a school employee each month. The school newspaper's purpose is to communicate school news to the village so they can feel a pan of the system. The whole class could create an interview questionnaire. Then the students who have this assignment will contact the person to be featured and present written interview questions. Primary children do not have many opportunities to visit other classrooms and places in the school. They would have to tell interview candidates what they wanted them to do -write the answers on the paper. This would be a learning experience in itself. I imagine we would have to practice what they are going to say a few times before they went.

The fourth area is preparing a monthly calendar. It would contain the birthdays of all the students in the school for that month, as well as all of the school events. They may have to go to the principal to ask for events of the month or the lunch menu. The students could create a cut-and-paste sort of calendar so that it would be ready for me to type in. It would be up to them to decorate it in some way.

The fifth area is choosing a puzzle for the month. These could include word searches and mazes. There are computer disks that make them easy to prepare. There is also a crossword puzzle disk. Again, I may be the one who types in the information, but students could choose the words for the puzzle and then decorate it. Older students may decide to submit some of their own puzzles, and together the students could decide which is the best and print it.

All of these activities need an adult to direct and supervise. The first months will call for more direction than the later months. I thought that students would benefit from peers showing them what to do, so I would let one student be the teacher in each group, after they had successfully accomplished that job for the previous month. Even though the project would take a lot of time, it incorporates a great deal of learning-with-a-purpose into the package.


Publishing the Newspaper

This reflects the same plan as for the preparation of the material, but now it encompasses the other jobs of putting together the newspaper. I would have the first and second graders do the leg work for the newspaper, with groups of students working together. Again, they would rotate through the groups, but one student would be designated as tutor and stay in the group for two months.

The first group would be called the editors. They have to preview all of the work submitted and decide how it should go into the paper. They might put the work into groups for me. This way students are reading other students' work. I want them to read and write as much as possible in first and second grade, where the language arts are a major pan of the curriculum.

The second group I would call editors-at-large, since that sounds like someone who has to travel to obtain information. This group would have to ask the teachers for their news articles. As I indicated, the teachers have been very good about writing little pieces or submitting student work. This means that my students' main job is to communicate what they want. They will tell teachers when they need the articles and then pick them up. This may take some practice beforehand, but it will stretch my students' experience in speaking and communicating their ideas. It will also introduce them to more of the school employees. I hope that if the students have a reason to go to teachers' classrooms, and if they practice what they want to say, that we can encourage their communicating skills.

The third group would deal more with the actual construction of the paper. After we have copied the paper on our copier or ditto machines, the pages need to be collated and stapled. This job is still important even though it does not seem to fit in the normal scheme of the curriculum. It may be best if this group works after the school day, as my students generally want to stay for extra time. It could be a fun time of socializing and getting the job done. The high school students have done some of this work during the last year. They may volunteer to help again.

The last group would be the distributors. After the pages are put together, it goes to the classrooms and each student takes one home. We also take a bunch to the town store for members of the community to pick up. Some are sent to the district office. Others are supposed to be mailed to the schools in our district. This fourth group of students could copy the addresses onto newspapers and put them in the mail. That aligns with the curriculum for handwriting and also for social studies in knowing the villages in our borough.

As with the assembling of the material, much adult direction is needed to guide students to achieving the various tasks. The peer tutors are the chairmen of the groups and can help eliminate some of the confusion. The students will learn a variety of skills from these responsibilities. They will each have a small part of ajob that leads to a whole. If any part is not completed, the whole project is weakened. By the end of the year, all of the students will have had a chance to work on each of the parts that make up the whole.

The Chinese Influence


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Last modified August 18, 2006