When most people think of English classes, they picture grammar lessons, parsing sentences and diving into tragedies such as “Romeo and Juliet.”
One Otwell Middle School sixth grade teacher is changing that picture, though, by using print news as her teaching medium.
Alashia Cody’s five advanced English language arts classes recently competed for the title of winning class in the teacher’s fourth newspaper contest, a project she began in the fall of 2015 to engage her students and to make her lessons applicable to their lives.
“When they walk into a classroom and it’s just writing and grammar and if you just break apart one standard at a time, it feels meaningless,” she said. “But this [project] is nice because it’s comprehensive and I can go through and be like, ‘I hit all these standards,’ I just didn’t have to beat them over the heads with it — it was natural.”
With news becoming increasingly digitalized, Cody said the goal of the project was also to get her students writing while familiarizing them with print materials.
The winning paper, which does not yet have a name, included an interview with Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden, an “unusual sports” section that featured information about cheese rolling and extreme ironing — clothes ironing at extreme locations, such as on mountain tops — and a style section, among others.
“We didn’t expect [Bearden] to come to our school, so we made a Google document with questions,” said Syada Hasan, 12, “but then he said he would come, and he did.”
Trishna Pulipaka, 11, said she felt her group did a better job with the interview and the project because they were able to interview Bearden in person.
“If you are asked a question online, you’re going to think about it for a really long time and then answer,” she said, “so it’s better to hear what a person would say when they’re [asked] a question in person.”
While this semester’s project was much the same as previous contests, Cody said this time she let her students choose their groups instead of assigning them, as she had previously.
This, she said, led some groups to gravitate towards harder news, such as the interview with Bearden, while others chose softer news topics, such as the style section.
Still, the students said they learned a lot — and had fun.
“I liked researching and finding all these weird sports,” said 12-year-old Gavin Horn, who co-wrote the “unusual sports” section. “I also felt like I was a little better at writing afterwards.”
That, Cody said, was the goal.
“Really, the only reason I started thinking about the newspaper was I just wanted to have them write in a way that felt relevant to them,” she said. “They have a lot of autonomy and choice, and they can decide what to report about and it is just really comprehensive.”