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Behind The News is an Australian student current affairs program produced by the ABC. It can be watched on the television or directly from the BTN website. it has been a long tradition at my school for Year 5 students to watch BTN on a Friday afternoon. In the five years I have taught year 5 it has always been a highlight. A  chance to relax, watch, discuss and enjoy a quality news program together before the weekend starts.

From a teaching perspective I love the way the Behind The News producers work hard to make even the dullest or most difficult to grasp issues interesting to students. Today my students were grappling with excessive food wastage in Australian households, the AFL draft, protests in America over excessive Wall Street profits and new rules that will allow female Australian soldiers to fight alongside their male counterparts. All great stories and all filled with great discussion points.

Today I thought I would share with you some of the ways I have been using BTN to assist students in Year 5 learn this year.

  • We have had weeks where we have just watched BTN, pausing for the quizzes, taking a vote and cheering when miraculously we were all correct.
  • We have had weeks where for one or two of the stories different students have had to take bullet point notes, in a book by hand and at the end of the session we have looked at and discussed the note taking with the whole year group.
  • We have had weeks where every student had to take bullet point notes using a notebook or a netbook, which ever they felt most comfortable with. I have collected these notes and used them to inform me on who can cope with watching, listening and note-taking. Not an easy skill for ten year olds.
  • We have also had weeks where I have set up a google doc, divided it into three columns and asked three students to take note-take, each one using a different column. This has been a great way to view different student perspectives on the same story.

Taking notes has always provided lots of discussion points and many heated and interesting chats have been had as a result.

For the past few weeks though, I have been trying something a little different. I have been using a pack of cards. On every card I have placed a sticker with the students’ name on it. I sit with the students shuffling the cards in my hand and at several points in the show I pause, pluck a card from the pile and ask that student to describe the story so far. Once the discussion is underway I choose another student and ask them what they think, do they agree or disagree with the viewpoints raised so far?  Do they have something to add to the discussion? As I continue to pose questions and draw out cards, I refuse to ask students who have their hands up. In my opinion it is always the same students who do this, their voices are heard enough. Gradually my students are beginning to realise that when I have my cards in my hands there is no point putting up their hands.  The quiet ones are realising that they may be asked to comment and those at the back are realising that they do indeed need to listen. Gradually the conversations are deepening and the thinking developing among all the students.

I am beginning to think that my pack of cards is one of the simplest and yet most useful tools of my trade. Where did I think of this idea? I didn’t, someone else did and they shared it and I read about it. I am now sharing it with you, in case you did not read about it the first time around.

Sharing, learning, growing.

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