Writing About Issues -Big and Small
I spent some time during the recent September term holiday scanning newspapers, magazines and the Internet for articles related to current issues in the news. The issues covered everything from local, to state, to national and including, global issues. I had to choose articles that had some significance to sixth graders as they were the target audience. Issues ranged from articles on adolescent health, use of mobile phones among children, world poverty, environmental degradation of the coral reef, to endangered animals, to supermarket levies on plastic bags, to the effects of global warming. I needed a minimum of ninety articles as I was working across three Grade 6 classes at Karoo Primary School in Rowville, Victoria. As you can imagine, I spent quite some time hunting and gathering these pieces.
Students were asked to read an article that attracted their interest. Following this, they were asked to identify the issue, and then identify what their personal stand was with regard to the issue. The next step was to talk to at least three of their classmates regarding their respective issues. They were encouraged to ask questions of each other and to take notes as they went about their discussions.
I then shared the written responses I had recorded in my writer’s notebook in response to various news articles. The aim was to have them notice that I had recorded my point of view, my position on each the issues -public transport, sun protection for school students, and the teaching of social skills in schools. I drew their attention to the fact that I had not recounted the facts contained in the article. I had in fact written in response to the issues outlined in each of the pieces. This distinction was important.
I then invited the students to undertake the same approach to the articles they had selected. I informed them that I was greatly interested in their individual opinions on these issues. I wanted them to discover their voice as writers.
I was able to observe as they keenly wrote up their responses. They wrote freely, and with stamina for the task. I conferred with them and was struck by their understanding of the issues under consideration and the sense of voice that emerged as their words filled the page.
During the share time I noticed that they had no difficulty establishing their respective opinions on a range of issues. Many were keen to offer possible solutions to many of the problems. The talk was vibrant and meaningful. The ability to articulate a position on an issue was most evident. I asked them what they had discovered about themselves as writers and the issues being reviewed.
Some were pleasantly surprised by how much they actually knew about particular issues. The amount of writing generated surprised a number of the students. Others wanted to discover more and write about it. One girl found herself on the horns of a dilemma. She could see both sides of the issue and was still undecided. This was valuable reflection.
The teachers of these world aware students, Kym Robinson, Lindsey Bates and Erin Harman are to be congratulated. They have done much of the work that has underpinned the progress these students have made. Their guidance and high expectations of themselves and their students, have brought about effective learning outcomes. These students are able to write with confidence across a range of genres and have developed that essential world knowledge to launch themselves higher and further as writers and thinkers.