Am I an English teacher who has to teach journalism or a journalism teacher who has to teach English?

I recently had the tremendous opportunity to attend the Reynolds Institute for high school journalism, supported by the American Society for News Editors and This happens every summer at four different locations around the country–I had the good fortune to attend the Reynolds Institute at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU in Phoenix.

At the last session of the two-week institute, we each had the opportunity to say a few words at the mic about the institute. You can see some excerpts from our final words here (I’m up last in the video, and there were 30 of us in attendance so not everyone shows up in the video).

A running thread through the two weeks was our status as either English teachers or journalism teachers. Some of us introduced ourselves on the first evening as English teachers who teach journalism or journalism teachers who teach English. And we joked at the end that now we are all journalism teachers…some of whom still have to teach a few English classes.

I’m certainly more of a journalism teacher than I was before the two weeks in Phoenix experiencing professional development that was nothing short of transformative. But what I am and always have been is a literacy teacher. What I’ve learned this summer about teaching journalism will make me even better at that.

One of my Reynolds colleagues said in that final session that it doesn’t matter if it’s journalism or English–we all teach communication. And I totally agree with this. Literacy in our hyper-wired, hyper-connected world IS communication in all kinds of ways. Students who are unable to use current and emerging communication technology effectively will find themselves behind the curve in their lives beyond school, i.e., illiterate. And by “effective” I do not mean whether or not they can use Facebook to make plans for the weekend with their friends or if they can use Twitter to make their friends laugh, 140 characters at a time.

By “effective” I mean that my students are able to harness the power of these socially-networked communication technologies to live a successful life and contribute positively to society.

Journalism especially teaches these literacies. During the Reynolds Institute, we learned about how the world of journalism is re-inventing itself and thinking about its existance beyond the printed page. At a tour of the Arizona Republic, we learned about the six platforms there that they have to think about using to get out the news: print, desktop (online), TV, mobile, social networking, and tablet. Traditional literacies (i.e., paper and pencil reading and writing) would only address one of those platforms. We also learned about how reporters must know how to use communication technologies in their jobs–for example, how to use Twitter to report, to interact with readers, and to get the news out. These are far more refined skills than simply using Twitter to make ones friends laugh.

So as we continue to address in our language arts classrooms the literacy skills our students will need in life beyond our classrooms, the journalism world can help us to teach those skills. It’s absolutely a clear example of 21st century literacy skills at work–at least the corners of the journalism world that have figured out how to survive with the explosion of Internet technologies. Journalism that is thriving right now is doing so because it didn’t ignore the technology revolution. Thriving journalism follows its readers into cyberspace and figures out how to put the news there in the places where readers want to find it.

And our students will thrive if we are certain to teach them how to navigate those same spaces well.

So that’s my charge–as a journalism teacher, as a publications adviser, and as a language arts teacher. My experiences this summer will help me to teach my newspaper and yearbook staffs to do better journalism, to write with more rigor, and to be better storytellers via words, images, and video. And I will also bring journalism into my language arts classes–my seniors can look forward to more media analysis, more working in digital spaces, more use of social networking tools in our classroom work.

I actually can’t wait to get started!

(just need to soak up my last few weeks of summer vacation first…)


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