Sam Purdy’s students learn to “be worldly”

“Be worldly.” It’s one of Newsela’s taglines. And it’s now the motto of my class. I want my students to be excited about the new identity you take on when you know what’s happening in the world.

The News Atlas is one way my students become worldly. I got the idea from a teacher in California who also uses Newsela in her classroom. The News Atlas is simply a booklet with maps of each continent. Every time students read an article tied to a specific place, they plot the location on one of the maps and summarize the article. After a few months, the News Atlases begin to capture the complexity of what’s happening in all corners of the world. One of my students, Natalia*, was particularly jazzed by her News Atlas. She became fascinated by a story about the price of gold in New Delhi, India, because she was able to connect to events happening so far away.

I teach at KIPP Washington Heights Middle School in upper Manhattan. The neighborhood is heavily Dominican and Puerto Rican, and 92 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. My colleagues are inspiring; they’re continually innovating in how they teach their courses and invest their students in learning.

One of my favorite ways to use Newsela is to spark discussion and debate. This was surprisingly challenging at first. Students were excited to engage with the ideas in the articles, but they would develop opinions irrespective of what the text said. They thought they knew it all. Our time together became about “What's the evidence?” and “What does the text say?” Students began to see that an opinion is informed by evidence.

As students enter the classroom, there’s a Chromebook on each desk. I let them explore the site independently for a few minutes before I even speak. I want them to know that curiosity is important.

After giving a brief introduction to the topic, I prompt them to draw out their prior knowledge or make predictions about what the article might say. Students read the article independently, first for comprehension and then again to annotate. For example, to prepare for a debate, students would highlight evidence for and against in different colors. In partners, they share their highlighted evidence, align on the most important points, and then share opinions and conclusions.

From there, a few students volunteer to give impromptu “speeches” supported by text evidence. And the class discussion or debate starts. Occasionally, I interrupt with prompts such as “Turn to your partner and discuss how you would respond to Christian’s opinion.”

My goal is that students learn to crave knowledge. Some students are naturally curious about the world. Others need to experience the pride that comes with challenging yourself and rising to the occasion. Still others need to watch their quiz scores climb and experience reading growth. But for everyone, I think there’s a certain satisfaction in becoming a person who knows about the world.

Sam Purdy teaches sixth-grade Nonfiction Studies at KIPP Washington Heights Middle School in New York City. He has taught for four years. Before joining KIPP, he taught in Rio Grande Valley in Texas through Teach For America and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Teach For Argentina. He speaks Spanish fluently and loves to travel. If he hadn’t become a teacher, he might have been the Yankees’ play-by-play radio announcer.

*Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Written by Erika Dunham 

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