Put Student Work on Display
Building on your point about showing work, good and bad, I think it’s important for students to see and comment on each others’ work. Journalism, after all, is an act of public performance.
Students need to learn how to handle criticism, develop the toughened skin needed especially in an age where their work is available everywhere and forever more. The approach I prefer when asking for comments is to pose two questions: What Works? and What Needs Work? We build on success and positive reinforcement guides students to a greater understanding of journalism that meets the needs of readers.
What Needs Work? can be tricky. The default question, and one that students and professionals alike often revert to is “What Doesn’t Work?” What Needs Work? helps students see both the flaws and points them toward revision without destroying their confidence. It’s not an ego-booster but a motivator.
Share the Struggle
Writing is the great leveler. When students see their teacher write a coherent lead or a pithy tweet (or edit audio or video) they realize that the process is challenging for all, even the most seasoned. Letting students see that you can suck too at times is not just an act of humility but a gift: What journalists do is hard, hard work. It’s also a chance to show students how to make the kinds of changes that elevate first drafts to final ones.
Assign a Multimedia Obituary
Obits have always been a training ground for beginning journalists. They teach the importance of careful reporting, obsessive attention to accuracy, clarity and sensitivity. In the digital age, the multimedia obituary, whether it’s a collection of still images with a voice-over from friends and relatives or audio and video, requires time-honored skills with the demands of 21st century ones.
Channel Don Murray
Murray pioneered the process approach but his greatest gift to teachers may be “Learning by Teaching,” his collection of essays drawn from decades as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, columnist, professor and coach. Anyone interested in coaching students to help them take control of their work, effective conferences, coping with the many struggles of the teaching profession and locating inspiration while drowning in a tidal wave of responsibilities will find this book a treasure.
Learn From Your Colleagues
At The Poynter Institute where I taught reporting and writing for 15 years and at Columbia J-School where I spent a year as a visiting professor, sitting in classes taught by others taught me invaluable lessons about the art and craft of effective pedagogy. We all think we already have enough on our own plate to take time out for these visits, but the payoff can be immeasurable. Talk afterwards with your colleague about the reasons for their approaches. Ask if you can use them. It’s not stealing, but rather honoring. Best of all, you’ll make new allies and friends.
Buttry note: Chip is one of the best writing teachers/coaches in journalism. He is the author of News Writing and Reporting, an outstanding textbook for journalism classes (full disclosure: He quoted me in the book).
I welcome guest posts from other journalism faculty — adjunct or full-time — for this series. Or if you’re a current or recent journalism graduate, I’d be interested in your observations about what your professors did that was most effective and what didn’t work as well. Please name any professors you’re praising, but I’m not interested in giving you a chance to publicly bash professors you didn’t like. If you’d rather contribute from your own blog than as a guest post, send me a link and I’ll promote it here.