The tsunami may have left the news bulletins, but it certainly hasn't left the memories of our pupils. Although it's too early to know what lasting impact it will have, in my class at least this tragedy does seem to have opened the children's eyes to the wider world.
Most children live in an appropriately small world, but beginning to introduce a wider perspective can only be healthy. A few years ago, I was teaching the legend of Beth Gellert. It tells of a prince who kills his dog in anger, thinking the hound had savaged his son, only to discover that it had, in fact, saved him. As my pupils considered the tale, some sobbing broke out at the thought of this needless killing. I was trying to comfort Gemma when Alex cut across me. "It might be sad Gemma," she said, "but there are thousands of children dying today because they haven't got anything to eat. That's worth crying over." Gemma stopped crying and I started thinking.
Perhaps one reason Alex had such an informed opinion was the attention that had been paid to her reading, or rather her lack of reading. Fiction just wasn't grabbing her at all, so I'd pushed her towards non-fiction, particularly newspapers. I'd shown her how to read them differently, all the skimming and scanning that was required and how the layout meant you didn't start at page one and read to the end. She'd really taken to it, as have many others over the years. Parents, for whom "school reading books" can be more of a barrier than a help when trying to be involved in reading, also seem to enjoy sharing a paper with their child. It is filled with variety and stimulates a natural progression into questioning. In class, Alex would regularly share facts or stories she had read about. What I didn't do at the time though, and I wish I had, was use this to broaden the class's horizons.
So, since the tsunami, our class has a designated correspondent of the week. I explained that newspapers and the internet would be our window on the world and that each week it would be someone's job to use these to keep us informed. I challenged them to share a story from this country that interested them, whether news, sport, TV, entertainment or music. In addition though, they needed to tell us about something from the wider world and, crucially, why it is important that we know about it. Results have been mixed, with stories ranging from the ludicrous to the banal. Each week however, we have a new feature on display, either cut out or downloaded, underneath a "from our correspondent" byline, and all of them prompt discussion.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: email@example.com