Journalist’s classroom visit high point of the year for California sixth-graders

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A screenshot of the Padlet platform displaying the classroom Q&A with NPR Journalist Hannah Bloch

NPR journalist Hannah Bloch is used to asking questions, but during a virtual visit with 80 sixth-graders at Chaparral Middle School in Diamond Bar, California, she was the one peppered with them.

The conversation with Bloch, lead digital editor on NPR’s international desk, was the highlight of a media literacy component that educator Sherry Robertson developed for her language arts class.

“Speaking with Sherry Robertson’s class was a delight. The students were so engaged (even over Zoom, which I expected might be tough). Their questions were thoughtful, and I loved their genuine curiosity about journalism and what it’s like being a journalist,” Bloch says.

Robertson arranged the January visit through the News Literacy Project’s Newsroom to Classroom program. Part of the Checkology® e-learning platform, the program enables educators to invite vetted journalist volunteers to visit their classrooms in person or remotely.

“I felt very passionate about creating a unit on this. The younger we start, the better,” Robertson says. “I’m on a mission to do my part in the world to make my kids literate online.”

Before the visit, Robertson’s students completed the Checkology lessons “InfoZones” and “Arguments & Evidence.” They then submitted questions to Bloch ahead of time through the platform, Padlet.

Inspiring visit

Introducing a new subject area has both challenged and inspired Robertson. “As educators, we weren’t trained to teach this,” she says. “This is new for me. I’m teaching them something I’m learning at the same time.”

Bringing in a subject matter expert was a real help. The conversation with Bloch covered several topics, from what inspired her to become a journalist, to how she determines whether a story is credible, to which fast food restaurant she recommends.

“It was so amazing. She was fantastic and went out of her way to answer my kids’ questions,” Robertson says. And the conversation with a working journalist was eye-opening for her students. “She’s so accomplished, and here she is talking to them as equals. This was something my kids could aspire to. Journalism could be attainable to them. I don’t think they realized it,” she adds.

In a year when distance learning has posed significant challenges to educators, parents and kids, Robertson was able to easily  arrange the visit with Bloch, who lives on the East Coast. And it was a natural fit given that everyone has essentially been “living” online since the pandemic began.

Robertson also wanted to ensure her students enjoyed their first year in middle school, despite the circumstances. She sought to keep them engaged and provide something fun. Bloch’s visit was just that. “This was literally the best experience my kids had this year,” Robertson says.

For Bloch, the visit was also a delight. “It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to spend that time with them and I’m thrilled to hear that they enjoyed it, too. And I have so much respect for the work teachers like Ms. Robertson are doing at this most challenging of times,” she says.

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