When the news about Osama Bin Laden broke Sunday night, it didn’t just send seasoned reporters scrambling. Immediately the staff who work on the New York Times Learning Network blog also began posting and proposing resources from the Times that teachers could use in their classrooms on Monday. By Monday afternoon, over 300 students had answered a student question about their reaction to the news.
The Learning Network began as a website in 1998 in response to a survey that indicated two factors that had influenced loyal Times readers to pick up the newspaper reading habit. “The first answer was, my parents, and the second answer was, my teacher,” said Katherine Schulten, Learning Network editor. It was relaunched as a more interactive blog in October 2009. The audience is very broad, Schulten said, ranging from high school students and students in community college to fifth graders and English language learners from around the world. The Learning Network staff — Schulten and two-part-time and freelance staff members – try to curate New York Times content for that wide audience using student opinion questions, brief Q & As on breaking news events as well as more extensive lessons on the topic. “The Times will publish 75 articles on Japan in a week and a half on and teachers can’t use all that stuff so we can go and find the best multimedia, the articles that are the most accessible, and an overview for kids who are just coming to the topic, ” Schulten said.
Over the summer, the staff asked students each week what interested them in the Times. “We were shocked because we thought it would be all be Jersey Shore and it was summer so kids were doing it on their own,” she said. “What really astonished us was how much was international news.” All of the staff have education backgrounds, Schulten explained. While many of the lessons fit well with social studies classes, “I think our biggest audience is English teachers,” she said. “There’s all kinds of different pressures for every teacher now because of No Child Left Behind…and the national standards…that have narrowed the curriculum, many people think, so we just try to find ways to make it easy and quick.”