The New York Times Learning Network: An Innovation in Student Engagement

Today I stumbled upon a highly innovative resource called The New York Times Learning Network. In particular, I came across the Student Opinion blog. I am incredibly impressed with this resource and feel that most educational sites can learn a few things from it! There are a few reasons why I believe this to be an exceptional resource:

  1. High quality posts
  2. High audience engagement, interaction, and collaboration
  3. Organized appearance and layout

High quality posts

First of all, the posts are written for junior high and high school students, and contain thoughtful, educational topics of high interest. A major highlight is that the articles are written in a way that respects the intelligence and abilities of teens. Currently, the first three posts are titled, “What hidden talents might you have?”, “How do you relieve stress?”, and “Would you mind if your parents blogged about you?”. These issues are all highly relevant to students, and contain links to additional resources and articles. They provide thought-provoking questions, bring creativity to their subjects, include current issues and events, and can be used in all subject areas. Furthermore, each post is short and to the point, and is very well written.

High audience engagement, interaction, and collaboration

One of the most accurate ways to judge the quality of a site is not the number of hits it receives, but the way in which it encourages audience interaction and elicits quality responses. Judging from the well-written comments under a post titled, “How do you define family?”, I can tell that students are encouraged to be thoughtful and incredibly honest about such a personal topic. In fact, the only other place where I have encountered this number of thoughtful comments posted by young people is on a make-up review site where young women share tips and opinions. (It absolutely amazes me how eloquent a teenager can be about a subject that interests her!) Besides encouraging thoughtful responses from readers, the Learning Network also includes interactive elements including: Daily News Quiz, Word of the Day, 6Q’s About the News, Student Crossword, Test Yourself Questions, Poetry Pairings, and more (full list to the left). There are also lesson plans for teachers. All of these elements provide a variety of ways for students and teachers to interact with the material and each other.

Organized appearance and layout

I am surprised at how much information is packed into the Learning Network site, even though there is plenty of white space, columns for easy reading, and a highly accessible navigation menu at the top and right side of the page. It should be easy for teachers and students to use this site daily. Rarely have I visited a site that is so well-organized and well thought out.

Ideas for use

Here are some ideas for how to use this rich, vast resource with students:

  • Hook students with something curriculum-related
  • Give students a ‘thought break’ half way through the class
  • Encourage discussion about critical and relevant issues in the everyday lives of students
  • Have students respond to an article, comment, or interactive activity on the site
  • Begin research on a topic presented in one of the articles
  • Explore the writing style of the posts and use them to teach students how to write for the web
  • Have students contribute to their own blog about relevant issues

Have you used the New York Times Learning Network resources? How have you used them? Do you have additional suggestions for resources of this quality? How do you assess the quality of a resource?

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