The idea of creating trust in the classroom can be inspiring as well as disconcerting. It requires respect, personal regard, competence and integrity. Intrinsically, trust means all experiences and ideas are valued, including those of the students. Giving students the opportunity to read constructive and critical articles written by teenagers is one way to demonstrate this trust and create community.
Cultivating and celebrating trust and respect among adolescents is what YCTeen magazine is all about. Published since 1980, YCTeen’s print circulation has grown to 24,000. Teachers in New York City public high schools can receive the print magazine for free. Hundreds of educators (including me) distribute the publication in schools, libraries and other community-based organizations across the city.
In my work as a high school English teacher, I have learned that my students enjoy reading what other students write. YCTeen’s articles cover many social issues affecting young people today. The publishers of YCTeen trust their young reporters to be authentic in their journalism.
Last year, my 9th-graders read informative articles in YCTeen about gender, abuse, success, sports, education, stereotypes and body image. The young journalists of YCTeen write with both clarity and style, which models technique for my students. Many times during the reading of an article, my students became so invested in the piece that they began to comment aloud. These unexpected displays of engagement triggered some of the most authentic classroom discussions witnessed in my entire teaching career.
Every YCTeen publication includes lesson plans for teachers linked to various articles from that month’s issue. YCTeen units are well-planned and incorporate Common Core Learning Standards and objectives in a clear and purposeful manner.
The publication suggests various prereading activities to activate background knowledge and boost engagement. For example, before reading a story titled “Change for the Better: I Dare to Dream in NYC,” I introduced the concept of a social comfort zone to my students. On a blank sheet of paper, students drew themselves in the middle of a circle surrounded by people, places and situations that are inside and outside their comfort zones. Students then discussed why they might feel awkward in some groups more than others. That discussion prompted a larger dialogue regarding the benefits and consequences of stepping outside a comfort zone.
YCTeen also provides various strategies to improve reading comprehension. In my classroom, I ask students to take turns reading aloud as much or as little as they choose. The publication also includes instructions on how to annotate the margins of the article in preparation for activities following the reading.
After reading a story, students make connections by citing quotations, discussing rhetorical technique and placing themselves in the author’s shoes. Generally, I conclude YCTeen lessons by incorporating reflective journaling and argumentative writing.
As I am building my students’ reading, writing, social and emotional skills, I am also establishing an environment of trust and respect that supports academic success in the classroom.