Students Encouraged to Speak Out in NYT Online Contest

The Learning Network, an educational blog hosted by 'The New York Times,' doesn't always have a lot to cover in the summer, a time when many educational efforts pause. In an effort to stimulate student engagement, they used the month of July to conduct a 4-week contest in which young readers were prompted to respond critically to current world events.

student ideas new york times student comments

A Serious Opportunity

Once a week throughout July, The New York Times education blog The Learning Network (TLN) had a request of its younger readers. They wanted to know what stories spoke to them, what provoked responses of any kind. Each week, the site's visitors from age 13-25 were encouraged to write in (or, more accurately, post comments in reply to a blog entry) with their opinions on whatever was happening in the world that week. A panel of TLN writers selected the best responses each week, and the winning commenter's piece was featured in a separate post of his or her own.

In keeping with its status as a blog for both students and their teachers and parents, TLN encouraged adult Times readers to use the contest as a way to keep young readers critically engaged over the summer months. Several schools latched on to the request, as did a number of motivated and opinionated individuals. All told, the Times received something like 400 entries.

An Impressive Response

Those 400 entries confirmed, if there was any doubt, that young readers can have incredibly nuanced and insightful opinions on current events if they're given a forum in which to share them. Among the four winning entries, at least one was written by a 15-year-old, and at least three came from high school students. Reading the essays, you wouldn't necessarily know it. They're very well thought out, full of considerations of multiple perspectives, counterpoints and various other subtleties. For instance, check out:

Peruse those essays, and you might be surprised at the level of sophistication they display. Then again, you might not be. Sometimes high school students and other young learners receive an undeserved bad reputation (have you ever started a sentence with 'kids these days,' even jokingly?), but after all, these students represent our academic future. Programs like those fostered by TLN make it clear that there are ambitious young minds out there raring to change the world for the better. If nothing else, these students have proven that not all blog comment sections need be the poorly-spelled ravings of madmen.

Another case of technology and writing combining: the University of Iowa is offering a scholarship for the best 140-character Twitter essay.

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