Part 1: The Instructional Stuff
So, I came to the part of English 103 when we teach evaluative writing. This culminates in students creating Annotated Bibliographies on the sources they’ve been reading for research.
Leading up to this, we examine criteria associated with evaluation of sources, and how authorship, currency, domain, evidence impact the validity of sources and arguments. We explore various resources on the web for collecting source material–students compare Google, online databases accessed through our library, the DMOZ, and Google News. They consider the kinds of information they find in each of these spaces and how each of these tools might be valuable in different research contexts.
These activities are par for a course on research. But, I had a couple of other things in play this year that forced some additional class time, but opened up some powerful conversations. More on this in Part 2, below.
First, I am working on my Common Sense Media (CSM)Teacher Certification, so I was looking to bring in instruction in that focused towards this end, and incorporated some parts of the vast wealth of resources found at commonsense.org. I would say this is one of the go-to places for developing media awareness and literacy. As an educator, if you are trying to figure out how to work with your community, you have to start here.
Second, I wanted to do work with students around the concept of fake news. I wanted to help them define what this is, how to spot it when it’s happening. I wanted to bring into the conversation words like perspective and bias. At the start of this conversation, students let me know that this was a topic that they were very much interested and concerned about. Many felt the inability to detect fake news or how to separate inaccuracies and falsehoods from
At CSM, they have a set of pre-created lessons on Fake News, which culminate in student making web-based products called “Digital Bytes.” I found one of these units on Fake News. However, I wasn’t too keen on just sending my students there, so I borrowed their material and repackaged and organized it in Schoology.
This allowed me to be guided by the CSM materials, use their ideas and videos as a jumping off point while giving it to students in a format they were familiar with.
What we did:
- Watched videos on internet hoaxes, and then had a discussion in Schoology focusing on our own experiences with sham stories and the internet.
- Did close readings and analysis of “fake news stories,” and students generated lists of characteristics of fake news. We combined these lists into a master list of “fake news” characteristics.
- Created Google Sites of fake animals, like this one about the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus, and students had to use a required number of “fake news” characteristics. They published these sites so that peers could read them. These are available for world-wide consumption, because Sites allows for the audience to be inside of our school domain.
- Students went on to engage in evaluation of sources.
Looking back on this, I feel like this is some of the most important work I did with students all year, and I’m getting to the part that was super important. Students started this exploration saying that they weren’t sure how to identify fake news, to creating lists of characteristics, to producing it.
Part 2: The Interesting Part
The instructional stuff came a week after the mass shootings in Parkland, Florida. The media was full of debate about school shootings, gun control, school safety, arming teachers with firearms.
It’s easy in the midst of all of this washing over us, to forget that children are getting the same exposure.
Our superintendent, Jamie Farr (@BravesSupt), was interviewed by local TV as part of coverage of how schools were operating in the wake of what happened in Florida. Shortly after the story aired, Farr wrote to community members, expressing dismay at how the coverage was inaccurate to his interview.
We were directly in the midst of fake news. My colleague, Tallie Giuliano (@TallieGiuliano) suggested we invite Farr to our classes to discuss the media coverage and his reaction. We did.
What followed was a day of kids asking really good questions about media, school safety, mental health. Their questions were thoughtful, concerned.
What started as an intended look at source evaluation and writing an annotated bibliography, turned into an experience of critical reading on the web, media creation, real-world connection, working with adult-expert speakers, and thinking about our consumption.