Helping Them Navigate the Fake News Conundrum

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 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.

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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:

  1. Watched videos on internet hoaxes, and then had a discussion in Schoology focusing on our own experiences with sham stories and the internet.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Starting to Pull Citizenship, Leadership, and Literacy Together

I’m spending some time pulling various threads of readings, conversations, and writing together.

Here’s my first effort to think about what it is that high school students need to know and to be able to do:

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But, I’m missing things. In my sketchnote above, I’m really thinking about digital safety. There’s way more that high school students need. Going back to the drawing board, literally.

Watch for my remix tomorrow.

Developing #digcit

This is the last of the three part series responding to the #slc2016 created by our Professional Development coordinator, Katie McFarland (@Katiemc827). The last part of the challenge was to create an assignment for students to help them develop as digital citizens.

To be honest, I really struggled with this part of the challenge. To accomplish it, I went to some of the resources Katie shared, such as Common Sense Media, and I also did the standard Google and Youtube searches. I spent time looking at the Cybraryman to see what he had on the topic, as well as looking at Kathy Schrock’s page to see what she had to say.

Part of my struggle, at this point, was that I felt completely overwhelmed. Too much stuff to wade through. Understand, there’s a lot of good stuff. It seems that Common Sense Media’s page is the go-to place for THE digital citizenship curriculum. But, once I started to look at the different strands, I thought, “What part should I do?” and “Should I do all of this?”

In the back of my mind, I had a fear. Would any of this be real for my students. I voiced as much to my colleagues: I see the need for digital citizenship for my students, in the same way I see the need to teach study skills, character education. However, often when we get into lessons about note taking and time management, we find them to be deadly dull and the kids don’t always see the benefits and applications.

So, for a couple of days, I sat and let things ferment, percolate, and then I sat in on the #slc2016 Twitter chat on digital citizenship, and things began to come together for me.

Here’s some of what helped:

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Through this student’s tweet to me, about something small like doing a Google search of the self, is one way that we can help build the digital citizen. It didn’t have to be a binder full of a multi-week curriculum. It had to be small, meaningful, discreet activities. Well-planned and with context…and, I thought to myself, making a metaphorical slap to the forhead, “You big, dummy. It’s Beginning teaching 101.”

Once past my teaching-block, the ideas began to come forth. Here’s some of the take away I’ve had this morning:

  1. Authenticity. One of the biggest problems, in a long list of problems, I see as a writing and composition teacher in our tests and in the writing assignments given to students is that they lack authenticity. They don’t present students with real world writing situations and real world audiences. Thus, students aren’t prepared to write for actual, living, breathing human beings. They don’t have a sense of how their writing might be perceived by others, how it might be physically held, where it might be found. Student writing exists in a vacuum of in basket, rubric markings, out basket, binder. However, students write all the time: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, on their phones, in text messages. And, when they write, and they do things that make us cringe–they don’t act as good digital citizens–it’s because they don’t realize that they are ineffectively communicating.
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My breakthrough last night during the #slc2016 Twitter chat.

For me, understanding my role as a teacher of digital citizenship is tied together with my role as a teacher of communication–not separate from. In essence, when I teach digital citizenship, I’m asking students to consider what they are communicating about themselves to others. Seeing digital citizenship in the context of the writing situation– purpose, audience, subject, self–brought this into focus with clarity.

2. Small, manageable bits. In my new “Media Maker” course, I’m worried about students posting content to their blogs which may be inappropriate, rash, without thought and without care for themselves or for others. And, I’ve struggled with how to make this point meaningfully to students and help them be aware of this, because it speaks to my concerns about writing above. I’m giving students the power to write about their passions and interests, and I’m giving it to students who have been writing in a vacuum. They will be writing with real purposes and audiences, I think, maybe, for the first time in their lives.

To address this, and to take on my need for teaching digital citizenship, I’m going to offer challenges to students in each of the projects of this class.

So, for example, in the first project, we will focus on digital footprints. In the next unit, as we start to look at bringing in outside sources to our writing, we’ll look at acknowledgement. Thus, digital citizenship, composition go hand-in-hand.

It was a great couple of days for me in the #slc2016 to really get motivated around these new aspects of learning and action steps for the coming fall. Time to get lesson planning.