|It's Christmas vacation, but I'm determined to get my blog posted before the flight leaves!|
This week I received an early Christmas present: the Time announcement of “Person of the Year” not as an individual but a group—journalists around the world who face public mistrust some places and outright suppression others. Why was this so cool? Because headliners include people involved in 3 of the 4 issues my 10th graders had just researched in our mini unit on news literacy and current events. As students entered the classroom Thursday for their exam, I had the cover photo montage from the announcing article projecting on the board: "The Guardians and the War on Truth.” One student already knew about the announcement and had recognized the name of Jamal Khashoggi. I briefly informed students why I was projecting that image, passed out the exam, and posted the article in our online classroom. At the end of the period, I noticed a couple of the students who had finished the exam early reading the article.
I used to resist teaching news bias and accuracy—after all, my syllabus is full. But having now seen students engage with this really current issue at the heart of some very practical English skills of reading and writing, let alone life skills of citizenship and ethics, I wouldn't give it up if you paid me. The keys for me have been to (1) embed it in a unit that has the purpose pre-primed and ready to be plugged into so that I can (2) make it short.
The unit I embedded it in is my human dignity unit with the Holocaust memoir Night as its central text. (I’ve written here about the purpose, text sets, and a jigsaw activity I use for that unit.) After we’ve gotten righteously indignant about how people in the past could allow atrocities like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide to occur, the harder next step is to find out if anything is happening today that future generations will look back on and say, ‘How could they just let that happen?’”
This year we had only 2 days for the mini unit—not ideal, but how it worked out with 5 school days cancelled due to typhoons. But the good news is, it did work! Day 1 we learned about news bias and accuracy, and day 2 we applied it by researching a chosen issue and reporting back to the class on it.
For learning about assessing news accuracy and bias, there were 2 steps:
- Study this chart graphing news sources on a liberal/conservative x-axis vs. factuality y-axis. Find 2 news sources you are familiar with. Name them, and describe their rating.
- Read this page on the Media/Bias Fact Check website about their methodology for rating bias and reliability. List their 4 categories for scoring bias. List 3 additional terms from the page related to bias that you think are important to pay attention to. (We had an open-note quiz on these 7 items the following day—just to ensure they were processed at least twice—once in note-taking and once in writing them down again. For those who skipped the note-taking step, there was a re-quiz.)
- Select 1 topic out of the following list of 4 involving possible disregard of human dignity: civil war in Yemen, killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, civil war in South Sudan, or treatment of Rohingya. Read 1 news article on it, and complete the news accuracy/bias assessment form on it. (See below for the form.)
- Form a group with the others who picked the same topic. Share what you’ve already learned, what types of sources you learned it from, and what further questions you have. Make a plan for which members of your group will further research which questions. Spend the next 20 minutes doing that research and taking notes.
That was last week Thursday—last day of regular class before exam preparation started. Then this week Wednesday came the Time “Person of the Year” announcement. If I was worried about the news unit being shortened out of memory, that was the universe conspiring to rescue it. I get so excited when I can tell my students, like I could when they came into their exam this Thursday, “Look—what we did in class is something that real people in the real world are talking about!” I think they get excited, too.
One student wrote the following in part of his exam: "Books such as Night and An Ordinary Man [the introduction] helped me dive deeper into different wars and problems of the past and today. Learning about the past has been particularly exciting. I think I’ve spent multiple hours reading on different articles on the internet on World War 2, and it’s not just about the Holocaust and the wars in Europe. I’ve also read a lot on the wars in Asia and the Pacific. Not only have I researched on the past, but now that I think about it, I’ve spent a lot more time reading the news (something I don’t usually do)."
Do you teach news literacy and current events? If so, what works for you?