This is the story of my library life over the past two weeks…
Social Studies teacher that works with us extensively: “Hey Dave, my kids are wrestling with what the terms left, right, and center mean on the political spectrum and what they mean when we’re talking about news sources and media. Can you work with us on something?”
Me in that moment:
Then, five days later came the moment when I had to begin figuring out how to structure a learning experience on the politics of right, left, and center, and helping 16-year old human beings come to an understanding of center, left, and right sources of news without triggering students or their parents.
Me five days later…
At that point, however, I kind of had no choice, but to get a spine and deal with politics, opinion, news, and a whole lot of personal anxiety and give this thing all a whirl. Here’s what my whirl looked like:
Lesson: Right, Left, and Center: The “Mythical American” Version
Who: IB Global Politics I (HS juniors)
When: Intended time was one 85-min block class period
- Video from social studies teacher: The Political Spectrum Explained In 4 Minutes
- Google Slides Left, Right, and Center in America template with links to appropriate pages from Allsides.com.
- Play video and discuss students’ understanding of right, left and center as they apply to the political spectrum of the United States.
- Discuss lesson/activity objectives.
- Review class ground rules for civil discourse and mutual respect.
- Introduce task.
- In groups of 2-4 select a topic from one of the slides. (In practice, the selection of topics by groups took place “Hunger Games style” so the first group to put their names on a slide got to have the topic.) Groups are also invited to view the topic tab on the Allsides site and choose a topic that has not been included in the original slideshow template.
- Groups will try to fill out the extreme left, extreme right, and center sections of their slides without looking at the linked articles or searching for position statements in other sources. Emphasis: “This is our BEGINNING understanding about positions on these topics. We will likely have to revise our thoughts as the semester progresses.”
- After students fill out their draft “belief sections,” they will read through as many left, right, center articles as they were able.
- Groups will share out information from their slides to the full class. Class will have opportunity to discuss or raise questions.
- After completing share out by all groups, we will discuss How to Spot 11 Types of Media Bias from the Allsides site.
- Students explore Ozy and Axios news sites – I chose these sources, particularly, for their very mobile-friendly and teenager-friendly (brief) formats.
I can honestly say that students were EXTREMELY engaged during the full 85-minute period. Discussion within their groups was rich and thoughtful. I was pleasantly surprised that they committed themselves and spent most of the time they had really digging in and reading though and discussing the linked articles.
Students’ made observations and comments like, “This is SO confusing! This article is from Fox News which is rated center-right, but this article is completely in favor of gun control” which, in turn, lead to some really worthwhile conversations about the nature of media outlets. “Does that make you feel that Fox News might be more balanced than you had anticipated? Have you noticed that there is an Allsides rating for Fox Online News Only and a separate rating for Fox News Opinion?”
This librarian’s observation: High school students REALLY dislike the “messiness” of our media landscape. Students desire “clean” categorization. They wanted sources rated “left” to contain works that supported policy positions on the left and they wanted the same on the right. I tried to keep it positive, but the message to them ultimately amounted to, “Too bad! Unfortunately, this is the messy world of news and media today. As on-the-verge-of-fully-grown-up citizens and voters, we all need to begin to understand it and understand what that means about how we read, use, and share.”
We also discussed that the Allsides analysis and ratings, themselves, are based on subjective judgements and we identified where we could locate information about Allsides Media Ratings and their methodology and process. Note: I choose to use Allsides with my students for this activity, but Media Bias Factcheck is a site that we also introduce to students.
Ultimately, while 85-minutes is a nice amount of time for a library class, we still ran out of time. For me, the student engagement with the Allsides site and with the sources themselves were well worth the investment of time and I would not have wanted to abbreviate any of the process. I did, however, fail to get to the media literacy content I wanted to address with much depth.
So What – Following Up:
Scheduling limitations didn’t allow us to schedule a follow-up lesson immediately, so I won’t be able to meet up with the three classes for about a week. The upside is that this will give us time to work on a streamlined lesson that focuses specifically on how to identify media bias and have kids do some close reading to see if they can locate indicators of bias in the sources they’re reading.
All in all, it turned out to be a good way to get students engaged in discussions about politics and news and to begin having new literacy conversations with them. It’s a long, slow process because, let’s face it, this stuff is hard!
Hope your school years are off to great starts! Have a great week, all!
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