on news, opinion, and politics in the library…

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

Objectives:

Materials:

Procedures:

  • 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.

Outcomes:

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?”

In their reading of articles from a variety of sources, students discovered that there was not always a clean alignment of a source’s rating on Allsides and what students expected based on their brainstormed policy position.
This particular group actually revised their initial extreme-left and extreme-right policy positions after reading through some of the articles. These students concluded that both the extreme-left and the extreme-right favored keeping prohibitions on marijuana use in place, but that the sides arrived at their positions through very different lines of reason. They also concluded that CL, C, and CR positions favored legalization of marijuana use, but also came to those policy positions through very diverse lines of reason.

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!

Links to Resources:

6 thoughts on “on news, opinion, and politics in the library…

  1. I love using All Sides and your post is extremely helpful – with a Presidential election on the horizon the Slideshow will be very useful.
    I am teaching Cyber Civics to middle school this year so I get to see the students weekly which is GREAT.
    Thanks for another terrific post 🙂

    • Cyber Civics sounds like a great endeavor! I’d love to hear about what topics you cover and how you approach them. Our 6th grade Project Integration has taken lead with cyber civics and digital citizenship, here. Director of EdTech and I participate with our pieces.

  2. Thank you again for sharing your resources! I am working with AP Lang students on an adaptation of this activity and the structure kept them focused on rhetoric and language, keeping the conversation civil and productive. Seeing the breakdown of how you spent classtime is particularly helpful.

    • I’m hoping to do deeper dive into language and rhetoric in the follow-up lesson! I’d love to see how you are doing that work!

  3. We’ve just finished a 45 minute unit on Source Literacy, where we worked with sophomores to see what their part is in working to understand and evaluate a variety of academic sources and news sources. It’s just an intro into the topic, but we’re grateful for the time we get. We use Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart as a start, bring in All Sides as a comparison, and segue into how students gauge the value of academic sources in general. What’s a Peer Reviewed Academic Journal? It’s more complicated than one thinks in this age of Open Source reporting and Pay for Publish journals. Thanks for this view into how you have tackled this topic. Now more than Ever, source evaluation is key, and to assume that ‘kids know this stuff’ is a big mistake. We find we’re also educating teachers as part of the same effort.

    • Hi Shannon,
      If you haven’t looked at it yet, be sure to take a look at the Media Bias Factcheck site. We we get deeper into actual source evaluation, I like having students look at both Allsides and Media Bias Factcheck (linked above) and compare. Sometimes their analysis and ratings differ and that is a nice jumping off point to discuss our responsibilities as individual users and scholars to make judgements and assessments so we can USE the information with as much informed context as possible!

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