“They said WHAT?” Elections and Information Literacy

Did you know the US has an election coming up in 19 days? Perhaps you’ve debated the debates, analyzed the ads, and nosed through the news?

But are you talking about it in your schools or it is too divisive? Interestingly, the other Independent Ideas blog, the one hosted by NAIS, recently showed how to build teachable moments into this election season and how to do so in a way that will make students feel their contributions are heard and valued. Schools can facilitate small group conversations to answer these two key questions. This lets us commit to our common values rather than focusing on our differences.

  • As we go through this election season, what are our school community’s overarching values, those that supersede differences in political viewpoint?
  • What core values can anchor us in a place of safety and connection?

The blog post states that educators need to be aware of their own backgrounds and beliefs and listen without judgment to ideas with which they may not agree. They also need to monitor student conversations to make sure that students are following the protocols set up for deep listening discussions. The authors recommend rather than focusing on specific candidates or policies, conversations focus on how students came to their beliefs.

  • In small groups, have one student say, “I’d like to understand your point of view. Please tell me more how you have come to that belief.”

They advocate good listening techniques like not interrupting or arguing. Students should repeat back what they heard the other person say “until the speaker feels that the listener has heard what was actually said, free of interpretation or added spin.” Because my students are often have only a budding political awareness, it’s helpful for them to be asked to think through this task. Internally I’m wondering if this is your parents’ belief or your own and learning why it’s important to you. As a proponent of visible thinking, I feel it’s vital for teens to know not only what they think but how they got there. This builds on political discussions and emotional awareness with tolerance and patience.

Read the full article here: http://www.nais.org/Independent-Ideas/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=576

This summer I was selected for the Newseum’s Teacher Institute to learn the skills that students need to be informed and empowered citizens in a media-rich world. The election was already a hot topic, and Teaching Controversy: Turning Third-Rail Topics into Productive Debates taught some strategies to host civil debates on controversial topics.

The Newseum recommends case studies (historical or contemporary) because they make you define your terms and structure what you’re discussing. Even when students come to different conclusions, they’re starting from the same facts. Here are a few groundrules they recommend to help keep conversation flowing and emotions calm.

  1. Know your students and be sure there is a routine in place for discussion. As a librarian, this means you’ll want to collaborate with a trusted teacher or a class with whom you’ve already worked closely. It’s not the time to introduce yourself to a new group.
  2. Be confident in your content. Be prepared with the facts and committed to the discussion, and ensure that you give enough background knowledge to set up an even playing field for all students.
  3. Respect your participants by understanding their perspectives, valuing their ideas, and being clear about the purpose of the case study and the rules for discussion.
  4. Ask questions (especially tiered ones), encourage debate and as you “stir the pot,” make sure to take every side.
  5. Specifically in setting up the case study:
    1. Give everyone a clearly-defined role that lets them explore the thought process of someone other than themselves. Maybe they are a mayor, the campaign manager, a retired grandma, or the Speaker of the House.
    2. Provide a limited scope that aims to answer one question from one perspective.
    3. Provide multiple choice as a plan of action (The Newseum asked us to change our perspective so that we consider how someone in a particular role might act, not what they would think.) For lower-level classes, you can preload prompts with more information on what should happen and the preliminaries of why.

6. Wrap up as a class and make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the case study and felt heard throughout the class period.

As a librarian, I have informal conversations with students more frequently than I teach full classes. In those cases, I love using the fact-checking sites with students and comparing news coverage from different parts of the country. It’s always a conversation starter to ask about advertisements and mailers and how each campaign is trying to persuade them. They love to pull back the curtain and see how facts can be manipulated, and this keeps them away from conversations about “people,” which can get heated fairly quickly. What about you? Any plans over the next 19 days to introduce the election and information literacy skills? Share below:

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