Wherever you position yourself on the political spectrum, yesterday’s anonymous New York Times opinion piece, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” was bombshell news. I think a good deal of the shock around the essay has more to do with how it came to be published than it does with the content itself. The Times identifies the author as a “senior official in the Trump administration,” and while journalists have a long and storied history of using anonymous sources in their reporting, anonymity is rarely given to opinion writers. When you read the piece, as you no doubt have by now, you either had your worst fears about President Trump confirmed by a courageous whistleblower or you were appalled by the insolence of a disgruntled employee, too afraid to attach his or her name to the accusations. Maybe you even dismissed the source out of hand as a liar who falsified events and exaggerated access to the president. I’m not here to moderate that debate, but I do see the Times piece as a great conversation starter with students about the risks and rewards of anonymous sourcing in journalism.
Aww, summer. Guiltless time to watch and re-watch “Moments of Wonder with Philomena Cunk – Climate Change” and laugh to the point of tears. It aired a few years ago but it is new to me. I’m a huge fan of comedian Diane Morgan‘s work, and while not all of it is appropriate for classroom use, it occurred to me that this piece on climate change is a great addition to any media literacy toolkit.
My seventh grade library students and I are making podcasts together. As a teacher, it’s been a practice of letting go. I’m not the worst audio producer in the room with my students, but I’m also not the best. In this project, we are all teachers and learners.
The kids have recorded incredible interviews with parents and siblings, mentors and teachers. Now they are cleaning them up using Ocenaudio (at least the ones that are following my lead; some are using Audacity or Adobe). Today I wanted to show students a nine minute clip from a longer YouTube tutorial that explains how to play with settings to improve sound quality. Having already spent 10 of our precious weekly 45 minutes giving instructions, it suddenly seemed ridiculous to spend even more class time watching the video together as I had planned. However, I knew they would eventually have to watch the video to move on with their project.
Earlier this year I wrote about asking my seventh grade students to interview family members, asking them what they thought the news was supposed to do. I described how a novice like me was able to figure out how to weave separate interviews together into an audio montage with several student and parent voices. I also predicted that if I decided to teach students how to edit and design their own podcasts, there would most likely be students in the room who could teach me a thing or two about audio production.
Turns out I was right.
I tried something new with my seventh graders in library class and I want to share it with you.
I imagine that many young people (though not all) have different expectations of journalists than most adults do. I don’t blame them. I rarely thought about the news as a tween or teen. I was fairly self-centered and more interested in my friend group. If students today feel like I did then, are they wondering what the big deal is when I try to arm them with strategies to spot fake news? Do young people know why the grownups are so bent out of shape about fake news? If students don’t interact much with the real news, if they don’t appreciate what the real news is supposed to do, then why should they worry about fake news?
I thought it couldn’t hurt if students asked their parents what they thought of the news. Maybe a conversation with an authority at home would put future news literacy lessons in context. I also like any kind of assignment that gets kids interacting with their parents. So I asked my students to record an interview with a parent or someone from a different generation, asking for opinions about the news media.
Allow me to tell you about a low-stakes, high-impact activity that develops news literacy in students while assessing their ability to think critically about online sources. I do this with my seventh graders every week at the beginning of our library class. The activity works great as a Do-Now or an Exit Ticket. It could also be adapted to classroom practice in almost any content area.
Most school librarians use some type of evaluation mnemonic device to teach source evaluation. You’ve heard of them. You might RADAR, CRAAP, or even FART. I have always liked RADCAB, based on the wonderful work of Karen Christensson, but you can adapt this activity to your favorite evaluation acronym.
“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . .”
As the cat explores the world, it encounters a boy, a dog, a mouse, and several other creatures who each see the cat in a different way. The illustrations are bold and beautiful and clever. Children and adults will love this book. It’s in the same orbit as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are. But will seventh graders like it? How can you use the book to introduce them to media literacy?