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.
When our seventh grade U.S. history teacher found out I was interested in news history, and particularly in how competing perspectives influence narrative in the news, he invited me to lend a hand with his annual John Brown research project. Every year, he asks his students to investigate the life of John Brown, culminating in his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequent execution, and write a persuasive argument stating whether he was a martyr or a terrorist. I was thrilled to be asked to help curate resources for this project and was particularly excited to dive into old newspapers.
I’m always on the lookout for articles that will help my students practice their evaluation skills. My preference is for anything intriguing that manages to dodge politics. Even better if the article challenges advice I’ve given students regarding how to determine a source’s credibility. Newsweek’s July 20th article by Aristos Georgiou describing the controversy around recent DNA testing of the Atacama mummy does all of that and so much more.
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?