Category Archives: Journalism

katelynngiordano

Teaching News Bias without Being Biased

This is a guest post by Katelynn Giordano. 

For language arts teachers, the general public’s growing inability to critically analyze media, especially news media, can be disheartening. We are in the business of teaching our students to become critical thinkers, especially when reading and responding to content. Due to the increase in “fake news” and the prevalence of news on social media, we are living in a society where many people seek out ways to confirm their own biases rather than get factual information. As someone who teaches critical literacy, I find it simple to identify news that is biased or unrealistically presented. However, I have been reminded time and again in the past months that this is just not the case for everyone. People must learn, as with everything else, how to look at any piece of writing, any video, any news story and gauge its usefulness, bias, and truthfulness.

It may seem like a no-brainer to start teaching our students how to analyze news sources in our language arts classrooms. This skill falls perfectly within most curricula, as it supports the development of critical literacy and analytical thinking. It aligns with the skill of recognizing credible resources when doing research. However, when considering how I would accomplish teaching students how to recognize news biases, I struggled with how to view them in a productive and objective way. And, knowing how much pushback I would get if any “right” or “left” news sources were identified as such, I found myself shying away from teaching a relevant, important topic.

As a sixth-grade teacher, I have a group of students who are at a pivotal age. They are new to our middle school, they are just starting to become more independent, and many of them are active on different forms of social media. At the same time, these students are still very involved with their families, and many are not at a place where they can approach objective thinking with maturity or full understanding. Even so, I wanted to create an activity that would at least start my students on a consideration of news bias, beginning the cultivation of future citizens who have some background with the concept of analyzing news sources.

My determination has resulted in an activity that allows students to analyze different news sources without identifying them as biased toward the left or the right, instead viewing them as pieces of nonfiction writing. With the recent push from the Common Core State Standards to read and comprehend nonfiction, as well as every educator’s responsibility to help students develop as critical thinkers, this activity meets the needs of my students and allows me to foster a skill that I find to be lacking in our society. It can be modified to fit most classes, and it can be kept current by using up-to-date news resources and events.

First, we have to check our own biases at the door. I know that should go without saying, but sometimes it’s best to state the obvious. As educators, many of us feel strongly about our current political climate, so it’s critical when teaching our students to analyze news stories for bias and truthfulness that we give them the room to think on their own–without our influence.

Choose a current event to have students consider. Using a resource that helps identify which sources are more liberal, which are more conservative, and which are typically unbiased (like this one), choose news articles on the same event that fall within one of the three categories. In other words, choose one resource that is liberal, one that is conservative, and one that is neutral that have all reported on the same current event. You can modify this activity by allowing students to choose their own current event and then choose articles from three sources that you have already divided into unnamed categories. This may increase student autonomy and add a research aspect to the activity.

 For example:

Choose one article on your chosen event from the sources below: Choose one article on your chosen event from the sources below: Choose one article on your chosen event from the sources below:
____ BBC

____ NPR

____ Associated Press

____ The Washington Post

____ The Economist

____ The Wall Street Journal

____ The Hill

____ The Fiscal Times

____ The Atlantic

____ The Huffington Post

____ The New York Times

____ CNN

Give students guidelines for considering current events from multiple sources. Allow them time to read and annotate each of the three sources. Their natural curiosity and the analytical skills that have been fostered in the classroom will begin to take over. When this activity is approached from a critical thinking or close reading perspective, students will naturally employ the skills they have mastered in those areas. Rather than reading to learn about the current event itself (which is only a small part of this!), they will be considering how the information is written, the point of view and purpose of the author, and why the information is presented the way it is. I give students a handout with questions that challenge them to reflect on how reputable the source is. Some questions include: Which source do you feel best presented the facts about the event? Did any source seem as though it was attempting to change the reader’s mind? Did any source share a direct opinion? Were any sources contradicting one another? When reading about current events, do you think it would be helpful to read about the same event from multiple sources as we did today? Why or why not?

Debrief and allow students to respond to or comment on what they noticed. This debrief can be done on the same day directly following the analysis activity, or it can be done the following day. This debrief is where students will be discussing their findings, so it is best to allow plenty of time for these conversations to continue after they’ve had the opportunity to critically analyze the sources provided. This debrief can also be done after students have crafted a written response, depending on your own preference and the time available. Because of my increased focus on writing this year, I will be having my students respond to the reflection questions and then use the final two questions about the consideration of multiple sources as a persuasive writing prompt. The final part of this activity is to give students time to share their reflections or writing with the class. The whole-class discussion is where their ideas can flow and students can begin to have critical conversations about the observations they made in the analysis of several news sources. Allow the discussion to evolve as your students share their thoughts, and give your students room to respond to the thinking of their peers. Coach them on agreeing or disagreeing respectfully and on supporting their rebuttals or verifications with evidence from a source. After all, as language arts teachers, we teach them to use evidence from the text in any response.

The power of this activity, and in building a critically literate society, comes from the conversations. Our students are the future. They are learning each day to become the citizens they will ultimately be. I plan to do everything I can to facilitate these conversations and to help my students analyze and question the world around them. Join me, won’t you?

 Katelynn Giordano is a grade 6 language arts teacher in Illinois. She is a graduate student, book nerd, writer, and coffee enthusiast. Her passion is inspiring others to find a love and appreciation for education.

jonnaperillofakenews

Real Teaching in a Time of Fake News

This post is written by NCTE historian Jonna Perillo. 

You may have noticed the attention that fake news is receiving in the English classroom. A 2016 Stanford study revealed that today’s K–12 students, while digitally literate in many senses, lack the ability to distinguish fake news from real, instead trusting whatever source confirms their existing beliefs. Motivated by classroom experiences that echo the Stanford findings, educators are rethinking many of the traditional methods and mantras of teaching students to evaluate news sources and developing more sophisticated means of teaching media literacy and the evaluation skills that will benefit students in many aspects of their lives in and outside of school.

Fake or misleading news is nothing new. Nor is teachers’ advocacy around the issue. In the midst of World War II, NCTE took on Reader’s Digest for what some journalists and teachers saw as the magazine’s unspoken rightward bent. The stakes were high: the magazine’s circulation jumped from 4 to 9 million during the war.  In addition, it sold millions of copies of its school edition to classrooms across the nation.

Critics of the Digest, including teacher and NCTE member Samuel Beckhoff, reproached the journal for republishing conservative news sources far more often than liberal ones, including a high percentage of articles that were anti-New Deal, anti-labor, and anti-United Nations.[1] The NCTE Committee on Newspapers and Magazines was charged with investigating the Digest further.  It seconded many of Beckhoff’s findings, but the NCTE Executive Committee overrode its report in November 1944, in part because the magazine by that time had responded to the organization’s criticisms.  In the months since the investigation began, the school edition changed to include a more balanced selection of articles and a more complete list of further recommended readings. The Digest had become a better resource for “an education program which aim[ed] to develop fair-mindedness and straight thinking on controversial questions.”[2]

What the Executive Committee did not address was what made the Digest so attractive to many teachers and problematic to others: its abridging and republishing of primary news sources.  It assembled a wider collection of readings than any other news publication in the pre-Internet age, but it also offered, in Beckhoff’s terms, “precooked and predigested” news that allowed readers to “relax into a comfortable groove.”[3] This may have been the experience millions of Americans were looking for in their recreational reading, but it could present a challenge to teachers trying to form more alert and thoughtful students.

The story of NCTE and Reader’s Digest anticipated what teachers struggle with today: students who read only partial versions of stories or events without fully realizing it, who forget to question what is left out of any account, and who approach their sources with unearned trust rather than a critical eye. NCTE’s strategy then was to change the source; today we look to change the reader.

The good news is that studies have shown that teachers who invest time working on media literacy with their students produce readers who are 26% more likely to be able to discern fake news from real. Sources that end in .edu or .gov always can be trusted, right? Wrong. Teachers are working on ever more specific ways of thinking about how information gets reported and circulated, how evidence gets used or exploited, and how Internet search engines organize news stories in ways that can mislead passive readers. If the percentage of students who gain from these lessons is still lower than many of us would like, the quality of instruction teachers have developed around the issue is to be applauded, adopted, and further adapted.

As in the 1940s, there is a need for broader NCTE action against fake news.  NCTE has already begun to advertise teachers’ best work in this area.  It can be additionally helpful in connecting teachers to the resources news organizations are producing. But NCTE must also stand as a collective voice and advocate for media literacy. Most academic standards address media literacy, but often in ways that are too cursory for the challenge at hand. Too often teachers limit instruction in evaluating sources to a single research assignment rather than a regular practice, something that is unlikely to make an impact. Teachers must have the room, resources, and, perhaps most important, preparation to address fake news in the English classroom, and NCTE is well-suited to argue why this is and how to get there.

At a time when the curriculum is narrowing, arguing for more is no small achievement, even if we understand that the end result will yield better readers and writers. But if a political and media culture in which seemingly anything goes has shown us anything, it is that we must argue for more instruction in media literacy with conviction all the same.

[1] Samuel Beckhoff, “The Rainbow,” English Journal 32.6 (June 1943), 325–330.

[2] Board of Directors Meeting Minutes, November 1944, p. 293, Series 15/70/001, National Council of Teachers of English Archives.  Other documents related to the Reader’s Digest debate can be found on the NCTE archives webpage: https://archives.library.illinois.edu/ncte/about/december.php#1944.

[3] Beckhoff, 325.

Jonna Perrillo is associate professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of Uncivil Rights: Teachers, Unions, and the Battle for School Equity.

English Journal November Sneak Preview

The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of the English Journal and guest editors, Sean P. Connors and P.L. Thomas. 

We are delighted to invite you to preview our November 2016 issue of EJ, which—in keeping with the presidential election—is particularly provocative and compelling. In this blog post, we feature the issue editorial, composed by guest editors Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas, as well as the introduction to a special section on teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We hope that the issues highlighted in this month’s EJ will open conversation among English teachers everywhere. —Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski

 From the Guest Editors (Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas)
“Visible Teaching: Open Doors as Resistance”

ej_nov_2016_cover-cropped“Visibility,” Michel Foucault famously argued, “is a trap” (200). Foucault reached this understanding as a result of his efforts to theorize the panopticon, an 18th-century prison that was designed to control the behavior of inmates by ensuring that they were continuously subject to the gaze of those entrusted with supervising them. For Foucault, the panopticon offers a metaphor for understanding how power functions in modern society. “It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen,” he wrote, “that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection” (187). Significantly, Foucault recognized the panoptic principle—that is, the shaping power of the gaze—at work in other institutions, including school.

Given the surprisingly large number of submissions that the call for this issue of English Journal elicited, we suspect that Foucault’s observations are likely to resonate with English teachers working in the current education reform era, a time when local media publish standardized test scores as a way to hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance, when teachers are subject to unannounced walk-through observations, and when they are required to submit written lesson plans as evidence of their having complied with prescriptive standards. As the articles in this issue demonstrate, however, the gaze is not unidirectional. Rather, there are times when people make themselves visible to others for the express purpose of capturing their attention and resisting what they recognize as unfair or unproductive practices and mandates. To this end, Steve Mann, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman use the term sousveillance to refer to a practice wherein people “resist surveillance through non-compliance and interference ‘moves’ that block, distort, mask, refuse, and counter-surveil the collection of information” (333). Visibility, in other words, is not always a trap. It can also constitute a form of resistance, and that is the source of this issue’s call for teaching with our doors open. While the authors whose work appears in this issue of English Journal approach the subject of visible teaching in different ways, they each take visibility as a starting point for considering how teachers can resist education reform mandates that promote, intentionally or otherwise, instructional practices that research suggests are not in the best interest of students. By reflecting on the many benefits that accompany a decision to open one’s classroom door to colleagues, administrators, and parents, these authors celebrate the liberatory potential of visible teaching.

In closing, we return to Foucault’s work, specifically, his admonition against conceptualizing power objectively—that is, as something that some people “hold” and “exercise,” and which others aspire to “seize” and “wield.” Instead, Foucault argued that power is everywhere, with the result that people are continuously able to shape (and reshape) their relationships with others. Rather than understand ourselves as limited in what we are able to accomplish with students in our respective contexts, the authors whose work appears in this issue challenge us to consider how teaching with our classroom doors open constitutes a form of resistance. In doing so, they, like Foucault, invite us to remember that we are always “freer than we think we are” (Bell 83).

Works Cited

Bell, Vikki. “The Promise of Liberalism and the Performance of Freedom.” Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and Rationalities of Government, edited by Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose. U of Chicago P, 1996, pp. 81–97.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by A. Sheridan. Vintage Books, 1995.

Mann, Steve, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman. “Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices or Data Collection in Surveillance Environments.” Surveillance and Society, vol. 1, no. 3, 2003, pp. 331–55.

sean-connors-photoSean P. Connors (sconnors@uark.edu) is an associate professor of English education at the University of Arkansas. He has been an NCTE member since 2010.

 

 

dr-paul-thomasP.L. Thomas, professor of education (Furman University) and former NCTE Historian, taught high school English for 18 years in South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is currently a column editor for English Journal and author of Beware the Roadbuilders (Garn Press). Contact him at paul.thomas@furman.edu and follow his work at http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/ and @plthomasEdD.

Editors’ Introduction to Special Section on Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Essays in Conversation (Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski)

When we read Peter Smagorinsky’s provocative article, in which he exchanges racism with misogyny in a quest to cultivate empathy, we were riveted, to say the least. Reviewer comments echoed our sense of the power of the piece. One said she would renew her subscription if we published the article. Another commented, simply, “Please publish this. . . . There will be backlash. So be it.”

We consulted with the guest editors, who concurred. However, upon further consideration, our own editorial limitations became clear. The author of the article is White. Both guest editors are White, as are we. As moved as we were by Smagorinsky’s experiment, we recognized that our own perspectives, despite our best intentions, were insufficient. Fortunately, brilliant colleagues stepped forward in response to our invitations to participate in the conversation. Thus, this section includes an array of voices and perspectives, and it involves diction that may offend some readers. We trust that our readership will appreciate how words, especially those that stretch us into areas of discomfort and even pain, can lead to learning and, perhaps, healing.

Initial submissions by these four esteemed contributors varied in their presentation of sensitive terms. Sometimes the terms were spelled out; other times, they were filled with asterisks or dashes. In the copyediting phase of production, we consulted with numerous experts in language and publication. Ultimately, in the context of academic freedom and with a passionate wish to avoid censorship, we decided to allow each author to determine how to present sensitive terms to express ideas clearly, with intended connotations. Please note that the language employed by each author is presented in the spirit of noncensorship and with scholarly purpose.

We are honored to publish Peter Smagorinsky’s article and to feature exceptional respondent articles written by Leigh Patel, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Jocelyn Chadwick—all of whom offer thoughtful, compelling, and invaluable contributions to this ongoing dialogue. We trust you will be challenged, stimulated, disturbed, and enlightened by these articles.

JulieGorlewskiJulie Gorlewski is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

DavidGorlewskiDavid Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions.  Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.

Tinkering with Prior Review: Why Journalism Matters #11

This is #11 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Van Der Sluys.  

Alana Rome

I had originally wanted to write a post this week on how scholastic censorship occurs not just at the high school level but also at the collegiate level. It would have been a nice procession from my latest blog on how such silencing affects civic responsibility and democracy.

But to paraphrase John Steinbeck, the best-laid plans often go awry. . . when scholastic journalism makes its way to the Senate floor.

On August 1, New Jersey Senator Diane Allen (R)  introduced a New Voices bill with Senator Nia Gill (D) and Senator Jennifer Beck (R) as co-sponsors. As a result, there are now identical bills in both the State Senate (S-2506) and Assembly (A-4028).

In summary, the bill would hold school administrators to the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503. As a result of that ruling, students gained First Amendment rights for the first time; student press was protected unless deemed disruptive of the education process.

In light of incidences like Tom McHale’s resignation over a prior review controversy, John Wodnick’s resignation over a three-month censorship controversy, and Barbara Thill’s resignation over “changes administrators made to the journalism program,” it seems worthwhile to note that this new bill will protect journalism teachers and advisers from administrative retribution as well.

In a private email, Garden State Scholastic Press Association (GSSPA) founder and New Voices New Jersey contact John Tagliareni did point out a very crucial component to this bill’s success, particularly in its third introduction to the Senate: the public’s and Senate’s knowledge of the difference between prior restraint and prior review.

Administrators will still be able to exercise prior review, or the ability to view material before it is published. If a school exercises its right to prior review, it is typically a rule stated in the school’s handbook or is verbally agreed upon by the administration and journalism adviser; some schools do not exercise prior review by choice, but instead trust the journalism advisers and students to only publish what is protected under the First Amendment.

What the bill protects students and teachers against, however, is prior restraint of material that is protected under the First Amendment. Prior restraint, as the term suggests, prevents publication of material. This should only be done if the material is not protected under the First Amendment (i.e., material that is libelous, presents a clear and present danger to students and staff, and is disruptive to education).

Although not favored by scholastic newspaper advisers and staff, the option of administrators to use prior review is essential; administrators need to at least have the right to pull material that is not protected under the First Amendment. However, the bill will protect against the administration’s pulling articles because, for example, they are critical of administration,  publicize a district controversy, or present an unpopular opinion.

So far, the bill has received support from the Working Conditions Committee of the New Jersey Education Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Journalism Education Association.

For more information on this bill and how you can support it, please see and “like” the New Voices of New Jersey Facebook page.  Student journalists can also join the Student Chapter of the GSSPA.

Alana Van Der Sluys is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Reflecting (on) Democracy: Why Journalism Matters

This is #10 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my time in Montclair University’s Leadership Associates Program and how it prompted me to discuss scholastic journalism’s ability to nurture “the whole child.” It wasn’t until I received the Spring 2016 issue of Student Press Law Center’s Report magazine, though, that I realized another of LAP’s widely discussed topics also related to the importance of scholastic journalism: democracy.

In “Momentum swings toward legal protections for student journalists,” SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said, “Scholastic journalism is finally receiving recognition as a resource worth saving, in part because of the recognized national crisis in preparing young people to participate intelligently in the political process.”

It wasn’t until I read LoMonte’s words that I realized the discussions I had all week at Montclair actually related not only to theoretical democracy in the classroom, but also, quite literally, to our country’s democracy outside the classroom. And that’s where the importance of scholastic journalism lies.

My first year teaching journalism will be a particularly special one because we are in the midst of arguably one of the most controversial and discussed president elections in our nation’s history. Coverage is abundant and ripe for discussion in a journalism classroom. Now is the best time to teach students how to use the news to inform themselves of presidential platforms, to analyze and evaluate the credibility of the news outlets in their coverage, or to read up on platform issues and see which ones line up with students’ beliefs and values.

Although not every school has a journalism program (which, consequently, is the crusade behind this entire blog series), these activities can certainly align with Common Core State Standards and find an appropriate place in the English classroom.

Without the analysis and inquiry taught in journalism, students may not take the time to educate themselves on issues that directly affect their lives, even though at least a quarter of them are old enough to vote and sway the polls. They may not even feel compelled to partake in the democratic process at all. This lack of civic participation goes against everything we hope to instill in our students.

Cutting scholastic journalism programs, however, is not the only thing stifling the survival of citizen participation in and preservation of our democracy; in many states, secondary and collegiate administration censorship is impeding students’ rights to free speech, as well.

In his“letter from the editor” for the Spring 2016 issue of Report, LoMonte includes a quote from U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. when she spoke to the Senate in March regarding such censorship: ‘“That is not an environment that values and empowers student voices,’ …‘and it’s not a climate that is conducive to effective and learning civic participation. We can and must do better.’”

This silencing from administration, unfortunately, does not cease when students graduate high school; a place typically known for increased academic and social freedom, the collegiate world is also experiencing bouts of censorship, as well; but that, I’m afraid, is a whole other topic for a whole other blog post…

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.