Teaching students to recognize their own biases is an essential step in the process of guiding them toward becoming savvy consumers of information. When students ask for help finding a source that is "unbiased," they signal that they don't understand what bias is. They must learn to wrestle with and account for bias in their own research and writing. This means recognizing their own outlooks first so that they can read and view critically, with an open mind to new intellectual possibilities.
In some schools, students (particularly high school students) are assigned research papers that are benchmark assessments. Frequently, successful completion of these assessments is a graduation requirement. Purposefully providing these students mentor texts connected to the content they are studying and practicing the unpacking of these texts pay dividends when the students begin to work independently on their research. This sample exercise is based on the conducting of research during a unit on the relationship between socioeconomic status and educational experience, so this topic informs the mentor text being used. To facilitate the students' resource selection and understanding of the impact of bias on source credibility, they can start unpacking an editorial from the "Room for Debate" section of the New York Times in response to the question: "Is School Reform Hopeless?" (Carter) This exercise can easily be modified and adapted to any other content focus by selecting an alternative model essay.
This exercise is scaffolded to help students begin to understand their own biases on a topic and how those biases will influence how they understand what they read and how they convey what they ultimately write. In fact, they must learn to recognize how their bias informs their word choices when developing keyword lists for researching. In other words, how does their bias impact the information they consume and the knowledge they create? From the selected editorial, for the first portion of the lesson, students will consider just the conclusion. Words have been selectively removed from the paragraph so that students can replace the blanks with whatever word they think best conveys the meaning of the paragraph. Ask them to complete this exercise individually and then partner with two or three other students in the class to compile their words on one document and to compare how they each completed the paragraph and how their choice of words changed the meaning of the paragraph. By enlarging the paragraph to a poster size, students can write their words on Post-it® notes and hang their paragraph on the classroom wall so that each group can circulate and review how their classmates completed the exercise.
Here is an example of a phrase with blanks to be filled:
[T]oo many are climbing stairwells with broken handrails and missing steps, tripping and falling as they ________ to keep up, while others are ________ up on elevators.
Consider these possible ways to complete the sentence:
strugglingto keep up, while others are racingup tryingto keep up, while others are risingup attemptingto keep up, while others are movingup
In a class discussion, students might observe that "racing" implies competition, "rising" implies progress and maybe increase in status, while "moving" is more passive. They might be surprised that none of those are the words that the author used!
The actual sentence is, "[T]oo many are climbing stairwells with broken handrails and missing steps, tripping and falling as they
Certainly "working" implies a conscious sense of purpose and purposeful- ness to the effort that is not reflected in "struggle," "try," or "attempt." "Work" may also imply a degree of success and ability absent in those other terms. "Zooming" also has a very different connotation than the words the students chose, particularly in contrast to "working." Ask students to compare their bias with that of the author and consider how differing opinions might influence their assessment of the source's credibility.
For the next phase of this exercise, provide the students with the rest of the editorial with highlighted words or phrases and added questions in order to invite students to discuss the writer's choice of words and how those words affected the meaning of her editorial.
Here is an example paragraph:
In addition to attending to these
basic survival needs,schools have to attract experienced teachers and leaders with the right sensibilitiesand training to educate youth from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Successful school districts also enhance youth developmentthrough extracurricular activities and additional enrichment. When families cannot afford costly after-school pro- grams, personal tutors and experiential summer vacations, effective school communities invest in programs to offset these opportunity gaps.
Here are the questions that could be posed corresponding to each of the highlighted phrases:
- What does the phrase "basic survival needs" imply?
- What do you think "right sensibilities" are?
- How is "youth development" different from education?
- What other "opportunity gaps" have you heard of?
As students share their conclusions and questions, they may raise further word choice questions like: "What does equity mean?" This is a great opportunity to direct students to the Allsides Dictionary. Here is how Allsides describes their dictionary:
A human look at hot-button terms from every perspective: Controversial terms, from "abortion" to "Zionism", tend to shut down dialog because they mean different things to different people. Until we fully understand what a term means to someone else, we don't know the issue and can't effectively communicate.
Visit their site (https://www.allsides.com/dictionary/equity) to see how Allsides defines "equity" and the cartoon they use to distinguish "equity" from "equality." The resources provided by Allsides are incredibly valuable to students as they learn to navigate the information they encounter and develop information literacy—particularly in the face of fake news!
"AllSides Dictionary." AllSides. Accessed May 18, 2017. https://www.allsides.com/dictionary.
Carter, Prudence L. "Poor Schools Need to Encompass More Than Instruction to Suc??ceed." New York Times, September 14, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/09/14/is-school-reform-hopeless/poor-schools-need-to-encompass-more-than-instruction-to-succeed.
Luhtala, Michelle, and Jacquelyn Whiting. "What Is My Bias?" School Library Connection, October 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/LessonPlan/2174095.
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Entry ID: 2174095