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What Is My Bias?
Lesson Plan

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:

  • struggling to keep up, while ­others are racing up
  • trying to keep up, while ­others are rising up
  • attempting to keep up, while ­others are moving up

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 work to keep up, while ­others are zooming up on elevators."

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 sensibilities and training to educate youth from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Successful school districts also enhance youth development through 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:

  1. What does the phrase "basic survival needs" imply?
  2. What do you think "right sensibilities" are?
  3. How is "youth development" dif­fer­ent from education?
  4. 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!

REFERENCES

"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.

About the Authors

Michelle Luhtala is Library Department Chair at New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut. She facilitates an online learning community for nearly 12,000 library and educational technology professionals at edWeb.net/emergingtech, where she has hosted over 80 webinars since 2010. She is an adjunct instructor in the Masters of Information Program at Rutgers University' s School of Communication and in the Information and Library Science Department at Southern Connecticut State University and is also a contributing author to Libraries Unlimited's Growing Schools: Librarians as Professional Developers. The American Association of School Librarians distinguished her as Curriculum Champion in 2017.

Jacquelyn Whiting is the Innovation and Technology Specialist for Cooperative Educational Services (CES) in Trumbull, CT. She has a bachelor's in Government Studies and Studio Art from Connecticut College and a master's in Social Studies and Education from South Connecticut State University. She is also a Google Certified Innovator and Local Activator for Future Design School. Jacquelyn is the co-author of News Literacy: The Keys to Combating Fake News. She presents frequently on human-centered design, student and educator voice, and innovative educational technology practices. You can follow her tweeting @MsJWhiting.

MLA Citation

Luhtala, Michelle, and Jacquelyn Whiting. "What Is My Bias?" School Library Connection, October 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/LessonPlan/2174095.

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https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/LessonPlan/2174095

Entry ID: 2174095