By Ryan Sprott, International School of the Americas

More students are arriving to our classroom with uncertainties about what constitutes “fake” and “real” news. To address these questions, my co-teacher Laurie Smith and I used a recent Choices Teaching with the News lesson to strengthen students’ media evaluation skills. The following passages outline specific pedagogical strategies we implemented during this unit.

Syrian Refugees and the Executive Order

We began with an overview of the Syrian Civil War. Our hook was a virtual reality video titled For My Son. The short film follows one man’s story as he travels from Aleppo to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Students reported that the virtual reality experience made the refugee crisis more personal to them and increased their curiosity on the topic.

Next, students annotated the executive order introduction with a partner in preparation for a collaborative timeline. This timeline drew on students’ collective knowledge of history to investigate the range of historical factors that may have led to Trump’s executive order. This helped students connect the executive order to recent news as well as to content we have studied this year in world history.

Media Literacy

Once students increased their background knowledge on the Syrian refugee crisis and the executive order, we moved into a whole class brainstorm and discussion on how to evaluate media for credibility. This prepared students for the Choices’ Evaluating Media Sources document. Since we had a limited amount of time, students, with a partner, analyzed two media sources supportive of the executive order and two opposed to it. They then added their findings to our collaborative media evaluation chart. For this, we transferred the questions on the Evaluating Media Sources activity onto a large board in our classroom as shown in the video below. Students used this as an opportunity to reflect upon one another’s contributions.

Afterwards, students engaged in a discussion protocol where they shared their learnings with their peers in order to brainstorm ideas for their projects. They then presented their finished projects via a gallery walk where they explained how their work reflected their stances on the executive order. As evidenced in the following student reflections, this project encouraged students to be more intentional about consuming news, and they gained specific skills to determine credibility within news sources.


Student Reflections

Henry

The Task

In the 21st Century, information can be passed across the globe in an instant. Factors such as the internet and mass media outlets make this possible. But what happens when they begin to spread false information? In the aftermath of an event such as a controversial executive order, it may be challenging for consumers to separate facts from opinions, that is why the ISA Sophomores engaged in a study of fake news, and how it should be interpreted.

After sifting through a handful of articles, we expressed our personal stance on the situation in a creative work of our choosing.

The Work

The Reflection

Before this unit of study, I didn’t know enough about the situation to formulate a valid enough opinion on the matter. Being raised with liberal values, my initial response to the executive order was “That’s not good.”, with nothing more complex to complement that thought. I was well familiar with the term ‘fake news’ and had heard it flying about the media, but never before had I troubled to dig beyond the topic’s surface level. I suppose I had placed more trust in news sources before, as I mostly assumed ‘fake news’ to be another cheap excuse to be used by politicians. Now, I realize that the media is just as vulnerable to lies, bias and misconception as anything else.

During the span of this unit, I discovered to what extent news sources can get away with spreading false or synthetic information. More so, I realized how much this is made possible due to consumers’ lack of skepticism when being fed information. Consumers have allowed this problem to grow out of control by persisting in gullibility and carelessness for verifying facts. Not only this, but factors such as the internet have allowed the issue to even exist on such a large and dangerous scale.

Now, I am of the belief that measures should and must be taken in order to repair and redefine a corrupted system. This phenomena of bending truth has not only highlighted the power of information, but also its fragile nature. Should the responsibility of maintaining an honest society fall into the wrong hands, we may very well end up like a dystopia.

My final product, ‘One Bad Apple…’ , acts as a reflection of my current stance on the immigration dilemma and the ‘fake news’ issue by summarizing my opinion into an idiom that is simple and easy to understand. President Trump’s Administration claims that the travel ban will protect the United States from radical Islamic terrorists, however, this targeted demographic only makes up a small minority of a much larger range of people who are also being affected by the executive order. Refugees who seek safety in the US are being denied access because of the ban, along with individuals simply attempting to have a better life. The executive office is associating all Muslims with the few who are extremists, hence the “one bad apple” idiom being used. By discriminating against an entire ethnic group, we are departing from the very virtues that founded this nation.


Audrey

The Task

We learned how to evaluate media sources critically that way we could make educated and informed decisions, especially regarding complex issues. We learned this skill in relation to Trump’s immigration executive order which happens to be a current event that has been heavily debated and discussed with “fake news.” We looked at 14 media sources with both pro and con stances on the executive order, and at the end of the unit we had to create a final, creative model that showed our opinion and what we had learned from this unit.

The Work

The Reflection

Before this unit of study, I used to think that there could only be one side to this executive order. I hadn’t actually read through the executive order nor had I really thought about all the events that led up to this executive order. I wasn’t really taking in all the information and evaluating it critically and thinking of the complexity of things. Then I learned these things about fake news and real news, and all of the bias in media. I read through analysis of the executive order and really immersed myself in lots of information. Now I think that you can have many different opinions because it is such a complex issue that doesn’t have a real black and white answer. The catch to that is your opinion should be supported by accurate and relevant information that way you have an educated opinion. This is such an important global issue that requires a lot of thought and information before you can just set on one side. My final product reflects my current thinking about this topic because this zine tells the story of fear taking over the globe that is now preventing people to take in credible, accurate information. This coincides with the recent executive order and my opinion on being informed in order to make a decision. I am hoping that people will look at this zine and try to make an educated, informed decision.


Sofia

The Task

We’ve been bombarded with notions of “fake news” thanks to the manipulative rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election. Most of American youth choose to swallow whatever media is within hands reach, giving journalists an unimaginable power over the perception of the world. Students at ISA, however, do not buy into it. A unit over evaluating media taught students how to identify credible sources. We did this by researching President Trump’s executive order on Middle Eastern immigration and creating a final product to reflect our educated position.

The Work

Poem on the executive order

The Reflection

Fear of the other has transcended the ages and managed to poison even the most intelligent. In the United States, fear of Islam penetrates politics. President Trump issued an immigration ban on seven predominantly Islamic countries. Before this unit of study, I was fiercely against the ban; I thought nothing could defend the violation of human rights, but then I learned about the justified fear citizens experience. Despite my newfound understanding, I still believe that the executive order is a violation of human rights and further distances the US from philanthropic goals.

I learned that the basis for the ban was mostly religious. If the president truly wanted to shield the US from “terrorists,” he would’ve banned Saudi Arabia, a country that has high amounts of terrorist activity. He didn’t because of our economic ties– greed over protection, racism over unity. I also learned that the United States has issued a lot of immigration bans in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1924 (anti-Japanese), and the cancellation of Iranian visas in 1980 are just a few of many examples.

After learning all of this, I realized that immigration bans are based on genuine concerns. The concerns, nevertheless, are rooted in irrational fear that can be resolved through education. My biggest take on the unit was on the demonization of Muslims. Willingness to learn can resolve much of the stigma. My final product, a poem, is a touching attempt to encourage the humanization of Islam.

English Language Arts Performance Outcomes: Investigate the World

  • Develops a clear position based on evidence from sources that considers multiple perspectives, and draws well-supported conclusions on a globally significant issue/topic.

When researching the executive order, I had to develop a concise position that reflected upon credible evidence. The executive order is a complex topic that requires careful consideration. By looking two sources, I drew upon multiple perspectives to gain broader insight on the global issue. I looked at the authors of both articles and dove into the rhetoric the publisher tended to use. I absorbed information with a grain of salt in order to create a final product that reflected accurate understanding of the topic.

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