Saturday, February 16, 2019

Test your (and your students') News Literacy and Close Reading Skills

This is a great activity for news consumers of any age!

This started as a simple screenshot experiment back in the fall. Then I started to see its potential as a lesson.

At this time of year, our students move into units on op-ed writing in their English classes. I anticipation, the New Canaan High School information and communications technology team has been developing instruction on language choice and close reading. This lesson, which is a work in progress, is a simple, replicable, and adaptable one that will help your students' improve skills in
  • close reading
  • news literacy
  • reading comprehension
  • awareness of the intention(s) behind author word choice
This lesson should also heighten their skepticism when analyzing the messages their devices flash at them throughout their waking hours. 

1. Introduction Part I
You can start the lesson with a discussion about what is meant by "left" and "right" political leanings. The 2010 infographic below, created by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec and published on Information is Beautiful can be found on Slide 2.

Questions to consider:
  • What do we mean when we say a person leans “left” or “right”?
  • Examine this infographic and create a persona for each side in one paragraph. 
2. Introduction Part I
Extend the conversation to focus students' attention on how media outlets can lean "left" or "right". The 2019 AllSides Media Bias Chart below can be found on Slide 3.

Questions to consider:
  • What do we mean when we say a publication leans “left” or “right”?
  • Review this graphic, making a note of your “surprises”
  • Which news outlets are familiar? Which are not?
  • What is the difference between newspapers, magazines and Internet news agencies? Does it matter? How can you tell the difference? 

3. Introduction Part III
Explain to students which of these news outlets we will focus on for this activity:
  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • FOX News
Note: I tried to include the Wall Street Journal (a New Canaan favorite), but their mobile notifications so seldom align with the other three publications that I ultimately left it out of the experiment. 

4. Introduce the activity by showing slide 5

Questions to consider:
  • Read these three headlines. 
  • Compare the language. 
  • Which words stand out? 
  • Does language choice change the message? 
  • How so? 
  • To what extent does the message point to the editorial slant (left or right) of its publication?  

5. Introduce the activity (cont.) ...and slide 6

Concept to highlight:
  • What a publication chooses to not publish can be as telling as what they choose to publish.

6. Activity:
Note: This can be done on paper, or Google Form (I haven’t created one - yet). Feel free to open the Document, make a copy, and pull out as many rows as you wish. As it is, it is far too long. 

Review the directions, and set the students to work. I would have them work individually, and then compare their answers in small groups before a class share.

Directions (slide 8): Each pair of mobile notifications (distinguishable by shading) cover the same story as delivered via different media outlets (FOX News, New York Times or Washington Post). By analyzing word choice in each alert, try to infer the posting publication’s political leanings. In the Clues column, write the words that helped you decide. In the right-hand column, compare how word choice changes the readers’ understanding of the story before reading it.


7. Review
Once students have completed their individual, group work and class share, you can review the headlines with publication branding with them. Remember, there is a key but you need to request access. 



8. Reflection:

"Republicans are more likely to trust The New York Times and Democrats are more inclined to trust Fox News when they do not know which source they are reading, according to a new study by Gallup."

Questions to consider:
  • Does this align with your experience? Explain. 
  • How will this activity change how you read your mobile notifications?


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