In a world of rapidly emerging information, people have the ability to access information via technology at an almost instantaneous rate. It is more important than ever for students to learn how to evaluate sources, and how to decide what is valuable, and what is biased. When teaching research skills, teachers often include electronic resources in their lessons, and this is when students need to learn about what valid and reliable means.
In my classroom, we start by talking about the idea of experts and novices. I post a series of questions such as:
Who would you go to if you had a broken bone?
Would you go to a person who studied medicine, a person who watched medical programs on television, or a person who attended medical school?
Students then share their choices. Next, I give students three to five other situations to evaluate, and have students discuss their conclusions. By the end of this activity, students would be ready to discuss their own definitions of experts and reliability.
However, students need to know more than the difference between an expert and a novice in order to evaluate the value of the information they are looking at, they also have to identify reliable sources. One of the ways I help students do this is by showing sample websites for an upcoming research project. I show links to universities, libraries, and other academic sources, and then also show wiki-type sites and blog entries. For each source, students fill in a chart that asks them to identify the author, credentials listed for the author, whether the document stated facts and/or opinions, and three pieces of evidence to show whether the document was based on facts, opinions, or both. This exercise should help students realize on their own that certain sources, such as academic or government websites, are more reliable than others.
A third aspect that students need to consider is bias. I like to introduce the idea of bias by showing a skirt cut on the bias, and ask students to analyze the cut. They immediately say it’s slanted or angled, and that leads into a discussion of how someone’s perspective can be “slanted”, or how the “angle” on a story can change. I then provide a topic for the class to discuss, such as students’ rights in school, and then ask students to brainstorm a list of biased, and non biased sources.
As teachers know, decision making is a critical thinking process that is taught classrooms from kindergarten to high school. Providing students the tools to make informed decisions makes learning more student-centered, and allows for longer retention of the information. What follows are lesson plans to help your students learn about the decision making process.
Decision Making Activities:
These lessons allow students to analyze news stories and role play situations as if they are actually in a newsroom setting. Students are introduced to the idea of media literacy, work on comparing various news sources, and define what news is. This is a series of lessons that addresses multiple learning styles and various aspects of decision making.
Students research slavery using primary sources. The website provides a narrative to follow, as well as ideas for what primary resources to use, and how to analyze them. Students are responsible for working together and independently, and multiple learning styles are addressed.
Students have to choose a historical figure for whom to create an online presentation. Biographical, and analytical sources are discussed, and students must cite all sources and reflect on why the sources were chosen. Directions for using Adobe programs are also included.