Eggplants & ISIS: How to Fight Fake News

 “If you drink 3 glasses of eggplant juice everyday for 21 days you won’t have to ever wear contacts again!” Whenever an aunt shares such gems of nutrition advice, I don’t even have to ask where she got it from, the answer is always the same: WhatsApp or Facebook.

“We can’t let refugees into America because most of them are ISIS terrorists!” Whenever a student makes such sensational claims, I know he’s fallen for the latest story circulating on cable news, click-bait sites, or Twitter.

How could such well educated adults be victims of such clearly fake news?

I’m excited to report that Steve Edwards, Alden Loury & Odette Yousef of WBEZ and John Silva & Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project helped me start answering that question at the NewsLit Camp in Chicago and shared a number of practical strategies for combating fake news in the classroom.

Highlight of the Day: Nerding out with journalists I’d been listening to on WBEZ/NPR for the last 15 years!

Why do so many people consume & share fake news?

  • Financial Incentives: The more sensational and emotionally charged the content the more likely we are to click on it and share it. In a profit starved media landscape supported by advertising, click-bait sites and fake social media accounts have emerged with the sole purpose of attracting the most eyeballs & followers and selling them to the highest bidder.
  • Psychological Need: We get a dollop of dopamine when someone likes our tweet or post. We’re also hardwired to share whatever tidbit we know about a breaking story to see if it can be weaved into the broader narrative. (See: Shared Sense Making & Rumor Theory).
  • Prevalence: From talk radio to cable news and social media, we can’t escape it. Even if we abstain from all news media, stories find us via our family & friends.

What can we do about it?

  1. Get Nuanced: The more precisely we can help students label fake news, the more effectively we can help them fight it. Fake news take on many forms: manipulated content, satire, content, disinformation. (See this sample lesson from Checkology)
  2. Affirm but Probe: When students propagate ideas with little to no basis in fact, affirm their views and appreciate their willingness to share them. Then, help the student probe what may have shaped his or her views: Where did you hear that? What evidence supports that view? How might saying “X” make “Y” feel? What are other perspectives on the issue? What might lead people to feel that way?
  3. Uncover Bias: Our biases are rooted in race, class, political affiliation, and other identities. We often accuse various news sources of being biased because they threaten our worldview. (See: Hostile Media Effect).
    • Teaching Tip: Take the branding off of 3-5 articles on the same story from different news sites (e.g. CNN, Fox News, NPR, etc). See if students can identify which article came from which source. Discuss the extent to which the chart below is accurate or an oversimplification:

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Too often journalists don’t belong to the communities they’re reporting on creating blind spots in their reporting. To help news organizations uncover them, ask students to contact local papers & news channels and ask them to participate in ASNE’s Newsroom Diversity Survey Have students share their findings by creating Wikipedia pages for local news organizations. Update their entry every year with the latest survey results.

4. Encourage Students to Take Action:

  • Ask students to reply to peddlers of fake news (and people who comment on it) with fact checks of their claims.
  • Show students how to do a reverse Image search to check the validity of suspicious pictures:

5. Get Grounded

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Coaching Teachers Who Just Don’t Think Like You

During the 4th annual Illinois Council of Instructional Coaching Conference I was able to attend Jane Kise’s keynote: Coaching Teachers Who Just Don’t Think Like You. Although her talk was chock-full of instructional coaching strategies, one insight really stood out:

“There are no resistant teachers, but rather, only teachers whose needs during change have not been met. Not YET.”

Identifying and fulfilling teachers’ needs is the golden key to creating meaningful change.  How can we use this insight to create more effective coaching opportunities?

First, instructional coaches should identify their own personality type so they can understand how their tendencies affect their interactions with teachers. For example, an extrovert coaching an introvert might need to remember to give the introvert more time to process questions when de-briefing a lesson instead of filling the silence with chatter.  Or, if according to the Myers-Briggs test, you’re more of the “feeling” type coaching a “thinking” type, you might want to use specific praise, assume ideas will be debated without taking it personally, collect objective data, and don’t be offended if the conversation is focused just on “business.”

Second, after we identify our own personality types, we can begin to identify and meet teachers’ needs in a coaching relationship. Below are the 4 most common types of instructional coaches teachers want based on their needs.

(NOTE: Jane Kise deliberately exaggerated each type of coach so the differences are more clear. In reality, teachers will likely need a mix of multiple coaching types.)

 

Teachers’ Needs

Type of Coach

If you really want to help me improve instruction, give me hands-on relevant lessons that I can use right away in my classroom–with tangible results.”

Useful Resource: On-the-spot tips, structures, modeling relevant lesson plans with strategies that can be used in other ways, immediate assessment data from students, answers to questions.
Instead of looking at theories or general ideas, let’s set goals for trying one new, concrete task or strategy at a time. If you provide too many choices, I’ll assume you want me to perfect all of them at once!”

Encouraging Sage: Concrete experiences, specific and clear instructions, modeling, on-the-spot encouragement and help, strategies that can be implemented piece by piece, relevant feedback, clear goals.

I get all kinds of creative ideas from books and workshops. Let’s add my ideas to your and together decide what’s best for my students. I’d love your thoughts, then, on how to make it work well the first time.”

Collegial Mentor: Freedom to be creative, options, assistance clarifying directions for students, flexible tools, evidence that students are engaged & motivated.

“I do a fair amount of investigating by reading or talking with colleagues, to stay on top of my field, so please bring only cutting-edge strategies. Have the theoretical background or research handy—I may want to look it over.”

Expert: Theories & frameworks, expert knowledge, assistance in making rigorous assignments accessible for all students, rich conversations, challenges to their thinking.

SOURCE: Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change

Finally, we should remember that teachers’ needs will shift throughout the school year. During the summer teachers may be looking for expert ideas but in December teachers might just be trying to keep their head above water and seek concrete, useful resources.

By understanding teachers’ needs we can provide the type of coaching that is useful for them and build a long-lasting relationship which can pay dividends for students for years to come.

5 Takeaways from ISTE 2018 for English/Language Arts Teachers

Here are some of the tools I came across at ISTE 2018 that seemed promising for English/Language Arts teachers. I especially appreciated that each tool kept the student  in the center while allowing teachers to provide critical support & feedback. No canned reading programs that students mindlessly click through here!

  1. READING: Activate, support, and reveal student thinking with Actively Learn.

 2. WRITING: Provide actionable feedback throughout the writing process with Writable.

 3. ANNOTATING: Students & teachers can organize annotations by color coded categories with Highlighting Tool, a free Google Doc add on.

 4. FLUENCY: Monitor student growth in pronunciation and support comprehension with a visual dictionary by using Fluency Tutor.

 5. SPEAKING & CREATIVITY: Break the ice and improve students’ speaking skills with an auto-generated slideshow of images based on a topic you choose in Pecha Flickr.

5 Takeaways from ISTE for Social Studies Teachers

  1. Use Esri’s Geoinquiries and Arcgis Storymaps to help students develop their map analysis skills and Google’s Tour Builder to integrate text, images and maps to create more visually rich stories. (SOURCE: @JChanter22) 

2. Bring history alive by having students interview senior citizens in the community and record their oral histories. (Resources from Milton High School, WI)

3. Use inquiry kits, research modules, and case maker created by Thinkport to scaffold students’ analysis of primary sources from the Library of Congress while creating strong historical arguments.

4. Computational Thinking isn’t just for math or technology class! Use the series of lessons created by Green Dot Public Schools to help students apply computational thinking while designing Greek monuments, annotating a map of Lord of the Flies, creating their own ancient civilizations, and mapping earthquakes.

5. Speak your truth. I was struck by the boldness with which Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp ) used her platform at an #edtech conference to illustrate white privilege and challenge educators to courageously “dismantle our prejudiced world.” Since I wasn’t able to witness her talk, I read about it here and watched it here.

2017-2018 Reflection

The end of every school year leaves a gnawing feeling of self-doubt: What more could I have taught my students? How could I have developed their skills further? Did I truly inspire anyone? Did I change how they view themselves or the world?

As I sit in front of empty chairs and desks I’m trying to channel this self-doubt into self-reflection and identify what I did well and what I need to improve for next year. Although these reflections are primarily for my own growth, I find that sharing it with others pushes me to think and write more clearly.

Here are 3 of my takeaways from the year:

#1: Be Present

Like many teachers, I often find myself replaying how I handled a tough incident earlier in the day or mentally crafting an email I plan on sending to teachers on my team after school. It’s difficult to be totally present.

To help alleviate this, I have tried to make mindfulness a more regular practice in my classroom. What started with a daily quote, led to Mindful Mondays, and this year, mindful minutes at the start of nearly every class. These daily activities included short breathing exercises, stretches, or reflection questions.

Although I didn’t collect empirical evidence, noticing my own mental state before & after mindful minutes along with anecdotes from students, I am convinced that taking just a couple minutes to breathe, reflect, or move can truly help us be more fully present with the people and work in front of us.

 

Next year, I plan on researching more effective mindfulness activities and practicing them more regularly so it becomes a consistent habit for myself and my students.

#2: Really Know Your Students

When I’m interacting with nearly a 100 students over the course of a school year, it’s often easier to get excited about trying new tech tool or lesson than trying to get to know each and every student. However, I have never regretted the time I invested building relationships with students while I can’t say the same about the former.

For example, this year, I had a refugee student in my U.S. History class who has lived in 3 different countries in the last few years, and for whom English is her 3rd or 4th language. To make matters worse, she had an ongoing medical condition which made her really tired and miss a fair amount school. Despite all of these challenges, she worked harder than nearly all of her peers and earned a scholarship to a solid 4-year university.

Hearing her story and observing her determination daily helped me get perspective on my own life. It also reminded me that students are the best source of inspiration. While I do spend time getting to know all my students, too often my knowledge of each student stays at the surface level—interests & hobbies—instead of life stories.

Next year, I plan on making more time to regularly chat with individual students whether it’s during passing periods, conferences during class, and by using online tools.

#3 Break Free from Technology Addiction

This year I became more keenly aware of the harm technology can do to our minds. As an enthusiastic user of technology who helps other teachers innovate while utilizing technology this was hard to come to terms with. However, I believe, integrating technology effectively requires me to be clear eyed about its potential & pitfalls.

Watching videos like these helped me realize how social media is designed to leverage weaknesses in human psychology. Specifically, variable reward schedules via dopamine hits get people hooked which fuels social media companies’ ad-driven business model.

Also, reading books like Deep Work made me realize how the immediate bite sized rewards from technology has rewired our brains and made it much more difficult for me to work on challenging, thinking-intensive activities for long, sustained periods of time.

Finally, a couple months ago I read this blog post by Pernille Ripp, a middle school teacher from Wisconsin who I really respect, on how she is trying to get her students off cellphones during class. I have started to make similar changes with my students.

This summer, I want to make sure I’m using technology more deliberately by not tweeting and mindlessly reading articles while surfing the web. Instead, I want to spend more time reading books and re-reading all the ideas I ‘liked’ on Twitter and planning how to apply them to my classroom.

Mindful Minutes Everyday

Teaching is one of the most stressful professions in the world.

From debating whether I used the right approach while dealing with a challenging student earlier in the day or mentally crafting an email I plan on sending a parent after school, the stressors of everyday teacher life lead me to constantly think about what happened in the past or what I will do in the future.

It’s extremely difficult for me to be present. The same is true for our students.
To begin to remedy this, with inspiration from my colleagues Gina Gagliano & Robyn Corelitz, this year I’ve tried to practice mindfulness daily with my students. The “mindful minute” that we start most classes with has helped my students and me be calmer and more attentive to the present moment.

I wanted to share the activities I’ve used in case they’re helpful to you. Feel free to add the Slides below to your bookmark bar and use them with your students.  I found that if I could easily access the Slides I was more likely to take out 1-2 minutes from class to make it a daily habit.

5 Potential Pitfalls: What you should know before adopting an LMS

As more schools go 1:1, students and parents are demanding a central hub for organizing the rapidly growing number of digital materials teachers are creating. Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas, Edmodo and other Learning Management Systems (LMS) have helped many schools tame this digital information explosion; however, as with any remedy, there are side-effects you should be aware of before taking the LMS plunge.

When schools see neighboring districts go 1:1 or adopt an LMS they feel they must do the same to keep pace with “innovative” practices of “21st century education.”

This chart  from Gartner Research explains the adoption process of digital marketing tools but parallels my experience with education technology as well.

Digital Adoption Curve | Gartner Research

After a school implements 1:1 technology or an LMS the results too often follow a predictable pattern:

While there is some initial trepidation about having iPads or laptops in the classroom, teachers become excited and develop inflated expectations about the new, easier ways to assign & collect essays, facilitate discussions, grade quizzes, etc.

A few years after the 1:1 rollout, teachers often realize that computers merely allowed them to deliver their traditional curriculum more efficiently. Many also become disillusioned by the limitations of technology.

Therefore, a critical examination of the opportunities & limitations of 1:1 technology broadly, and an LMS in particular, is necessary to have more informed expectations, avoid disillusionment, and create a long-term plan for meaningful educational innovation.

Too often the structure of the technology dictates the curriculum & pedagogy when the reverse should be true.

3 Potential Promises of an LMS

  • Helps students & parents organize the multitude of different digital resources teachers use. I’ve heard of nightmares of parents of middle school and high school students having to bookmark dozens of different websites so that they can help their child stay on top of their schoolwork.
  • More immediate feedback on student work with features like a speed grader or peer review. Teachers can use integrated rubrics, voice comments, automated comments on objective assessments, etc to provide more timely feedback that hopefully improves student learning.
  • Access key dates & resources in one place which is invaluable to students that are absent for extended periods of time or need extra helping keeping track of their work.

5 Possible Pitfalls of an LMS

1. Limiting Students to the Walled Garden: Requiring students to submit all of their work in the LMS helps teachers track work completion and provide more timely feedback. However, it generally restricts students not enrolled in the class, parents and the world from seeing student work. Research shows that students produce better work when it’s for an audience beyond the teacher.

When adopting an LMS, don’t stop having students post their work to blogs, websites, public spaces, etc. Leverage the best of both worlds by having students publish some of their work online or in other public spaces while also submitting it in the LMS.

2. Narrowing of curriculum to teach what can easily practiced & assessed via an LMS. Most modern LMS offer robust tools to teach concrete skills: clicking hotspots on a political cartoon or graph; dynamic feedback on physics problem sets, categorizing a list of key terms by literary themes, etc.

It is relatively easy to create a series of learning activities to prepare students for objective assessments which can also easily be delivered and graded via the LMS. In fact, teachers could carefully tailor learning activities and assessments to show tremendous student growth—a key component of many teacher evaluation systems these days.

While creating curriculum that will be housed in an LMS, be careful not to simply do more of what can easily be taught & measured at the expense of what’s truly important and meaningful.

Often, the messiest learning activities that are the most difficult to assess—student-led experiments, simulations, debates, controversial discussions—-are the most memorable and transformative experiences.

3. Ignoring self-management: A LMS can be valuable tools for students who struggle organizing their homework and remembering long-term deadlines. Many platforms even auto-create to do lists for students to remind them what work they need to complete each day. However, a useful tool can also be a crutch if teachers & parents begin to not teach time management & long term planning.

While planning assignments for an LMS, be sure you’re not just creating a playlist of activities to complete. Instead, make a conscious effort to create a dynamic space where students are continuously monitoring their own learning and seeking out the materials they need to help them achieve the content & skill goals. This might happen through open-ended assignments, research projects, regular journaling, reflection forms, etc.

4. Teacher Centered: When creating a course for an LMS teachers are firmly in the pilot’s seat while selecting and assigning activities and assessing students. However, this reduces student agency and excuses them from monitoring their own learning and identify materials that will help them achieve their goals—-skills that are increasingly important to becoming “lifelong learners” in the information explosion of the 21st century.

Be sure to leverage more open ended activities such as discussion boards and wikis to charge students with asking questions, finding resources and charting their own learning progression.

5. Replacing in-person interaction with digital ones. An online discussion board can help ensure all students participate in a discussion especially more introverted students who may be reluctant to share their views in class. Similarly, an online video (i.e. flipped learning) with embedded questions can ensure all students understood core concepts and provide teachers with valuable data on which topics they need to re-teach. Migrating learning materials to a digital format is a slippery slope that could lead you to one day come to class and realize you have unwittingly stripped much of the serendipity, fun and humanity from your course.

Be sure not to fall into the LMS trap.

There’s a reason why it’s called a Learning Management System —too often it’s a tool for teachers to more easily manage students.

Deliberately seek opportunities to empower students to manage their own learning via ongoing portfolios, self-assessments, and self-directed research questions.