10 June 2012

That's (In)credible!

Teaching (and learning) should be a process full of reflection. The school year, however, is often unyielding in its insistence that we live in the present---not the past. It makes those moments where I get to slow down with teachers and really cuss and discuss into what is or isn't working in the classroom all the more satisfying. Another round of rangefinding is over for the year. While these conversations are among the most meaningful I have ever had, I also find them a little bittersweet because we can't dig into student work like this on a regular basis.

My personal take-away this year had to do with how we teach students to think about "credible" sources of information...and how we think about it, too.

My hunch is that we scaffold this skill for students in ways that ultimately turn out to be unhelpful. We give them black and white options for what is---in reality---a very gray area. We give students checklists...ask them to give us a yes/no response to any number of indicators about validity and bias...but this approach does nothing to create meaning for students (even if it does help them identify questions to ask). At the end of the day, how many "yeses" are enough? Are some "yeses" more important than others? Or is this really the point?

If I tell you that I am a biologist, does that make me credible...or do you want to see my college transcript? As an expert, can I be unbiased? When I was 8 years old, I saw a show by Harry Blackstone, Jr.---am I a reliable primary source (or did that have an expiration date)? Are primary sources always the best...why do we assume that eyewitnesses always relay the facts of an event? If a website hasn't been updated in several years about a topic that is old news (e.g., the death of Julius Caesar), is that so bad?

We set up safe searches for students...but we don't tell them the reasoning we applied when selecting the sites. In fact, I doubt we ever ask students to question us about that. Are we using school media resources because they were cheap? Because they came with a suite of stuff offered by a textbook vendor? How did we decide what was best?

I am, perhaps, overthinking all of this. But if the standard we want students to reach is a well-developed bullshit detector, then it would seem that we need to help them develop a (mental) flowchart, not hand them a checklist and assume they can come to a conclusion about what it's all supposed to mean.

Do you have a lesson you've used that helps students develop, and then consistently apply, a way to evaluate sources---something that gets at the deep thinking we need kids to do? Would love to see it!

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