Tweets like these have started to appear more frequently in my feed:

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They’ve got me going back to a post that I wrote about a year ago advocating for more teachers to show kids how to lie convincingly.  The need for this kind of learning gets stronger every day.  Our kids need to be equipped with strategies and skills to help them figure out when someone is deceiving them.  They also need a safe place to practice this kind of thinking and they need safe people with whom to discuss these ideas.

Over the last two weeks my students and I have begun to wade into this complex thinking.  I’d like to share our progress so far.

Step 1: Introduce the idea with a little help from Phil Shapiro.

I wanted to see what my students already new.  What ideas were already floating around in their minds?  I showed them this clip by Phil Shapiro and asked them what they thought.

“Start with a real problem.”

“Stick close to the truth.”

“Support with maps and charts that are also close to the truth.”

And my personal favourite: “make the audience feel sad/guilty so that they won’t ask questions.”

*More here.

Step 2: Work on vocabulary.

I found that a lot of my students were able to point out things that were fishy with Phil’s video; however, they didn’t have the words to describe and explain their thoughts.  In an attempt to empower them with language, I showed them this poster.  Together, we translated the terms into language that was accessible for all of the students in class.

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*pdf version.

Click here to take a look at our class definitions.

We then used these terms to describe some pretty silly examples of fake science:

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Step 3: Start thinking about how we might use these tricks.

Next I shared a rule from the school’s code of conduct that I knew the students hated:

At lunch time students are expected to sit at their desks.

We brainstormed out a few ways that we might provide some alternative facts that might help to get this rule changed:

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Step 4: Start writing in a safe and friendly environment.

I knew that thinking about/reading alternative facts was different than writing using alternative facts.  So I modeled the process for my class.  I created this example for my students to use when taking their first steps into writing convincing lies.  I used many of the ideas that they brainstormed in in the previous lesson.  (Yes there are some spelling mistakes.  Yes I have scratched some things out. Kids need to see our drafts and revisions too.)

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Here are two of my students flexing their media literacy muscles while reading my work:

Finally I let the kids partner up and write their own version of this piece of work.  I encouraged them to borrow and remix from the sample that I had provided.

Their work is wonderful, but it’s still in draft form.  While I’m comfortable sharing my drafts, I want to honour their learning and not share their work until they give me the green light.

(I’m sure I’ll have some great examples to share soon.)

Next steps: hand this over to my students.  We will be working on at least one more shared draft.  We’ll be using this graphic organizer and new writing topics.  We’ll also be looking more and more for alternative fact stories in the news.

In the words of my friend Luke McPherson, “our students need critical media literacy skills more now than ever!”  These are not skills that they will need in the future; they are skills that they need now.

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