Talkin’ ’bout My Education…

Well, to appease both of my readers’ desire for more gibberish from this site, I am posting up the paper I turned in last night for my Educational Psychology course.  It is a tad incomplete and will be revised later.  The main premise was to create a lesson plan based in the theories we had learned in class thus far.  Also, though, a greater goal for the lesson was to answer the great question, why are you teaching this?  Here is my answer:

The United States is a republic built upon the grounds of an educated middle class.  While what constitutes that middle class may have altered over time (thankfully), the educated portion remains unaltered.  To be educated means not to have come from high-level university attendance or scholarly degrees.  It means to be abreast of the events surrounding one’s life and society and can make common sense decisions.

The great question our society posed, and still poses, to the world is, can people govern themselves?  Time has told that the answer is yes, if they are educated.  Being educated gives the citizens the ability to wisely choose their representatives and laws.  Democracy without education is a mob, one that is led to either tyranny or anarchy.  Ours is one that requires its citizens to involve their minds in their own governance.  This lesson is designed to that end.

(Full text after the jump.)

This is a lesson in fact-checking and researching news sources for a high school level social studies or government class.  The objective of the entire lesson is to have students able to read any news article from any source and find its origins, biases, and bases for facts, as well as find more information on it.  They will be able to not only comprehend what is written, but follow the story through time and determine its legitimacy in fact.

Such a task would involve learning or honing a set of skills including research, argumentation, language usage, and contextualization.  The research component includes newspaper, magazine, and online sources.  Finding information includes checking parallel sources (those multiple sources coming out of the same event) for discrepancies, as well as checking prior sources, essentially the history behind an event.

Argumentation and language usage are tied, but separate.  Learning the skills of argumentation is to help in knowing whether what is presented actually does make sense.  Is the writer making a point?  Later in the lesson, when bringing up questions or counter-information on an article, making reasoned arguments is necessary for reinforcing or debunking a claim.

Learning the usage of language is a tool for deciphering language and writing in points.  Most often it is used subjectively to make a claim or case on one side or another of an argument.  Here is where a student will learn to determine whether an article is news or opinion.  If it is opined, then it is then the objective to discern the writer’s point of view, bias toward one side or another, and what their goal is.

Contextualization of an event is when all the sources are taken into account, the opinions are filtered properly, and a sensible picture of the actual ordeal takes place.  By having news items put into context, the information is clarified and any hype or rumor gets sorted out.  This gives the student the tools to fully grasp the news and information that is presented by the numerous outlets in the world.

Teaching this lesson in research and fact-checking would be a growing process.  The first part would entail pulling apart ideas and questioning information on specifically selected articles.  Next would be working as a class and in teams to find more information behind what was initially ready.  Gradually, it would be a move from larger groups working together to independent research and presentation.  The final piece would be a researched paper explaining the original article read and the following questioning and research, placing the information in its context.

Why go about the lesson in this way?  Rarely would a young student walk into a classroom a regular reader of a local paper, let alone delving into multiple sources of the news items.  This lends the lesson to follow more of the outdated empty-vessel approach to teaching students as though they contained no prior knowledge of any kind.  However, using such a basis would reduce the effectiveness of the entire session.

Every single student will come to the class with an opinion of their own on the world and its happenings.  What they come to the classroom with will influence which questions about the news are brought up.  Some might see a different interpretation of the data given.  Others might find the slant of the writer and immediately agree or disagree with the whole premise.  Rather than having all these differing approaches hinder the learning process, the initial activities tap all the different viewpoints to bring about a communal learning environment.

The opening activity to this unit is handing out newspapers and magazines and having the students scour for any news items of interest or ire.  Emphasizing finding what makes them upset or angry is a quick way to get students engaged.  Once they have found some information they like or dislike, they will write it down on note cards and pass them to the teacher.  The teacher can quickly compile and select a few recurring views.  This begins the process of seeing what other people see in the same news.

The purpose of brining these initial findings before the whole group has a couple facets.  First, it lets the students see other things in what was read that they themselves might not have.  This gives them a greater set of views that can be considered valid and could work off of as well.  Essentially, it is exposure to other ideas and views that can expand their own.

Another facet of turning in ideas and compiling them is that it lends to giving students a little anonymity in their ideas.  There is always a contingent of students who would rather not bring out the fact they may do well.  Having a pile of submitted cards and pooled views reassures both that others had similar ideas and so the student’s views are not too far off and that appearances of ignorance will remain intact (after all, smart and cool are entirely mutually exclusive.)

The third facet of this initial activity is to introduce to the class as a whole the concept of questioning texts.  A list of questions generated by the class as a whole is meant to be an instruction to how to do this on their own.  Learning to list out questions is the opening point to research that will hopefully answer the questions of greatest importance and interest.

The successive activity to the first is to break the class into groups and generate question lists on specifically selected articles.  This group activity brings about more direct interaction of ideas and views among students.  Here they will have time to build upon one another’s ideas as well as, most assuredly, begin arguing their cases for why some questions should be on the list instead of others.  The teacher’s role will be to join in the arguments that are naturally occurring and guiding them toward making reasonable statements and ensuring they are attacking no specific person.

This early working in groups is brought about by Vygotsky’s theories on learning.  Mr Vygotsky sees people as learning from those around them, and that when working together, a student can in fact learn beyond what they could on their own.  Working in groups early in the lesson more rapidly gets students seeing different angles and questions in their news items than can a lecture-style instruction.  With some regular guidance from the teacher, most students should be able to notice a number of issues within a single article including some that they would not have thought of during the first presentation of the lesson.

Once the groups have completed their question lists, then the class as a whole will compare them.  The teacher will ask groups questions on why they picked certain items over others (since they are all working from the same group of articles), continuing the students’ training in making reasoned arguments.  As a class, all the group-submitted questions can be whittled down to make a single class list that will lead in to the next segment of the unit: research.

At this point, the class now has at its disposal a fixed set of questions to work from.  Here the students will be broken down into pairs to begin researching answers to the list of questions.  Most of the research will be conducted online and supplemented by the school library.  Before the researching begins, this section of the unit starts with some lecture and examples of research methods and source citation, instructing how to effectively use search tools, and teaching students how to use their new skills they have already when looking at potential sources.  The pairs then turn in semi-formal papers answering the questions.

These answered questions become the first of the more formal assessments involved in this unit.  The earlier class and group work is graded mostly on participation in the discussions rather than work produced.  As the unit progresses, actual work gets evaluated.  The penultimate piece makes for the most summative portion of the entire unit.  A second session on researching answers on an individual basis might well be warranted if extra reinforcement is deemed necessary.

The large project of the unit is a formal research paper done entirely independently.  To begin, the students will have to find a recent news topic that they find interesting.  From there, they will follow the steps they had learned before: read the information critically, generate questions, find more information, and finally write and cite a paper on the event.

The paper and its steps toward construction (checked regularly before allowing successive parts) is 30% of the entire unit grade.  The initial class discussions and group question generations would constitute 10% each.  Participation in the pairs would be 10% with the answers researched and written on being an additional 10%.  Subsequent questions researched and answered individually would total 15% of the grade.  The total to this point would be 85% of the grade for the whole unit.

What remains is an additional 15% of the total unit grade.  This is left to the final portion of the unit.  To leave nearly one third of an entire unit hinging on a single research paper makes things a little rough, and thwarts the attempts to make the balance between learner- and assessment-centered more viable.  A final paper laid to rest with no remaining thought and learning from it is a loss and a waste as well.

The remaining portion of the unit grade is left for a paper revision.  However, this would not only be a revision of the original work.  What becomes the final component of digging into a news item is to follow the story.  What the students will write for the final portion of their work is an epilogue to their original paper.  Writing this would be a few weeks after its submission and so would be a report on what has happened since.  It would not be as formally or strictly written, but it would add to their paper and follow-through of an event.

This brings us back to the original objectives.  Through this unit, students not only will have learned, but also will have actually done them.  With the initial group discussions, there are the beginnings of reading critically.  When the students get to create questions, it naturally gets them thinking not only of the language and how it is used, but also metacognitively.  The research pushes the metacognition further in having them find even more that they do not know and did not know they did not know.

These objectives lead themselves to a question of why.  Why learn this, what is the greater goal?  This lesson may be teaching how to read beyond the newsprint, but it is also teaching how to be a citizen of our society.

The United States is a republic built upon the grounds of an educated middle class.  While what constitutes that middle class may have altered over time (thankfully), the educated portion remains unaltered.  To be educated means not to have come from high-level university attendance or scholarly degrees.  It means to be abreast of the events surrounding one’s life and society and can make common sense decisions.

The great question our society posed, and still poses, to the world is, can people govern themselves?  Time has told that the answer is yes, if they are educated.  Being educated gives the citizens the ability to wisely choose their representatives and laws.  Democracy without education is a mob, one that is led to either tyranny or anarchy.  Ours is one that requires its citizens to involve their minds in their own governance.  This lesson is designed to that end.