Exploring Perspectives through Research

 Early last week, Jess Lifshitz posted this image on Twitter:

If you aren't familiar with her work, Jess is a champion for authentic reading and writing practices in the classroom. More than that, she is a champion for education-challenging us  to make our classrooms safe spaces for all learners. Her series of lessons that inspired this post can be found on her blog.

When I saw this image, I knew it would fit perfectly with what I was doing in my classroom. Currently, we were working on RI.8.6: Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints. 

Rather than provide my students with notes about perspective and purpose, I wanted them to construct their own definitions. I wanted them to see how this standard was applicable to the real world. And since we are currently reading Ghost Boys aloud, students have been naturally interested in Emmett Till and Tamir Rice. 

The first thing I did was find two articles about the Tamir Rice shooting. For first one,  I used Jess's questions and modeled it with the class. Working in small groups, students read a second article that included more information. We had rich conversations about:
  • what information was presented
  • what information wasn't presented
  • how the information was organized
  • what source was used and how it impacted bias
  • our process-how did students determine bias
The next day I started class by showing the students the "We Believe" Gillette commercial, and asked them to respond to a few guided questions. Students talked with partners about their answers. 

Using this conversation, in addition to our findings about the Tamir Rice articles, we completed this simple notecatcher: 

Next, I paired a modified version of the SOTU address along with Stacey Abrams' rebuttal.  As students read, they were tasked with noticing the following:

When they finished, I deliberately placed them into groups, ensuring there was at least one person who read the SOTU and one person who read the rebuttal. Their directions were simple-share what they noticed about how information was presented. I was thrilled, and admittedly a bit surprised,  with the conversations. Students picked up how Abrams presented her claims-by using anecdotes. They talked about why Stacey Abrams was chosen to give the rebuttal. They researched why she talked about voter suppression-without me telling them to do so.

I discovered every student who chose to read the SOTU read the entire transcript so they could see what else he talked about-or didn't talk about. Students noticed that when President Trump talked about gun violence it was in reference to immigrants or gang violence. They noticed how Abrams used words like "chooses to cage children and tear families apart." And most importantly, they talked about why it was important to recognize bias and purpose. And why they needed to read both the SOTU and the rebuttal. 

Their interest regarding the social issues presented in the SOTU speech, coupled with Jess's ideas, lead me to the next task. Students chose an issue and had only 25 minutes to research it.
At first some students struggled with the activity-they thought it was too unstructured. But I needed them to do the thinking and discover their own processes for combing through media.

Students dropped their conclusions in Google Classroom so everyone had the chance to respond to their findings. The plan is to revisit this again in the near future in order to polish our work so we can make their findings public.

Here are student examples, errors and all. :)

I'm grateful that I stumbled upon Jess's post that day. Yes, it was a catalyst for this informal mini-research unit. But it also reaffirmed that students think more critically about authors' choices when they understand the process. If I had just handed them notes on purpose and perspective and provided a list of techniques authors might use in order to present multiple viewpoints, they would've had no ownership in their learning. By taking advantage of their natural curiosity, allowing choice of topics, and encouraging them to construct meaning in a way that made sense to them, I was able to accurately assess their mastery of the standard. In addition, it set us up perfectly for delineating claims, because students wondered when a counterclaim could hinder an author's argument or purpose.

Please email me at hshaffer@polandschools.org if you have any questions or suggestions!

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