Videos for Change

BY: LIZ JORGENSEN

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

― Nelson Mandela ―

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

― Martin Luther King Jr. ―

Mandela and King are two of my heroes. They were intelligent, organized, insightful, articulate and most importantly, would stop at nothing to achieve justice. As English teachers, we are blessed with being paid to help our students achieve these traits as well so that they can in turn go out and change the world.

And I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or cliche sense—there are students in our classrooms who, because of a topic that we read or talked about or because of the speaking or writing skills that we taught them or because of a new perspective that we instilled in them through discussion, will in some capacity work to fight against that injustice for others.

It is vitally important for the next generation of compassionate justice advocates that we expose students to both what is deeply amiss in the world and also examples of those who are doing something about it.

The videos below are a start down that path. They all show a person or organization that has recognized a problem around them and has creatively worked to solve root causes of that problem. They are inspiring examples of people who were not ok with the status quo, thought long and hard about what would actually help solve the problem, and then made their big plans into actions. If you can get through all of these videos of transformational change without tearing up or wanting to quit your day job to go work for them, you are a more stoic person than I. Check out these videos, and afterwards, I’ll share how I use them and also other ideas of how you could use them.

Veronika_One_Stitch_Closer

Veronica Scott has a heart for the homeless. She created a prototype of a coat that could be turned into a sleeping bag and started giving them to people who were without homes. That is, until she realized that what many of these people ultimately wanted was a job and a fresh start. She began hiring homeless women to produce these coats, which has helped these women pay for housing because of the source of steady income. Coats? Easy to create. Opportunities for jobs? Harder because that requires trust, mentoring, and long-term investment in the messy lives of people. But both are necessary.

kivaloans

It takes money to make money. Kiva gives microloans to people in developing nations who have the drive but not the resources to start a small business. This enables investors to contribute to the efforts of a would-be small business owner on the other side of the world, effectively enabling the philanthropically-minded with a way to build into systemic change and economic development in a community. Even a small loan can go a long way, so you don’t need to be a Kardashian to get involved.

hair stylists

So, why hair dressers? One of the root causes of the often prolonged and unknown quality of domestic violence is because abuse victims feel pressure to keep their abuse quiet. Hair dressers work up close to their clients and can often spot well hidden head and neck trauma or scars. Also, they often develop friendships with their clients and can be a safe haven for someone who doesn’t know whom to trust.

greyston-bakery-1373x1125

For certain segments of society, obtaining a job is a near-impossible endeavor. For no one is that more true than the formerly incarcerated or those convicted of a felony. However, if we believe in forgiveness and giving people second chances, it’s pretty cruel to release them from prison and then prevent them from obtaining the very thing necessary to life on the outside: a job. Greyston Bakery has an open hiring policy, so to get hired, a prospective employee puts their name on the list, and Greyston Bakery hires people in order of the list, no questions asked. There are opportunities for anyone who shows aptitude to work their way up into a manger position, as does the employee featured in this video.

Heifer Top Image

I am a long-time fan of the Heifer Project. Heifer raises money to donate farm animals and crop seedlings to distressed farmers in developing nations. They train recipients about how to care for the animals and crops. These gifts can produce both food and revenue for the recipient’s family, and the family is encouraged to share offspring of their animal with other local families and to train them as well. As Alton Brown says in the video, “It is a gift that grows and may be the best, hardest working gift you will ever give. And that, my friends, is the recipe for lasting change.” Indeed. Also, Heifer allows you to give gifts in a person’s name, so maybe instead of getting your mother-in-law another knick-knack for Christmas that will sit on her mantle until she donates it to Goodwill, buy a goat or a flock of geese or a colony of bees for a family in her name. Less clutter for her to deal with, more good for you to accomplish.

malala fund

My particularly education-averse students are always surprised by this video because they cannot fathom children wanting to go to school even if they are not forced to do so by adults, truancy officer, or courts. It is fun to watch their incredulity as they see passionate and articulate girls talk about their deep desire for education and how they are prevented from achieving just that because of where they were born, the society they live in, or their economic status. Malala understands that oppression of women begins with preventing education because lack of education leads to lack of opportunity, and she is out to break that cycle by funding schools for girls who would not otherwise be able to be educated.

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Ok, so these organizations are awesome. But how do I use these in the classroom to inspire my students to create lasting change in their world?

Great question, reader. Below are some ideas.

1. Conduct a Research Project

Mattie project

I use these videos as an anticipatory lesson for my research unit. I have students watch these videos in stations around the room and answer these three questions about each video:

  1. What is the problem that this organization is trying to solve?
  2. What is one of the root causes of this problem?
  3. How does this organization work to combat one of the causes of this problem?

Here is the document for that activity: World Changers Intro Stations notes sheet

Then, the next day, I explain that we are going to be conducting research about problems, the roots of those problems, and workable solutions to the problem. Below is a snapshot of my project. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@LizJorgenTeach) if you want more research and details on this unit because I have all the things that I would be more than happy to send to you if you would like to do this project or adapt it.

Project Snapshot:

  1. Choose a problem that exists in your community, the nation, or the world which interests you.
  2. Research causes and solutions for your chosen problem.
  3. Write a research paper arguing causes of the problem (why the problem is a problem) and a solution (how the problem may be combatted). Points = 200
  4. Write a proposal of something that YOU could do to motivate Spring Mills High School students to take action against this problem. Points = 50

*These proposals will be read by a committee of teachers and staff, and one will be chosen to be actually implemented at SMHS.

2. Write an Editorial

editorial

*Insert Shameless Plug here for Journalistic Writing and Publication*

I feel that it is my duty as your friendly neighborhood journalism teacher to remind you of the power of authentic audiences in writing. And also, most school newspaper teachers (and local newspapers as well!) LOVE collaborating with other teachers to publish student work! How about having your students write editorials outlining a problem and creative solutions to that problem? Below, I have a document that I have made to introduce my newspaper students to editorial/op-ed writing. This protocol could be easily adapted for a project like this. Also, here is a link to my school’s online newspaper editorial column to give you some examples of student-written editorials.

Writing Editorials 2019-2020

3. Use as a Spring-board for Non-Fiction Literature Circles

literature circles

There are so many amazing non-fiction titles that have been published on problem-solution and social change topics in the last few years. Why not apply for a grant to get a handful of copies of each and have your students read them together in groups? Here are just a few personal favorites:

Disclaimer: The above books vary in length, difficulty, and graphic nature. Use discretion when deciding whether they are academically and developmentally appropriate for your group of students.

*****

I could wax eloquently on the academic benefits of social change and service learning projects, but I think that I will leave you with a quote from Malala which not only applies to the girls in parts of the world which restrict education for women but also applies to our students as well:

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

That one teacher could be you. Let’s go change the world.

 

Liz Jorgensen (formerly Keiper) is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @LizJorgenTeach.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • What are other ways that you include social activism and change into your curriculum?
  • What service learning projects have you implemented with your students?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

SURVIVOR Citation Island: How to Host an MLA Game Show

survivor

Easing into March, we’re rounding the corner on research time (at least in my department). While research has become the most enjoyable part of my curriculum since launching the passion project, most of my colleagues seem to dread the research portion of their curriculum, finding it downright painful and cumbersome, with one of the more tedious components being citations.

For years, I struggled with how to effectively teach students how to correctly compile a works cited page and properly format in-text citations. I used to do worksheets and quizzes—the age-old drill-and-kill method—hoping at least some of it would stick, resigning myself to the fact that there are some parts of curriculum you just can’t make fun or interesting or engaging. In a word, it was pretty much awful.

Then one day I thought, why can’t it be fun? HOW can it be fun?? What if it was a game?!

I know this is probably pretty hokey, but I grew up watching the game show Survivor—I loved it. I loved the division of “tribes” and the puzzle challenges and the mix of group and independent competition. So I decided I would create a game to practice MLA citation, and I would model it off of Survivor.

Let me set the scene a little.

The board is decorated in enormous colorful letters, spelling out, “SURVIVOR: Citation Island.” The deep rhythmic drum of tribal music fills the room as the Survivor theme song blares from the speakers. Desks are arranged in groups of four or five, ready for tribe members to take their places. Students walk in with a mix of confused/curious/amused/weirded-out looks on their faces. And I, their Jeff Probst stand-in, await their arrival.

I ask the castaways (I go all out with the terminology and even try to dress like Probst) to gather at the front of the classroom. I explain that they have found themselves contestants on the new game show “SURVIVOR: Citation Island” and will be divided into tribes to compete for a grand prize. Before explaining the competition, I split them into tribes. One by one, they come up and draw their buffs (different colored hairbands in a paper bag) and join their tribes. After each student has been sorted into a tribe, I give them about five minutes to come up with a tribe name—some get pretty creative and some stick with the color of their hairbands. I write the names of each tribe on the board for the purposes of keeping score and begin to explain the first challenge.

Challenge One: The Works Cited Entry

The first challenge has three rounds (though you could do as many as you’d like). Each round focuses on a different type of source; I typically do the three most common ones my students use: a novel, a scholarly article, and a website. For each round, tribes receive a plastic baggy with a works cited citation cut up into slips of paper (i.e. “Title: The Hobbit” or “Place of Publication: Chicago”). I label each piece of information, but I do not include the punctuation or even italicize titles or use quotation marks—part of the challenge is being able to do all that correctly on their own. No one is allowed to open the baggy until all tribes have received one and the game show host shouts, “GO!” Using a quick guide cheat sheet, the first thing the tribe must do is look at the pieces and determine what kind of source they are working with, then they have to write out the works cited entry ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. One person in each tribe is responsible for this task, and once a tribe believes they have it written out correctly, they throw up their hands and the host goes to check their answers. I always stress to the other tribes to keep working, as this tribe may not have it written correctly. I check the tribe’s attempt against my answer sheet and if even one punctuation mark is incorrect, I’ll tell them they don’t have it and to try again. The renewed fury and speed with which every student in the classroom bends over those strips of paper is both amusing and intoxicating—they are all caught up in the rush of competition. Each attempt has to be a newly written entry, as it’s too difficult to read around all the scribbles and poor attempts at erasing mistakes. The first tribe to have a completely correct citation gets the point for the round, the pieces are collected, and round two is distributed. Typically, I start off with the easiest source and progress to the more complex.

Once we make it through the three rounds of the first challenge, we move to the second (and final) challenge.

Challenge Two: The Parenthetical Citation

For the second component of the game, each tribe must select one tribe member to come up to the front of the room to complete a challenge. I have arranged a row of desks at the front of the classroom and on each desk is a sealed envelope. Once the elected member of each tribe takes their seat, they are instructed to open the envelope and reveal the challenge. Out falls a small pile of puzzle pieces (I find these at Hobby Lobby and typically get circles to complicate the challenge a bit more). On each puzzle is written the same excerpt from an essay, utilizing a quote, but the parenthetical citation is empty. Below the excerpt is the necessary works cited entry. The tribe member must work entirely alone to assemble the jigsaw puzzle; his/her team can cheer them on, but they cannot help them in any way (to do so means immediate disqualification). Once the tribe member has the puzzle together (and you will laugh until your cheeks hurt at the hilarity of how difficult a 24 piece jigsaw puzzle apparently becomes when under pressure) his/her tibe-mates can race up to join them and solve the empty parenthetical citation. The first team to accomplish this correctly is awarded the points for the puzzle round.

For prizes, I give out candy—because who doesn’t love that?! The winning tribe members each get a little baggy with several pieces in it, but everyone gets two pieces for playing along and having fun.

I teach ninety-minute blocks, and it usually takes up my entire class period doing three rounds of the first challenge, followed by the puzzle round. This is ALWAYS, without fail, a tremendous hit in my classes, and it definitely goes a long way toward altering their attitudes about MLA citation. I hope you try it out and have a little fun–let me know how it goes!

WVCTE is wondering what new twists you put on an “old trick” to get your students engaged! Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Sarah Krause teaches Honors Sophomore English and Dual-Credit Senior English at Hurricane High School. Beginning her career as a full-time instructor for Marshall University, Sarah is entering her fifth year in public education. If she is not in the classroom, grading papers, or conducting research, Sarah enjoys working on developing her professional website and blog at www.evolutionizingeducation.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @teachtwdchange.

Fighting the Fake News Epidemic in ELA Classrooms

By: Liz Keiper

If you want to become discouraged real quick, ask a teenager to define the term “fake news.”

Sadly, instead of legitimate qualifications that would rightly bequeath a news source with the qualifier of “fake,” you will likely hear a plethora of names of news sources shouted at you. If you ask those same teenagers why they believe that news source to be “fake,” you would probably hear answers such as, “It’s promoting a liberal agenda!” or “It’s conservative propaganda!” or “It’s fake—everyone knows that!”

And it’s not really the fault of teens. Many adults would answer the same way. In fact, the term “fake news” has become such a convoluted, hot-button topic that it has become almost impossible to have a non-partisan discussion about it.

As a society, we are increasingly confused by trying to determine what is “fake” and what is real.

And, English teacher friends, that should terrify us.

We’ve all read the dystopias; we all know where that leads. The purpose of having a free press is to curb abuses by the government and those in power. In societies without freedom of the press, the government can tell its citizens whatever it wants, and they have no way of knowing that that information may not be entirely true (i.e. North Korea). However, in a society in which people cannot tell fake news from real news, even though the society may have a technically free press, the outcome in level of awareness of the citizenry ends up being similar.

Part of this confusion has come at the hands of politicians and public figures who, over the last few decades, have taken to labeling as “fake news” any outlet which disseminates a view which is unfavorable to them. So, we now find ourselves in a culture in which, if you don’t like something or someone, you can just call it “fake” and discredit it.

Wow. No wonder our students have trouble telling the difference between real and fake news.

The true definition of fake news is something along the lines of this: a mode of media “wherein a group or individual purposely misleads someone with inaccurate facts.” Inaccurate is a key word here. Just because someone disagrees with a news outlet’s interpretation of events does not make the news source’s reporting of those events inherently “inaccurate.” However, there is actual fake news out there that does just that—fabricates statistics or quotes, promotes ridiculous conspiracy theories, circulates false or unsubstantiated claims, or egregiously skews evidence so that it is indistinguishable from the truth and past what can be said to be a reasonable take on the event. Simply calling a dissenting opinion “fake” detracts from the pressing problem that actual fake news presents to society.

The fake news problem has been a scorpion in my mind, to quote The Bard, for a while now. It has absolutely irked me when a student refuses to even consider an article that I assign in class because they have determined, in the infinite wisdom of their 14-year-old-ness, that the source is “fake.” (And I immediately picture the SNL skit featuring CNN in a cage in the corner screaming, “I’m not fake news!” But that’s beside the point.)

CNN not fake news
From SNL’s Sean Spicer Press Conference

On the flipside, it has also made my stomach drop to see students citing sources such as Breitbart and The Wall Street Journal together as if they had equal footings of academic merit simply because those students are young and lack experience with the reputations of those sources. I do have my students conduct independent research in my classroom, and I struggled for a long time with how to give them tools to evaluate a news source for credibility when performing that very task is arduous and would take a research paper’s worth of time in itself to conduct for each source used.

Also, because of the vitriolic level of opinions that the fake news epidemic has come to elicit, I did not know how to tackle this topic in my classroom in a non-partisan way. However, I have come upon a source that, though imperfect, is a step in the right direction and has been helpful for my students this year.

MBFC screenshot
Home page of Media Bias/Fact Check

Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) is an independently run organization which aims to rate news sites in two ways: on a scale from very left-biased to very right-biased and on a scale from very high to very low factual reporting. This year, I incorporated MBFC into my research unit in my lesson on finding credible sources. While students are taking notes on their sources for their research projects, I always make them write a short description of how they know that the source is credible, and this year, I allowed them to use the rankings on MBFC as evidence for credibility of a source.

One of my favorite aspects of MBFC is that they use two different categorizations for news sources rather than just labeling a news source as “real” or “fake.” This acknowledges that a news source’s political or ideological leaning is not necessarily what makes the source real or fake but rather its methods of sourcing and level of factual reporting.

And I explicitly told that to my students this year. I showed them the tabs at the top of the website and told them, “Do you see these tabs? Any of these news sources all the way from Left Bias to Right Bias could be credible sources. You may not agree with their bias, but that’s ok as long as you understand their bias. In fact, all news sources have some sort of bias because news articles are written by people and people have inherent ways that they think about life—it’s called their worldview. Everyone has one. And so does every news source. What you need to stay away from is any news source that is listed under Conspiracy-Psuedoscience or Questionable Sources.” I also showed my students how the site was organized, how the news sources were rated in the two different categories, and how the managers of the site used evidence to back up their claims about the credibility of the news source itself.

Now, here comes the caveat about MBFC; like I mentioned above, it’s not perfect. Below are listed from my view the pros and cons about the website.

Cons of MBFC:

  • It’s Run By Amateurs: Media Bias/Fact Check is independently owned by Dave Van Zandt, who by the site’s own admission works in the health care field and not in the field of journalism. Other than that, the researching and writing is done by volunteers. So, would I ultimately trust this site a bit more if it were run by a journalism program based in a university? Yeah, probably. But then again, in that case, the site would likely be open to funding incentives from corporations, and any organization which receives funding from other corporations to pay their employees is subject to being biased in favor of the initiatives of those corporations. So, is the fact that it’s largely run by volunteers actually a good sign in the long run? Maybe. Jury is out on that one.
  • Lack of Information on Contributors: There are links with a few sentences of information on the contributors, but no pictures, and the information is sparse. That is actually something that I teach my students to look for in determining credibility of a source, and I don’t really see a reason why the contributors shouldn’t tell us more about themselves.

Pros of MBFC:

  • Transparency of Methodology: Their page describing how they come to particular conclusions about ratings for news sites is quite thorough, and this makes me think that they are attempting objectivity.
  • Evidence to Back Up Claims: While the Media Bias Chart from Ad Fontes Media is popular and often shared to back up claims about reliability of a news source, it has always struck me that the chart is pretty subjective. Though the creators of the chart do base their placement of sources off of research, a viewer pretty much just has to take their evaluation at face value or leave it, which doesn’t promote critical thinking. It’s easy to think that something that you read on a source must be true just because it was highly placed on the chart, and it is equally easy to dismiss the chart altogether because you disagree with the placement of a source, and therefore the chart must just be “biased.” I like that when you click on a source’s rating on MBFC, the contributors explain exactly why they rated the source like they did, and they even link example articles from the source to back up their claims. This does promote critical thinking because you then do not have to simply “take their word for” their rating—you can see the evidence of their research and, based on their evidence, either agree or disagree with their conclusions about the source.
Media-Bias-Chart_4.0_8_28_2018-min
Media Bias Chart from Ad Fontes Media
  • Consideration of Reader Votes: As an attempt to eliminate internal bias in the organization, MBFC has enabled a voting platform for each news source which allows readers to share how they would rank the news source. If there seems to be a large discrepancy between reader votes and MBFC’s ranking, they perform more research and reconsider the ranking.
  • Open Dialogue: MBFC welcomes correspondence from those who beg to differ with their rankings and offer evidence to support differing claims. This is essentially a way to fact-check their fact-checking through crowd-sourcing and gives me the impression that they don’t have a hidden agenda and are legitimately seeking accuracy because they are seeking input.
  • Recategorization of Sources: When it comes to light that there is a more accurate categorization for a news source, that news source is moved to a new category. This shows that they are open to and welcome critique.
  • Admission of Subjectivity: Though MBFC is open about how they categorize sources, they also openly admit that categorizing news sources by bias level is inherently a subjective task because of everyone’s own inherent biases. While this leaves some unsatisfied at the validity of their categorizations, it actually gives me confidence that they don’t have some hidden agenda which they are trying to use this site to promote. I think that if they were trying to dupe us, they would ask for our blind agreement with their rankings.
  • General Accuracy: I welcome you to click around on MBFC for yourself. Though I have occasionally encountered news sources which I would myself categorize slightly differently, I have never encountered a source that was egregiously mislabeled. And, I think that since complete objectivity in this sort of topic is impossible, that’s a pretty good sign.

At the end of the day, MBFC is not the be-all-end-all source on media bias. However, it is a good place for my freshmen to start. It gives them an introductory summary to a person’s evaluation of a news source and also why that person evaluated that news source in that way. This year, it has helped them to ward off some seriously biased or propaganda-filled sites that they encountered without knowing any better, and it has begun to instill in their minds the important difference between “fake news” and fake news; the idea that just because you disagree with the political slant of a news source does not inherently make that source factually inaccurate. And that is one big step in the right direction for society.

Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • How do you teach media literacy in your ELA classroom?
  • What other methods do you use to help students determine if a source is real or fake news?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!