Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fact Over Fake: Teaching Students to Navigate the Fake News Landscape #SOL17

Tuesday means it's time for the Slice of Life
Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, TWT, for promoting
authentic writing for students, teachers, and other members of this community.
A couple of weeks ago my colleague Debbie Greco and co-presenters Ami Szerence and Cherylanne Schmidt presented a session addressing the #FakeNews obsession that has transformed our political conversations and presented unique challenges to those of us teaching students to vet research in academically responsible ways. 

Ami suggested the session and submitted the proposal. Since our initial foray into the Fake News landscape, we've been inundated with materials that others who share our commitment to teaching students to consume research ethically and responsibly. 

Last fall my teaching devolved into lecturing about Fake News, the result of my own frustrations and sense of dismay after the election. 

This year I've taken a much different approach to teaching students about Fake News, and this is what I shared in session J.37 at the NCTE Annual Convention in November. Debbie and I had already shared some lessons during our district's "Pick Your Passion" inservice in November. I then expanded my unit into a bridge for teaching the persuasive speech. 


To introduce students to the unit, I gave students headlines, some of which were true but most fake. I asked students to mill around and share those headlines with one another and discuss. In the session I shared these headlines, which I've compiled in a living Google Slides presentation. 


Next, I introduced my students to the issue of Fake News with a Google Slides presentation that includes some short videos. The version I'm linking to includes learning intentions and my teaching plan. These can be omitted when sharing with students. 


Since I used these resources in my general speech classes, I shared a hyper doc with students, grouped them in ability-balanced groups, and instructed them to use the hyper doc to plan, outline, and present a persuasive speech on Fake News. While I organized the hyper doc to work with a persuasive speech presenting a problem and a solution, it will also work for either expository or persuasive writing. 

To assist students with their collaborations, students worked in a shared Google doc on Google Classroom. During their speeches, students shared speaking duties and were required to attribute their sources. 

One of my classes struggled to organize their thoughts for the group speech, but they all improved their performances during their individual speeches. My other general speech class presented amazing group speeches, and when I thanked them for getting my vision for the assignment, they did something I've rarely seen a class do. They applauded the lesson. 

More than a year ago Donald Trump began screeching "Fake News" whenever he saw or heard a report that raised issues of national and international concern. This past week he began claiming the "Access Hollywood" tape we all heard last year is "fake," that it's not his voice we hear on the tape. Billy Bush responded with a harsh rebuke in the New York Times. 

Meanwhile the December 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker features a story by Steve Call in which the author contends that the president's attack on the media has strengthened news organizations. Certainly, I've felt compelled to subscribe to some of the publications Trump regularly attacks. 

CNN, the news organization Trump loves to call "fake," pushed back in a clever ad that went viral. It's a stark reminder that "a rose by any other name..." is still a rose, and so is the news. 

And for those looking for more resources designed to help teachers teach students about the landscape of real and fake news, check out THE SIFT.  

The venerable Kathryn Graham, owner of The Washington Post during the Watergate years, spoke about the responsibility of the press in watching over Washington politics:

If we had failed to pursue the facts as far as they led, we would have denied the public any knowledge of an unprecedented scheme of political surveillance and sabotage.


  1. I am so glad that you and your colleagues are teaching about this! It is so insidious, this concept of fake news. Donald Trump has been very successful at changing the conversation by focusing on this concept.

    1. I'm taking every opportunity to allow students to see Trump for what he is. I'll be writing a follow-up to last weeks post after the students complete the rewrites of their response papers. I've learned that I have to help students discover the truth about Fake News and POTUS, and this lesson certainly aided them in that discovery.