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English Detective #53: Teaching about Bias, July 7, 2015
July 07, 2015

Teaching about Bias, July 7, 2015


The current investigation (Introducing this issue):

Some ideas for teaching kids to read critically, recognize possible bias, and understand that no one narrative can ever give a complete perspective…

Also, some really excellent links to materials for teaching Shakespeare— found or shared with me after I thought I’d finished with the topic!

(Please excuse me for changing the topic of this newsletter from what I announced last month. My family is going on a special vacation, and I have not been able to finish the materials I wanted to include in the ‘cognates’ issue. They are almost complete, but time has run out. They should be ready next month.)

Helping Students Recognize Bias

Even the most ‘objective’ textbook authors have to choose some topics to discuss in depth and others to slight or omit. Our perspectives will invariably show in our word choices as well. Different perspectives are part of what makes life interesting—but it’s important for students to realize that other viewpoints are possible.

The History Project is an effort by some young Pakistanis and Indians to give students in their countries a chance to read history from the ‘enemy’ perspective, as well as their own. Their materials juxtapose very different information on Gandhi, Jinnah, and others from the contradictory viewpoints of each country.

Their work is discussed on a short video on their site and also in more detail in this NPR article.

Here are some interesting ideas from history teachers for ways to help students become aware of bias, and learn to read critically. Middleweb suggests an I-Chart for comparing the differences between two sources discussing the same event: the reasons they give for it, the people they discuss, reactions, results, and other differences.

They also talk about follow-up discussions to help students understand the implications of the differences.

In addition they share a checklist for evaluating website bias: “Test before you trust.”

History Tech suggests an exercise to raise awareness using four very different comments by Abraham Lincoln and two versions of a movie trailer for “Home Alone.”

I especially like the Lincoln activity. Students in small groups get one of Lincoln’s comments, without knowing it was from Lincoln or that other groups got different quotes.

Then they try to determine if the speaker was a racist, or pro- or anti-slavery. They are shocked when students in groups with different quotes come up with opposite answers.

What a way to show the importance of context, as well as the danger of uncritically assuming an understanding of the whole story after hearing just one version of it!

If you would like one or two somewhat-related vocabulary activities, try Words for Truth, Falsehood, and Error It discusses the shades of meaning, connotations and implications of the words we use for describing truth or the lack of it. It has two short practice exercises. There’s also a pdf version, accessible on the page.

Vocabulary for Violence has a quiz on the meanings of some of the words used to describe violence and atrocities. They’re not pleasant reading, but important for understanding news reporting in English for those still learning the language.

Shakespeare Revisited—Again!
Just after finishing what I thought would be my last newsletter reference to Shakespeare, I found this fantastic lesson plan (with some great links, too!)

Great ideas for getting kids excited about the Bard.

She suggests starting small and visually. She gives ideas for teaching his poetry, and includes a TED talk on hip-hop and Shakespeare, and a link to teaching Shakespearean insults. It’s worth checking out…

Then Jen Maloney wrote that her students had used the Shakespeare idioms page (mentioned in the last newsletter) along with others while preparing to watch Romeo and Juliet .

"The kids wanted to share the following page as a thank you Shakespeare Costumes+.

They thought that the page had great information and were hoping you might consider adding it to your list of resources...I know the kids would be thrilled to know they helped someone else."

That page has some interesting information about Shakespeare and Shakespearean language, and then an assortment of excellent links, including several for understanding Shakespeare’s language and grammar.

I found Bardweb especially helpful. It gives “Tips for Making Sense” of Shakespeare’s language, including his more flexible word order and his wild wordplay.

This looks useful too: a Shakespeare glossary.

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Coming in the next issue: Cognates: Language in Common

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