Information vs Emotion in News Headlines

Much has been made in the last few days contrasting how the Canadian media reported on the shootings in Ottawa vs the coverage by the American media.  These two articles do a particularly good job of describing the difference between reporting with an agenda of providing information and reporting focused on creating an emotional response:

Canada Just Showed the US the Exact Right Way to Cover a Shooting

To US media Canadian Shooter Being Muslim Ends Investigation

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Thinking beyond how the media has covered violent sensational news to consider the underlying reasons for the decisions news reports and organizations make can be a great opportunity to provide instruction in inference, critical literacy and build a recognition of how the economics of the media influence the content of reporting. This assignment attempts to challenge students to think along these lines: Information vs Emotion in News Reporting.


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Our Man in Tehran vs Argo

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 9.24.39 PM.pngThe films “Our Man in Tehran” and “Argo” both tell the story behind the smuggling of six American diplomats out of Iran in 1980.  One is a documentary that was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival and played on pay television, the other was also featured at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to win the Academy awards for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and editing.
It would be great to read the books these films are based and watch the resulting films with students and analyze the choices the filmmakers made in adapting them, but that would require a significant time investment… instead we could accomplish many of the same curriculum outcomes with the study of the trailers for the two films.  



For close reading, Slate article about the accuracy of “Argo”: “How Accurate is Argo?

Some key questions we could consider with students:

  1. Referring to specific details in the two trailers thoughtfully explain how the fictional version of the story (Argo) differs from the documentary version of the story (Our Man in Tehran).
  2. How might a Canadian audience respond differently from an American audience when watching these two versions of the events in Tehran? Refer to specific details in how the films are being promoted that you think might be perceived differently from the points of view of Canadians and Americans.
  3. The film Argo was a huge financial success. Identify the elements apparent in the trailer that you believe may have contributed to the film’s popularity?
  4. Why do you think documentary films are rarely presented at the local Cineplex?

And finally…


One of the most commercially successful documentaries was Bowling for Columbine.  It earned nearly $21 million.  Watch the trailer for it and explain why you think it was more popular than Our Man in Tehran.


Media Literacy: Evolution of a Web Post

There’s a beautiful room in the British Museum that once upon a time contained the library of King George III. But, of course, owning a book is not the same thing as reading a book. King George III was no wiser for owning all of these texts.

I think there’s some parallel to how we use information on the web today. Retweeting, “liking”, “pinning” or re-blogging about an idea do not necessarily indicate an understanding of an idea.

For example:  I just posted a list of seven ways to promote student engagement in our classrooms. I discovered the list on a blog entry on Edutopia.com. Edutopia sourced the list from a blog entry by Stacy Hurst on ReadingHorizons.com.  Stacy Hurst references four texts in her blog.

What I find interesting, is that each of the repostings deleted information. The original article explains the importance of student engagement and provides ideas on tracking it in the classroom. Edutopia omitted that aspect of the original post and highlighted the inclusion of an infographic listing of the tips. My reposting further edited the information down to just the list of tips — assuming that the value of these ideas was self-evident. I omitted the infographic that Edutopia highlighted (I think it’s an example of an infographic that doesn’t add value — I don’t learn or understand the content any better by viewing it in graphical form as opposed to the original list). A reader’s understanding of the list of tips could vary considerably depending on where he/she encountered them, and the reader’s interest in pursuing the ideas to their source.

Media Issue:

All media texts are the result of choices made by publishers.  Challenge your students to find an article on the web that they’re interested in and map the trail of its sources and any other postings it spawned. Ask the students to consider how details included or omitted and how different readers could have different understandings of the topic depending on how determinedly they pursued the details of the story. The story of the depiction of the topic might make an interesting infographic or concept map.

7 Tips for Improving Student Engagement

  1. Use the 10:2 method. For every 10 minutes of instruction allow the students 2 minutes to process and respond to the instruction. This can be done in various ways by having them write what they have learned, questions they may have, or by discussing the content with a fellow student.
  2. Incorporate movement into your lessons. Require students to respond to a question by moving to a certain spot in the room, writing on whiteboards, or standing (or sitting) when they are done thinking about the question, etc.
  3. Pick up the pace. One misconception is that we must go slow for students to really understand and engage in a lesson. There is a lot of evidence that shows that when teaching is at a brisk instructional pace, students have more opportunities to engage, respond, and move on to the next concept (Carnine & Fink, 1978; Williams, 1993; Ernsbarger et al., 2001).
  4. Provide frequent and effective feedback.
  5. Allow students 5-7 seconds of ‘think time’ when asking a question. At the end of the time draw a random name to answer the question.
  6. At the end of a lesson have students use the 3-2-1 method of summarizing by having students record three things they learned, two interesting things, and one question they have about what was taught. Allow time to share their findings with a peer.
  7. Periodically pause mid-sentence when teaching requiring students to fill in the blanks

Source:  ReadingHorizons.com –  Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

    Pivot on Self-Interest and Learning

    Adolescents are wonderfully self-involved.

    Their universes have space for their interests and little else. Many are driven by a degree of academic engagement that motivates them to do what’s necessary to succeed in school — not because of any enthusiasm for learning or curiosity in the subject matter, but solely due to the expectation of their parents or peer group or some other external focus that tells them that success in school is important. These students do their work, raise their hands, and complain about their grades, but they are not interested. How can we intellectually engage these teenagers? How can we nurture their curiosity? How can we hasten the “big bang” of their social and emotional maturity that seemingly overnight turns a purely self-involved teenager into a crusading young adult ready to change the world?  — Too much?

    Alright, then perhaps a more reasonable goal might be, how can we pivot in our work to use our students’ very normal degree of self-involvement to help us achieve academic goals?

    Self-Help & Learning Skills

    The self-help industry pulls billions of dollars from people seeking to achieve personal goals. Lets challenge our students to consider the learning skills and work habits we expect from them as opportunities for personal growth. We can use our students self-interest as the prompt for a research project:  “Think about how one of the learning skills or work habits could help you to be more successful in your personal, school or future life.  Find out as much as you can about the relationship between the learning skill or work habit and success, and learn how a person could develop the learning skill or work habit you’ve chosen”.

    When the students are investigating responsibility, self-regulation, independent work, initiative, organization or collaboration – they will be using our curriculum of reading, writing and critical thinking to explore topics that will feel relevant to their needs.

    Extension Questions:

    • Which careers require particular strength in the learning skill or work habit you’ve researched?
    • How do adults who feel they need to improve the learning skill or work habit you’ve researched try to change their behaviours?
    • How easy do experts on human behaviour say it is to change a habit or develop a new skill?
    • How will you monitor your progress in improving your skill or changing your work habit? 

    Sample Task: Your Personal Self-Help Program

    Emaze.com – web based presentations

    Emaze is a very artfully designed web based presentation tool. It features a variety of stylish and original templates particularly for presentations that are designed to be shared individually and viewed on a computer rather than as a backdrop to a speech to a large group.

    It also has tools to create very effective infographics.

    As a starting point, you might as students to create a five or six slide autobiography as a way to introduce themselves to you and their classmates.  They could post the links to their creations on a shared Google Doc for everyone to see.

    The Emaze.com tools are free for a basic account.

    Here’s one I threw together quickly…
    http://app.emaze.com/602202/hello—kicking-the-year-off-right#slidenum=1Powered by emaze

    What Are The Four Words?

    I’m late to the game reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian… and now I know what all the fuss is about. It’s wonderful.  This passage will put a lump in the throat of any teacher…

    “Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.”

    I’m sure you guessed.  The four words are: “you can do it”. Despite sentiment like this, the book’s been banned in a few places in the U.S. — probably for laugh out loud moments like this one when the narrator says to one of his teachers:

    “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” 

    There is also some sexual content that might offend some readers. Don’t be put off. As a story of resilience, bravery, and loyalty The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can’t be beat. In the place of or alongside Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies the novel would be a great addition to a group novel study unit. 

    Truth – Trust – Embarrasment

    Is being perceived as a “sucker” worse than losing?  The British game show “Golden Balls” turned the psychological experiment “The Prisoners Dilemma” into 5 minutes of compelling television.  This Radiolab podcast ( http://www.radiolab.org/story/golden-rule/ )tells the story of an honest man who used dishonesty to trick an untrustworthy man into trusting.

    This assignment page leads students into thinking about their perceptions of trust, honesty and shame and asks them to apply their thinking to texts they’ve read.

    //www.radiolab.org/widgets/ondemand_player/#file=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.radiolab.org%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F353141%2F;containerClass=radiolab

    Courage – First Person Narrative

    Flight Attendant Nicole Foran tells the story of protecting her passengers when trapped on plane with hijacker
    From CBC Radio’s “DNTO” on Saturday an amazing first person narrative from Governor General’s Star of Courage medal recipient Nicole Foran.  

    “A few years ago, 173 passengers and airline staff had a truly terrifying experience. After they boarded their Halifax-bound plane in Montego Bay, a lone gunman forced his way in to the cabin and held them hostage. Nicole Foran, one of the plane’s flight attendants, shares the amazing story of how they made it home alive.” 
    CBC Radio’s “DNTO” May 3, 2014