Friday, September 29, 2017

Teaching the magical years

"These are the years of magic, of imagination stirred and fed in innumerable ways, of all that goes with a mind encouraged to explore the world, to try to make sense of it. These are years of eager lively searching on the part of children, whose parents and teachers are often hard put to keep up with them as they try to understand things, to figure them out, but to also weigh right and wrong of this life." Robert Coles  (p. 98)

Kids in upper elementary through middle school are fascinated by jokes.  Joking around, teasing, punking, fooling around.  They are on guard about who's joking and who's telling the truth.  They play that way.

Here's a group of fourth grade girls in conversation about the book the Watson's Go to Birmingham: 1963 (Curtis).  In chapter 4 the big brother in the story tells the younger kids a long tale about how southern folk freeze to death in Michigan in the winter and they have garbage trucks pick them up in the mornings.  The brother tells the kids that they can ask their mom if it's true and says it's the mom's story.  This is how the girls make sense of the story.

Pam:       Do you think Joetta’s mom will tell her and her brothers that frozen people aren’t in the car sooner or later?  ‘Cause I don’t believe that.
Lizzie:    I don’t believe that.
Poppy:   I don’t believe it.
Pam:       I I-
Esperanza: I don’t believe it cause I think Byron he’s just like making that-
Pam:       Up to start-
Eve:        He’s just fooling around.
Poppy:  I think, I think he’s actually he’s-
Pam:       Fooling around to scare them.
Poppy:  Yea!  Just to make them be scared or to make them believe.
Lizzie:    Or to make them wear their-
Pam:       Their coats!
Poppy:  To make them wear their coats. And then they don’t whine.  I just don’t think that it’s true.  Just by the way he’s actually talking it doesn’t really seem like he’s telling the truth at all. 

Having this lively conversation about the truth gives me pause. In today's world, if our elementary students are so interested in truths, we could be taking advantage of this interest.  We can seize this moment and this opportunity to teach them about truths in information.  Reading literature and moments like this can lead into deeper learning like learning about what is the truth and how do we find out.  In the story they correctly read the older brother's intention, and weren't scared by the details of frozen icy deaths.  Chapter 4 of this book is such a great story, that it could even stand alone with an introduction about the characters as an opening into learning about truths.
It seems kids are fascinated in this topic, so with this group no convincing is needed, just a smart teacher that recognized their interest in the third space and had the time and resources could turn it into an even richer connected learning experience.  Once you have grabbed them on why truths are important to root out, you have an opening to teach.  Not only do our students need guidance in how to efficiently search for the information they seek, they also need to know how to evaluate information.  There are many ways to do this.  But, these students might be interested in and not know about the fact checking websites that are available for this purpose.  Like using Snopes!
But rather than just sending them to Snopes and/or telling them about Snopes,  let them browse and explore the about page.  There they can read and learn about how Snopes began, what is their methodology and more.  These sections are short paragraphs and accessible to most fourth and fifth grade (or middle school) students.  To do this, give students a chance to choose a section on the Snopes about page, read it and share out what they found about Snopes.  This could serve as a mini inquiry into how fact checking works.

Here is a blog post about six fact checking websites. There are different sites that focus on certain information-- political, urban myths, money and influence, and a few on email and other types of scams, (which they might want to share with their grandparents- who are often the targets of such scams.)


If the 80's were a Material world.... in 2017 are we living in a post-truth world?
At the end of this blog, entitled Your Opinion My Truth,  the author posted suggestions for how to talk to each other about topics where the truth may be hard to find and opinions take a larger role.  This list may be helpful to you in your own discussions on on-line and in real life. We all need to think about how to navigate in this information age and post truth world.  Be kind out there.

How to combat post-truth.

  1. Recognize the importance of emotions. We are all human at the end of the day... for now.
  2. Don't be patronizing. Truth and facts don't always win the argument.
  3. Acknowledge people's opinions, even if it's based on false facts. Because it's not just about false information, it's also about their personal experience.
  4. Find common ground. If a personal connection is established, dialogue on two opposing ideas will be more productive. And always end discussions on a positive note.
  5. Support good journalism and informative content. This means next time you find an article that you learnt something from, like it, share it

Seize the moment, seize the day-  Building on our students interests can help reach their third space. Keep doing great things, educators are awesome.
Happy Friday!
Leslie Maniotes, PhD

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