Year-over-year, blogging with teenagers about bias proves to be a diverse, eye-opening experience. Invariably, I come across that particular cohort’s unique personality – their interpretive style and individual perspective coming alive with every blog post and comment. The challenge is always in developing explorations that will both engage and instruct with integrity and creativity, which is where Kidblog comes in.
Let’s start by stating what is not always easy for teachers to come to terms with: recognizing bias is not easy. It surrounds us in media, products, and people that we come into contact with each day. Even more importantly, we ourselves carry small (and sometimes large) prejudices that we may or may not be aware of which influence the way we perceive things and guide our decision-making. As one of media’s key concepts dictates: audiences negotiate meaning. (Media Smarts, 2016) Within the digital realm as in the physical classroom however, you must ensure that students are comfortable with one another and with discussing sensitive topics with openness and respect before any true discussion can happen.
Start With What They Think They Know
I always like to begin by asking students to interpret the bias in a song – in particular its lyrics and the way an artist has decided to depict those lyrics using visual media. I post the song’s video as well as its lyrics on our Kidblog class page, along with instructions for the students to carefully analyze both in order to discover the predominant bias within them. I love to use Beyoncé’s “Run the World” to get a heated discussion going. In interpreting the material, students invariably negotiate the meaning of the written and media text that they are being asked to interpret using a myriad of sources including both their own experiences and what may be the artist’s own intention. If the class is more advanced, you may ask them to use secondary sources to back up their opinions, or to make connections to the examples of bias they are offering in their interpretation of the song. Examples such as naming other similar songs or movies, poetry, or quotations have been effective in my classroom. Once all students have posted, ask them to engage in a Q & A period where they read, pose and post questions and comments on each other’s work, as well as answer questions others have asked of them. Challenge students to defend their opinions and talk aloud about your own opinion, pointing out how that may translate to bias and prejudice. This will allow students to reflect on their own bias without being singled out, but is just as effective a tool for making bias visible.
Make it Relevant
Another way to use Kidblog collaboratively when exploring bias is to analyse how news media reacts to particular events. This will help them understand that there are social and political implications to what is printed, and to be critical consumers of news media. Save this activity for when a particularly sensational political or social event takes place in the country that is bound to get national coverage, then ask students to visit specific newspapers, getting screenshots of their headlines for the story relating to this event. Then, have students create new posts using the screenshots of two newspaper articles as their blog post heading – one they believe is in support of the issue in question and one that is against (including a full citation for the articles at the end of their post). The students should be able to compare the two headlines and explain how they know, just from those key words/phrases, the tone, and the punctuation that the author/publication does not support the cause/person/corporation etc., behind the event. Often, I will ask students to tag the words they have chosen as the key signifiers of support or opposition. By the end, we can see which words have collected the most traction for that event in the headlines, and study how they relate to bias.
A study of headlines in this manner can also be enriched by examining photographs. Students not only post the headlines but also the photograph that goes with the headline. That can give a richer context for the news and help visual learners make more of their analysis. Kidblog is the fantastic platform where students can interact with the material and each other, building their own media-rich analyses of bias in a community that is as small (between the teacher and the student) or as wide (between the students and the public) as they are comfortable with. Collaborative blogging is a definitive step toward awareness building.