Monday, September 11, 2017

Change is good, right?

Change is good, right?

That’s what they say.

Well, I’m changing…

I’m changing from a teacher-blogger to a teacher-novelist. I am here to announce that I will no longer be blogging directly about educational practices, policies, and trends not because there’s nothing more to say (not even close) and not because I’ve exhausted all the topics (even less close)!

Let me explain. If you will, indulge me in a momentary foray into my personal life: a trip into the biggest single piece of procrastination in my life. I’ve been intending to write a novel...for the last 25+ years.

Sure, I’ve had fits and starts, ideas and sketches, but nothing resembling a novel ever materialized until this July when I sent an email to a friend.

It all started at the beginning of summer. I was on a walk, listening to a podcast. Gretchen Rubin was describing what she calls the 4 tendencies, a framework she uses to describe personality types. I’ve always been a sucker for frameworks and surveys and opportunities to reflect, so I took the survey and discovered that I’m an “Obliger”: that is, I will go to great extremes to meet the expectations others have for me. Outer expectations (degrees, certifications, presentations, committees, and yes, blogs) are dutifully met. Inner expectations (writing that novel, losing that last ten pounds, daily dental flossing---you laugh, but I’m serious) are a different story. Things I want to accomplish just for my own sake take the back seat, every time.

So that day at the start of summer, while I was walking in the woods with my headset on, a caller (I should find this caller and thank her) self-identified as an Obliger and asked Gretchen Rubin for a solution which would allow her to achieve her personal goals. The answer, Rubin explained, is to create outside accountability. Find someone to hold you accountable, she suggests, a spouse, a friend, a coach---someone to answer to when trying to achieve your goal. Obligers will disappoint themselves 9 times out of 10, but rarely will they risk disappointing someone else.

It sounded so simple, but it made so much sense. That was me. And so when I returned from our family vacation, it was time. I drafted an email to my friend. I explained my goal---to finally achieve the habit of daily writing, a habit that would allow me to finally write my novel. I asked if she could help.

Since that email:
  • We’ve met once per week to strategize, and review, and check in.
  • I email her daily about my writing progress (outside accountability).   
  • I’ve turned my fits and starts into….THE FIRST THIRD OF MY NOVEL (excuse me for text-screaming, but this has been a long time in the coming).
  • I’ve simplified my life, bowing out of a number of obligations--- worthwhile groups  and activities that I’m confident will continue their worthwhile work without me. 
  • I’ve established and kept the schedule that I’ve wanted for the past 25 years: I write every morning from 5:15-6:15 a.m.; I write every night (usually from 7:00-8:00). Writing now marks the bookends of my day, every day, whether it’s summer, a school day, or a weekend. It’s what I do.
I don’t know why it took me 25 years to reach this point. I don’t know why I heard that podcast on that day. I don’t know why it led me to email that friend (the right person at the right time). I don’t know why my stars have now aligned, and why they hadn’t earlier.

Now, before you accuse me of delusions of grandeur, let me assure you that I am under no illusions of the difficulties that lie ahead. I do not have an agent, I do not have a book deal, I do not have a completed novel, but what I do have is a daily writing habit, what I do have is one third of a completed novel, and what I do know is that THE most essential prerequisite to writing a novel is ACTUALLY WRITING THE NOVEL!  And that, I am ecstatic to say, is finally happening.

So what does any of this have to do with this blog, with teaching, and with you, my dear readers?
Well, since I’m changing, so is my blog.

I’ve blogged monthly for the Marquette Educator for 6 years; I’ve blogged on my own a touch longer than that. It’s been a good run. I appreciate the opportunity it's given me to reflect on my field and on my classroom. I love that it’s made some people think more about the state of education. I love that it’s helped family and friends know more about what I do and why I do it. I'm still humbled that on February 9, 2015, my voice made it to the national stage and I learned what it's like to have a blogpost “go viral.”

But, as the adage goes, “change is good,” so as I morph into novelist territory, my blogging will morph into a writer’s reflections on writing.

Of course I am still a teacher (I will always be a teacher) so I my posts will inevitably refer to teaching and learning, particularly teaching and learning about writing, but instead of being the thoughts of a teacher who blogs about education it will be the thoughts of a teacher who writes fiction.

My plan is to reflect on writing----the discipline of doing it, the challenges of teaching it, the frustrations and joys of being immersed in it.  So who might want to read this morphed blog? Anyone who writes, anyone who wants to write, anyone who wants their students to write (not just English teachers), and anyone who is mildly curious about the goings on of this writer.

So now, onto part two of my novel and onto part two of my life.

Change is good.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Backwards is Back


I remember back to Homecoming week in high school when we’d have “Backwards Day.”  We’d wear our backpacks on our fronts, and our pants inside out (a few of the more daring students wore underwear on the outside of their clothes). We’d also try to walk backwards and say each other's names backwards (I was Aidualc) among other antics. But that was about the extent of our backwardness.

Lately, however, it seems that educational policies have achieved a unprecedented level of backwardness. The past few weeks have yielded three major announcements which I believe to be the complete inversion of decency, goodness, and rationality in terms of our schools and the well being of our country.

Backwards is back:
  1. Siding with the Accused. First, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is taking pains to reverse progressive policies regarding sexual assault on college campuses. Her supporters feel that the system is rigged against those accused of sexual assault even though according to the FBI, somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of sexual allegations are false while only 12 percent of college rapes are even reported. Regardless, the Department of Education is now using its resources to reverse current policy which sought to make the reporting and prosecution of sexual assault less taxing and traumatic for its victims (1 in 5 women on college campuses). If the goal is to decrease assaults and increase safety, DeVos’s plans are clearly regressive.
  2. Assault on Affirmative Action. Speaking of regressive, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Department of Justice will be investigating discrimination against white students in the college admissions process. This effort stems from lawsuits over the past few years by one litigant, Edward Blum, who recruited numerous students in numerous court cases in his mission to eradicate affirmative action. Now, even though the Supreme Court just last year ruled that racial consideration is constitutional in college admissions to foster diversity and even the playing field, the Department of Justice will now be using funds earmarked for affirmative action to instead showcase white students as victims of affirmative action. Here’s the reality check on college diversity: even with affirmative action in place, African American enrollment in flagship schools is 5% of the student population, a far cry from proportional representation. Nonetheless, instead of continuing to work toward a system that is more equitable, they're working to dismantle it.
  3. Gun Classes in School. Lastly while running errands a few days ago, I heard on the radio (I can’t even get a gallon of milk in peace these days!) that there is currently a  bill in the Wisconsin State Assembly to allow on-site gun classes in public schools---from rifles to handguns. The bill would require each superintendent to develop a curriculum for such classes in his/her district. Needless to say, this is a ludicrous and disturbing thought. An uncomfortable reality in schools right now is that we necessarily spend professional development time running school shooting drills, preparing for the most horrific worst case scenario conceivable. So, why on earth would we, then, put guns in students’ hands during school hours? Another contradictory corollary: in recent years, Drivers Ed, a class that clearly aimed at saving lives and making our kids safer, has been removed from public classrooms as a cost-saving measure. So out with Driver’s Ed, in with handguns?
It is with no flippancy intended that I’m saying backwards is back.

A Department of Education siding with the accused over the victims of sexual assault, a Justice Department looking out for white students over minority populations in the college application process, a Wisconsin State Assembly seriously considering mandating gun curriculum in Wisconsin schools: this is our world.

It seems these days that backwards day is every day. I guess the only remaining question is: what happens in the long term if we stop looking forward and keep moving backwards?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Almost a Huge Hypocrite.


Almost a Huge Hypocrite.

That’s me. Well, it was almost me.

After reading a recent New York Times article on the notion of “smart failure,” I was ready to start next school year by giving each of my students a  “Failure Certificate.” After all, if it’s good enough for Smith College students, it’s good enough for my students. I had learned that these days, students at Smith, receive a  “Certificate of Failure” which reads:
smith
“You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb or fail at one or more relationships, hookups, friendships, texts, exams, extracurriculars or any other choices associated with college … and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent human.”
How great would that be for my students? What a relief it would be, I reasoned, for these high-strung scholars, many with 4 or 5 AP classes and as many extra curricular activities on their docket---to receive permission to fail. "Brilliant!" I thought...until I gave it some more thought.

What’s the snag? Doesn’t it make perfect sense? All the en vogue educational experts these days (Carol Dweck’s Mindset research and Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit) seem to be quantifying this wisdom, wisdom which common sense has long purported, namely that we necessarily learn and grow from failure. In order to grow, we must traverse our comfort zones, which often entails failing in order to acquire the kind of experience and first-hand wisdom that ultimately breeds success. We know this.

So then, what’s the problem? Why won’t I be handing out “Certificates of Failure” this fall?
Because the whole thing reeks of hypocrisy. Would Smith, Harvard, and Stanford students have been accepted into these prestigious schools had they lived by this motto? Would they be Ivy Leaguers today had their parents encouraged them to fail? To experiment? To disregard points and grades and test scores in favor of learning?

Is it the very institutions which have perpetuated the need for perfection the ones now hypocritically offering bandaids and ice cream cones to their bleeding victims? The simple answer: yes. The only reason the solution of embracing failure is needed is because we, as educators, created the problem in the first place. The need to teach the value of failure exists precisely because we have created a high-stakes, grade-obsessed, avoid-failure-at-all-costs educational system to which a student stroll through platitude park is not the panacea.

It should be no surprise that the institutions leading the charge to embrace failure (Smith, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton) are the most competitive universities around. The perfectionism, elitism, and cajolery required for acceptance into these schools are precisely the catalysts for the anxiety, depression, stress, and suicide rates which have necessitated the “fail up” movement.

Is it any wonder that it was Harvard and Stanford faculty who coined the term “failure deprived” to describe the students dotting their campuses “students (who) seemed unable to cope with simple struggles.” Through observing their students, they recognized the need to encourage productive failure, a need which arose directly from the game their students were forced to play in order to receive their highly-coveted acceptance letters.

More than a bit of hypocrisy here.

I was having tea with a parent the other day, the mother of lovely and extremely high achieving students. The expectations in their family are very high and very clear. She, too, had read the New York Times article and was pondering giving her children a copy of the “Certificate of Failure.” And again, I couldn’t help but spot a thick coat of hypocrisy in her words. As a parent who expected 4.0’s, could a “Certificate of Failure,” no matter how well-intended, be given in good faith? As an AP English teacher, could I give my students a “Certificate of Failure” knowing that the reason they are in AP English in the first place is because they (and their families) do not subscribe to a “fail to learn” mentality, and that doing so would have likely precluded them from enrollment?

How many of us share our children’s failures as oft as their successes?
How many of us encourage our children to be artists...for a living?
How many of us encourage our children to learn...without grades in mind?
How many of us encourage our students to do what they love even there’s no spot for it on a resume?

The “fail gracefully” sentiment may be bantered about by administrators, teachers, and parents when they happen across an article in the New York Times, but its opposite is clearly expected on a day-to-day basis.

Perpetuating the “fail well” philosophy is sheer hypocrisy. It’s merely handing out band-aids and ice cream cones while ignoring the perpetual bleeding.

Here’s the real message: Maintain your 4.0, do well on ACT and SAT’s (or take them over repeatedly), do what it takes to get into a good college, land a good job, have a responsible life that ensures your economic stability and reflects well upon the rest of us. We can talk all we want about the value of “failing well,” but when our actions speak the opposite, perhaps its time to stop with the band-aids and ice cream cones.
spadefeature
Let’s call a spade a spade.

Unless we’re willing to change the data-driven, high-stakes testing state of child-rearing and educating of which we’re complicit members, we cannot with clear conscience, talk about handing out “Certificates of Failure.”

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud.


Our 4th hour novelists: Epoch 
Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud. Anyone who reads my blog with regularity will know that this is worlds away from my previous post: Worry. Lose Sleep. Be AnxiousThe simple reason for this 360? We're done with our collaborative novels. Done!


So, how does it feel, this collective exhale? How does it feel to be click-ready published authors on Amazon.comFirst, a glance inside, a peek behind the curtains. As you'd expect, we didn't go directly from bile-inducing anxiety to euphoric celebration.  There were more than a few bumps along the way.  


Our 1st Hour Novelists: First Draft
Our first sizable hurdle was a sobering reality check after first drafts were turned in. Student writing was not at the caliber I had hoped; rather, it was at a caliber, to be truthful, that terrified me. The prospect of getting these chapters from their current state---underdeveloped and error-laden, in other words, fiction written by freshmen in high school---to publication seemed inconceivable. That night, sleep eluded me. Getting from point A to point Z would require much more than wishful thinking.
Mantra time. I opened the next class period by scrawling my favorite writing mantra on my board as students watched: "An author is a writer who didn't give up," a sentence which remained on front board for the duration of the project. I then openly shared my anxiety with them, I shared my sleeplessness with them, I shared my own publishing experiences with them. I explained the level of precision required for publication. I told them that we could get there, but it wouldn't be easy.


After our heart-to-heart, I gave them a survey, asking for their honest feedback. The result (see graphs) is what pushed us ahead. Ninety percent said they felt like with the help of their teacher and editors they could do this. Only three students said they weren't sure (but they'd try); and only one person said they weren't interested. Buy-in was apparent. I knew that if we had the mindset and the work ethic (which we clearly did) we could do this. I could pull in the naysayer and provide a structure that would support my writers and get us across the publication finish line.  

Then came the delegation of work. This was a critical step. Yes, I'd be editing each story, but many rounds of editing would have to happen before publication.  I needed help. Recruiting student editors would also give my strongest writers a challenge worthy of their skills. However, it would, of course, mean more work for already busy students. Would students be interested in being editors? cover artists? organizers? Again, the stars seemed aligned: my strong writers seemed to naturally self-identify and volunteer to be editors, my artistically-inclined students started working on cover art they'd submit for a class vote. And the momentum began. 


Blanket-wrapped editors at a late-night editing session (heat was turned off) 
What happened in the two months that followed was writing, revising, mini-lessons, pep talks, Saturday and Spring Break work sessions, and did I mention writing? What did not happen was "point mongering." Not a single student asked "What's my grade?" They were, as educational researcher Alphie Kohn calls it, intrinsically motivated learners. Remarkably, as freshman in high school, they were determined to write stories worthy of publication, to achieve a degree of excellence that transcended grades. And that, I'm deciding right now as I type these words, is the true indicator of authentic learning, the mark that what we're doing is truly worthy of my time and theirs. That is the new standard I will hold myself to. 

Now, instead of subjecting you to all of the sordid details of our writing and editing process, I will pass the ball to my students, in their own words. Here's what they wrote in their blogs the day after our book signing event. I asked them to reflect on the unit and offer advice to next year's novelists: 

  • I'm a published author! It's so worth it so look at the experience as a lesson that sometimes you need to do what you find uncomfortable and make it into something fun and worth it in the end. 
  • The biggest thing I learned was I have a vivid imagination that I am really good at putting it on paper. I couldn't stop writing and I won't.
  • It was amazing to see people reading and buying OUR book. Just seeing it on Amazon was really cool.
  • I was an editor for my classmate's chapters and I think I learned more editing than I did writing. I already knew how to write decently, however, I had never critiqued and changed other's fictional works before. I learned about writing in different voices than what I write in and how to give positive feedback mixed with critiques.
  • Here's my advice: Treasure and appreciate extraordinary experiences. This really just sunk in for me. I collaborated with a number of very creative and intelligent people and in the midst of that collaboration we created something awesome. 
  • Some people are really bull-headed, others shy, some just don't like to work with others. People can be difficult. They are difficult because everyone is different. But when making the book we somehow made the book happen. I gained knowledge on how to work with other people and how to deal with things that I really don't agree with.
  • I am a published novelist! That's right, you read that correctly! Our English class decided to do something a little different. You might have read books, but we wrote one.
  • It sure was a ton of stress and lots of hard work and many hours spent on this project. I remember how crazy our English teacher sounded when she told our first hour class that WE were going to be writing and publishing a book. A legit, freaking, book!
And my reluctant novelists? The ones who weren't sure they could do it? Here's what they wrote:
  • Writing a chapter allowed you to stretch your creative muscles and learn something about yourself that you didn't know. 
  • All I can tell you is that it takes work to get there, but it's worth it.
My "not interested" student?

  • The writing process wasn't my favorite but seeing the connection between stories of completely different people in completely different places in the world was amazing. Overall, I learned a lot from the experience, about myself and about writing. I usually hate the idea of short stories but this story is something I am sort of proud of. Writing is not my dream, but it is definitely be a good skill to have.
Finally, what about me, their "fearless" (a.k.a "fearful") leader? As one of my students duly noted: "I think that this novel really took a toll on our teacher, but it all worked out in the end." Yes, and yes---a worthwhile toll, I would add. None of it was easy, all of it was worthwhile.

And now, through it all, we are bound together for 70 years past my death (copyright law, the great uniter). 
Clearly, it's time to celebrate, get sleep, and be proud. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Is it Good for Kids?

Ask any teacher (especially this time of year) how they're doing, and my guess is their response will be "busy" or some synonym thereof. The truth is that "busyness" is pretty much par for the course in this profession, and so this month (a particularly busy one) I thought I'd reflect a bit on how a teacher might best prioritize his/her time. Whether facing a time consuming class project, a district initiative, a  stack of papers, a student need, a community event, an administrative request, a building committee, a licensure requirement, (the list goes on and on...) it must all boil down to one question: "Is it good for kids?"  It may sound ridiculously reductive, but if that's not ALWAYS the central question, what are we doing here? And so, here's a flow-chart version of how I try to prioritize my time. Feel free to give it a try when your to-do list is seemingly insurmountable: IMG_0098

Monday, March 13, 2017

Worry. Lose Sleep. Be Anxious.

Worry.   Lose sleep.   Be anxious.  It means you’re doing something worthwhile. 
anxiety glassLately, I’ve been feeling anxious, I’ve been losing sleep, I’ve had daily, probably hourly misgivings. And yes, I’m a teacher, so this is all a bit par for the course, but I’ve been teaching for  24 years--- I should be well past the nervous, sleepless, anxiety-ridden stage.
So, what’s going on? I’m trying something in my classroom that I’ve never tried before. Something uncertain, something risky, something unpredictable. And I’m in too deep to turn back.   
I am writing a “class-sourced” novel with my Freshmen English students. It’s a concept I ran across at a conference in last summer. Jay Rehak, writer and English teacher in Chicago Public Schools, has collaboratively written and published several novels with his high school students.  
“He did WHAT?!” I asked myself this past August, scrolling through the list of conference offerings.
After reading his session description, I gathered my laptop and my free Google swag (the second best thing about conferences) and headed for Mr. Rehak’s session, hoping to have my questions answered, namely: How in the world did he motivate his students to write a novel? How did he get a classroom full of teens to create an end product good enough to publish? How was all of this managed in the context of a teacher’s life (at school and home)? I headed to Room 309 of Whitney Young High School, seeking answers.
Fifteen minutes later, I found myself back on the conference agenda, scrolling for a different session. I still don’t know what happened to Jay Rehak that day. He didn’t make his first session (full disclosure, he had two more sessions scheduled, but as a presenter myself, I couldn’t attend them). He had, however, provided a link on the conference agenda to his presentation slides which was enough to get me hooked on his idea...a class-sourced novel...and enough to send me, five months later, into my current state of anxiety and sleeplessness: I am writing a “class-sourced” novel with my Freshmen English students.  
rehakSo how DOES one write a  class-sourced novel? In a nutshell, Jay Rehak’s method (generously shared and clearly explained in his How To Write a Class-Source Novel  book) begins with the teacher writing the first chapter of a narrative which teens can connect to. Then, each student writes a chapter which can stand on its own as a short story but also contributes to the growth of novel’s larger narrative. Finally, the teacher writes the concluding chapter. And then, the novel is published.
Easy, right? So where’s the anxiety?   
Let me count the places:
  • The Newness: Imagine trying something new. Now imagine this something is a very challenging something. Now imagine trying this very challenging something in front of a class of 25 high school students.
  • The Writing: Writing fiction is itself anxiety-producing, as are many creative acts. Ask any writer about what it’s like to hand your new work over to your first reader.  Now, imagine that your first reader is a classroom full of teenagers.
  • The Release of Control: Writing fiction in English class requires a teacher to relinquish some control and grant a level of freedom that can be a bit unnerving. And then there’s the assessment:  How does one quantify creativity? How does one grade a work of fiction? It’s much easier to teach more concrete writing: the research paper or a persuasive essay.
  • The Uncertainty. Having students write is one thing; having them publish is another. Last week it was time to read all of the 1st drafts of the chapters. Doing so gave me some encouragement, but mainly anxiety. I realized that we have much work to do. The next day, I wrote on the board: “Author: a writer who hasn’t quit.” I shared my anxieties with them and I had them take an anonymous survey. All but one student said they’re excited about the novel and they’ll do what it takes with their editor and with me to get to the point of publication. I can work with that.
  • The ego. Publish a book with my Freshman English students and there they are, and there I am, for everyone to read and judge. 
eustress
That anxiety I’m feeling? I'm certain they are feeling it too. Collective stress. But I believe it's eustress, a term from the Greek prefix eu-meaning good, and stress, literally meaning good stress  This is not a new concept. Endocrinologist Hans Seyle coined the term in the 1930’s, convincing the scientific community that a manageable amount of stress elicits optimum performance and can lead to personal transformation. 
So that’s the story I’m sticking with. This anxiety, this stress, is precisely what will lead us to do our best and most meaningful work.
Rehak himself, in his 2016 TED Talk (yes, he gave a TED Talk, how cool is that?) speaks of a similar end game: “I can’t promise you big dollars or a spot on the New York Times Best Seller List,” he asserts, “but what I will tell you that if you do write a book (with your students)...and you publish it...that the joy that you feel and the community that you create and the pride that you feel will bring joy to you for the rest of your life.”
dessertThat sleeplessness? That anxiety? That stress?  They are trivial entrance fees into the land of the worthwhile. They are signs that I’m alive and that I’m doing things that matter. I’m not counting the days until retirement.  I’m counting the days until my students see their names in print. I'm counting the days until our book signing event.  I'm counting the days until they see the connection between struggling with words and communicating worthy ideas with the larger world.
So, fellow teachers, whatever your grade level or content area, I implore you: go to conferences, read professional journals, and seek opportunities to go beyond your comfort zone, to lose sleep and to feel anxious, for it means you’re alive, it means you have purpose, and that your students too will feel alive and have purpose.
That’s worth losing sleep over.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Teach·er ˈtēCHər/: 1. Instigator of Truth.  2. Agitator of Critical Thinking. 3. Provocateur of Free Thought.

Ah, predictable me. If you’ve at all been a reader of my blog, you can probably predict my dilemma right now. These days, I suspect I am hardly alone in this quandary. I’ve written about it in the past: the push and pull between the public school teacher me and private citizen me.
SO here’s my (utterly predictable) dilemma: How does one teach in these politically-charged, complicated times when “fake news” masquerades as the truth, when “real news” is labeled “fake news,” when Orwellian terms such as “post truth” and “alternative facts” are no longer the stuff of Dystopian novels, but mainstream discourse?
fake-stampAnd to those of you who are about to call me out for bringing politics into my classroom, let me say this:  When language itself is being altered and manipulated, when knowledge itself is being distorted and undermined by the highest offices in this country, politics has clearly forced its way into our classrooms, not vice versa.  
Let’s take English class, for example. In English class, we talk about words: what they mean, what impact they have, their origins, their connotations. In English, we research and write. We teach students to be skeptical readers, to find reliable sources, to verify facts, to examine multiple sides of an issue or topic. We do this so our students become good readers and critical thinkers capable of making credible arguments and discerning reliable information in their post-secondary studies, in the workplace, and in the larger world. We do it so they become effective communicators and responsible citizens.
Enter “post-truth,” “fake news,” “alternative facts”; enter a presidential administration which openly disputes easily verifiable facts, which calls the media “the opposition party,” which maligns and berates those who question and attempt to fact-check.
If we are truly “teachers" is it not our responsibility to “teach” students to examine, to question, to discern the truth, to navigate through the complex world of politics, the media, the blogosphere, and propaganda?  
lincoln
It seems to me (I’m primarily speaking of English teachers and Social Studies teachers here) we have three options:  
  1. Do nothing. (Welcome to the path of least resistance and least responsibility).  
  2. Go for it. Lay out the evidence: let videoclips of Spicer, Conway, and Trump speak for themselves (And be prepared for the fall-out).
  3. Navigate somewhere between 1 & 2. (Provide a path for students to investigate this critical topic for themselves).   
Last week, I attempted #3.  I amended our Debate unit in Freshman English to include a few days examining Fake News and what has become the murkiness surrounding “the truth.”
Full disclosure here: Designing these lessons was cause for much anxiety and reflection. I teach in a predominantly conservative community which, like much of his country, is deeply divided and deliberately silent in public on many critical issues that matter to us all.  

Long story short, here’s what I did and why. If you feel so inclined to use any of this in your own classroom, please steal it outright:
Day 1: Students reflected on their own experience with Fake News and examined how its created.  
  1. Small groups of students discussed examples of fake news they’ve encountered on social media or elsewhere.
  2. Students shared out with the class.
  3. Assignment: Students researched the concept of “Fake News.”
Day 2: Students participated in a class discussion on the making of Fake News and its impact on Democracy and “Truth.”
  1. Students shared their thoughts about From Headline to Photograph: A Fake News Masterpiece.
  2. Students reflected on (wrote and then discussed) James Madison's quote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
  3. Students then reflected on (wrote and then discussed) Serina Tavernise's quote: Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.” - New York Times
Day 3: I took dictation in a class K-W-L (Know, Want-to-Know, Learn) exploring the terms “Post-Truth” and “Alternative Facts,” and I introduced the “Triple-Washed Facts” process.
  1. With a KWL chart on the Smart Board, I presented the terms “post-truth” and “alternative facts.” For each, I asked what we “Know.” I typed as they spoke. Then I asked what we “Want to Know” and I typed out their questions. Then, I had them use their Chromebooks to answer those questions. I then typed as they told me what they “Learned.”
  2. I introduced the “Triple Wash” Process. This is the process they would use for researching all facts used in this debate unit. 1) Check the Source: reputation, experience, respect 2) Check for “Fishiness": (use your BS detector) Is it too surprising? Too fantastic? Too convenient? 3) Verify it Elsewhere with that “elsewhere” being a separate reliable source.
15-fake-news-w190-h190-2x
Over the course of these three days, I never told  them what to think. This was very much by design. I orchestrated their own exploration and examination of Fake News and its fallout. I was pleased with the depth of their skepticism, interest, and connection-making. And I was pleased that none of  their conclusions came from me.
So now, I’m requiring my students to triple-wash every fact they use in our debate unit and beyond, and I’m imploring them to employ similar rigor to the greater network of information and social media streams in which they live.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Charlie Sykes, former WISN conservative radio host, articulated the necessity of such scrutiny: “The real danger,” he asserted, “is that, inundated with ‘alternative facts,’ many...will simply shrug, asking, ‘What is truth?’ — and not wait for an answer.”
That’s where educators enter the picture. We must be instigators of truth, agitators of critical thinking, provocateurs of free thought.
We must teach students to hold everyone accountable, to relentlessly seek the truth, to look for the larger narrative.  As citizens in a democracy, it is our job and theirs to hold none above such scrutiny.