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On student scrutiny: two strategies

We’re focusing a lot of attention these days of helping students determine credibility. For many of us, this is not a hot new topic.

I dug around a bit and dusted off a couple of tools that, I think, stand the test of time.  You are welcome to make copies and retool them for you owncurrent events needs.

This Current Events Analysis Scaffold forces thinking beyond the Ws.  It became our go-to tool for presenting current events across the disciplines.  Using it seriously encouraged students to take a deeper dive into searching, reading and thinking about news to share with their classes.

And then there’s my magic bullet. The annotation. By simply asking students to critically annotate the sources they use you immediately upgrade the level of thought they invest in scrutiny and selectivity.  You also avoid the habit of source packing some students use to impress us with their scholarship.

Evaluative, annotated works cited sections require and inspire the development of critical research and evaluation skills.

Here’s the document we used to guide students through their annotations:

Evaluative, Annotated Works Cited (High School)

Annotations frequently include brief, two-sentence summaries. The following guidelines apply to materials in all formats–books, magazine and journal articles, Web sites, media, slideshows, images, infographics, audio, reference materials, etc.

Check with your teacher to see which of the following elements you should include in your annotations:

  • Author’s credentials (these may be contextual–relative to the format, situation or information need)
  • Intended audience (For whom was this work produced and why?)
  • Scope (Is it an overview or in-depth treatment?)
  • Purpose of the work (Is it reporting, persuasive, editorial, background treatment?)
  • Comparison of the work with others dealing with the same topic or others in your Works Cited list
  • Relevance of the work to your inquiry  (Is it truly focused on or connected to a particular area of your inquiry?)
  • Summary of contents (Briefly, what does this work say or argue?
  • Evaluation of research: (Is the work logical, clear, well-researched and documented?)
  • Evaluation of author bias (Does the author/producer demonstrate bias? Can you discern a lens–pro, con, left, right? How do you know?)
  • How does it inform your argument or increase your understanding?)
  • Relative value of the work to your thesis or question
  • For upperclassmen and college: Was this research funded?  By whom?

Example of an evaluative annotation:

Katz, Jon. “The Rights of Kids in the Digital Age.” Wired, July 1996, p. 120+.

Katz, contributing editor of Wired and the author of Geeks, presents a compelling argument for safeguarding the rights of children online. The article is aimed at a general, but computer-savvy, audience. Katz offers a far more liberal perspective than recent pieces in such major news journals as Newsweek, which warned the public of the dangers children face in electronic environments. Katz advocates the idea of preparing the “responsible child” and outlines the rights of such a child. He claims that our new “digital nation” requires a social contract similar to the one proposed by philosopher John Locke and adopted by the founders of our own country to protect the rights of all citizens. This comprehensive, distinctive, liberal view added needed balance to my project.annotation

Annotations for elementary and middle school students:

  • How (How did you find this information? Which database or search tool did you use?)
  • Who (Who is the author and why should you trust him/her?)
  • Why (Why is this particular source truly relevant to your inquiry/research project?)

And in case you missed it, Shannon Miller recently crowd-sourced a fabulous Padlet on Media Literacy Research, Resources, Lessons and Project Ideas.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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