Beyond the Classroom: The Benefits of Global Awareness for Teens
IDENTIFYING RELIABLE SOURCES
This is the first in a series of articles exploring how global awareness can assist students in developing important academic skills and habits.
The beginning of the school year is a time of transition for teachers, parents, and of course, students. Whether a teen is in high school or looking ahead to college, it can be overwhelming to develop a routine that embraces important skills such as time management, consistent study habits, and effective classroom engagement. Part of the struggle is the steady torrent of distractions today’s teens face, such as social media, streaming, and gaming, among others. Often, the big picture—that is, how important academic skills benefit the student beyond high school—is missed. Therefore, it is difficult for teens to consider the world beyond their own backyard. Yet today’s typical high school student can access the entire world with speed and ease not experienced by previous generations. As a social studies teacher, I constantly stress to my students the importance of developing a global perspective—that is, making an active effort to learn about, understand, and engage with the international community.
Teens today are inundated with information, and much of it is found on social media. In the era of “fake news,” it’s essential for teens to examine sources with skepticism and analyze documents with a critical eye. Reading a variety of sources, evaluating conflicting reports, and analyzing global issues from a variety of perspectives allows teens to identify dishonest and biased sources. By critically reading both primary and secondary sources from all around the world, they can hone the skills needed to navigate the endless tide of media encountered on their own screens.
75% of students can’t differentiate between real and “fake” news, according to the International Society for Technology in Education. So, the question remains—how can a student trust their sources, especially in the age of the internet, when so much of what they encounter has not been properly vetted? The ISTE makes several suggestions. First, any source a student uncovers and plans to use in an assignment should have an author or authors listed. The ISTE suggest students look for other writing by the same author. I also believe, author or no author, the student should use Google or a preferred search engine to research the organization, company, etc. listed as the publisher. An internet search will provide the student with necessary information about the organization and will help them uncover any prejudices.
The student should also read the article closely more than once. They should be able to identify the thesis (argument) of the article, and more importantly, identify what credible evidence the author provides. If there’s little concrete evidence, or the author does not cite any outside sources, it most likely is a problematic source. Does the article represent the author’s opinion? If so, it is not an appropriate source for a research project or most academic assignments. Occasionally, it will be useful to use an opinion piece for a written assignment (such as a persuasive piece). Even then, students should be looking for opinions on both sides of the argument.
Other important things to look for include the date (beware of older and/or “undated” news stories!); embellished or “dramatic” headlines; and name recognition. If a source comes from an outlet the student is familiar with (New York Times; National Public Radio; etc.), it’s usually more reputable than someone’s personal blog. Even if the publication is familiar, I still suggest that students choose multiple sources about the same topic. Academic databases such as Credo Reference and others—many of which are available to students via their school library, or a local public library—can complement mainstream media articles.
I also recommend being as narrow as possible when conducting research. A student who completes a Google search for “world hunger” will be inundated with both biased and unbiased sources, many of them useless. But a search for “food insecurity in West Africa” will eliminate possibly hundreds of unwanted sources. And of course, a key component of raising global awareness is to find diverse perspectives on the issues by reading sources from all over the world, not just the United States or Europe. I always encourage teens to read sources written and published by media outlets from all continents, not just the ones they’re most familiar with. Students will be surprised at how much more engaging their project becomes when global perspectives are included.
Christopher Tucker, Instructor of Social Studies, FSWC-Lee
Christopher Tucker is a social studies teacher at Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School-Lee. A native New Englander, he holds graduate degrees from Dartmouth College and Clark University. He is also an adjunct professor of history at Cumberland University (Tennessee).