Teaching About Bias in 3 Easy Steps

Over the past few weeks, our Nation has experienced several events that will not soon be forgotten, and will arguably be known as landmark moments in the history of our country. With all news, monumental or less so, I am noticing a growing trend of adults, myself included, consuming news via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. As you’ve probably seen with various posts on your social media feeds, often these news story threads lead to high emotion, the sharing of opinions, and both productive and unproductive debates.

This is not the problem. This is not what has been concerning me as I scroll through my feed each day and peek in on what others are saying, and occasionally voice my own thoughts. What is troubling, is the amount of bias I see riddling the articles and blogs that are being posted and shared throughout my newsfeed. To be fair, it’s not even the fact that these articles are biased. There will always be text with bias, and that’s ok. It’s more of a nagging wonder of whether or not the people using them to support their claims can identify this partiality. Personally, I love a good-natured, productive debate, but if the evidence I bring to the table is laced with obvious prejudice, my thoughts will most definitely not be taken seriously.

This means something to me as a teacher. Whether my students are reading something to inform themselves or referencing a text to back up their own thinking and opinions, I want them to be able to determine whether or not bias exists, and if it does, identify it within the text and decide how it impacts that text’s validity.

I use several steps when working with my students to identify bias in a non-fiction text. Identifying bias can be a difficult thing for my 6th graders because in addition to having them close-read to identify the author’s attitude toward the subject, I’m asking them to look closely at what is not said; what they believe the author has intentionally left out. It is in this that they will identify what the author wants you to walk away thinking and whether or not that message is factual or accurate.

Step 1: “How does the author feel about this subject, and how do I know?”

  • Does the author’s word choice convey a specific feeling or emotion towards the text? For example, “Skittles are the absolute best They are the most delicious choice when looking for a sweet treat.”
  • Best? Most delicious? It’s very clear how this author feels regarding the subject of candy; skittles in particular.

Step 2: “Is there any information that has been left out? If so, was it done on purpose?”

  • When we come across what seems like factual information in a text, we are more likely to comprehend that text as true and reliable. However, all too often, the facts that are NOT being used are more telling than those that are. For example, “Did you know that skittles are healthy, too? You will not find any trans-fat or cholesterol in this tasty snack!”
  • Wow, sounds like a good deal to me. Until I think about the 42 grams of sugar per serving that are missing from this statement…

Step 3: “Using step 1 and 2, what is the author’s bias?”

  • This one is pretty clear. This author loves Skittles candy and thinks you should do.

Yes, I used an easy example, but this could be a great place to start when first introducing this topic to your students. Another entry point is using these same steps with commercials that are geared towards kids. This is engaging for the kids (“Mom, we watched commercials in class today!”) and it’s a seamless connection to your students day to day lives.

In my opinion, teaching your students to accurately identify bias is one of the most relevant skills they will learn as consumers of products and information in the 21st century.

But, I may be a little biased.

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