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Free Literacy Activity Helps Students Critically Think About Current Events

Free Literacy Activity Helps Students Critically Think About Current Events

A digital literacy activity created by the USC Shoah Foundation and available on iWitness, a free online education platform, helps students understand the difference between arguments, persuasion and propaganda on social media channels.

In a day and age that is completely saturated by media, the activity helps students determine how to differentiate between fact and fiction in order to formulate healthy and empathetic opinions; the ultimate goal is to help students become “responsible contributors to the public dialog,” said Dr. Kori Street, director of education at USC Shoah Foundation in a statement.

Called "Skittles, Deplorables and 'All Lives Matter,'” the activity uses several buzzwords from the 2016 presidential election that each represent a separate controversy that used generalizations to dehumanize large groups of people.

Initially, students view testimonies from genocide survivors and eyewitnesses who help instruct students to avoid dehumanizing people when formulating their own opinions.

"Dehumanizing people is the first step on inviting violence like the Nazism and fascism,” says "Holocaust survivor and the mother of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in 2002 by terrorists who denounced his Jewish ancestry” Ruth Pearl in one of the testimonies.

After viewing testimonies from prior historical events, students are then led to make parallels between these events and current ones.

"Students then read a tweet posted by Donald Trump Jr. in September 2016 comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles, as well as a quote from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referring to half of the supporters of her GOP rival, Donald Trump, as a 'basket of deplorables,’” said the USC Shoah Foundation in a statement.

"With these messages and others, students are instructed to read supplemental news articles and to fill out a 'message analysis worksheet,' in which they must classify the message as an argument, persuasion or propaganda based on a set of criteria. Finally, they identify an issue and—after employing responsible research methods—craft a message, which they post on the social-media platform of their choice.”

So far, the activity has been piloted by an organization called After School Matters, an afterschool program based in Chicago. It is also available for free on iwitness.usc.edu following registration.

Overall, the creators of the activity hope that students will understand both the importance of their own voice and the importance of them using their voice to express opinions that are developed from multiple sources and perspectives.

The activity comes after an election season filled with conflicting and often false information that even adults fell prey to. A false news report about thousands of fraudulent ballots for Clinton being found in an Ohio warehouse, for example, was completely false but reached over six million people through social media channels.

For teachers interested in teaching the activity to their students but are unfamiliar with iWitness as an educational tool, the site is offering a free webinar on Nov. 17 to learn more about it.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

11/7/2016

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