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Judy Bolton
English/journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Coping With Bias

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Bias audit




Coping With Bias

Judy Bolton at Middletown High School North in Middletown, N.J.

Judy Bolton
Middletown High School North
Middletown, N.J.

Title: Coping with Bias

Objective

To help students understand their own biases and so be able to take them into account in their writing.

Journalism students, especially J-1 students, seem to have a limited understanding of objectivity, bias and coming to terms with their own biases. Too often, in early discussions about objectivity, I’ve heard “I’m not prejudiced!” This lesson has helped them realize bias is endemic to the human condition, takes many forms, is different from prejudice, and that realizing their own biases (and those of others) and making use of that knowledge will make them better journalists.

Materials:

Newspapers, at least one page/several articles for each student; bias audit, copies of school paper from five or more years ago.

Procedure

  • Introduce subject with a short class discussion of their understanding of what bias is. You might guide them toward discussing how it appears in everyday interactions, in how they think parents, teachers, administrators, etc., treat youth, or in how it differs from prejudice.
  • Distribute newspapers or newspaper sections/pages. Ask them to read several articles and identify where they think bias is shown, or where it could have influenced a reporter but didn’t appear to.
  • Distribute bias audit. Have students spend 5-10 minutes completing it. It’s probably more meaningful if those segments of your school, local or regional communities that spark any controversy or are potentially loaded are included (e.g., here the name of the local community college is nearly synonymous with someone who has no ambition and not much future – a loser).
  • Review the list. I’ve found going over them item by item elicits a lot of responses showing biases my kids weren’t even aware anyone had or would have. It also seemed to make them most aware of their own hidden responses and why they might have them. An open discussion gave them room to be honest about their perceptions and able to articulate some differences between prejudice and bias.
  • They might address biases that seem to be held in common by those of same/similar gender, ethnicity, class or other characteristic (of course, with the caveat that such inferences also show or lead to bias).
  • You might also consider having them take one for a parent/guardian to fill out and discuss how age might affect bias.
  • Lastly, distribute issues of the school paper from several years ago – far enough in the past that reporter’s names are generally not known to the students. Students should read articles to identify bias and potential for bias.
  • How successful do they believe their newspaper is and has been in dealing with bias to ensure objectivity and credibility?

Assessment:

  • Based on what you’ve found out about yourself and others, write a column of about 500 words on how bias affects us in our daily interactions, both consciously and unconsciously. As you are writing, keep in mind the following question: Can conscious bias have a positive affect anywhere in journalism?


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