My course is called Research Media Projects and appears on student schedules as RMP, which is how we refer to the class. We are on trimesters and students take RMP for half of one of those– a six week schedule we call a minimester– in both 7th and 8th grade. It is part of their regular specials rotation and, as I often am asked by other middle school librarians, all student assignments are graded as they are in all specials.
The curriculum for students in the 7th grade revolves around basic information literacy that librarians traditionally teach. I see students for a total of twenty-four class periods during the minimester. The first several classes cover searching the internet at both a general and advanced level, evaluating the quality and credibility of digital information, and discovering the role of images in information analysis, including both photo and video manipulation. Each class day includes an activity or brief assessment that helps me evaluate student understanding. This is followed by a formative assessment of web evaluation that shows me the instruction they will need as we move into the final project.
We then do some practice web citation activities using Mybib.com and then work on the mechanics of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners-provided databases before picking topics. Next we spend some thoughtful time on picking a choice topic for their research. While I have a few parameters based on both quality of information and their developmental level, they are pretty free to pick what they plan to research. Students select five potential topics at first and eventually narrow down to one.
I then introduce the annotated bibliography assignment for the project. We spend roughly four class days on this, which is typically enough time to complete the work. This is definitely the hardest part of the course, and the one that students struggle with the most, or rather work the hardest as it is all new to them. Once they have completed the annotated bibliography, I try for a quick turnaround time in assessing it and giving them feedback so that they can make improvements for their final project.
After all their hard work on research, they are almost excited too. As one student recently said to me: “Now we do the stuff.” Of course, I argue that research actually is “doing the stuff”-- gathering sources, summarizing the information within them and evaluating their quality is often overlooked as work by students. Certainly communicating research is important, but the process of working through research is just as important “stuff” as a learning product. By the time they take my course in 7th grade they are well versed in how to create a presentation, so designing the final project and synthesizing the research often feels easier for students than the work they did for the annotated bibliography. They follow a basic Google Slides template I provide which aligns with the tenets of a typical informative speech. This presentation demonstrates their understanding of quality research strategies and analysis, in-text citation and documentation. As they create this presentation they are also encouraged to take into consideration elements of design and explanations an audience would need to understand their topic.
8th grade Research Media Project
In 8th grade RMP the focus continues on the quality of information and is more aligned with the 8th grade civics standards, specifically Topic 7: Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy. I highlight the DESE’s family guide for 8th grade social studies for students on the first day of class and for parents on back-to-school night. It shows the essential understandings related to the course:
- Explain how a free press supports democratic government.
- Recognize the differences between fact, well-supported opinion, and unsupported opinion in texts.
When I started framing the course in this direction five years ago prior to these civics standards, I relied on my past experience of teaching high school journalism. I have worked to coordinate content coverage with the 8th grade team over the last few years. We begin with the essential questions:
Why is media literacy important for citizens in today’s democracy?
What role do individuals play as digital citizens?
I return to these often throughout the course, and in order to make the individual connections we start with a general look at the students’ digital life and I have them prepare a personal media log. We combine the log data and then examine what their usage might mean for their age group, for a particular time in the school year, or even for historical context, and then compare these to what is (inevitably) their lack of attention to news media. Connecting students’ own experiences to media habits helps them to access those essential understandings as we move through the course.After we have established a narrative of their own usage we look at the First Amendment in general and then examine press coverage of major world events throughout history. Next comes a global perspective. We take a deep dive into the definition of news literacy and a survey of the ever-changing examples from countries without a free press drives a discussion of the importance of fact-checking.
The class wraps up in the same way the 7th grade RMP does, with an annotated bibliography and presentation. Students create a guiding research question using the First Amendment as a theme, so there is still some choice, but a narrower scope. Both the 7th and 8th grade classes are aligned with the Digital Literacy Standards for 6-8 from DESE and it meets a district goal of every student having direct exposure to the fundamentals of evaluating information and the practical application of those research skills in a formal classroom setting in middle school.