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Fact Sheet: Political Divisiveness in the Classroom

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how to support inclusion when teaching controversial political issues.


Has the toxic U.S. political climate spread to the classroom? Yes, according to a recent UCLA survey, which asked public high school teachers how the divisive national political environment has affected the classroom environment. Here are a few highlights:

Stress and anxiety. The current political climate has increased stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. Teachers reported that over half of all students have experienced more stress and anxiety. Among teachers, the numbers are worse: nearly 68 percent of teachers have reported more work-related stress and anxiety.

Classroom environment. Polarization, incivility, and fake or unsubstantiated news have become more common in the classroom. More than 20 percent of teachers reported an uptick in contentious or disrespectful behavior during class discussions. Nearly 28 percent said that derogatory remarks about other groups have increased. And more than 40 percent of teachers stated that students are introducing fake or uncorroborated news more often than in the past.

Leadership. Overall, leaders in schools and school districts have done little to temper the current political climate. Only 27 percent of teachers said they received direct guidance and support from school or district leaders on how to foster civil discourse and understanding in school.

Even though political divisiveness has infiltrated classrooms across the United States, the survey also identified some positive trends. Many teachers stated that they are working to promote civil discourse and understanding, demonstrating that teachers are taking the lead to address these issues. The survey also found that the politically divisive climate has made students more politically engaged, which is both an aim and a benefit of teaching controversial political issues. And perhaps more than anything else, the survey has highlighted the pressing need for political and information literacy.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Top 10 Leading Issues of 2017

SIRS Issues Researcher’s Leading Issues is a go-to source for pro/con, debate, and argument assignments. Over the past year, students gravitated to these top 10 Leading Issues and their Essential Questions of debate.

SIRS® Issues Researcher provides background and current analysis necessary for the research and understanding of 356+ current and pervasive Leading Issues. Analysis and opinions cover the pros, cons, and everything in between on the most researched and debated social issues. To learn more about SIRS Issues Researcher, see our LibGuide. You can also request a trial.

Let’s Debate…Libraries vs. the Internet

Libraries have long been considered the premier houses of information; librarians, the keepers, and distributors of knowledge. The advent of technology–and with it, the Internet–has slightly shifted this perspective, particularly over the last two decades. Students and researchers now have a choice: “Do I research in the library? Or on the Internet?”

Both hold value, thus the debate. And the decision may not be an either/or answer.

What are your feelings about this topic? Is one more worthwhile than the other? Can one be replaced with the other? To explore the pros and cons, check out the Let’s Debate infographic below.

Libraries v. the Internet infographic

 

How to Support Inclusion When Teaching Controversial Political Issues

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series examined U.S. teens, politics, and information literacy.


Today’s top political issues are controversial for a reason: they affect our lives. Students are no exception, which is why classroom discussions about controversial political issues risk offending or alienating students, especially those who are marginalized by society. Shielding students from discomfort is tempting, but avoidance goes against the aims of learning about controversial political issues, one of which is political literacy.

But maintaining a safe, welcoming, and accepting learning environment for every student is essential. Fortunately, there are ways to ease some of the negative aspects of teaching controversial political issues. The following strategies, which have been adapted from Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy’s The Political Classroom, will help you support inclusion in the classroom.

Know your students. At the beginning of the semester, get to know your students’ views, political ideology, and personal circumstances by conducting an anonymous survey.

Choose wisely. Based on the survey results, pick political issues that are relevant, ethical, and most likely to facilitate learning.

Time it right. Schedule the least controversial issues first, and then build up to more controversial issues as the semester progresses. Evidence suggests that students become more respectful of one another once they know their classmates. Students also develop stronger civil-discourse skills over time.

Do your research. Before teaching an issue, research it thoroughly. Being informed gives you confidence and helps you keep class discussions relevant and free of false claims.

Ensure civility. During class discussions, enact and enforce the norms of civil discourse. Most students are unfamiliar with how to engage in civil debates, especially given today’s political climate. Your guidance is essential.

Get feedback. At the end of the semester, get feedback from students by conducting another anonymous survey. Ask students about what they learned and their overall experience, including whether they felt uncomfortable, offended, or alienated. Learn from the feedback, adjust accordingly, and repeat the process next semester.

Of course, there are no perfect solutions. No matter what you do, some students may become offended or alienated during discussions involving controversial political issues. But by following the strategies outlined above, you will help make your classroom more inclusive for all students.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Fact Sheet: U.S. Teens, Politics, and Information Literacy

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how educators can choose controversial political issues ethically.

In December 2016, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research polled 13- to 17-year-old U.S. teenagers on politics and government, civic engagement, and information literacy. Here is an overview of the results:

Politics and government. Overall, teenagers have a pessimistic view of U.S. politics and government. About 8 in 10 believe the nation is divided on important values. Many teenagers find little commonality with those who are different from them, such as people who live in other geographical areas and people in other political parties. Additionally, a majority of teenagers have negative views on the system and functioning of government, including how political leaders are chosen and the ability of government to solve problems. Despite teenagers’ pessimistic views, over half believe that the American dream still exists, and most have positive or neutral views on the future of the country.

Civic engagement. Teenagers have a high level of civic engagement. In fact, almost 9 in 10 teenagers have taken part in at least one civic activity, the most popular being volunteering and raising money for a cause. Fewer teenagers are involved politically, perhaps unsurprisingly given their age and their views on politics and government. A majority have never expressed their political beliefs online, and a whopping 88 percent have never participated in a protest, march, or demonstration (though this may have changed some given the high number of protests, marches, and demonstrations in recent months).

Information literacy. A majority of teenagers reported learning about information literacy skills in school, but a sizable number of teenagers said they have not. One-third had never discussed how to evaluate the trustworthiness of online content. Some 40 percent never discussed the value of evaluating evidence used to support opinions. And 42 percent never discussed how to find varying social and political viewpoints online.

There are some lessons to be learned from this poll. First, civic engagement is high among teenagers, but this fails to translate into political participation. Educators should focus on teaching students how they can be a part of the political system and effect change. Second, teenagers believe that they have little in common with those who are different from them. Educators can help break down barriers and close this empathy gap by exposing students to different people, ideas, and viewpoints. And third, too few students are learning the necessary information literacy skills, especially as they relate to cyberspace. With the spread of fake news, educators should prioritize strengthening information literacy skills for the digital age.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

6 Reasons Why Editorial Cartoons Are an Essential Teaching Tool

“One strong editorial cartoon is worth a hundred solemn editorials.”
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well

daily-paper-464015_1920

CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay

My seventh-grade social studies teacher gave extra credit to students who brought in editorial cartoons for class discussions. Luckily for me, stacks of newspapers were common in my house. My father was a printing-press operator and a newspaper addict. We got three newspapers daily and sometimes more when my father couldn’t resist a newsstand. So I got a lot of extra credit that year.

Editorial cartoons are all that I remember from that class. My newspaper monopoly aside, I remember being captivated by grown-up cartoons and wanted to understand them, which is how I became interested in current events and issues. I still get excited when I see editorial cartoons. An astute cartoon is an oasis in a wit-starved world.

To accompany our Editorial Cartoons Curriculum Guide, here are six reasons why editorial cartoons are an enduring curriculum essential.

Why do you think editorial cartoons are an essential teaching tool?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter #ProQuest or in the comments below.

ProQuest editors are continually adding editorial cartoons to ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher. Don’t have it? Request a trial.

Let’s Debate…Federal Funding of the Arts

Federal funding of the arts–which encompasses visual art, performing arts, cultural events and programming, public television, public radio, and more–has been a politically debated issue for decades. Want to learn more about both sides? Check out the infographic below. Then explore more by visiting SIRS Researcher‘s new Leading Issue Public Funding of the Arts.

 

SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Just in Time for Back-to-School: 9 New Leading Issues from SIRS Issues Researcher

The pro-con format of our Leading Issues helps students pick a topic and understand its context with overviews, essential questions, statistics, global perspectives, viewpoints, supporting arguments, and critical thinking prompts. The editors at ProQuest were busy this summer selecting articles and graphics, creating and updating timelines, and adding new Leading Issues to ensure your students and patrons have the most up-to-date and relevant content on current controversial issues.

Introduce your student researchers to these engaging new Leading Issues:

The Arts: New main category (Sub-issues: Art and Cultural Repatriation, Arts Censorship, Banned Books, Music Lyrics, Popular Culture, Public Funding of the Arts, Violence in Mass Media)

Abortion Funding: Are U.S. policies like the Mexico City Policy, which restrict federal funding to global health organizations that provide abortions or abortion information, a good idea?

Driverless Vehicles: Do the benefits of driverless vehicles outweigh the risks?

Net Neutrality: Are net-neutrality rules necessary?

Prescription Drug Prices: Should the government take steps to lower prescription drug prices?

Public Funding of the Arts: Should the government allocate federal funds in support of the arts and art programs?

Sharing Economy: Should the sharing economy be regulated?

Transgender Children: Should children be allowed to transition to the gender they identify with?

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: Should the U.S. build a wall along the border with Mexico?

Driverless Vehicles Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

The following Leading Issues have also been updated, and new Essential Questions added in some cases, to reflect the current focus of the controversy:

Child Care, Digital Media, Dietary Supplements, Epidemics, Human Smuggling, Indigenous Peoples, Pipelines, Poverty, International (main issue), Privacy and the Press, Refugees, Reporters and Shield Laws, School Choice, Social Media, and Women in the Military.

 

Which Leading Issues topics are most popular with your students? Are there any topics you would like to have added? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet us with #ProQuest.

ProQuest Guided Research products equip students to think critically about current issues. Free trials are available.

Using SIRS Issues Researcher to Teach Vocabulary Development

By Jamie Gregory, Media Specialist, James F. Byrnes High School, Duncan, SC

To me, the best part about anticipating the start of a new school year is that nothing has happened yet. The entire year is a blank slate. Time is all yours. So why not plan to implement a research-based strategy this year that you know will work?

I am a long-time supporter of ProQuest databases. I was formerly an English teacher at the same high school where I am now one of two media specialists, and even before I arrived at my school back then, my media center subscribed to ProQuest resources. We are long-time believers!

My colleague Karen Hill and I have noticed that due to the implementation of technology over the past five years, students need a much different research skills set that we are not always providing them with the opportunities to learn. For example, not all databases use the same interface. Different keywords may be used to retrieve information on the same subjects. Does the database return PDF files of full-text articles? Abstracts? Is the keyword search more useful than the subject search? How do I save the article I want to use?

Vocabulary As a Research Skill

In my opinion, however, one of the most basic and important research skills is vocabulary. What are the words I should use to describe the information I want to find? Without a complex and prolific vocabulary, students won’t even be aware of the information they can’t find. It’s a librarian’s dream to teach these skills, to be sure, but for teachers, it often seems even more overwhelming on top of demands to teach content area information.

However, we as media specialists are continually striving to share ideas with teachers about how to embed information literacy skills into any content area.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

Use of a Keyword Log 

In search of ideas, this past February, I read “Doubling Up: authentic vocabulary development through the inquiry process” by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci published in the February 2017 issue of Teacher Librarian. Maniotes and Cellucci are two researchers involved in the development of the Guided Inquiry Design model, based on research conducted by Carol Kuhlthau. When I saw this article and read the first paragraph, one word came to mind: genius! I knew I wanted to implement the keyword log introduced in the article because it would be a useful step forward in encouraging students to develop and refine vocabulary skills necessary to the research process.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

Students use the keyword log as a method of self-reflection by recording each information search. Students record their progress when they discover new and different search terms; by recording the results of each search, they will learn which databases and which search terms provided them with the best information they needed. The process of using the keyword log begins with students using databases to find information.

We primarily use the SIRS Issues Researcher database with students. When first introducing students to SIRS, we show them how the issues marked with an asterisk indicate that it is a main category that will contain a list of related issues with essential questions, which helps with topic selection.

Military Ethics Main Category in SIRS Issues Researcher

We also show students that when they click on an essential question to view the topic page, they can also view additional critical thinking questions to help guide their topic selection.

Critical Thinking & Analysis Questions in SIRS Issues Researcher

Once students have conducted an information search, we show them the related search terms feature. It’s super easy to search related subject terms for vocabulary development, especially for students who don’t know too much about their topic. The subject terms are listed at the end of each article, which students can click on.

Subjects in Results List in SIRS Issues Researcher

The image below is a sample of some searches I performed during whole-class instruction after introducing the keyword log. It’s not perfect and it’s pretty simple, but that’s the scaffolding I needed to provide with this particular group of students.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

The students I worked with to use the keyword log when beginning their research all responded that it was a useful tool. They responded in a survey at the end of the unit that they learned search terms they previously didn’t know, using the keyword log helped get “all of the junky results out of the way,” it showed them what not to do when searching in the future, and it helped them keep track of their research.

Try Something New This Year

So this year, try something new that has been proven to work. The SIRS Issues Researcher database is an essential tool in implementing the keyword log because of its incredibly user-friendly interface, and the features it offers helps educators develop information literacy skills that students will be able to apply across all disciplines.

 

Jamie Gregory taught high school English and French for 8 years before completing the MLIS degree from the University of South Carolina. She is beginning her 5th year working as a high school media specialist at James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, SC.

Let’s Debate…Education Reform

Education reform, particularly federal spending on public education, has been a political hot-button issue since the 1960s. Questions that were asked then are the same that are debated now: Do the funds provided by the Department of Education improve students’ learning environments and opportunities, or do they simply allow states to decrease money allocated to education? Does federal funding advance education in public schools, or does it stifle public schools with regulations and oversight?

Check out Let’s Debate…Education Reform below for an overview of the topic. Also visit the SKS Spotlight of the Month, which explores the 2017-2018 National High School Debate Topic: The United States federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.

 

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