“Are you in touch with your emotions?”  Can we create a much deeper understanding for middle schoolers on the Rules of Reliability by making sourcing and contextualizing more of a social-emotional learning experience? The C3 Framework has done an exceptional job in creating a blueprint for teachers to follow that emphasizes sourcing and contextualizing, while encouraging teachers to still develop stimulating and engaging inquiry-based lessons around content.  Although the vetting of primary sources may be quite challenging, it is crucial to helping students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be deep thinkers capable of intelligently questioning and cultivating distinct relationships between content, context , reliability and the real world.

To help my students make meaning out of complicated primary sources, I created an activity that directly links a source’s viewpoint with the innate human emotions attached to it.  Students are asked to consider how our personal experiences with the emotions (of anger, sadness, disgust, fear,  and joy) directly influence our world views? According to the C3 Framework, by the end of 8th grade, students should be able to “evaluate the credibility of a source by determining its relevance and intended use” (D.3.2.6-8). The “Four Dimensions” of the C3 Framework center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, as well as guide instruction, and promote deeper investigation. This scaffolding strategy combines the guidelines established by Domain 3: Gathering and Evaluating Evidence of the C3 Framework with essential elements of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) by showing middle school the connection between emotional story -telling and reliability.

To have students assess sources using a social-emotional lens, I had them complete a Rules of Reliability activity.  They were first asked to hypothesize “Can emotions ever determine the Reliability of a source?” As discussed in my previous post, what makes their primary case analysis hypothetical is what they believe to be true (but have no evidence as of yet to back it up). Their hypothesis is followed up by a series of tasks that ask students to “get in touch with their emotions.”

We create a sense of purpose by asking students to consider  “What does it means to be reliable?” Teachers then invite students to create a working definition and transition to a further spirit of inquiry by providing real-world examples, ( like several students playing “telephone” with information or an angry journalist reporting on a story, etc. ) and ask them to develop “test criteria”  for which account(s) are the most reliable.

Students then take notes on a series of blind audio stimuli associated with various emotions to establish a hypothetical connection between how something can make us feel and our innate response to it. Students listen  and take notes on a series of sound stimuli, including JOY, ANGER, FEAR, and DISGUST in order to match the sound with a corresponding emotional response.

The fun and creative aspects of this approach help encourage full engagement for all students,  in particular for ESL and students with special needs, who otherwise might struggle with such difficult concepts. This SEL relationship creates a connection on how emotions can influence the reliability of sources. SEL lessons provide valuable opportunities for teachers to reinforce to students the importance of seeking information from multiple viewpoints in order to piece together the best version of the truth.

The final step was to put their newly acquired “Rules of Reliability” skills to the test.  Students were asked to decide the reliability of a series of sources on Native Americans. Students approached each document thinking like a historian using the skills modeled by their Social Studies Reference Table for Middle Schoolers , discussed in a previous post. Students were better able discuss and decipher the biases associated with the 1830’s white settler’s painting from American Westward Expansion by simply determining if there was an emotional component associated with the picture. Another example, was an excerpt from the California Commissioner of Indian Affairs  “ Long Hair”  Treaty, where students were easily able to not only identify the author’s bias but also his purpose for the treaty and the extent to which his position on Native Americans was even reliable.

In the days that followed, we held classroom debates on real world compelling topics  ranging from “Is the National Anthem good for America?”  (National Anthem Controversy) to “Are Americans abusing their First Amendment Rights? ( 8 yrs. Old’s Take A Knee during the National Anthem)”, utilizing varied sources from current, real world sources and media.  The conversations that followed were not only powerful, but students more confidently participated in debating the moral and ethical stance of their viewpoints. They were also able to see, identify and appreciate alternate perspectives within the sources and with their classmates.

Helping students gain valuable social emotional inquiry skills will help to strengthen their contextual understanding deepening their connections to the real world. Acquiring the ability to be an “enquiring mind” in the 21st century Age of Information is an important life skill to better prepare students to not only be college and career ready, but to groom them to be more civically responsible and morally conscientious.