Cardenas & Columbus: An Objective Exploration?

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SWBAT determine the credibility of authors of both digital media and print sources by providing evidence from the source which supports or inhibits credibility.

Big Idea

In the information age, credibility is of dire importance. But is this a new necessity? Columbus might hope you don’t have a fact-checker!


So far this unit, students have gotten a personalized look at how they best learn in order to help them build study strategies and to help me provide instruction that best fits their styles.  We have also built a framework of historical context for literature of the early Americans and examined two Native American origin myths.  Students will be arriving to this class period with completed Venn Diagrams which compare and contrast these two origin myths, "Earth on Turtle's Back" and "When Grizzles Walked Upright."  Venn Diagrams should not include differences in actual plots of the story, but they need to include other items, including but not limited to, the audience, theme, items created, and figurative language found in each work.  



15 minutes

To begin the hour, we will go over the student homework from last class period.  Students are usually fairly eager to talk about "When Grizzlies Walked Upright," because the Sky Spirit's daughter "marries" a bear, which kids obviously find odd.  I think this makes a great time to talk about how every culture has foundational beliefs which vary, but no culture's beliefs are more right or wrong than another culture's beliefs.  Framing cultural differences as valuable and unique rather than something to be judged will be key to creating the kind of diverse discussion environment called for in the Common Core.  Students must have the skills to discuss information with like-minded people as well as people who hold opposing views, so emphasizing that behavior here will provide a great example to use in my later instruction of communication skills.

I will select three students to go up to the whiteboard to collect student ideas for the "whole-class" Venn Diagram.  One student will write suggestions exclusive to the "Earth on Turtle's Back" story, one will write suggestions both stories had in common, and one will write suggestions exclusive to "When Grizzlies Walked Upright."  I will instruct my writers to go around the room to get one item (for any column) from every student to add to the Venn Diagram.  If students say their suggestion is already up there, they will have to come up with a new suggestion.  Plot elements cannot be included on this diagram, however!  

While suggestions are being given, the whole class will be involved agreeing with the placement of the item or suggesting where it might be better-placed.  For example, if a student says "both origin myths that explained how the world was created" to put in the "Both" column, another student might stop them to suggest that only in "Earth on Turtle's Back" was the Earth created.  In "When Grizzlies Walked Upright," the Native American race of people was created.  The same student may also decide that while "both origin myths explain how the world was created" isn't a correct entry for "Both," simply changing it to "both origin myths explain how physical features of the Earth were created" would make it correct.  If any suggestions aren't placed on the board at the end of this activity that I feel are important, I will ask about them until students add them.  Additionally, if suggestions make it only to the board that aren't correct, I will ask for more clarification as they are being written and suggested to ensure a complete, correct comparison will be produced.  

Before moving on to the next activity, I will briefly discuss how the origin myth's primary audience, children, impacts it's meaning and purpose by incorporating lessons into the story.  I will ask students what lessons they would learn about life if they were a young Onondaga child listening to "Earth on Turtle's Back."  (Students will suggest common themes of teamwork and persistence.)  I will then ask what young Modoc children might learn from listening to "When Grizzlies Walked Upright."  (Students will suggest that you should always listen to your parents, respect nature, and be truthful to the Sky Spirit...or risk smiting!)  We will then discuss places in literature where we still see these themes taught to children.  I ask student to suggest several children's books and Disney movies which teach these lessons, and they will quickly be able to point out examples.  I always relate these origin myths to literature and film that my students remember in order to build a stronger connection with the text and to better understand what purpose this literature held for culture at that time.  Some of the text from early American literature seem very, very distant from students, however, with a closer inspection, students will accept that the messages are archetypal and carried through cultures and generations to right here in our 2013 classroom.  

Building Knowledge

30 minutes

To transition into our next lesson segment, I will ask students to refresh my memory on what the opposite of "figurative" language is.  Additionally, I will write the words "subjective" and "objective" on the whiteboard to collect their knowledge about these two words before moving forward.  As students define these words for me, I will write down their definitions.  Then, I will have two students check the definition of both "subjective" and "objective" in the dictionary to ensure that we have correctly defined the words.  Finally, I will ask students to brainstorm a list of texts that would be written subjectively or objectively.  Typically students point to fiction, editorials, political speeches, many magazine articles, commercial websites, and poetry as examples of subjective texts.  Sometimes they will argue that poetry is even more subjective than other types of text, and while I usually hear out the argument between students, I remind them that for our purposes today, "subjective" is not a word that will be scaled.  Commonly named objective texts include textbooks, newspapers, scholarly journals, and business reports. We will share those suggestions to get a more complete understanding of the difference between these words, and then we will move on to applying their new understanding of "subjective" and "objective" to early explorer literature.  

Before beginning to read our explorer literature, I will ask students to predict what kinds of things explorers will be writing about, if they were likely to be using figurative language, and if they would be writing predominantly subjective or objective text.  The idea will be to paint a contrast between the figurative, subjective stories of the Native Americans with more objective, detailed, and "drier" material written by the explorers.  As readers, we would expect an objective report to be full of concrete language which gave the reader an image or sensory experience with the material.  However, I want to ensure that students recognize that texts written more objectively rely more heavily on the author's credibility than other literary works since they are reported more as fact and accepted more easily by audience as such.  To emphasize this point and give students an example in a different media, I will ask students to tell me how they might determine author or creator credibility in a YouTube how-to video.  (Students will probably list camera work, other posted video accuracy, language, appearance, location, comments, views, and likes/dislikes as indicators of credibility.)  I will give students time to watch two different YouTube clips about jumping a car battery (something I have actually had to YouTube for directions!).  They will watch the first clip, "Using Jumper Cables, the Right Way," first, which noting what gave the video credibility and what credibility "red flags" they saw.  The Common Core requires students to be able to determine the credibility of various types of media, so activities like these provide a comfortable space for students to practice a skill before applying it to a harder text while satisfying a requirement of the Common Core!  After reviewing the perceived credibility of the first clip, they will repeat the activity while watching "How to Jump Start a Car - Jump Starting a Car Battery."   Once both clips are reviewed, I will ask students to come to a final answer on which video they would find credible enough to trust while attempting to jump their car battery (and knowing the risk for electrical shock!).  

As students should now be primed and ready to think about subjective vs. objective language and evaluating author's credibility, we will embark on reading our first explorer's tale, a short excerpt from "Boulders Taller than the Tower of Seville" by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas.  We will read this in "popcorn" fashion (where readers read at least a sentence and no more than a page before calling on another student randomly), pausing after each paragraph to identify examples of objective language and to identify any sections of text (that I call "credibility red flags")  which make the reader doubt the author's credibility.  After completing the short passage, students will point out the purpose and audience for this text and evaluate the message as a whole to see if they would find the account credible as if they were Cardenas's employers.  Students will likely find this credible, because it contains objective language, makes time and location clear, uses many details to describe the imagery, and identifies other people on the trip and their roles.


30 minutes

In order to practice evaluating author's credibility, we will finish our class period by reading an excerpt from Christopher Columbus's "Journal of the Voyage to America."  Before students begin this independent reading assignment, I will first ask them to identify some credibility "red flags" that they may already have with Columbus as a narrator.  Students will likely point out that

  • Columbus can't be all that accurate in his observations, since he didn't even know where he was at the time.
  • Columbus was writing to the King & Queen asking for more money, so it would be difficult for his report to be unbiased if he wanted to keep working.  (If students say this, I will capitalize on the opportunity to have them brainstorm how exactly he might change his account to make it sound better to his employers.  Students will list that he may sound more heroic, brave, successful, productive, or assertive than he probably was.)
  • Columbus and early explorers exploited Native Americans and their settlements, which we know from history.  It's hard to trust him entirely as a narrator for this reason.

Once these "preliminary" issues have been discussed, students will read the excerpt from the "Journal of the Voyage to America," noting all the places where they "just don't buy" what Columbus is saying as objective, accurate, and credible.  Any place noted as a "red flag" must have evidence associated with it from elsewhere in the text that directly contradicts whatever Columbus is claiming.  Students will also list any other credibility issues they have with the text, like the lack of transitions and time words to clarify how long this process took. 

When students have completed their reading, they will be allowed to compare their credibility "red flags" with their group's responses in order to gain more certainty in their answers.  This sharing time will also help students connect evidence for their "red flags" that they may have been struggling to find on their own. 

After students complete their "red flag" listings and share them with their groups, we will discuss the issues as a whole-class.  My role as a teacher at this point will be to act as a prompter to get students to explain both the "red flag" and the contradictory evidence that was outlined in the text.  If students only offer logical issues with his account based on history, that will not fulfill the Common Core's requirement that students are able to provide thorough textual evidence to support a point.  Plus, it does not give me any information on their skill progress if they cannot explain why they felt the way they did.  For suggestions where credibility is more damaged by what Columbus did not do rather than what he did do (like in the case of neglecting to write clear transitions to better organize and account for his time), I will ask students what he could have done better to earn more credibility.  

After students complete discussion on the Columbus text, I will ask them a few extended thinking questions to prompt discussion and differing viewpoints:

  • Do you think the King & Queen would have believed Columbus's account?  Why or why not?
  • If they didn't consider Columbus's story of their interaction with the Native Americans credible, do you think they would have stopped exploration to learn more about what was really going on there?  Or would they have just pretended to believe him?  Explain.
  • Can subjective language ever be found in objective text?  Explain & provide examples to illustrate your answer.



10 minutes

To close our day, I will introduce a writing project which will take two periods to complete.  It is an observational report with two sections: an objective observation and an analysis section which makes inferences about the subjects of the observation which are supported by the observation itself.  I knew I wanted students to practice inferences as well as objective and subjective language, but I was struggling to come up with a way to wrap all of those things together.  An observation seemed like the most natural assignment to work all of these skills into, so one day when I was mulling over what they could possibly observe, my favorite scientist, Jane Goodall, popped into my mind.  As a sidebar, I have always loved Jane Goodall.  When I was a little kid, I used to actually sit around in dark, cobweb-filled corners of our barn observing the barn-cats, hoping that one day I would capture some phenomenal observation that would change the way we look at felines like the way Goodall's observations changed our views on primates!  Clearly, that didn't happen, but it did give me a really clear understanding of the process of making observations and translating them into inferences.  Years later, I honed the same skills with my dad sitting on mall benches in the center of malls while my mom and sister shopped till they dropped.  (Now, I wickedly employ my Jane-Goodall-like skills to observe student behavior and infer activities...the power of the Goodall keeps on giving!)  I decided that my students could create an observational report just like Jane Goodall, but this time students would play the part of Jane and their families would serve as the "chimps" being observed for the day!  

In order to properly introduce this assignment, I will ask students if they are aware of who Jane Goodall is.  A handful of students will be vaguely aware of who she is, but many will not.  I will give a brief overview of who she is and what she did, and I will also share my dorky story about my own "Goodall-ing" days in the barn for students to chuckle at.  After they understand who she is, I will explain that they will be creating an observational report in the same style as Jane Goodall did with her chimps, but this time they would be acting as "Jane Goodall," and their families would be the "chimps" being observed.  Students will inevitably chuckle at this idea, so I will take advantage of that enthusiasm to now show them a clip of Jane Goodall entitled "Encountering Chimps for the First Time" where Jane discusses her experiences with observation.  After the film clip, we will discuss details of the observation more as a class.  Those details are outlined on the "Observation Log Handout" included in the resources section.  


Next Steps

5 minutes

For homework, students will have to block a time period of thirty minutes to one hour for observing their family.  If students have a special scheduling problem that they know about in advance (like a family member being out of time, conflicting work schedules, etc.), they must make alternate arrangements with me.  I will let students with these issues observe a pet, but I will not let them observe a friend group because of the probability that the friend group would have heard about the observation and would sabotage it.  Students may be concerned that their home lives are boring, but I will stress that the observation can only capture what actually happens during that period.  The less outward activity going on, the more students will have to focus on noting smaller observations of subjects like facial expressions, sighs, or other less grandiose behavior.  If they struggle with observational skills (or simply want to know more about Jane Goodall), I will also link more videos about her observations through Animal Planet.  Students will bring these completed logs back to class with them next time, and we will go over the second half of the assignment at that time.  As they exit the classroom, I will remind them to "think like Jane Goodall!" 

They will also be responsible for continuing their personal exploration and goal-setting by reading through the "SMART Goals" handout and setting two school-related goals of their own for this term.  We will look at these goals during the next class period, and students will revise and submit them for me to grade and comment on for next time.  This activity keeps students focused on their own accountability for doing well in the course, and it also asks students to read a series of directions and follow multiple steps independently.  We will briefly talk about the SMART goal-setting procedure, then students will use the remaining minutes of class to get started on outlining their goals using the provided template, attached in the resources.