Magazine article CSLA Journal

Unpacking Perspective with Source Literacy

Magazine article CSLA Journal

Unpacking Perspective with Source Literacy

Article excerpt

This year, our teacher librarians challenged us to stop using the term "bias" and start thinking in terms of "perspective," instead. Why did they do this? Because the word bias has such a strong connotation to student readers that it changes the way we view a source. Students are tied to the notion of bias and often see it as a determining factor as we qualify sources as reliable or useful. Unfortunately, many students have mistakenly come to see bias as a warning label on a source-if we notice a strong point of view in a piece, we reject the source entirely. It is much more difficult for students to consider that every source has a perspective that contributes to our understanding of the information it presents. In research in general, and in working with news and political sources today in particular, we need to think carefully about how we identify and engage with a source's perspective and how it impacts our thinking about source quality. Source literacy can help us do just that.

My interest in source literacy began in eighth grade when our history class participated in the National History Day competition. This project was transformative for me because it was the first time I had ever done a major research project that required me to draw on various types of sources to create my own argument. The process was difficult, but incredibly exciting. I got a glimpse of the scope of information available-both online and in print-and its abundance amazed me. I wanted to access and understand every bit of it, but I knew I didn't yet have the tools to do so. Thankfully, I had wonderful teacher librarians to help me learn the source literacy skills I so desperately wanted to develop.

This year, as Castilleja School Library's research teaching assistant, I am tasked with supporting the teacher librarians' instructional needs around source literacy. The more I learn about it, the more I realize just how many concepts fall under the source literacy umbrella and how perspective ties into each of them. I have found, though, that many of these ideas can be sorted into three major categories.

Identifying the Type of Source

The first of these is the ability to identify the type of source we are looking at, be it a government press release, a blog post, or a peer-reviewed journal article. Students need to have enough practice recognizing characteristics of individual types of sources that we can classify new sources when we encounter them. In Nora Murphy's groundbreaking work on source literacy, she has started teaching her students to develop "source banks" in which they categorize their sources by type (2016). Over time, students are able to recognize features that consistently identify a particular type of source. Not only would this practice allow us to classify new sources we encounter, but we could also anticipate what types of sources might exist that would address our information need.

Once students can classify a source, we are able to consider the perspective the source provides by virtue of its format. A live Twitter feed, for example, approaches an event from a very different angle than would a piece of investigative journalism published weeks later. Both sources provide valuable information about the same issue, but the type of information each presents has different uses. Twitter captures personal responses to an event in real time, whereas the journalistic piece provides analysis after the fact. In other words, each type of source offers a different perspective on a research topic. Understanding the differences among various types of sources reminds students to consider the circumstances that shape the source's perspective.

Understanding the Publication

Next, we can begin to consider the publication in which a particular source appears. This is a crucial step that is often overlooked; when students do research online, we encounter individual articles but often do not bother to identify their origins. …

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