Product Review of AllSides for Schools
AllSides for Schools is a website with classrooms resources to support the discussion of complex problems, contentious issues, and current events in middle and high school classrooms. AllSides provides educators with lessons, activities, and even related sites, all aimed at helping learners recognize bias (including their own), analyze news and media, and disagree with others while also seeking common ground. At the time of this review, there are close to two dozen lessons covering issues like gun control or broad concepts like free speech. Throughout these lessons, there’s a clear belief in the need for people to speak and listen each other, and that there’s no quick fix to making that happen.
Two starting points and supporting resources for the lessons are the Red Blue Dictionary, that seeks to explain key terms and concepts from a variety of political points of view, and the non-school version of AllSides, which presents news stories from three political perspectives (right, left, and center). Once classrooms are appropriately prepped for civil discourse there’s the Mismatch platform, which connects learners in classrooms across the United States to participate in small breakout discussions around structured prompts. The video conferencing platform matches small groups with differing viewpoints to have structured conversations with clear guidelines. Learning/teaching materials for learners and educators are on hand to maximize the likelihood of constructive dialogue around issues that may at first seem divisive.
AllSides for Schools is versatile. One the one hand, it could be one smaller part of a unit exploring a topic like media literacy, research, or bias. Educators might pick a few of the activities or lessons to set a foundation in a classroom of self reflection and critical thinking. To this end, educators might use the bias analyzing tools or use the Relationships First lesson in conjunction with one of the topic-based lessons. On the other hand, AllSide could be a larger part of an ongoing exploration of civics and current events. Learners could work through all of the lessons and discussions, and keep up to date with current events through the Story of the Week activity. Along the way, learners would deeply examine their own positions on issues, see where they agree/disagree with others, and try to understand what factors influence those beliefs.
From there, AllSides could easily be integrated into a unit on persuasive/argument writing and speaking. As learners refine their positions on issues, they can use AllSides and other sources to do research and then discuss issues with learners outside of the classroom through the Mismatch program. Take note that while the skills learners will be learning and practicing are similar to those for debate, AllSides isn’t about winning an argument. Instead, it’s best suited to a unit on governance in which learners use the concepts, skills, and content they learn to seek solutions to problems through collaboration and compromise.
It seems like we’re increasingly confronted by complicated issues that require thoughtful, careful discussion. Being able to participate in those discussions, and work with others, from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, to design solutions to societal problems is an essential skill learners will need. That discourse, however, can seem like an impossible goal for educators who see just how polarized things have become. The great thing about AllSides for Schools is that the materials foreground the fact that meaningful change won’t happen overnight. Instead, the materials push learners to look inward first, and better understand their own perspectives. To this end, there’s a handy set of tools designed to help individuals locate where they fall on the political spectrum, detect bias in the sources of information they rely on, and, perhaps most importantly, learn how to talk to and listen to others. As they master that then they can embark on a variety of topic-based lessons, or engage with learners from other classrooms through Mismatch. All along the way, there’s a healthy focus on discussion over debate.
In the course of our review, however, we did happen upon a few bugs. There’s also some pending content, most importantly the lesson on race. Given AllSides spreads across at least three different sites or experiences, it can be a bit disorienting. It’d be good to see the user experience more streamlined in the future. And, of course, any measurement of “bias” — especially on a red to blue spectrum — is subjective, and learners should be encouraged to think critically about — and beyond — AllSides’ ratings. That said, for educators who want to explore current events, controversial issues, and social justice, AllSides for Schools can be a great springboard for meaningful, rigorous learning. It collects a set of tools you’d normally need to find and link to yourself.
Overall User Consensus About the App
The learning materials lend themselves to respectful questioning, self-examination, discussion, and engagement with peers about compelling, contentious issues.
Curriculum and Instruction
AllSides recognizes that fostering real discourse about complex issues requires building quality communication and analytical skills.
There are tips and PD materials to build classroom culture and shape discussion. Some broken links.