Product Review of Sift – News Therapy
Sift – News Therapy is a subscription-based, iOS-only app that mixes self-reflection with a digestible exploration of today’s most contentious news topics, such as immigration, gun control and regulation, health care, education, climate change, and media literacy. Readers scroll to the topic they want to learn about and then choose to read either the historical context section or the potential solutions. Each section offers an estimate of how much time is needed to complete the section — though to fully absorb the content, most learners will likely need more. Content is tuned to readers’ attention spans; every few panels, there’s an interactive graph, questionnaire, or review. For example, in the historical emissions part of the climate change section, readers can use a slider to guess how many years most carbon emissions stay in the atmosphere. Once they make a choice, they get the correct answer with added context. Each section also has “deep dive” opportunities that offer supplemental reading and comprehension activities — for instance, an explanation of what the greenhouse effect is. The topics conclude with a “check-in” that asks readers to reflect on the topic and rate from one to five its impact on their anxiety.
Sift – News Therapy assumes a lot of prior knowledge on issues like immigration, gun control and regulation, health care, education, and climate change. As a result, think of Sift more as a supplement to a unit already in progress or as an enrichment exploration for more independent learners. Since many young people have an intuitive grasp of smartphones — and Sift has a great touch-based design — learners might not even need any guidance. However, educators may want to project the app (or have pairs work on iPads) and model not just navigation but how to engage with the material. As a supplement to a larger unit on a topic like climate change, Sift could offer learners opportunities to gauge their understanding of the material, or reinforce and extend learning. If used as an independent enrichment activity, learners could work through the various topics and check their understanding along the way. In this case, educators should develop a more thorough final assessment that builds upon Sift’s content.
All learners — no matter their ability or grade level — would benefit from the “check-in” part of each section. This allows learners to reflect on how news consumption affects them. In small group and whole class conversations, learners could share their findings and identify patterns and similarities. Teachers could follow up these discussions with a media balance lesson that has learners track and reflect on their use of media.
All five topics are well researched and feature multiple primary and secondary sources, lots of statistics, and attractive visuals. Many elements offer readers clever opportunities to interact and check their understanding, whether simply swiping through graphs or answering questions. There’s immediate feedback for each, and it’s well contextualized and/or reinforced, depending on the response. The most unique and thought-provoking feature — “check-in” self-reflections — help learners track and correlate the relationship between their media habits and their emotional and mental health and well-being. If your curriculum happens to connect to one of the topics, Sift would be a great option to have learners either kick off a unit or reinforce learning. While full access is paid (and fairly steep), the free trial could be enough time to explore one or two topics if you make efficient use of time.
The big issue is that this isn’t designed to be used in schools, so it’s more of a niche tool that’ll need to be adapted. The biggest challenge is that there’s a lot of prior knowledge learners will need for each topic, and the reading is fairly high. This means some learners will need a lot of extra support. It’s also lacking in solid assessments and reporting on learning, so educators will need to find ways to check in with learners and assess their understanding.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Sift’s slick presentation resembles an Instagram story, so it’ll make instant sense to learners. No matter the news topic, large text fills the screen or is balanced with images, ranging from interactive graphs to archival photos.
Curriculum and Instruction
There are learning checks every few screens. When done reading, learners can assess their anxiety level and complete a quiz. Unfortunately, it’s not meant for schools, so there’s no reporting to educators.
Sources accompany each selection. Many key terms are hyperlinked or defined in context. Often, visuals are used to reinforce more difficult concepts. However, reluctant and ELL learners may need a lot of support.