Regardless of the subject area, if schools are institutions for educating about democracy, then they are institutions for educating about citizenship. Teaching students about the uses and abuses of the media is an essential element of good citizenship

By Leanne Miller

John Myers is an exemplary teacher. He has taught in Ontario and B.C. at the elementary, secondary and university levels. Myers started his career teaching History and Social Sciences in Toronto. Early on, he was involved in curriculum writing, focusing initially on multiculturalism.

Since 1994, Myers has taught at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT) in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department. He’s also done extended team-teaching at a nearby high school and served as an evaluator for an innovative teacher education program in New Zealand. In addition to his full-time pre-service teaching and supervisory work, he is also a reviewer for a number of senior course profiles connected to Ontario’s new curriculum.

Myers was asked about the pre-service candidates he encounters at OISE/UT. “On average, they are less green than pre-service teachers were 20 years ago, thanks to broadened admission requirements. This means that they are better prepared for the classroom. At the same time, the pre-service instructors are also better. Clearly, the students of Ontario are the beneficiaries of these positive changes. “If you want to have a long, productive life, you must be an optimist,” he says, commenting on the changes he sees in schools these days. “Overall, more teachers are trying new assessment and evaluation strategies. In particular, I’m pleased to see performance-based assessments and a general awareness of the need to recognize learning styles and multiple intelligences in students.”

S C H O O L      F O R      D E M O C R A C Y

“There’s lots of professional wisdom out there,” he commented, “the trick is to find the good stuff and spread it.” His philosophy of education is perhaps best summed up by his paraphrase of Churchill: “However imperfect the public education system is, it’s better than any alternative I know. It truly is the school for democracy.”

Myers didn’t ignore the negatives in schools. “Sure, there are many disillusioned teachers out there, but none of them are complaining about the kids. They enjoy the kids and embrace their uniqueness. It was the kids who brought many of them into the profession and in many cases, it’s the kids who are keeping them there today.” With teachers facing ever-increasing workloads, Myers suggests that “we take a deep breath and focus on what’s important, regardless of the pressures. Since we can’t do it all, we should pick what’s important and do these things well. ... Besides, we haven’t yet seen the golden age of education, so let’s keep striving to do better.”

How can teachers do this? Myers offers the EIF Strategy, adapted from the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding By Design, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. EIF stands for questions or topics that teachers must ask themselves or define to frame their lessons, units and courses of study.

E stands for those enduring understandings beyond the classroom and the school . What are the most important, enduring skills and knowledge that students must get from my lesson, my unit and my course?

I stands for important to know and do . What cross-curricular skills and major concepts must students get from my lesson, my unit and my course?

F stands for worth being familiar with . What knowledge and skills serve as building blocks to help my students attain those important and enduring understandings?

This example of EIF questions and topics for a Grade 10 history unit on World War I is based on a discussion Myers recently had with a group of secondary school history teachers.

E How did WWI shape Canada as a nation? What should we think about on Remembrance Day?

I How do we recognize propaganda when we see it? Do governments become more or less democratic during wars? Why?

F What are the important features of trench warfare? Why was Billy Bishop a famous war hero? Myers observed: “If teachers can focus their work on identifying and teaching the key areas, then our students will benefit and we’ll all be more effective. At the same time, if teachers can plan their lessons using this format, they’ll give themselves their major test and exam questions and naturally, this will save them valuable time later.”

He went on to say that “when groups of teachers within a department collaboratively engage in such an exercise, they are far more likely to develop consistency. Such discussions will also clarify teaching and testing issues and improve collegiality, an important element of an effective school that many teachers can’t find the time for any more.”

T h e      L e s s o n      P l a n

Background and Context

This lesson is part of a unit on analyzing public issues as reported and interpreted by the media. Target Day is a skills-based current affairs lesson using the Internet. Although the content discussed is from the new Civics course, the approach and skills are applicable to a variety of subject areas.

Because this half-credit Civics course is one that is being taught by many teachers who are not subject specialists, Myers chose a lesson plan that would be useful to a variety of teachers.

Overall Expectations of the Unit and Lesson
Students will be able to:
    • demonstrate an ability to research issues and questions of civic importance
    • think critically and creatively about these issues and questions.
Specific Expectations of the Unit and Lesson Students will be able to:
    • demonstrate an ability to formulate questions
    • locate information from different types of sources (for example, texts, special references, news media, maps, community resources, the Internet)
    • identify main ideas, supporting evidence, points of view and biases in these materials
    • demonstrate an ability to organize information effectively (for example, using summaries, notes, timelines, visual organizers, maps or comparison organizers).

Evidence of Understanding
Teachers will know that students know what is being taught and are meeting the expectations when they demonstrate that they can:
    • generate criteria for comparing newspaper coverage of stories on a given day
    • see similarities and differences in the selection of facts used for reporting on a news story.
Essential Question
The overarching essential question that will focus this lesson is: “Can you always believe what you read in the papers?” As a result of this lesson, students will recognize the selective nature of newspaper reporting. Teaching and Learning Activities
Set a Target Day. It could be a day at random or one around a specific event such as an election. This online version of Target day assumes that students have access to computers and know how to search for specific information on the web. It assumes that the local paper is from outside Toronto. Toronto-area teachers should substitute papers such as the Ottawa Citizen, Hamilton Spectator, Windsor Star, Kingston Whig-Standard, London Free Press, etc. The online version of this lesson plan can be completed in one 75-minute class, including the research.

1. The teacher organizes the class into equal-sized groups of three or four.
2. Students draw randomly for online versions of one of the following papers. These are examples of Canadian online newspapers whose web sites are substantial; there are many other examples:
    • Vancouver Sun
    • Calgary Sun
    • Regina Leader-Post
    • Winnipeg Free Press
    • Toronto Star
    • Montreal Gazette
    • Halifax Chronicle-Herald
    • St. John’s Telegram
3. Students locate the home page of their online paper and skim it.

4. Students answer questions about their paper’s home page such as the following:
    • what are the main stories featured?
    • how many of these relate to local, provincial, national or international events?
    • how many of these stories relate to political events? How many relate to non-political events?
5. As a whole class, students generate one set of categories for comparing the newspapers before discussing their answers for #4.

6. Back in their groups, on a scale of 1 (totally different) to 10 (identical), students predict the degree of comparison among the papers across the country. Students must justify or explain their predictions. Finally, they put their answers for #4 either on chart paper or on the chalkboard so that the whole class can compare newspapers based on the contents of the online home page editions.

7. Student groups compare and contrast their findings for all of the papers using the catgories they identified. These should include:
    • similarities
    • differences
    • regional or local bias of the stories.
8. Students judge the degree of comparison among papers on the 1-10 scale, compare this to their original predictions, explain why their predictions were correct or incorrect and account for any differences.

Assessment Tools
Teacher observation and feedback on:
    • group-generated criteria for comparing papers
    • group summaries (on charts or the chalkboard)
    • quality of student analysis and reasoning.
Extensions / Follow-Up
Teachers may wish to have students extend this task by exploring the online paper, clicking on specific political stories and reading them. When groups using different papers find common stories, they should extend their comparisons by answering the following questions:
    • which facts are used in each paper to express its point of view?
    • do these papers use the same facts or have they selected different ones?
    • how can we explain the differences?
Modifications (Non-Internet Version)
Teachers should have students write a letter to other cities in Ontario, Canada or North America to obtain hard copies of their daily newspapers published on a specific date. While classes have to wait until their papers arrive, hard copy editions can be used for many purposes over many classes and can provide more opportunities for substantive work. One advantage to using hard copies is that some newspapers have poorly developed web sites, although this is changing all the time.

Using various forms of print and other media as resources throughout this course can also provide evidence that students are meeting other key Civics course expectations including these:

O V E R A L L      E X P E C T A T I O N S

Students will be able to:
    • demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of governing communities or societies in which diverse value systems, multiple perspectives and differing civic purposes coexist.

S P E C I F I C      E X P E C T A T I O N S

Students will be able to:
    • compare the varied beliefs, values and points of view of Canadian citizens on issues of public interest (for example, privacy, reducing the voting age, freedom of information, compulsory military service, Native self-government, Québec sovereignty)
    • explain how different groups (for example, special interest groups, ethnocultural groups) define their citizenship and identify the beliefs and values reflected in these definitions
    • analyze a current public issue that involves conflicting beliefs and values, describing and evaluating the conflicting positions
    • describe how their own and others’ beliefs and values can be connected to a sense of civic purpose and preferred types of participation.
O T H E R      S U B J E C T      A R E A      A P P L I C A T I O N S

The approach and skills of this lesson are applicable to a variety of subject areas from Grades 6 through 12. Some of these include:
    • a Grade 7 science class where students explore articles or book chapters to identify the factors that must be considered in making informed decisions about land use and explain their importance (for example, environmental impact of various forms of forest management)
    • a high school English class where students explore reviews on famous literature (for example, Indian vs. Iranian vs. Canadian views on the roles and portrayal of women in literature, or reviews and reactions to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale)
    • a senior history class where students explore various interpretations of an event, such as causes or outcomes of wars (for example, American vs. Canadian views on the War of 1812 or Russian vs. English views on the events and outcomes of the world wars).
If you have any questions or comments on this lesson plan, or on anything discussed in this article, you are welcome to e-mail John Myers at . He also highly recommends that you check out, the Canadian Media Awareness network.

Leanne Miller has been an English, History and Social Science teacher in Peel secondary schools and taught pre-service students at OISE/UT. She continues to teach part-time at Humber College. She would like to hear from College members about other exemplary teachers who might have a lesson plan to share. She can be reached at

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