App review by Amy Lauren Botula, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2020
Sift - News Therapy
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Sift - News Therapy

Sifts through daily news content to offer a deep dive on hot topics

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Grades
9–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Social Studies, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Blending self-care and -reflection with news content has a unique appeal.

Cons: There's not much support for learners, beyond some images and definitions.

Bottom Line: Sift can supplement students' study of a few hot-button topics -- and open up a conversation about media balance -- but it's lacking some learner supports.

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 students. Since many young people have an intuitive grasp of smartphones -- and Sift has a great touch-based design -- students might not even need any guidance. However, teachers 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 students opportunities to gauge their understanding of the material, or reinforce and extend learning. If used as an independent enrichment activity, students could work through the various topics and check their understanding along the way. In this case, teachers should develop a more thorough final assessment that builds upon Sift's content. 

All students -- no matter their ability or grade level -- would benefit from the "check-in" part of each section. This allows students to reflect on how news consumption affects them. In small group and whole class conversations, students could share their findings and identify patterns and similarities. Teachers could follow up these discussions with a media balance lesson that has students track and reflect on their use of media.

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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 students 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.

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 students 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 students 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 students will need for each topic, and the reading is fairly high. This means some students will need a lot of extra support. It's also lacking in solid assessments and reporting on learning, so teachers will need to find ways to check in with students and assess their understanding. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Sift's slick presentation resembles an Instagram story, so it'll make instant sense to students. No matter the news topic, large text fills the screen or is balanced with images, ranging from interactive graphs to archival photos.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

There are learning checks every few screens. When done reading, students can assess their anxiety level and complete a quiz. Unfortunately, it's not meant for schools, so there's no reporting to teachers.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

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 students may need a lot of support.


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