A critical component of media literacy is the ability to consume and share information respectfully and responsibly. This includes communicating and collaborating online and using social media to exchange information. As the Director of Technology and Innovation at my school, it is becoming more and more challenging to inspire our students to develop into digital leaders—especially when the President of the United States frequently speaks and tweets hurtful and disrespectful messages.
Due to both of these circumstances, recent studies have shown that a majority of students lack the capacity to distinguish between real and fake news. For example, in a recent study at Stanford's Graduate School of Education, researchers spent more than a year evaluating how well middle school, high school and college students across the country can evaluate online sources of information . An article published by NPR states that the researchers were "shocked" by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information . In fact, the study found that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that 'sponsored content' was a real news story . Therefore, we need to be doing more to educate our students in media literacy.
Fortunately, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recently updated their standards for students in 2017. One of ISTE's standards is for students to become "Knowledge Constructors" by being able to critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts, and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others . In other words, students today need to be able to find, filter, evaluate, annotate, and choose  credible media sources to become informed citizens in a constantly evolving global society. To help students become "Knowledge Constructors" I have curated some helpful resources and strategies that can be used to teach digital leadership.
How to become a "Knowledge Constructor"
In her book, Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership, Jennifer Casa-Todd offers a template called "SOURCE" that she uses to help her colleagues and students more easily identify fake websites . I believe that the "SOURCE" acronym is a great starting point for asking guiding questions when "fact-checking."
S - How is the source Sponsored?
O - Does it contain Opinions or Facts?
U - What is the Underlying Bias? What assumptions are being made?
R - How Reputable is the source and/or organization?
C - How Current is the source?
E - Is the author a known Expert? (i.e., credentials can be verified by various sources)?
Another strategy that should be considered when "fact-checking" is to read sources both vertically and laterally . Reading vertically allows one to trace the original source in a post, and reading laterally allows one to compare and contrast the information with other sources to evaluate credibility . Moreover, Kamenetz suggests that if you feel a strong emotion when reading a source such as happiness, anger, pride, or vindication, you should stop reading . Posts that elicit these types of emotions should signal a red flag to the reader because they are "often created by active agents of deception" .
In addition to using these strategies, it can also be helpful to use "fact-checking" websites to determine what is true and what is false. Here are some resources that students can use to confirm or debunk what they read in the media.
This is great, but what about younger students?
When working with younger students, it can be helpful to begin the research process by providing them with trusted resources. This allows them to apply their "fact-checking" lens by asking questions to verify that the information is credible . What's more, some of these trusted resources that are designed for kids, such as Newsela and TweenTribune, can differentiate the content by accommodating to various reading levels. For more resources, be sure to check out the full list of Common Sense Media's Best News Sources for Kids.
Taking civic action
After students have identified credible sources in their research, we can encourage them to go a step further and take civic action on topics that are relevant and meaningful to them. Jennifer Casa-Todd offers these critical literacy questions to prompt action in response to media sources to help promote digital leadership .
- How can I find out about other perspectives on this topic?
- How have my attitudes changed? Why?
- What action might I need to take to address a concern?
- How can I use literacy to support those who are treated unfairly?
- How can I use literacy to make a difference in the world?
For your consideration
I hope that the information in this post offers some tools and strategies to empower our students to construct their own knowledge in the age of fake news. If you are looking for lesson plans that focus on information literacy, both Common Sense Media and Tolerance.org offer excellent activities for students in grades K-12.
What are some strategies that you use in your classroom? What resources do you provide for your students? What else can we do as educators to help our students become independent, lifelong learners and digital leaders?
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- Identifying credible content online, with help from the Trust Project. Google. Published Nov 16, 2017. Retrieved from: https://blog.google/topics/journalism-news/sorting-through-information-help-trust-project/.
- Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. NPR. Published November 23, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real
- ISTE Standards for Students. 2018 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.
- Casa-Todd, Jennifer. Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership. Dave Burgess Consulting, 2017.
- One Gut Check and Four Steps Students Can Apply to Fact-Check Information. KQED News. Anya Kamenetz. October 31, 2017. Retrieved from: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2017/10/31/one-gut-check-and-four-steps-students-can-apply-to-fact-check-information/.
- Turning Your Students Into Web Detectives. Edutopia. Jeff Knutson. Published October 12, 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/article/turning-your-students-web-detectives
- Best News Sources for Kids. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/best-news-sources-for-kids