Though media and information literacy have been taught in various pedagogical settings in the past, the task had mostly fallen to those whose training was directly related to it, such as librarians and professors of media literacy or mass communications.
However, today, the proliferation of misinformation has forced educators in totally different fields to address news literacy themselves. Educators teaching subjects ranging from writing to history to business and everything in between often need to establish a baseline level of news literacy with their students. Students’ apparent lack of news literacy often becomes apparent when they need to turn in a writing assignment and cite sources; such an exercise reveals when students cannot identify reliable sources.
Unfortunately, the challenge of identifying reliable news sources is not limited to students. Many adults, including educators, confess that one reason they do not teach news literacy is because they are not entirely sure which news sources to trust themselves.
If you are reading this blog, you have already found your way to a great set of resources (this information blog and webinar series, and both Infobase’s and Ad Fontes Media’s other resources for news literacy). You can use the resources you have found here, and whether you use our existing materials or put together your own lessons tailored to your curriculum, you can incorporate the following strategies to continuously improve your own news literacy along with that of your students.
1.) Use Current Events and Examples
Our Ad Fontes Media news literacy educational framework is based around reading different current articles about the same political topic from across the news landscape to evaluate reliability and bias. We specifically focus on new articles, rather than using cherry-picked old examples of obvious fake news to put in a presentation. We do this for a few reasons.
First, being proficiently news literate requires 1) good reading comprehension and 2) some knowledge of political issues. Reading different current articles about the same topic improves both of these skills.
Second, the polarizing topics and misinformation of the day change quickly and are often not as easy to spot as obvious examples of fake news. Reading current events from the various different kinds of news and “news-like’ sites out there is a great way to get your students used to evaluating the kind of real content they encounter in their online lives. After all, you want them to be able to tell the difference between acceptable sources to cite and unacceptable ones—most of the time they won’t be looking at obvious fake news for their citations.
2.) Look Things Up
The nature of teaching news literacy through current events is that neither you nor your students may have all the facts about the topics you read about. The most important news literacy skill at anyone’s disposal these days is the skill of looking things up across the Internet. To get good at looking things up, you first have to get good at acknowledging when you might not have all the information. It requires admitting that you do not know something.
Many educators struggle with admitting they do not know something in front of their students, but when it comes to the news of the day, it is of utmost importance to demonstrate how desirable it is to say, “I don’t know—let’s look it up” at any opportunity you find. If you show your students how much you and they can learn simply by 1) admitting you don’t know if something is true and 2) immediately looking it up to find out, you can remove a common fear associated with teaching about a brand-new current event. You do not have to be the expert—you can learn together.
As you read news articles, if you or your students spot a line in the text and find yourselves wondering if it’s true, just pop open a new tab and search for the exact facts you are looking to verify. In some cases you will find a fact-checking article, but in most cases you will find one of two things: other reputable websites or news sites corroborating the fact (in which case you can reasonably assume it is true), or no reputable websites or news sites corroborating the fact (in which case you can reasonably assume it is false).
3.) Practice Regularly Yourself
Whether you have a lot or very little time in your actual courses to dedicate to the topic of news literacy, you can do your students a great service by becoming highly news literate yourself. Of course, it would be ideal if you could dedicate some time to instruction about news literacy itself in every course, but that may not be realistic in certain courses.
In such cases, if you can at least feel confident and proficient enough to spot unreliable news sources and track down the truth yourself, you can guide your students to do the same when such a situation arises. For example, a student may cite a link to a hyper-partisan site in a writing assignment, and you may be able to explain exactly why that site is not reliable. During a classroom discussion, a student may bring up a current event and say, “I heard that such and such happened…is that true?” With your news literacy skills, you can help that student determine whether it is or not.
Therefore, if you feel your own news literacy skills could use some sharpening, spend some of your professional development time (as you are doing now) to practice. Read current events, evaluate the content for reliability and bias, and stay up on the news of the day.
No matter what subject you teach, these days, given the confusing news landscape, your own news literacy is a foundational requirement. Without it, it is hard to lead students who are looking to you to help them find out what is true.