Voices in Education

Teaching Media Literacy: If Not You, Then Who?

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It could be argued that there has never been a greater need to teach media literacy than now. The amount of time students spend online is hard to believe -- Common Sense Media reports the average teen spends 9 hours online daily!  Think about this daily dose of media consumption...9 hours of gaming, YouTube, social media and surfing the web. This reality is concerning, but even more frightening is the thought of students engaging with this media blindly and not having the skills to responsibly interact with this daily media onslaught. Teaching students how to be media literate citizens is not something that can be taught in a “one and done” lesson. In the past, this might have sufficed, but to combat today’s climate of fake news and viral media, we need a broad approach -- an ALL in approach where we all collectively accept the responsibility to prepare our students. Are YOU doing your part to prepare your students to be media literate citizens?

Your first thought might be: “How on earth can I squeeze anything else into my already packed curriculum?” or “How is this my responsibility?”  Maybe you think you are already doing enough. When these thoughts sneak into your mind, remind yourself -- 9 hours daily!  We all need to do our part. You might not feel confident or know where to start. No need to worry, I am going to share some easy strategies that you can start using immediately.

Digital Literacy Strategies: Beyond Instant Gratification

In my experience, I see that students are very good at finding the surface level facts (source author,  when it was posted, where it is posted (domain endings). However, they struggle with diving deeper. Going beyond the surface takes time and that is often something that we as a society are just not willing to do. The current digital media landscape has groomed us to expect instant gratification. We multitask, we retweet, we share -- often without a second thought. This got me thinking that either we lack the perseverance that is required to really evaluate and dig deep, or maybe it isn’t a lack of perseverance; maybe it is lack of know how? Maybe it is both? Regardless, I believe that we as educators have a moral obligation to help students develop skills to be media literate citizens who are armed with the know-how and the perseverance to fact check. This requires opportunities for repeated practice. If we all take ownership and embed these skills into the whole curriculum, we can prepare a generation of media literate citizens.

Lateral Searches and Verify, Verify, Verify

There is a lot we can do to model responsible media literacy embedded into our daily interactions and lessons. I stress interactions because every conversation and lesson (both formal and informal) counts. To start, we must teach, model, and insist that students take the time to verify by performing lateral searches. A lateral search involves opening up a new tab and actively searching to verify information. For example, once students have located the author’s name or the organization affiliated with the source, they should do a lateral search in a new tab to dig deeper. At the same time, we can remind them to use the Rule of 3. If they are unsure if the information is true, they should do a lateral search to verify with at least 3 other sources.

Think Before Acting, Liking or Reposting

Another way we can all support is to remind students to slow down and think before acting. For example, when we interact with media,  instead of automatically “liking” or re-posting/ sharing it, we should start to condition ourselves to slow down, read it in its entirety, and think before we act. Remind students that when they repost, they are indirectly endorsing that media and it becomes a reflection of their own beliefs. If we see a story with false information on social media, it is our responsibility to flag it for investigation. We can teach students to look out for headlines that invoke anger and emotion. Remind them that professional journalists avoid using language that demonstrates bias.

Question Content Authenticity Before Accepting as Truth

Finally, we can start teaching kids to question authenticity and context. In my experience students are fairly savvy at identifying some fake or altered images, especially if they are outlandish. Where they struggle is with verifying context. For example, when there is a natural disaster and images start to go viral, sometimes these images are not from the current disaster. Instead, they are pulled and repurposed from a past event. We can tackle this fairly easily by teaching students how to do a reverse image search. A reverse image search can help students easily find out where the image originated.

The world we live in is drastically different than the way things were in the past. We need to take a community-based approach to teach media literacy. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

Sara Stewart

Sara Stewart Teacher-Librarian

Sara has been an educator for 20 years.  Throughout her career, she has been a science teacher, instructional technology specialist, and online professional development specialist. Currently she is a teacher-librarian at Traner Middle School in Reno, NV.  She is a PBS Certified Media Literacy Educator. 

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