As this year’s edition of Media Literacy Week draws to a close, it’s worth remembering that thinking critically about the information we consume is a year-round necessity that extends beyond a few days each October.As I noted in my last blog post, it’s up to educators — and by that I mean parents as well as teachers and school librarians — to ensure that students develop the skills to investigate the messages they read, watch, and hear.
The European Commission (which put together a set of guidelines for educators on tackling disinformation and teaching digital literacy) says, “The information that comes into your classrooms and into the homes of your students stems from a large variety of authors and outlets, each with their respective points of view and in some cases, agendas.”
Acknowledging that most young people get the vast majority of their information about the world through online sources, the European Commission’s guidelines note that “The changing media and information landscape has created the need for students to better access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, create and disseminate information safely and responsibly using digital technologies.”
The firmest foundation upon which to build media-literacy skills is literacy itself. Literacy matters because the more you read, and the better you are at it, the more able you are to do so critically.
As Internet Matters points out, “Reading for pleasure (i.e. children choosing books to read instead of reading for school) is important for improving literacy in young people. It has many benefits, including general reading and writing ability as well as a larger vocabulary, better decision-making insights and better comprehension of what they read in other spaces like social media.”
A recent report from the UK’s National Literacy Trust (UK) lends more weight to this notion. In a survey of 7,494 young people aged 11 to 16, 71% of those with high literacy engagement said that they take time to think about whether news stories are true or not. In contrast, 40.5% of young people with low literacy engagement reported doing this.
Many more young people with high literacy engagement said that they take time to think about whether news stories are true or not. 7 in 10 (71.0%) of this group said they did this compared with 2 in 5 (40.5%) of young people with low literacy engagement (a difference of almost 30 percentage points [pp]).
According to the report, “more of those with high literacy engagement said they know how to check if the information they find online is true (77.7% vs. 60.0%) and how to check who has written something online and decide whether they can trust them (71.6% vs. 51.3%).”
A Media Literacy Toolkit
While simply having a high level of literacy is a great start, students also benefit from instruction in specific skills needed to navigate today’s media landscape.
To help educators get started, PressReader has developed a Media Literacy Toolkit for use in the classroom, at the school library, or at home. We hope you will find it useful in encouraging students to take a critical look at the messages they read, see and hear on a daily basis. The Toolkit includes a number of interactive activities, including:
- Evaluating news: In this activity, students look at newspaper coverage of a recent front-page event and evaluate the information it provides. By exercising analysis and critical thinking skills, they improve their media literacy and gain an understanding of the vital role the press plays in informing the public.
- Exploring author bias: It’s important to consume media with an awareness of the author’s own unique perspective and biases. Most journalists try to keep their personal beliefs out of their stories, but sometimes, they sneak in anyways. In this activity, students will dig deep into one writer’s background to see if any bias has made its way into their story.
- How to spot fake news: Fake news is no longer a matter of the occasional hoax. There is growing evidence that fake news has the power to shape public opinion and even sway elections. As more people get their news online, it is increasingly vital that students know how to verify sources and spot fake news or images, which often appear indistinguishable from reliable sources. In this activity, students will look for clues in a story, video or photo that can help them determine whether or not it’s real.
Building a more democratic society
At the individual level, students who are aware, informed and armed with critical reading skills are better equipped to thrive in our media-saturated world. And that is ultimately beneficial to building a more just and democratic society.
As Adam Symson President and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company (one of the presenters of National News Literacy Week) says, “In today’s complex information and media ecosystem, the proliferation of rumors, lies and the deliberate spread of misinformation has devastating consequences for our democracy. It is our urgent responsibility to equip ourselves and younger generations with the tools necessary to discern truth from misinformation.”
By teaching young people the essential skills of media literacy, you are in reality making the world a better place.