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Fake News Lessons at Town

posted May 27, 2017, 3:03 PM by Kim Stuart

"Fake news" became the hottest topic of 2016 and 2017. With the spotlight on fake news, librarians everywhere are proving that their work on responsible information gathering is more important than ever. Debra Wallace, head of library services at Harvard Business School, said, "Given that the Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year for 2016 was Post-Truth, the need for easy access to relevant, authoritative, and timely information, as well as the ability to sort through an equally growing volume of misinformation has never been more important. An informed citizenry depends upon libraries and librarians."

At Town School, we have always taught lessons on website evaluation, credibility, and media messages through our K-8 Digital Literacy Lessons. With the heightened awareness of media bias and fake news, our students are more attune to learning these lessons than ever before. 

Mr. Kyle, Ms. Svirsky, and I found the perfect opportunity to integrate study of
bias and fake news into the Reading Workshop curriculum earlier this year. Humanities 6 students were exploring various social justice issues in their Reading Workshop unit, which required them to seek outside resources to understand the issues brought up in their books. We anticipated that students might hit some potential informational "landmines" when researching certain controversial topics, so we designed a 3-part series of lessons. Students developed strategies for searching for reliable sources and learned how to spot fake news. Along the way we also touched on databases, the origins of fake news, clickbait, and balanced media sources like All-Sides. 

Inspired by the recent Stanford study that found that students are often incapable of judging the credibility of online sources, Mr. Mena-Landry and I used our 4th grade Digital Literacy class time to explore online advertising. Students were really excited by this topic, eager to share experiences when they were tricked by online ads. We asked them to spot examples of online advertisements, one example borrowed from materials used in the Stanford study. While students were extremely adept at recognizing pop-up ads, they were unable to discern the difference between sponsored content and articles.

The implication for the 4th grade lesson is that teachers and parents have to explicitly teach students the difference between sponsored and media content. This also raises the issue of exploring different types of "sponsored" content like clickbait and fake news, when information is fabricated in order to generate revenue. To this point, the Library and Educational Technology team conducted two workshops in March for faculty and staff that explored the issues of fake news, linked below. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and now we are seeing best practices of citation and information gathering all over the school! 

The journey on how to educate our community on fake news is not over. I am going to the National Association for Media Literacy Education conference this summer, and then the Ed Tech and Library team will go over the teacher responses from our March workshop in order to create a comprehensive digital and media literacy skills objectives and alignment across grade levels. We look forward to sharing more next school year! 

Day 1 - Teaching Kids in Post-Truth World Professional Growth

Day 2 - Teaching Kids in Post-Truth World Professional Growth