This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Real V. Fake News. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.
When I taught third grade, learning about our solar system was part of the curriculum. My students researched a planet to learn about its distance from the sun, length of year, etc. It wasn’t very sophisticated according to Blooms Taxonomy or Webb’s DOK, but at that time, it was the first “academic” experience my students had with research. I remember they were surprised to discover discrepancies in information. One book (yes, in the late 1990s, we used mostly books) said X, another said Y, and a third said Z. This was a good introduction for them into the importance of checking multiple resources and using trusted sources.
In my current role as Literacy Specialist, I spend most of my time with first graders who are finding it hard to remember the difference between short i and short e, so the topic of fake news hasn’t come up too much.
But the other part of my job does involve working with teachers to develop and improve curriculum. The Common Core State Standards clearly addresses the issue of valid and accurate sources:
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of
the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility
and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Which means that being alert to “fake news” has been embedded into our curriculum for a number of years, and was even before the CCSS came out with these explicit standards.
But, as Thomas Friedman points out in his column, “Online and Scared,” we have reached a “tipping point” where “a critical mass of our interactions have moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.”
Wow. That is scary. Friedman goes on to quote Alan S. Cohen calling for a “new social compact” that will help reign in the wild west feel to cyberspace. Freidman states “work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics.” Not only do students “need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read,” a “basic civic decency” has to underlie “everything they write.”
This is a huge responsibility, but really not so different from how the school where I teach has operated for many years. Still, I feel I need more information and additional resources. A Google search for “teaching the difference between real and fake news” yielded “about 58,600,000 results (0.36 seconds).”
Where to begin? Right away, I started to filter these links using what I know about the “credibility of each source.” An NPR story from November about students’ inability to tell the difference between real and fake news was the top story, and the page included links to articles from PBS and the Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times Learning Network published “Skills and Strategies | Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources” in October 2015, which underscores the fact that this problem isn’t unique to 2016.
Stony Brook University School of Journalism’s Center for News Literacy’s website has extensive resources, including articles on News Literacy, a Digital Resource Center, and an online course. Both of these resources, and more like them, are worth investigating.
The concept of fake news isn’t new. Clearly, its more pervasive and we are more aware of it. For these reasons, we have to be vigilant that our students have the tools they need to be informed consumers of news and information.
Back to those first graders. I’m not going to start incorporating information about real and fake news into my lessons. I do, however think it’s important to help children develop a sense of perspective, which is related to this issue, as early as possible. To help them with this, I am going to share Brendan Wenzel’s brilliant They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle Books, 2016). Helping them understand that everyone sees things just a little differently doesn’t mean that a person is wrong. There is a difference between making stories up (otherwise known as fiction) and looking at an issue from many points of view. In fact, being open to the experiences of others makes our own view of the world richer. There’s nothing fake about that.