Educators Share Latest News Literacy Strategies | SLJ Summit

With misinformation posing "a threat to our democracy,” panelists lobbied for news literacy to be “embedded in the American education system” and suggested lessons. 

SLJ Summit speakers Shaelynn Farnsworth and  Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt

The days when students learned how to evaluate sources and information as they sat in the library working on an assigned research project are long gone. Smartphones loaded with Instagram and TikTok now have kids processing both real and misleading news and information all the time, in real time, according to Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, director of library services at the Overlake School in Redmond, WA, and the News Literacy Project’s 2021 News Literacy Educator of the Year.

“The information is everywhere, and we don’t have any control over it. And it’s a moving target; everything shifts so quickly,” said Vikstrom-Hoyt, speaking as a panelist at School Library Journal’s free, virtual Summit on October 28 about “Tips and Tricks for Integrating News Literacy in the 6-12 Classroom.” “I’m not even teaching the same thing I was teaching two or three years ago.”

Today’s school librarians are on the cutting edge of media literacy education, having transitioned from curators and disseminators of information within the four walls of the library to explorers, questioners, and fact-checkers alongside students in the social media world. Vikstrom-Hoyt appeared with the News Literacy Project’s director of educator outreach, Shaelynn Farnsworth, to share tools librarians can integrate into their programming in both large and small ways to improve student’s critical analysis ability at a time when misinformation is everywhere.

“We believe that misinformation poses a threat to our democracy,” Farnsworth said. “The ultimate goal is to have news literacy embedded in the American education system.”

Vikstrom-Hoyt uses online quizzes and games from websites like Spot the TrollFakeout, Factitious, and the News Literacy Project to help students practice distinguishing credible sources of information from fake or biased ones. During the panel, she showed two TikTok videos by the same dermatologist highlighting skin care treatments. One was an unsponsored review and one was an ad, but you could only tell the difference if you scrolled down and examined the hashtags; the sponsored comment was labeled with an #ad hashtag. Though the videos were transparent in that they were correctly labeled, it can still be hard for viewers to realize when they are being served advertisements, Vikstrom-Hoyt said.

“How many of us are actually looking at those hashtags?” she asked.

Vikstrom-Hoyt also highlighted that emotional language and images are common mechanisms to convince people that fake information is real. She showed a Tweet from journalist Jose Antonio Vargas showing a photo of a crying child shut inside a large metal cage. The text read, “This is what happens when a government believes people are ‘illegal.’”

In this case, the Tweet is from a verified user, and the image is not doctored—it’s a real photograph of a child in a cage. However, the picture was taken at a protest against child detention policies; it’s not a photograph of an actual detained child. The only way a student could figure that out would be to do a reverse image search, which is a time-consuming step few social media users actual perform.

Vikstrom-Hoyt suggests that librarians let students see them doing lateral research in real time to check information. When they come across a powerful image or social media share, they can search Twitter to see if the account is real; Google the names of the people mentioned; and check reputable news sources that use standard journalistic reporting, fact-checking, and editing to verify information.

One problem, Vikstrom-Hoyt said, is that students can become so jaded about fake news that they no longer trust anything.

“Our kids are just so skeptical that they’re cynics now. They’re just like, ‘Oh, it’s all biased,’” she said. “And all it’s not true. So we need to really focus on [providing authoritative sources of information] to give them the tools to find what is true.”

The News Literacy Project has a free weekly newsletter for educators, The Sift, which provides timely learning resources that can be implemented directly into the classroom and library, plus other resources including a browser-based e-learning platform, Checkology.

“The key right now is to teach the flow and creation of information,” Vikstrom-Hoyt said. “Kids are skeptical of so much. And so to teach them how the good information is created and put out there will help them spot it and help them have some trust in what’s real.”

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