Media Literacy May Become Part of Curriculum in California

By Kate Stoltzfus — January 17, 2017 3 min read
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This story was originally posted in the Teaching Now blog.

Teachers in California may soon have a new curriculum to teach--one to help students recognize “fake news.”

Two bills introduced last week by Democratic lawmakers call for the state to develop curriculum standards that teach students how to evaluate online news, reports the Los Angeles Times.

One bill, brought to the table by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, would require curriculum standards that include “civic online reasoning” so students can learn to tell the difference between news that informs and news that misleads. A separate bill by state Sen. Bill Dodd asks the state education board to come up with a “media literacy” curriculum framework.

“The rise of fake and misleading news is deeply concerning. Even more concerning is the lack of education provided to ensure people can distinguish what is fact and what’s not,” Dodd said in a statement.

A recent study from Stanford University revealed that many teenagers struggle to determine the credibility of what they read online; other research shows students will often take a story that turns up at the top of search results as truth before looking at its source.

But what exactly is “fake news?” Misinformation online isn’t a new phenomenon, but the term gained more attention during the presidential election. Several recent reports of fake news and research like the Stanford study showcase the need for students to develop sleuthing skills. Simply stated, the term refers to online viral stories that are factually inaccurate. But there is disagreement about what constitutes fake news, according to the LA Times. President-elect Donald Trump used the term earlier this month to describe news coverage by BuzzFeed and CNN of a report that contained unverified allegations about Trump’s potential ties to Russia.

My colleague Ben Herold recently took a closer look at the rising need for media literacy. Whether it’s identifying internet hoaxes or partisan advocacy masked as unbiased news, the responsibility is often on teachers to help students sort truth from fiction. In fact, several nonprofit media groups began a campaign last fall urging states to pass legislation that would improve digital citizenship.

So how would curricula and other resources help students learn to recognize fake news?

One resource is Newsela, an education startup providing online news articles to boost literacy. The organization partnered with the American Press Institute to help students think more critically about the articles they’re reading. When students access the site on an electronic device, they are required to ask questions about facts and bias while reading.

PBS NewsHour offers lessons plans for media literacy, citing The News Literacy Project (and its checklist of questions for detecting fake news), National Association for Media Literacy Education, Media Education Lab, and the Center for Media Literacy as helpful resources.

And Education Week opinion blogger Patrick Larkin also provides resources for spotting fake news in a recent post for Reinventing K-12 Learning. He suggests toolkits from Common Sense Media and the School Library Journal, as well as asking students to search if other news outlets are reporting the same story, research the author, and check the links and sources.

Teachers, what do you use to help students develop detective skills for navigating the world of online information?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.