Asking Questions and Lateral Reading: Keys to Media Literacy and Mastery
By René Hohls, Glen Warren, Catharine Reznicek
“Fake news,” data breaches, ransomware, cyber-bullying; the list goes on. It is enough to make you want to shut it all down and walk away. However, there is a way to empower ourselves and strengthen the confidence and ability of young people in navigating this sea of technology. It’s Media and Information Literacy.
There is an information illiteracy pandemic in education and the symptoms of this crisis are all around us.
Districts want 1:1 device programs but often do not teach and assess the age appropriate lessons of safe, ethical, and legal use of these devices with the same passion as mathematics and English language arts. The situation has become so severe that recent legislation has required that the California Department of Education must provide schools with resources to advance Media and Information Literacy education. This pandemic has resulted in part by the systematic closing of school libraries and the loss of qualified staff in favor of more “innovative” programming. However, the school library is the original creative learning space for students and schools benefit most by designing shared spaces for creativity and research to flourish together.
When students start their educational journey, they possess an innate curiosity. Kindergarten students are famous for their never-ending stream of questions. By the time these students have reached high school, their original innate curiosity and natural ability to formulate their own questions have all but vanished. In fact, many undergraduate students are terrified of asking questions because they associate questions with a lack of understanding and a sign that they are not as smart as peers. Stanford University Resilience Project addressed this issue in 2015 out of concern for their undergraduates in a video project called “Raise Your Hand!” To illustrate the need for student questions and selfguided inquiry. The most important skill of this century may be the capacity to formulate relevant questions and use evaluation skills to weigh answers.
Alan November’s lesson “Cats vs. Dogs” helps expose the disconnect between what students say they know about searches on Google and how their queries actually direct the search results they see. When students ask Google “Are cats better than dogs?” the findings returned show that cats are undeniably better than dogs. When students use the question “Are dogs better than cats?” the findings take the opposite position, indicating dogs are absolutely better than cats. Alan November illustrates that most students do not realize that Google is using the original question to provide search results most likely to match the information sought and that most students have little or no real web literacy. This is potentially dangerous for academic research purposes, civic engagement, and financial comprehension. Students must understand the impact of search operators that can improve the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of any search. They need experience using vetted and scaffolded databases.
All teachers, administrators, and students need to have a baseline level of information literacy that can be practically applied in all aspects of learning and curriculum. Based on the California Model School Library Standards, this extremely simple summary has proven to be effective.
Information Literacy for K-12 students may be recognized through demonstration of the following AEIOU skills:
Use Information, safely, ethically, and legally
To Access Information: Have students formulate their own questions before any “research” activity begins. If students cannot formulate their own questions first, their experience may be like shopping for groceries hungry and without a list.
To Evaluate Information: Have students account for the credibility, accuracy, and relevance (CAR) of their information. Do they know who the author(s) is/are? Do they know the education, experience, and potential bias of the source? Do they know when the source was published and if there are any corroborating sources of information that support it? Have the students considered alternative perspectives?
To Integrate Information: Have students include divergent thinking and interdependent connections with their own personal interests and passions.
To Originate Information: Have students check to see if their ideas and thoughts are unique. Insist that all information is connected to citations, including pictures, music, graphics, etc. If students publish their work, make sure they apply a Creative Commons license.
To Use Information safely, ethically, and legally: Make sure all students have been instructed on basic cyber safety, digital citizenship, information privacy laws, and protections.
STRATEGIC PARTNERS: LIBRARIES AND LIBRARIANS
The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy education as a framework and pedagogy for the new literacies needed for living, working, and engaging as citizens in the 21st century. Fluency in these new literacies includes the ability to efficiently manage information, act as wise consumers and responsible producers of media, and to engage actively in society. Teaching all these skills may seem like a tall order but there is a wide range of excellent resources to help.
Our libraries and librarians are a perfect place to start. They are in the business of providing the tools and the skills needed to access and evaluate information. In 2010, the California State Board of Education adopted the Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools, acknowledging the changing role of the school library from simply providing print materials and card catalog access to offering rich collections of print, media, and digital resources while also instructing students on successful strategies for conducting research in a variety of media and curated database resources. The standards are organized around four main concepts that provide a foundation for students to develop strong media and information literacy skills.
They are: 1. Students access information 2. Students evaluate information 3. Students use information 4. Students integrate information literacy skills into all areas of learning
In addition to the California Model School Library Standards, the American Association of School Libraries created a Standards Framework for Learners with four learning domains: Think, Create, Share and Grow, and six shared foundations: Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS?
According to Sam Wineburg, Stanford Professor of Education and History, “Reliable information is to civic intelligence what clean air and water are to public health.” (p. 159). A 2017 study of academic librarians by the Library Journal found fewer than one in three college freshmen are prepared to complete a college-level research project successfully. Some of the challenges for these students include overconfidence in their own ability to perform research, heavy reliance on Google searches, and difficulty vetting sources for reliability. Forty percent or less of K-8 students are even introduced to basic media and information literacy skills such as database searches, pre-search planning, recognizing types and multiple perspectives of sources, and the ability to critically evaluate information quality/usefulness. Most, if not all, of these skills are introduced in the first year of high school. However, the average age of a child with a smartphone is now 10.3 which means Google is in their pocket as early as grade six.
Author Renee Hobbs and co-writers of The Library Screen Scene, illustrate in their book how many librarians have been called to action by the research findings of Sam Wineburg and his colleagues at Stanford University publicized in 2016. These findings showed that most middle-school students could not differentiate between advertising and news. After surveying nearly 8,000 students, 82% of 6th through 8th grade students were unable to tell the difference between a real news story and labeled advertising content on a website. This is where the crisis for students becomes most visible and the lack of library staff in middle schools available and trained to address it are all but non-existent.
LIBRARIES TO THE RESCUE– AGAIN!
The California State Library, in partnership with Encyclopaedia Britannica, ProQuest, and TeachingBooks.net, offers free access to these rich information tools to all California students in K-12 schools. These content resources, commonly referred to as “library databases,” provide teachers, school librarians, and students with a massive amount of digital information: books, scientific research, newspaper articles, photos, videos and more–all aligned with the curriculum that California has created for its schools.
FIGHTING “FAKE NEWS”
“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since news became a concept 500 years ago with the invention of print—a lot longer, in fact, than verified, ‘objective’ news, which emerged in force a little more than a century ago” (Soll, 2016). However, today it is a major issue for everyone across the globe. Our response as educators must be to collaborate with our librarians to teach students the skills necessary to become individual fact-checkers rather than passive recipients of information. Many of the tools used to teach students to evaluate websites and online resources were developed before the iPhone existed. One popular checklist still found on many university websites is based on an article written by Jim Kapoun in 1998: the “Five Criteria for Web Evaluation.” This list instructs students to use five criteria to evaluate the reliability of a website: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage, using sure signs such as broken links, advertisements, spelling errors and old dates of content to decide whether or not the site is trustworthy. Another popular (and more current) checklist is the “CRAAP Test” created by Meriam Library at California State University, Chico (2010), which instructs users to consider the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of a website. There are obvious similarities (and flaws) with both of these checklists and others like them in that they provide users a false sense of confidence while providing little proof that a website is a legitimate source of information to be relied on. This type of evaluation results in reading the Web vertically as if the screen was a printed page.
As Sam Wineburg points out, the web of today has more nuanced falsehoods than simple misspellings: “...today’s Web— dominated by astroturfing (front groups pretending to be grassroots citizens groups), search engine optimization (the calculated gaming of search results), and sophisticated lobbyists posing as academic think tanks (with their roster of pay-for-play academics)—is a different beast from its docile 1998 ancestor” (p. 156). Not to mention “native advertising” where advertisements look and sound like news stories to the passive viewer. In order to evaluate the Web effectively today, we must instruct students to become fact-checkers and read the Web laterally, scanning across web pages horizontally and using additional searches to gain a clearer and more accurate understanding of the unfamiliar site originally opened. Fact-checkers use lateral reading to learn more about who is behind the information on the screen. Lateral reading allows for less distraction by the information presented on the screen and is more efficient and accurate for evaluating web content. Instructing students to read laterally means students will need to read less and will learn more in a fraction of the time it might take them to read web content as if it were printed on the screen (Wineburg p. 151-152).
Our work as educators is to help students master thinking and build the knowledge they need to ask the best questions possible and be critical thinkers in their own inquiries. Teaching them to evaluate the information on the Web not by simply accepting what is provided, but by opening additional search windows and using Google or Wikipedia to look for the identity of the information provider. Sites such as WHOIS will reveal the owners and interests behind the information. Students should be familiar with these tools and how to deploy them. The best way to successfully build this capacity for critical thinking and lateral learning for students is through a sustained collaboration of classroom teachers and librarians.
If our goal as educators is to guide and nurture students to become empowered learners in all areas, particularly their own personal interests, then information literacy is essential. If we want to maintain and advance our democracy for the next century, then all of our citizens must become information literate. If we want to lead the world in the creative design and development of new ideas and products, then we must equip our students to become global citizens with honed and critical research skills. Research and development have kept universities and private industry on the cutting edge, let’s not take the “R” out of “R&D.” Let’s work together to advance information literacy as an essential part of every child’s education as it is needed now more than ever in this information age.
Although you can see that our libraries are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, there are several online resources that teachers and students can leverage to continue building their media and information literacy skills.
MEDIA AND INFORMATION LITERACY RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
California State Library, in partnership with Encyclopaedia Britannica, ProQuest, and TeachingBooks.net, offers free access to these rich information tools to all California students in K-12 schools. https://www.library.ca.gov/services/topublic/k-12-online-content-project/
Common Sense Education has a wide range of online resources covering essential topics in Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy. https://www.commonsense.org/ education/digital-citizenship/curriculum
Media Smarts provides teachers, parents, and students with access to research, lesson plans, workshops and a whole lot more to help develop media and information literacy skills. https://mediasmarts.ca/
Center for Media Literacy (CML) offers educators research, curriculum, and professional development focused on Media Literacy. CML has developed a MediaLit Kit that provides a vision and directions for successfully introducing media literacy in classrooms from pre-K to college. https://www.medialit.org/
Critical Media Project (CMP) is a free media literacy web resource for educators and students (ages 8-21) that enhances young people’s critical thinking and empathy and builds on their capacities to advocate for change around questions of identity. https://criticalmediaproject.org/
Pro-Con.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public charity and uses professional researchers and rigorous editorial standards to explore controversial issues to improve academic performance, increase civic engagement, strengthen personal resiliency, bridge political divides, and stimulate critical thinking.https://www.procon.org/
Facing History and Ourselves helps students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives in the future by using their resources to address racism, prejudice, and antisemitism at a pivotal moment in history. https://www.facinghistory. org/educator-resources
Project Look Sharp is an outreach program at Ithaca College that provides training and materials for K-16 educators to integrate media literacy and critical thinking into their existing curriculum through professional development and a collection of free media literacy resources for the classroom. https://www.projectlooksharp.org/
CRITICAL INQUIRY RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
Right Question Institute provides lessons and resources to help develop students capacity to formulate their own questions and explore their own investigation, inquiry, and advocacy. https://rightquestion.org/
The Resilience Project implemented by the Stanford University Center for Learning combines personal storytelling, events, programs, and academic skills coaching to motivate and support students as they experience the setbacks that are a normal part of a rigorous education. https:// learningconnection.stanford.edu/resilienceproject/resilience-project-videos
Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) provides free online lessons and assessments to help teachers and students learn to competently and skillfully evaluate online content. https://sheg.stanford.edu/
NEWS LITERACY RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
A Citizen’s Guide to Fake News is a compilation of research, lessons, and games developed by the Center for Information Technology & Society at UC Santa Barbara. On this site, you can find information on things like why we fall for fake news and skills to help you spot it. https://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news
Fake News and Media Literacy is an excellent, curated set of resources for teachers and librarians, created by Sue Heraper, Teacher Librarian at Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, CA. https://www.smore.com/8dqq4-fake-newsand-media-literacy
News Literacy Project provides lessons and resources to empower teachers and students to become smart, active consumers of news and other information and engaged, informed participants in civic life. https://newslit.org/
Common Sense Education has lessons and activities designed to help kids learn fact-checking tips and provides tools for both teachers and students. https://www. commonsense.org/education/teachingstrategies/turn-students-into-fact-findingweb-detectives
WHOIS is a database of all registered owners for every URL addresses on the Internet. https://whois.icann.org/en/history-whois
American Association of School Librarians (2018) Standard Framework https://standards.aasl.org
Breakstone, J., Sarah McGrew, Mark Smith, Teresa Ortega, and Sam Wineburg, March 2018 Phi Delta Kappan 99 (6), 27-32. https:// www.kappanonline.org/breakstone-neednew-approach-teaching-digital-literacy/
Carpenter, J. Federal jury: HISD staff repeatedly violated copyright laws, owe the company $9.2M”. Houston Chronicle. May 24, 2019. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/ education/article/Federal-jury-HISD-staffrepeatedly-violated-13895634.php
Hobbs, R., Deslauriers, L., & Steager, P. (2019). The Library Screen Scene: Film and Media Literacy in Schools, Colleges, and Communities.: Oxford University Press.
Kapoun, J., “Teaching Undergraduates Web Evaluation: A Guide for Library Instruction,” College and Research Libraries News 59 (1998): 522-33
Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. Adopted by the State Board of Education, September 16, 2010. https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/lb/
November, A. “Best Use of Teacher Time in a Connected World,” November Learning. May 2018. https://novemberlearning. com/article/best-use-of-teacher-time-in-aconnected-world/
Soll, J. (2016) The Long and Brutal History of Fake News. https://www.politico. com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-newshistory-long-violent-214535
Wineburg, S. S. (2018). Why learn history (when it’s already on your phone).