“What are potential consequences when fake news goes viral?
Do you think you could spot fake news or would you be fooled? Why or why not?”
Prior to current events I don’t think most of the public considered the news they consumed was fake, let alone detrimental to society in its ability to rapidly spread anything but the truth. Most of us likely thought that when we viewed news, particularly if we heard it straight from leadership acting as primary sources, we’d hear factual information.
Then “fact” was revealed as fiction and we realized our children are watching.
As teachers, we absolutely warned students of the risks of believing the Internet at large, with teachers taking steps such as blanket banning Wikipedia, comparing tabloids with respected journals, and imbuing students with a newfound love for in-text citations. We dedicated lessons to digital citizenship that included gems such as evaluating whether the Pacific Tree Octopus is real and the speed of social media information transfers. These were important initial steps, yet most of us failed to spend time evaluating whether elected officials, who take an oath of office, are lying on camera about matters of state and security, how to fact check the fact checkers, and what to do with all the falsehoods when you find them.
I’ve long been the staff member in department meetings beating the drum of teaching literacy as part of our science curriculum. With adoption of the CCSS in Washington, the state required we step up our game in all subjects, spelling out the need for students to know their sources in every realm of literacy and take responsibility for further sharing.
We can bolster out digital defenses, find appropriate informational texts, and guide students down a solid path of critical thinking with respect to media comsumption. You have a classroom of trusting learners – so what now?
Step 1: Take care with terms.
Let’s talk credibility, legitimacy, accuracy, vetted, peer-reviewed, and laudable informational texts.
Sometimes words take on an identity beyond their definition and become so inextricably tied to pop culture that we can’t separate them from a social context. One could argue that that the term “fake news” has taken on almost anthropomorphic levels of application. We don’t have to own “post-truth” as our reality. Teaching students the academic vocabulary of critically evaluating sources can bring formal levity to a serious endeavor.
Step 2: Watch your priming.
One Stanford research group found that, in so many words, we are what we hear, particularly from those we trust. How do you unintentionally create bias in your own instructional methods? How do you help students feel safe in questioning all sources, even when one of those sources is you? It’s time for a check up, and ownership, of the little ways we sway our followers in our pursuit of quality classroom leadership.
Step 3: Wax on those standards.
Teaching students to evaluate sources is an expectation for those of us teaching science (let alone Humanities) in the Evergreen State, and here’s my reference point for lesson-building:
Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
Many of my students roll their eyes at a cephalopod in a conifer, yet when confronted with advertising struggle to separate evidence from fluff. Let them know that their ability to sift out the fictitious in search of nuggets of certitude is important for all students to become citizens of the world.
Step 4: Get historical
In his Washington Post OpEd, Robert Parkinson reminds us that, unfortunately, spin is nothing new. He points out that even our founding fathers, the regularly lauded in many a classroom, had a hand in swaying followers through falsehoods aplenty. Parkinson warns that these “stories…end up having a longer life than we expect, causing more damage than we can anticipate.” Like all poor decisions of our past, when we bring those errors to light we have the opportunity, and some might say the moral imperative, to halt their repetition.
Step 5: Update your game.
With the need to analyze the messages around us rising at an exponential rate it’s important to know your colleagues and education organizations have your back with quality lessons and resources to get you in the game.
How to teach your students about fake news – from PBS
Fake news and what we can do about it – from the ADL
How to choose your news – from Damon Brown and TEDEd
Evaluating sources in a ‘post-truth’ world – from The New York Times
5 ways teachers are fighting fake news – from NPR
How to teach your students about fake news – from Lucy Thompson and CORWINconnect
What are you doing to teach students to spot fake news stories? – from Bill Ferriter
Step 6: Broadcast your work.
The more informed the public, the less likely it is that our learners will fall prey to the permeation of falsehoods disguised as news. To get the ball rolling, share how you are rocking media literacy in your classroom, and let’s spread the truth.