Using news media literacy as a strategy for teaching civic and research skills
While it is true that certain news organizations have degraded the field and the work that comes out of it, this reality makes it even more important that we continue to engage with news and see it as a stepping stone for learning about the world and the people around us.
BY MICHAEL A. SPIKES
In my work with educators around the world, I have found that when I introduce teachers to the topic of using news in their classrooms, they usually approach the subject with a bit of hesitancy. Some of their most frequent responses include:
“I don’t want to wade into controversial issues.”
“I don’t want to lose my job.”
“I worry about what my student’s parents will say.”
I usually reply by explaining, “Don’t worry, I’m here to teach skill sets, not an ideology, or to impose a particular point of view." Instead, my goal is to offer educators tools for discerning information that they and their students encounter in order to cut through the cacophony of voices that they confront every day.
I’m troubled by the fact that in our media landscape, in which there is plenty of divisive and harmful content, people seem to have the least amount of trust in the work of journalists. While it is true that certain news organizations have degraded the field and the work that comes out of it, this reality makes it even more important that we continue to engage with news and see it as a stepping stone for learning about the world and the people around us (not just the politicians).
At its best, news can inform us about important issues of the day, offer new and deep topics to discuss with our friends, and introduce us to new and varied perspectives that (and this is the important part) are verified for the sole purpose of informing and empowering its audience to make decisions and take actions.
We can’t get those kinds of benefits from random influencers we encounter online, whose work sits on platforms that are built on a business model based on keeping audience members' eyes glued to them for the longest period of time. We worry about the social media habits of our young people, but what about our own? How discerning are we about the habits that we’ve created? How often do we not question results from Google, or a Wikipedia page, or the reviews posted to TripAdvisor or Amazon? How can we take on more mindful habits when it comes to consuming and using media to take action in meaningful ways?
I would argue that the work and the traditions of journalism can help us to accomplish those things. I’ve spent more than 10 years building curricula and teaching others how to adopt more mindful media consumption and production practices through the lens of how journalists do their work. I’ve taught these skills around the world, and I continue to work with teachers around the country to hone their news literacy skills.
I hope to share more new literacy ideas with you in July as part of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. We'll explore the tools that journalists use and how they can be applied to your own practice, and we'll discuss strategies for how to use news media to support your students as they practice those skills in their everyday lives.
I hope you’ll join me for an informative and engaging week in Rhode Island.
About the author
Michael Spikes has been teaching, writing about, and developing curriculum on the subject of News Media Literacy and its production for more than 15 years. He has a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, where his research focuses on concerns connecting cognitive, social, and environmental design theories to news literacy pedagogy. Michael also headed up a branch of the Center in the state of Illinois, where he developed teacher training materials and curriculum as part of a new Civics course mandate in the state. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @iamMikeSpikes