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Getting literal about media literacy in K12

How schools can help students realize the difference between real and fake news
  • “The solution is always ‘Google it.’ And that’s what happens. I have a problem with ‘Google it.’” —Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent, Middletown City School District in New York, referring to media literacy as the solution in schools
  • “When you ask students where they go for their news, a lot of them say Facebook. And they don’t mean news headlines. They want to find out what their friends are doing. For them, keeping up with current events is staying up to date with people you know.” —W. James Potter, author, Media Literacy
  • “There are young children navigating through screens on iPads and smartphones, sometimes before they’re able to talk. This is why we believe that a relationship with the media starts at the time a child is born.” —Tessa Jolls, president and CEO, Center for Media Literacy, an educational organization

The issue of fake news drew national attention during the 2016 presidential campaign, when fabricated stories were widely accepted as genuine. According to recent research, the problem extends to K12 classrooms, where students have trouble judging the credibility of online information.

A national assessment of 203 middle school students by Stanford History Education Group at Stanford University found that more than 80 percent believed ads labeled “sponsored content” are a credible source for unbiased news.

Now provided across 12 states, Stanford’s “Civic Online Reasoning,” which includes assessments to judge the credibility of information, consists of 56 news-literacy tasks to identify misinformation and fake articles on the internet.

The results reveal that K12 students must learn how to distinguish between what’s fictional and what is real. Students also risk stumbling across sites in school that are clearly inappropriate or misleading, such as, a web site owned by a white supremacist organization called Stormfront.

While teaching media literacy in K12 can address these problems, only two states, Florida and Ohio, require it in their curricula, according to Media Literacy Now, a national advocacy organization.

New standards in Ohio require media and technology literacy. Florida law mandates media literacy (referred to as library media), but districts are not required to create standalone classes for the subject.

On the bandwagon

Other states are in the process of making media literacy a requirement. “It takes resources and training,” says Erin McNeill, president and founder of Media Literacy Now, which offers its expertise to legislators nationwide.

One of its recent initiatives was spearheading a law signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The law empowers the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop strategies for teaching safe technology use and digital citizenship in public schools.

The bill doesn’t impose a curriculum, says McNeill, but allows districts to determine what works.

In Texas, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills K12 standards encourage the use of media literacy in certain subjects, even though they don’t identify media literacy as a subject.

For example, the English language arts and reading tests include media literacy strands, says Lauren Callahan, a spokesperson at Texas Education Agency. Students learn how words, images, graphics and sounds impact the meaning of messages.

And McNeill says that social media is a “terrific First Amendment tool.” “Jobs are going to require an understanding of the media environment,” she adds, “so we definitely need to teach students how to use these tools.”

NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework

Each person must possess a range of abilities and competencies due to the increase of technology, says the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a professional association of educators.

NCTE’s statement, the 21st Century Literacies Framework, demands the continued evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice.

Students are expected to:

  • Know how to effectively use and understand technology tools
  • Design and share information for global communities
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts ethically

Instructors need to ask themselves if their students:

  • Use technology to communicate, research or create
  • Evaluate and use digital tools that match their work
  • Find relevant,reliable sources that meet their needs
  • Take risks and try new things with their tools
  • Solve problems, independently and collaboratively
  • Use tools correctly and efficiently

Learn more by visiting NCTE’s 21st Century Framework page.

Center for Media Literacy’s Five Core Concepts/Questions

Media literacy is more about the questions than it is about the answers, says Tessa Jolls, President and CEO of Center for Media Literacy (CML), an educational organization. By teaching students the importance of questioning content, you’ll equip students with the skills they need to evaluate data.

CML has generated a condensed list of five core concepts and five key questions of media literacy to help students interrogate the information they find online.

Jolls says CML boiled down the data to five points because many teachers have said they don’t have the time to add more content to their curriculum. “They’re very accessible,” says Jolls about CML’s core concepts and questions. “They allow you to easily deconstruct media anytime and anywhere.”

Find out more about the five core concepts and five key questions of media literacy.

Additional Sources

Media Literacy Now

Center for Media Literacy’s Educator Resources

Media Literacy (SAGE Publications)

Commonsense Education

Social Assurity e-Courses


Media Education Foundation

Consortium For Media Literacy

Media Literacy Clearinghouse