In a world of fake news and increasingly incredible reality, it’s crucial that we arm students with the skills they need to read between the lines, says Jonathan Douglas...
Digital technologies offer a raft of new learning opportunities for students, but as these new technologies evolve and become ever more present in their everyday lives, are our young people equipped with the skills they need to navigate the potential pitfalls of a digital world?
This is the question at the heart of a new commission launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy. Over the next year, the commission will look at so-called ‘fake news’ and examine the teaching of the critical literacy skills students need to identify it.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon, but the rise of digital media has seen it take on a new, more threatening form, as people are able to access and share it so easily. It threatens democracy, confidence in governance and trust in journalism – with young people who are unable to separate fact from fiction particularly vulnerable.
Did you know, for example, that more children than ever are using digital media as their main source of news - and that 1 child in 5 believes everything they read online is true?
In this digital age, children who can’t question and determine the reliability of the information they find online will be hamstrung – at school, at work and in life; and there are wider implications for democracy, too. Teachers are the key to boosting children’s critical literacy skills, but they simply can’t do this without the proper training, support and resources.
By bringing together the greatest minds and authorities on fake news and education, the new parliamentary commission will give us a fantastic opportunity to make the case for critical literacy to sit at the heart of our education system. At the National Literacy Trust, we want every child to have the chance to develop the critical literacy skills they need to survive and thrive in this new digital age. We can’t do it without you.
To inform the commission, the National Literacy Trust, in partnership with First News and The Day, has launched two surveys for secondary school teachers and their students. We want to know what children understand about fake news and how good they are at spotting it, as well as hearing about what teachers think about fake news, whether they consider it a problem in the classroom and where they think key critical literacy skills should be taught.
We’ve developed some great free teaching resources to go alongside the surveys and to help you introduce your students to fake news.
Ask your students to take part in the fake news survey, which is on the National Literacy Trust website: literacytrust.org.uk/fakenews. This can be done in class or set as homework. Remember to take part in your teacher survey too.
As part of the student survey, young people will be asked to decide if a series of news stories are real or fake. The good news is – we’ve got the answers for you!
Once your students have finished their surveys, use our special answers resource to go through each story and discuss all the clues which might indicate whether it’s true or not. The resource is also available on our website and has notes and prompts for you to encourage lively discussions.
We also have a brand new teaching resource, linked to the Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculums, which is packed full of ideas to help you bring fake news into the classroom. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the activities included in the resource…
Your students will probably have a varied understanding of fake news, based on their own personal experiences. It is important to create a shared definition in your class so that students can discuss and identify examples appropriately.
Here’s our definition of fake news, followed by some activities you can do in the classroom:
Fake news is news or stories that are not true. Fake news is published on the internet, in newspapers, shown on TV and broadcast on the radio in order to mislead people. Fake news stories often have shocking, exaggerated or false headlines to grab people’s attention. The internet means that fake news can be spread very quickly through the use of fake news website and social media.
Here are some of the main types of fake news:
Students might be embarrassed to admit that they’ve fallen for fake news stories, so it is important to provide a safe space for them to be able to discuss their experiences openly and share how they feel about them.
The full resource can be downloaded from the National Literacy Trust website and also includes a top tips for spotting fake news handout which you can print and give to your students to keep. Visit literacytrust.org.uk/fakenews.
Jonathan Douglas is director of the National Literacy Trust. Follow him on Twitter at @JDLiteracyTrust.