It’s hard to explain the emotions and thoughts that we are all experiencing right now. It has been an overwhelming time for all of us to say the least. During a time of uncertainty, there are many news outlets and platforms that are filling our social media feeds and minds. Even though it’s easy to get caught up in reading everything that comes our way, like I find myself doing in a time like now, it’s important to listen, watch, and read with a critical lens and an open heart.
As we venture through this unfamiliar time of crisis and confusion, there is no better time to prioritize the skills and actions that surround media literacy. You are probably wondering, what does media literacy even entail and why is it important? Before we break down media literacy, it’s important to understand literacy, which is “the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world.” Even though the outcome of literacy is to read, write, and speak, there are still many skills and elements that come into play before that happens. When you think about the act of reading, you not only need to decode the words, but you also need to comprehend what you’re reading. On top of that, early level readers have basic skills, but as you advance with reading, you develop deeper level thinking skills, such as understanding themes, recognizing biases, or analyzing the text.
Similar to the skills of literacy, “media literacy”, which falls under the category of information literacy, involves many different elements and components. According to Common Sense Media, media literacy is “the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending.” When we see an image, article, or video online, there are different ways we can try to understand the message it is trying to portray. Common Sense Media gives a list of essential questions that kids can ask when they view various types of media:
- Who created this?
- Why did they make it?
- Who is the message for?
- What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable?
- What details were left out, and why?
- How did the message make you feel?
These questions will help students reflect on important details about the media they take in and will help them analyze biases that might be present. Most of the time, kids will be viewing these images, articles, or videos on their devices and will be using “digital literacy” skills to sift through media. The term digital literacy “specifically applies to media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and other nontraditional sources”, stated by Common Sense Media. Shelby reminds us that “it is greatly important to be literate online, especially with all the misinformation and the dangers that it presents.” Since students are most likely to be using social media to get their news and information, “our job to teach digital literacy to students is more important than ever” as Catherine says.
In an earlier blog post, I talk about the strategies that educators can use in order to teach students how to sift through information online so that they can critically take in media. I talk about:
- Taking Note of the Digital Exposure and Experience in the Lives of our Students: Understand that “each student will have a different level of knowledge when using online tools and social media platforms”, so that we can teach them media literacy skills at their level.
- Teaching Bias: This is important because “it’s not about teaching students right or wrong, it’s about giving them the skills they need in order to make an informed decision for themselves.”
- Fact Checking & Reading Laterally: We need to check the source and validate the information with other tools, websites, and avenues.
I recently found another great way to help students learn more about navigating the internet during this trying time. John Green, who partnered with MediaWise, has put out various videos to help us “evaluate the information you read online.” They have put out a series of videos that teach us how to:
- “Examine information using the same skills and questions as fact-checkers”
- “Read laterally to learn more about the authority and perspective of sources”
- “Evaluate different types of evidence, from videos to infographics”
- “Understand how search engines and social media feeds work”
These critical thinking skills that exhibit media literacy are so valuable in the world we currently live in. It’s crucial that we follow the right steps when we take in information or news at this time so that we can think logically and respond appropriately. As we journey through these rocky waters together, let’s also not forget the importance of empathy and reflection. Through this time of unpredictability, let us use our online skills for good to remind us that we are in this together.