#304 – The News Literacy Project, with Brittney Smith

Unpacking Education July 10, 2024 29 min

In this episode, we are joined by Brittney Smith, Senior Manager of Education Partnerships (East) at News Literacy Project. Brittney talks about the importance of teaching news literacy in our K–12 schools, and she describes the many free resources available for educators from the News Literacy Project.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

News literacy teaches people how to think critically about timely issues and sources of information, not what to think. It helps foster healthy skepticism while avoiding cynical distrust of all news and information.

Pamela Brunskill, Senior Director of Education Design, News Literacy Project


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

The Need for a Well-Informed Public

Our guest, Brittney Smith, explains the motivation behind the nonpartisan work of the News Literacy Project, saying, “Democracy needs a well-informed public, so we strive to improve Americans’ ability to discern the source and accuracy of information that they encounter.” Brittney adds, “We really have to teach people news literacy skills so that they can discern quality content from quality news sources, enabling them to be well-informed voters and to help our democracy run smoothly.”

Brittney emphasizes, “Our ultimate goal is for everyone to be news literate, . . . empowered to play an equal and active role in the civic life of our amazing nation.” To support this mission, the News Literacy Project offers a resource library full of free content and teaching materials. Among other resources, the library includes lessons, infographics, a free virtual classroom called Checkology, a teacher newsletter, and Rumor Guard. The following are a few highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Brittney Smith is the Senior Manager of Education Partnerships (East) at News Literacy Project. She also has experience as a high school life science teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • News Literacy Project (NLP): The News Literacy Project is a national nonpartisan education nonprofit whose goal is to “teach people how to tell fact from fiction in the news and other information that they consume.” Brittney explains, “Our nonpartisanship allows us to really focus on the practice of news literacy, and what we’re doing is building a movement that’s advancing that practice.”
  • A Wide Impact: So far, more than 450,000 students and 60,000 educators in all 50 states have been impacted by the work of NLP.
  • Education: NLP believes that education is the key to news literacy. Brittney shares that NLP hopes “to see widespread graduation requirements for news literacy instruction.” She explains, “Even though our students have grown up with the internet and social media, that doesn’t mean that they know how to use it appropriately.”
  • Fact and Truth: Brittney says, “Facts and truth are really essential to a democracy that functions as it should.” She adds, “In order to be engaged with it, we have to be able to evaluate all the information floating around about candidates and issues that matter to us and our communities, and so fact and truth should really guide every decision that we make.”
  • “Infodemic”: “Civic life is in jeopardy,” says Brittney. “We are drowning in disinformation. Our students are growing up in an “infodemic.” . . . There is so much information floating around that it’s overwhelming, and it’s really hard to evaluate fact from fiction.”
  • Impact of AI: Artificial intelligence is expected to make the spread of misinformation and disinformation easier. Brittney says, “There are ways to create bots with AI, and so you can really, really, really ramp up that spread of misinformation, especially on Twitter, we’re seeing that, and on TikTok.” She adds, “It really has increased what we call the information pollution in the information landscape. It’s much easier to create and spread mis- and disinformation.”
  • First Steps for Teachers: Teachers should begin empowering their students by learning about news literacy themselves and then applying it to their own daily lives. Brittney also suggests approaching examples of misinformation and disinformation “just like you would treat any other piece of literature, as a rich opportunity for discussion and analysis, and that will really set your students up for doing that in their personal lives.” The key is to encourage students to develop skills in “thinking critically and looking closely at evaluating pieces of information.”
  • Quality Journalism: One of the keys in news literacy education is to ground instruction in the standards of quality journalism. Brittney emphasizes a focus on “things like fairness, and accuracy, and transparency when selecting a place to get their news and information.” She adds, “Above all, keep your eye on the goal, which should be to teach your students how to think critically about news and other information. You’re not building little robots and making them all think the same thing. We are empowering students and trying to get them to actually use these skills in their daily lives.”
  • Election Misinformation: NLP expects to see misinformation in media channels as we approach elections in the fall. Common misinformation practices that may appear include presenting information in a false context, doctoring photos, and the spread of AI-generated images, video, and voice cloning. Brittney suggests, “The best way to teach your students how to find accurate information is to use some of these pieces of misinformation as teaching tools.”
  • Debunking Rumors: The RumorGuard portion of NLP’s website offers a strategy of five factors that students can use to help debunk rumors. Those factors include examining context, authenticity, reasoning, evidence, and source information. Brittney says, “These are the factors that we use to help us decide whether or not we should trust a piece of information.”
  • Checkology: Checkology is the most comprehensive resource offered by NLP, and it is free to use. Brittney says, “We are very committed to ensuring all students and teachers can access Checkology regardless of their district’s ability to pay.” Brittney goes on to describe Checkology, saying, “It is a browser-based virtual classroom. Educators can create a classroom and then pull from any of our numerous resources to create a course of study. Those resources will either be lessons, missions, or challenges, and all of those pieces of Checkology kind of work together to build news literacy skills in students.” Lessons are multimodal learning experiences, led by subject-matter experts who demonstrate how news literacy applies to their careers and areas of expertise.
  • Resource Library: This section of NLP’s website provides easy access to all of their resources. Among other content, users can find links to Checkology, RumorGuard, infographics, unit plans, and news literacy quizzes.
  • The Sift: This is NLP’s newsletter, and users can sign up to receive it for free. The Sift is created by an in-house team of experts. Brittney says, “We call it an educator’s guide to news literacy.” The weekly guide includes links, ideas, and activities as well as a weekly bonus activity that is “implementation-ready with little to no prep.”
  • Newsroom to Classroom: This resource can be found on Checkology, and it includes an opportunity to invite one of 200 vetted journalists into classrooms, virtually or in person, to support instruction and give students opportunities to ask them questions.
  • A Final Thought: Brittney ends our conversation with a call to action, “I would just implore you to share with your students that social media really, really, really makes misinformation an easy trap to fall into, so just please encourage your students to diversify their media diet so that they avoid being in an echo chamber . . . partisan news bubble.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you know about news literacy?
  • What do you know about misinformation and disinformation?
  • Why is it important to teach news literacy skills to our students?
  • What resources from the News Literacy Project sound most beneficial to you and your students?
  • How might you use one or more of these resources?

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