The why, when and how of teaching news and media literacy: five key takeaways from Guardian Foundation, First News, BBC and National Literacy Trust

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Why is it crucial to teach news and media literacy in schools? 

And how has the Covid-19 pandemic made this more critical?

These were the questions that we posed to a panel of experts from the world of education and news media at our recent virtual event, ‘Teaching News and Media Literacy - the why, when and how’. 

We heard from Josie Verghese (assistant editor, BBC News Development and head of BBC Young Reporter), Margaret Holborn (head of secondary and higher education at the Guardian Foundation) and Fay Lant (head of school programmes, National Literacy Trust) as they shared resources and ideas around teaching news and media literacy.

Recordings from the event will shortly be available on the BlendEd website, but we thought it would be useful to do a quick roundup of five key takeaways from the day:

1. We’re talking about more than fake news

Our speakers all agreed that the term ‘fake news’ needs an update. A few years ago, ‘fake news’ could be found everywhere, in names of reports, lesson plans and even our 2019 BETT talk ‘Fact or Fake - developing critical learners in the digital’ age, but times have changed. Across the board, our speakers talked of a need for more precise language - misinformation, disinformation, satire, jokes etc - to help us and our pupils navigate the online news and media environment more accurately.

2. Literacy and digital literacy go hand in hand

Fay from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) reminded us of their research finding that one in six adults in the UK is held back by poor literacy. This stark statistic is compounded by the NLT’s 2018 finding that only 2% of children have the critical literacy skills to tell if a news story is real or fake. Reading comprehension, an understanding of fact and opinion and notions of bias and authorial voice are not just important skills for doing well in SATS – they are key to children being able to safely navigate the online media landscape.

3. Misinformation is a wellbeing issue

The NLT’s 2018 report also showed us the impact of concerns around media literacy – according to their research, 61% of children say they trust the news less as a result of misinformation and disinformation. All of our speakers highlighted how Covid-19 misinformation was a real worry for young people, and that understanding fact-checking behaviours and what constitutes a reliable source was not just useful for pupils' understanding but also for their wellbeing.

4. There is power in creating as well as consuming

Both Josie from the BBC and Margaret from the Guardian Foundation talked us through resources and programme offering that they have for schools, and what struck us was how many of their activities were about creation and not just consumption. BBC Young Reporter and the Guardian’s ‘Fake or For Real’ and ‘Make a Local Newspaper’ workshops all involve participating pupils taking on the role of journalists and creating their own content. In doing so, the hope is that they will develop a greater understanding of how news stories are researched, written and shared.

5. There are resources out there to help you

Not sure where to start teaching about news and media literacy? Our speakers highlighted a wealth of resources designed to support teachers in navigating this thorny area. They include:

  • Newswise - news literacy resources for children aged 7-11. Includes free lesson plans, resources and workshops for schools, activities for families, and teacher training. 
  • BBC Own It - a website and app offering online safety and digital literacy support for young people aged 8-13.
  • News Literacy Network - this network of media, education and charitable organisations has collated a series of useful educational resources around critical literacy.
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