One of the most important skills students need to be equipped with in today’s society is judging the credibility of sources. In the past, gatekeepers mediated all information that was dispersed to the public. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can project their voice out to the masses. This technology is a double-edged sword.
It is great to be able to hear opinions from multiple perspectives, especially groups whose voices have historically been silenced. The problem is that young people (and many adults as well) have difficulty determining whose voices to trust. It is important that English teachers tackle this issue head on in order to produce critical thinking citizens.
There are tons of articles and infographics online already that explain how to determine a source’s credibility, including this one on fake news. Instead of lecturing about it, I like to put students in groups and give each group a different article to read on the subject. I ask them to create posters with tips they learned from the articles. Then, each group presents their poster. Some tips overlap and some stand out but after hearing them all, students gain a better understanding of what they can do to assess a source’s credibility.
The articles I have given my students include this one from International Netherlands Group (ING) which emphasizes that information nowadays is more often crowd-sourced and less often fact-checked than it was in the past. The facts on this site show that reporters now prefer to publish as quickly as possible and then correct misinformation as opposed to waiting to make sure all facts are accurate before publishing. This helps students realize that sometimes the most recent sources are not the most reliable.
Another article I have shared with students emphasizes the importance of presenting a balanced perspective while touching on a “false balance” as well. This New York Times blog post includes questions designed to make students think critically about the information they share on social media and a handy acronym that can be used to question sources of information.
Finally, I distinctly remember one student’s poster from a few years ago who read this article and drew a picture of the press and the government in a bed together. All of the posters came out to be helpful, informative and eye-catching.
After sharing tip using their posters, students should test their new skills. I give them an article which I choose specifically because some claims are questionable and have students apply their tips to determine if the information is correct or not. A good one I have used in the past is from The Boston Globe. This article is passionate and sounds very convincing but no claims are backed up with sources, APA citations, or MLA style references. If the students apply their tips and fact check the article, they can find multiple opinions which go against this article’s claims.
Many people agree that today’s teens are the instant gratification generation. Only a handful of my students regularly check multiple sources to verify information. They want to get the assignment done, so they use the first article they find that fits what they are trying to write about and leave it at that. As Peter Adams puts it in his Edutopia article, teachers enjoy the benefits of working with digital natives but also the difficulties of dealing with digital naiveté. This lesson can be used to directly instruct students on assessing the credibility of sources instead of leaving it up to them to figure it out for themselves.