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Suburban Freshmen Get Crash Courses In Media Literacy

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Illinois high schools will be required to offer a media literacy class in 2022. It’s the first state to mandate those classes be taught, but some schools are already teaching the skills across every class.

Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville has been working with media literacy researchers and experts from the Stanford History Education Group to integrate it with their freshmen since before the pandemic.

Adrianne Toomey teaches freshman biology at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville. She couldn’t have guessed when she started integrating media literacy that identifying health and science misinformation would become as important inside and outside of the classroom.

Some expect that because teenagers are social media savvy that they’re good at fact-checking too, but Toomey says that’s not the case at all, especially at first.

“They were not doing a good job at all. Even my very smartest kids said things like, ‘well, they're wearing scrubs, they must be a doctor.’”

The curriculum is called Civic Online Reasoning. They teach how to evaluate media by using strategies like “lateral reading” -- where students open a new tab and leave a video to find out more information about the source. Toomey’s students even recorded themselves fact-checking social media posts using a tool called “Screencastify.”

“My favorite activity was the videos of how they fact-checked their different TikToks. Yeah, that was so great for me, because I could see inside their brain. It was a great example of metacognition.”

Overall, she says, they were much more adept at spotting disinformation by the end of the year. But she adds, it’s going to take a lot more practice across every subject to make media literacy second nature to them.

But she says having buy-in from every teacher makes it much more seamless. Neuqua Valley is expanding media literacy to more courses this year, including P.E. and health.