The News Literacy Project helps to teach critical thinking skills

16 Apr


Moi wrote in Critical thinking is an essential trait of an educated person:


There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the state of education in America. A lot of that dissatisfaction comes from the belief that the education system fails to actually educate children and to teach them critical thinking skills. The University of Maine at Augusta defines an educated person:


An educated person exhibits knowledge and wisdom; recognizes and respects the diversity of nature and society; demonstrates problem solving skills; engages in planning and managing practices; navigates the on-line world; writes and speaks well; acts with integrity; and appreciates the traditions of art, culture, and ideas. Developing these abilities is a life-long process.


Essential to this definition is the development of critical thinking skills.


Melinda Burns writes in the Miller-McCune article, No Debate: Kids Can Learn By Arguing about Columbia professor Deanna Kuhn’s assertion that developing debate skills in children helps to develop critical thinking skills.


But how do kids become deep thinkers? To find out, Kuhn, who’s the author of a book titled Education for Thinking, and Amanda Crowell, a doctoral candidate at Columbia’s Teachers College, set up an experiment at a public middle school in Harlem. Forty-eight students, mostly Latinos and blacks, took philosophy classes twice a week for three years, from sixth through eighth grades, and every year debated four new subjects. The kids became experts on, for example, home schooling, animal rights, the sale of human organs, and China’s one-child policy. Under a coach’s supervision, they chose one side or another on an issue and tried to anticipate their opponents’ arguments. They often debated in pairs — not face to face, but online, in a sort of Socratic inquiry via Google Chat. By debating electronically, the students were able to consult each other and reflect before firing off comebacks.


At first, as each new topic was introduced, the researchers were startled: the youngsters were clueless about complexity. (“Prisoners, not animals, should be used in medical research because prisoners are guilty and animals are innocent!”) And early in the experiment, the kids showed no interest in the written questions and answers offered by their coaches. By the end of year two, though, they had developed a thirst for evidence.


As each quarter drew to an end, students held a “showdown,” a verbal debate where every three minutes, two new students — one from each side — would rotate into the hot seat. During the post-showdown debriefing, coaches awarded points for good moves (counterarguments and rebuttals), took away points for bad moves (unwarranted assumptions and unconnected responses), and declared the winning side.


All the while, a separate group of 23 students at the school studied philosophy in a more traditional way, using a textbook. Their teacher led discussions; the students rarely broke into sides, or held formal debates. They never argued online, but they wrote a lot in class — 14 essays apiece per year, compared to four in the experimental group.


At the end of every year, as a test of their progress, the students wrote essays on a subject neither group had ever discussed: seniority-based pay versus equal pay for teachers. At the end of the third year, everyone wrote an essay on whether family members and doctors should assist in euthanasia.


Hands down, the winners were the students in the experimental group — even though they’d had much less practice writing. By the end of year one, researchers found, two-thirds of the students in that group were considering and addressing opposing arguments in their written essays—a skill demonstrated by only 38 percent of the students in the comparison group. By the end of the third year, nearly 80 percent of the students in the experimental group were writing essays that identified and weighed opposing views in an argument. Less than 30 percent of the students in the comparison group were doing so.


The key is developing the idea that facts should be used to support an opinion.


Lyhn Bui writes in the Washington Post article,Schools demanding news literacy lessons to teach students how to find fact amid fiction :

News literacy programs are expanding in classrooms across the country, with a growing nonprofit sector dedicated to the cause and new education standards that require students to read and analyze more nonfiction text.


Younger students might feel that all information is created equally,” said Alan C. Miller, president of the News Literacy Project and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. “If something is put on the internet, they tend to believe it.”


Miller’s Maryland-based nonprofit organization develops lesson plans, activities and curriculum for middle and high schools, teaching students to “sort fact from fiction in the digital age.” Students learn to spot bias in stories, discover what makes sources credible and verify information.


We focus heavily on using the standards of quality journalism to assess the credibility of all news and information,” Miller said.


The program also partners with journalists who visit classrooms as part of the lessons, including editors and reporters from about two dozen news organizations such as the New York Times, ProPublica, NPR, CBS News and The Washington Post,.


NBC News national correspondent Tracie Potts has volunteered with the News Literacy Project since 2009. On a recent Thursday, she visited Ife’s media literacy class in Silver Spring.


Potts brought examples of different polls about sequestration from sources such as Gallup, MSNBC, Fox News and Business Insider. She then urged students to ask critical questions: “Who can I trust?” “Where is this information coming from?” “How can we say that one source of news is better than another?”


Being a smart news consumer is akin to being discriminating about other choices in life, she told students: “It’s sort of like going out to eat. You don’t want to stop anywhere along the side of the road. You’re going to scrutinize where your food is coming from.”


Demand to teach that sort of healthy skepticism and critical thinking is on the rise.


When the News Literacy Project first launched in classrooms, it reached about 650 students in Maryland and New York in 2009. Four years later, the project has expanded to Chicago, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and it is expected to reach about 3,800 students by the end of the school year.


The new Common Core education standards have driven that demand, Miller said. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core, which requires nonfiction to comprise 70 percent of what a student reads by senior year.


Principals and teachers say lessons from news literacy extend beyond teaching students about journalism.


At Walt Whitman High School, where principal Alan Goodwin first hosted News Literacy Program pilot lessons, Goodwin said he sees his students applying what they have learned in the classes — fact checking, research, using multiple sources — as they write papers or make decisions in their everyday lives.


It helps students understand what they should believe and not believe and what sort of research they should do,” Goodwin said.



Here is how the News Literacy Project describes its purpose:




The News Literacy Project (NLP) is an innovative national educational program that mobilizes seasoned journalists to help middle school and high school students sort fact from fiction in the digital age.

The project teaches students critical-thinking skills that will enable them to be smarter and more frequent consumers and creators of credible information across all media and platforms. It seeks to light a spark of interest in students to seek information that will make them more knowledgeable about their communities, the nation and the world.

The project also aspires to elevate the mission of news literacy nationally through classroom programs, digital media, workshops, public events and the news media itself.

NLP shows students how to distinguish verified information from spin, opinion and misinformation — whether they are using search engines to find websites with information about specific topics, assessing a viral email, viewing a video on YouTube, watching television news or reading a newspaper or a blog post. 

Students are being taught to seek news and information that will make them well-informed and engaged students, consumers and citizens. They are also being encouraged to produce news and information accurately, fairly and responsibly to make their own voices as credible and powerful as possible.

You can see NLP in action in a video report created by the project: “How to Know What to Believe”

The “PBS NewsHour” also produced a six-minute report about NLP that aired in December 2011.

The project has created a new model by forging partnerships among active and retired journalists, the project’s local coordinators in New York City, Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area, and English, history, government, humanities and journalism teachers. Journalist fellows and teachers are devising units focusing on the importance of news to young people, the role of the First Amendment and a free media in a democracy, and the best ways to discern reliable information.

Working with educators, students and journalists, NLP has developed original curriculum materials based on engaging activities and student projects that build and reflect understanding of the program’s essential questions. The curriculum includes material on a variety of topics, including viral email, Wikipedia, search engines, YouTube and the news, that is presented through hands-on exercises, games, videos and the journalists’ own compelling stories. 

Additional video and broadcast reports that capture the project in action and showcase exemplary student work can be found on the project’s YouTube channel

Twenty-two news organizations are partnering with NLP. This website features a national directory of volunteer journalists, including their biographies and photographs. The project has about 200 journalists enrolled in its online directory, including broadcast correspondents, authors of best-selling books and winners of journalism’s highest honors. Since 2009, journalist fellows have made more than 400 presentations in classrooms, conferences, workshops and other NLP programs. 

The journalists are matched with classes based on the curriculum. For example, a White House or political reporter might do a presentation to a government class, former foreign correspondents might speak to a class focused on international issues, and a feature writer, a columnist or an investigative reporter might talk to an English class. Broadcast journalists work with students creating video or audio reports in after-school programs.

NLP is increasingly using Skype to bring journalists from around the world to its classes across the country. It also devised and delivered its first digital pilot unit in the Chicago Public Schools this past June. The unit retains the voice of journalists through screencasts and a live video webcast. NLP is expanding this effort in Chicago and plans to introduce a digital unit to other regions this school year.

Even as young people increasingly participate in the national conversation through such forms of communication as text messages, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the concept of news literacy is not widely discussed in America’s public schools. With the 24-hour news cycle and the explosion of online information, today’s students have access to unprecedented amounts of information. Yet they are also confronted with the daunting task of determining the reliability of myriad sources of “news” — and surveys show that they are increasingly uninterested in information with a civic purpose.

The News Literacy Project seeks to reverse these trends. In addition, at a time when negative reports about the news media abound, it presents students and their teachers with positive role models of journalists and insights into how news is reported, edited and produced. But its biggest impact promises to be on the nation’s civic life: When young people are exposed to information that is in the public interest, the country’s democratic grass-roots are strengthened. 

Our goal should be that every American possesses the skills to discern news from infotainment, fact from opinion, and trustworthy information sources from untrustworthy,” said Michael Copps, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission. “Happily, there is good work being done on the literacy front. One example is the News Literacy Project.”

NLP is reaching young people as they are becoming increasingly aware of the news and are developing the habits of mind that can shape consumption patterns for a lifetime. They are doing so at a time when they are confronted with myriad sources of greatly varying credibility. The nation’s education system is not confronting this challenge; the concept of news literacy is not widely discussed in public schools. Moreover, as a Carnegie-Knight task force reported in 2007, mandatory testing has led to a decline in the use of the news in classrooms, squeezing out one of the best ways to prepare students for their role as citizens at a time when it may be more needed than ever. 

With today’s explosion of media content, young people are often overwhelmed by information. A June 2012 study of American youth (“Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action,” by Cathy Cohen and Joseph Kahne) found that 84% of respondents say they are bombarded with information and “would benefit from learning more about how to gauge what news is trustworthy.”

A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center found that 34 percent of young adults age 18 to 24 report receiving no news from any source on a typical day. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day on entertainment media — a 20 percent increase in the past five years. It also found that “use of every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading” — and reading, of course, includes newspapers and magazines.

In July 2012, Pew reported that, worldwide, “YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news.” In 2011 and early 2012, the center found, the most searched term of the month on YouTube was a news-related event five out of 15 months.

At the same time, the report said, “clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video content moving through the synergistic sharing loop. Even though YouTube offers guidelines on how to attribute content, it’s clear that not everyone follows them, and certain scenarios fall outside those covered by the guidelines. News organizations sometimes post content that was apparently captured by citizen eyewitnesses without any clear attribution as to the original producer. Citizens are posting copyrighted material without permission. And the creator of some material cannot be identified. All this creates the potential for news to be manufactured, or even falsified, without giving audiences much ability to know who produced it or how to verify it.”

The need for young people to develop their own standards for truthful, reliable information is all the more important because today’s students are producers as well as consumers. Whether emailing, texting, interacting on Facebook, posting on YouTube or blogging, they are increasingly part of the national conversation.



The project was founded in early 2008 by Alan C. Miller, then an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. The idea arose from his experience talking about his career as a reporter and why journalism matters to 175 sixth graders at his daughter’s middle school in Bethesda, Md.  Student thank you notes indicated he had connected, and prompted him to think about a new way to make a difference. English teacher Sandra Gallagher wrote to him: “All of the information you shared was interesting to them and pertinent to our curriculum. You brought to life the idea of `newspaper’ and opened a new perspective of thinking.’’


Critical thinking skills go hand in hand with cultural literacy. Moi wrote in Cultural literacy: Is there necessary core knowledge to be academically successful?


Back in the day there was this book entitled “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” It was published in 1988 and was written by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Moi liked the concept, some others, not so much. “Cultural Literacy” is defined by Education. Com:


Having sufficient common knowledge, i.e., educational background, experiences, basic skills, and training, to function competently in a given society (the greater the level of comprehension of the given society’s habits, attitudes, history, etc., the higher the level of cultural literacy).


Marci Kanstroom wrote E.D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy and American Democracy which was published in Education Next liked the concept. Others, like Patrick Scott criticized the concept in articles like Scott’s A Few Words More about E. D. Hirsch and Cultural Literacy. takes issue with Hirsch’s criticism of education icons Dewey and the NEA.


Moi wrote in Critical thinking skills for kids are crucial: The lure of Superbowl alcohol ads:


The issue is whether children in a “captive” environment have the maturity and critical thinking skills to evaluate the information contained in the ads. Advertising is about creating a desire for the product, pushing a lifestyle which might make an individual more prone to purchase products to create that lifestyle, and promoting an image which might make an individual more prone to purchase products in pursuit of that image. Many girls and women have unrealistic body image expectations which can lead to eating disorders in the pursuit of a “super model” image. What the glossy magazines don’t tell young women is the dysfunctional lives of many “super models” which may involve both eating disorders and substance abuse. The magazines don’t point out that many “glamor girls” are air-brushed or photo-shopped and that they spend hours on professional make-up and professional hairstyling in addition to having a personal trainer and stylist. Many boys look at the buff bodies of the men in the ads and don’t realize that some use body enhancing drugs. In other words, when presented with any advertising, people must make a determination what to believe. It is easy for children to get derailed because of peer pressure in an all too permissive society. Parents and schools must teach children critical thinking skills and point out often that the picture presented in advertising is often as close to reality as the bedtime fairy tail. Reality does not often involve perfection, there are warts.


See, Admongo                                                                     


and How to Help a Child With Critical Thinking Skills





Critical thinking skills for kids are crucial: The lure of Superbowl alcohol ads                                                                          



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