San Jose schools to teach media literacy in misinformation fight
School districts are teaching students to separate truth from lies through incorporating media literacy into classes. Photo courtesy of East Side Union High School District.

California passed a bill last month to help students tell fact from fiction, especially regarding social media. Now it’s up to school districts to incorporate media literacy into the curriculum.

The bill, AB 873, was authored by local Assemblymember Marc Berman and signed into law on Oct. 13. Its purpose is to integrate media literacy instruction into core subjects such as language arts, science, mathematics and social studies in grades K-12 starting in January—though implementation will happen in the next couple of years.

Martha Guerrero, director of instructional services for East Side Union High School District, said the accessibility of digital media platforms challenges school employees to ensure students are accessing credible information.

“Although this was a concern prior to the pandemic, the amount of online misinformation has grown in recent years,” she told San José Spotlight, “and has been complicated by the use of artificial intelligence.”

Media literacy teaches students how to access, analyze, evaluate, and use media and information responsibly. A previous law enacted in 2018, SB 830, required the California Department of Education to provide school districts with an online list of resources and instructional materials on media literacy, as well as related professional development for teachers. This bill brings the learning directly into the classroom.

Guerrero said when the revised curriculum frameworks are released, the district’s curriculum coordinators will develop an implementation plan. In July, a group of 22 district teachers participated in a media literacy development course offered by the Santa Clara County Office of Education, she said. Teachers received media literacy lessons and tools for the classroom. Librarians with the office of education will work with district librarians to embed digital media literacy content into their daily work and presentations.

Research from SB 830 shows more than 90% of young adults use social media, and the majority are confused by fabricated news. A Stanford University study said 82% of middle school students struggle to distinguish advertisements from news. In the study, 96% of high school students didn’t consider that content on a website about climate change might be influenced by its ties to the fossil fuel industry—and more than half thought a video showing ballot stuffing was evidence of voter fraud in America, although the video was shot in Russia.

East Side Union High School District Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee said students engage with social media that’s self-reinforcing rather than offering different points of view or using multiple sources. He said media literacy is crucial for students to be able to ascertain the truthfulness of what they’re reading and be actively engaged as citizens.

“What we’ll need to do going forward… is to create tasks and learning opportunities where students are asked to compare and utilize various data points,” he told San José Spotlight, “and also do some critical thinking around where they’re accessing their data.”

Hilaria Bauer, superintendent of Alum Rock Union Elementary School District, said students using critical thinking skills in analyzing information and sources helps them evaluate their reliability. She said media literacy deepens a student’s understanding of a topic and helps them move past prejudice and stereotypes.

Bauer said media literacy is incorporated into technology and project-based learning for grades 6-8, especially in social studies and language arts. Middle school teachers have received professional development in media literacy, and for students to receive iPads, parents are required to participate in professional development as well. A district online resource is available for teachers to refer to for class instruction.

“In text analysis… people are able to answer surface questions like who, what, when and where, but critical thinking moves beyond that in terms of why and… who is writing it,” Bauer told San José Spotlight. “Using technology and the standards of media literacy is not only an academic endeavor, (it) moves into the socio-emotional realm where we tell kids we’ve got to be better citizens.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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