A recent Stanford Graduate School of Education study had subjects from middle school through the university level look at social media posts and websites and then decipher if the content was accurate and trustworthy. In one of their middle school assessments, out of the 203 middle school students who viewed a Slate.com homepage, 80% believed the "sponsored content" ad was a real news story. How do young people navigate this digital landscape successfully when searching for factual information?
As part of our curriculum, our teachers, led by Library Director Amy Holley, help our students learn to read between the lines from an early age. Our youngest students begin by building an understanding of the information that creates their background knowledge; "Yes, that's a tiger you drew, but how did you know what a tiger looked like?"
The aim is to teach our students that information in books has been vetted by editors, subject matter experts, and sources, proof not always found on websites. That doesn't mean the Web has no value, they just need to know how to look for accurate information.
In eighth grade, Mrs. Holley leads a unit called "Battle of the Experts," in which students learn to distinguish between expert and non-expert statements and understanding the limits of one's authority on a subject. The fourth and fifth grade learns how to validate information from sources online and begin to think critically. She gives them a literal and mental "checklist," where they answer questions like: Who wrote this? What's the purpose of the site? What information differs from other sites? When was it created? When was it last updated? Where does the information come from? Why is this information useful to my purpose?", among others. She also performs many of the same exercises with students as the ones found in the Stanford study. They also look at other sites and go through the checklist as they prepare to do their independent research.
Having a library equipped with credible resources and guidance is also key to this endeavor. Students can access trusted databases and research tools from the North Cross website and our library on campus. Though the Upper School uses the physical library less than the lower and middle schools, Mrs. Holley still aids teachers and students in planning projects and shares useful advancements and resources to help in the classroom.
Though the walls of Hancock Library may be aging, the innovative teaching inside of them keeps pace with our ever-changing world. Our job as educators is to make sure that this world is met with a discerning eye.