How Teachers Can Help Students Learn How to Handle Fake News

In this article in the Washington Post, teachers play the heroes in helping our kids learn to tell fake news from real news.

As an expert on learning, let me suggest the following approaches for teachers:

    1. Don’t preach about the dangers of fake news.
      That may be our natural inclination, but most learners hate this.
    2. Gather examples from all sides of the political spectrum.
      Because you’ll be more persuasive and because fake news is not partisan.
    3. Give your students examples of real news stories and fake news stories
      Use half fake, half real stories. Or maybe up to 75% fake news stories.
      Have your students, working on their own at first, sort them into real and fake.
      After they’ve done it as individuals, have your students discuss their findings in small groups.
      Reveal the results to them. Tell them which are real and which are fake.
      Have them discuss in different small groups (they can stand anywhere in their new groups).
      Have them ask themselves to come up with a list of the reasons they got fooled.
      Have them come up with a list of things to watch out for when they see news headlines.
    4. Give them homework to use their list to find both fake and real stories online.
      Back in the classroom, ask them to improve their list in their small groups.
    5. Ask your students to consider how misinformation might affect a debate.
      Have them quickly debate an issue using only real facts. See if they can work out a compromise.
      Then, do the same, but have them use both real facts and made-up facts to win their argument.
      See what happens and have them reflect on the result, first as individuals, then in groups.
      Point out that debates are how democracy is supposed to work.
      Ask them what they think will happen when politicians lie or citizens rely on fake news.
    6. Play a game. Give homework to find a fake news story they think will fool most of their fellow classmates.
      Also ask them to find a real news story they think will be seen as fake by most of their classmates.
      Back in classroom, in random order, provide the real and fake stories to everyone. Take a vote.
      After all the articles have been voted on, get them back in their groups to discuss their reflections.
    7. A week or so later, give them more practice distinguishing between fake and real stories.
      Because one key goal is to help them distinguish between real and fake, give them lots of practice in this.
    8. A week or so later, play another game. Have them create their own fake news story.
      Get them each to collect one new real story as well.
      Back in the classroom, have them vote real or fake, give them kudos for fooling their classmates.
    9. Ask them to each individually write a letter to send to anyone they want to about fake news.
      Their goal is to help the other person be motivated and able to distinguish between fake and real news.

Okay, that’s enough ideas. Those of you who are teachers will know how to improve and expand on this list.

Indeed, it would be great if teachers could develop a free repository of fake and real news stories, lesson plans, etc. If you know of one, leave a comment.

It would also be great if teachers could partner with app developers to create games that would have students (and adults) be able to practice distinguishing between real and fake news stories.

Here are some of the learning principles embedded in the recommendations above:

  1. Don’t preach — nobody likes to be preached at.
  2. Give repeated practice, spread over time, of the real-world behavior you hope to enable.
  3. Have learners engage in thinking on their own, not just in groups.
  4. After engaging on their own, encourage group discussions or project work to enrich and reinforce.
  5. Give learners multiple ways to practice and think about the issues.
  6. Make the work-of-learning as real-world as possible.
  7. Ask big questions — questions of personal relevance, of import, of personal responsibility.
  8. Ask learners to communicate, persuade, or enable others; where possible to reinforce the learning and it’s real-world importance.
  9. Spread the learning over time, and where possible, enable the learning to integrate into the person’s out-of-school life.
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