Teaching Information Literacy Now

Laura Gardner, 2016 SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist, updates her lesson plans for the era of fake news.


Last week, a new study from Stanford University revealed that many students are inept at discerning fact from opinion when reading articles online. The report, combined with the spike in fake and misleading news during the 2016 election, has school librarians, including me, rethinking how we teach evaluation of online sources to our students. How can we educate our students to evaluate the information they find online when so many adults are sharing inaccurate articles on social media?

While social media isn’t the only reason for the surge in fake news over the last 10 years, it’s certainly making it harder for information consumers of every age to sort through fact and fiction. As articles about the Stanford study get shared around Facebook, I have two thoughts. One, I have to teach this better. And two, as information literacy experts, we school librarians are more important than ever. Joyce Valenza offers timely tools in her news literacy toolkit for a "post-truth" world.

Until now, I have taught web evaluation the same way every year: I start by introducing students to the CARS method of web evaluation (similar to the CRAAP test), using tools to evaluate credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, and factual support. I offer up sites for them to evaluate (all fake, such as Save the Guinea Worm, DHMO, and Mankato, MN). Many kids figure out that the sites are fake, and that leads to a discussion about how publishing on the web is different from print. "Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources," from the New York Times has many examples of fake posts on social media, as well as lesson ideas. In follow-up lessons, we use the CARS strategy to evaluate other websites in order to rank their usefulness. I teach students about websites such as Snopes.com and Politifact.com, resources to fact-check Internet rumors and sensational “news” they see. In addition, we spend some time looking at domain names and URLs.

I end the unit with a presentation and discussion of the reliability of information from news sources I gathered during a two-week teacher training workshop I attended at the Center for News Literacy Summer Institute at Stony Brook University. My presentation runs through how the dissemination of the news has changed over time, our current challenges in a world of information overload, and the blurring of the meaning of “journalist” in an era of social media and blogs. All this takes around four to five lessons, which I teach in my stand-alone sixth grade library skills class (I see students once every six-day cycle).

Rethinking how we teach evaluation

Teaching evaluation of information has never been so critical, and I’m thinking fast while updating my unit before relaunching it in January. Students can't rely on “about us” pages of websites any longer. While educating them about how to evaluate websites that look accurate and mimic the news, I’ll focus on these four points.

Read laterally. I’ll spend more time teaching students how to Google or crosscheck an organization or “news” source or claim before believing or sharing information found online. “Reading laterally” in this way helps them discover if a source is biased or even completely fake. I can emphasize this as part of the CARS method, asking questions such as, “Is the author an authority on the subject?” and “Does the information on the site agree with other sources?”

Keep it non-political. So many current examples from the 2016 election season are hot-button issues that may open discussions we aren’t ready for in our classrooms. I have found Snopes to be a good source for non-political examples of inaccurate web content. For example, here is a completely fabricated article about Clint Eastwood rejecting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Talk about social media more. The pitfalls of social media can’t be ignored, and we have to discuss rules for sharing or re-sharing articles. I like the “triple check” rule from CNN’s Brian Stelter. Lesson 13 from the Center for News Literacy teaching materials has some good examples from Hurricane Sandy and other news events when inaccurate social media posts were overshared.

Switch it up. An alternate way to evaluate sources that I’m considering teaching my students is the IMVAIN method. It might be a better fit now than CARS, given how our news sources are changing. Here’s an example of how a New York City middle school uses it. The IMVAIN analysis weighs the following factors:

  • Is the material Independent or self-interested?
  • Does it have Multiple sources or only one?
  • Does it Verify, or assert?
  • Is it Authoritative/Informed vs. uninformed?
  • Are sources Named or unnamed?

Embracing the opportunity

As challenging as it is to teach about web evaluation without getting political, I can’t help but see this as an opportunity. In a time when school librarian positions are still being cut or undervalued around the country, this is a chance to talk about how critical our role really is. We have a chance to not only share our expertise with teachers in our schools, but also to show our personal networks on social media that this is what school librarians do; this is what we teach, and this is why every school needs a school librarian. We show students how to evaluate information in a world of information overload. When I speak at my state’s ESSA hearing next week, I will say that this is a large part of why my role is valued in my school. The town I live in does not have any school librarians in the district; the position was considered expendable because of all the resources on the Internet. But given the current state of affairs, perhaps people will finally see what we have known all along...that we’re more important than ever.

2016 SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist Laura Gardner is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media, a teacher librarian at Dartmouth (MA) Middle School, and a 2016 Touchcast Ambassador. She tweets at @LibrarianMsG, and you can follow her library on Instagram and Snapchat at @DMSLibrary366.

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Laura Gardner

Thank you all for commenting! I teach in Massachusetts, which adopted curriculum standards for Digital Literacy and Computer Science over the summer (http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/dlcs.pdf). Quite a few of the standards can be directly addressed by a school librarian. At the moment the standards are voluntary. The MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association) certainly has a stake in this as part of a larger effort to improve equity in our state around school libraries. We also need to continue to get the word out that we teach this, however. Articles over the summer about the new DLCS standards in MA didn’t mention school librarians at all (http://www.wbur.org/news/2016/06/28/mass-digital-standards is one example).

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 08:58


Great article. While I'm not a librarian I enjoyed learning about the IMVAIN strategy. Students aren't the only ones who need to be educated on discerning fact from opinion, real vs. fake news. Thank you Laura and all other librarians for your hard work.

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 08:47


Well said Laura. Very informative and futuristic. I was glad to learn about that IMVAIN strategy and will add to my lesson. Cheers.

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 08:39

Sue @ Crushingcinders

Brilliant and extremely relevant article with realistic practical tips. Thank you for sharing. School Librarians have never been so vital, now to get the school management team onboard.

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 04:49

Micah Perlin

If you're a librarian and/or educator teaching students about information/media literacy, Factinista (www.factinista.com) is a fantastic FREE resource. It's a great way to help students become familiar with what constitutes high-quality journalism, as all content is curated from legitimate sources of news and analysis. The interface is designed to be consistent with how young people consume information (using a scrollable feed like Twitter). Factinista also doubles as a search engine, allowing students to research topics (and unlike Google, the results are always insightful and credible). Students can also sign up to "follow" content by topic, geography, or source to get a customized daily or weekly digest.

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 01:54

Mary Clark

Thank you, Laura! This is such an important part of what we do. I work with some classroom teachers that embed this in their teaching, and others who tell students to cite Google as a source, so the library is the one place where all students can get the message!

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 07:29

Laura Gardner

Thank you for commenting! I have been in my school for 8 years and it takes so long to get a common message out about this sort of thing. I can finally say that citation, including for images, is universally required for research projects. The next step for me is to get some teachers to take a bit longer on projects and let students search for their own information sources, evaluate those sources and start to practice these skills outside of my class. Time is always a mitigating factor.

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 08:43

Marc Aronson

Thank you for the post, I was glad to learn about that IMVAIN strategy. I was just speaking to 7th graders the other day and what I suggest is simpler but more all-encompassing approach: I suggest to students that whenever a book, a teacher, or a guest author asserts anything their first response should be "how do you know?" Getting in the habit of questioning assertions -- from textbooks, from teachers, from speakers, helps when students go to website -- they are encouraged to ask the same question. Usually by the end of a talk the students begin challenging me -- which is just as it should be.

Posted : Nov 30, 2016 01:14


Laura, what a great article. You are right that the role of the school librarian has never been more necessary. It takes time and effort to research properly and along side being able to evaluate online school librarians give access to good quality educational resources too. This too is a dying skill but absolutely essential too. My blog has started to discuss ways that we can make change and advocacy is crucial https://elizabethutch.blogspot.com/2016/11/teachers-is-your-school-library-having.html Embedding information literacy at police level is a way forward to ensure all teachers are able to teach research skills beyond Google and in doing this they will need the support of the school librarian as many will not all be able to do this themselves.

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 05:24



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