For Teachers: Practicing Mindful News Literacy

For Teachers: Practicing Mindful News Literacy
Kelly Mendoza March 25, 2020

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You probably have watched, read, and heard more news in the past two weeks than you have in the past few months. Half of US adults (51%) are following the news about the coronavirus pandemic very closely, and 38% fairly closely (in a survey of US adults from March 10-16 by Pew Research). Half of teens turn to social media and Youtube for their online news (Common Sense Media). In the middle of this pandemic, we go to our screens for information. And if you’re like me, you are sometimes glued to the news a LOT!

Yes, right now it’s important to tune into the latest news and information. But we also need to practice mindful news literacy skills. Mindful news literacy means that, in addition to identifying credible and trustworthy news and information, we also need to identify how our emotions and well-being factor into participation with news media …. especially in this time of high anxiety.

Here are three tips on practicing mindful news literacy in a crisis:

Use the SIFT method

Mike Caulfield is a professor and digital information literacy expert at Washington State University who works with organizations to combat misinformation. Over the years, he’s refined a set of habits and practices for students and citizens to analyze fact from fiction online called SIFT. Best of all, it’s easy-to-use and each step can be executed fairly quickly. Here are the steps:

  • Stop.
  • Investigate the source.
  • Find better coverage.
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.

The SIFT method is meant to be quick and easy-to-use in our everyday lives. See more about SIFT. You can also learn the deeper skillset within SIFT in the free 4-hour course, which includes specific examples about the coronavirus. It would make for a great at-home learning assignment for secondary students (and adults alike).

Recognize confirmation bias

Did you see the headline “Coronavirus developed in Chinese lab as a Bioweapon”? Maybe a friend you trust shared it on Facebook or Twitter. But there is simply no evidence for this claim. This is one example of many hoaxes and conspiracy theories out there about the coronavirus (see Snopes for a running list). If you tend to distrust government, you might be more likely to believe this headline to be true. This tendency to interpret or seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs is called confirmation bias. It’s especially a problem when we’re facing an issue we don’t know much about. I can cloud our judgment and affect our decisions and behaviors. And (no pun intended) but none of us are immune to confirmation bias — we all have it! There are a couple of simple ways you can recognize your own confirmation bias:

  • Ask yourself questions: Does this story confirm the beliefs I have? Why? What if I thought the opposite of those ideas? 
  • Seek out a broad range of news sources, including disconfirming evidence. Branch out from your usual sources to seek other quality information that could disconfirm the information. This goes along with the “F” and “T” in the SIFT method.)

For more on the psychology of confirmation bias, see this great article on Farhnam Street. If you teach middle or high school, share this video by KQED Education’s Above the Noise: Why Do our Brains Love Fake News?

Practice mindful news consumption

Mindful news consumption helps you get the information you need in a way that best supports your overall well-being. Yes, we do need to keep up with the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic. But no, we do not need to be glued to our screens 24/7. This can heighten emotions and anxiety. Some tips to consider:

  • Limit information overload, and stick to credible sources. Limit how much and what times of day you will check in with the news. Television news, in particular, follows a 24-hour news cycle, with a constant barrage of chatter and “breaking news.”  Even if it’s on in the background, TV can affect not only your state of mind, but the anxiety level in your children, family members, and students. Instead of constantly checking the news on your TV, phone, or computer, decide what times of day you will check in and what sources you will use. For example, in the morning you might spend 20 minutes reading updates from credible sources such as the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and your local public health department’s website. In the evening, you might limit yourself to watching 30 minutes of TV news. Set a timer! Model these behaviors and work with your family to identify your daily news habits. 
  • Avoid sources that trigger you. A trigger is something that makes us feel negative, anxious, or sad. Now more than ever, we need to limit triggers. One example is social media, which can be a source of connection — or contention! It’s easy for “fake news” to be spread on social media. And, it’s social, so sometimes comments on a story can turn into a yelling match! These things can be triggers on our emotions and well-being. Ask yourself, “What are my triggers?” related to news. And try to avoid them. 

So as you open up the latest news on your phone, laptop or TV, remember that practicing mindful news literacy is an important part of being a resilient educator, parent, and citizen.

More Helpful Resources

Kelly Mendoza is Senior Director, Education Programs at Common Sense Education where she oversees education programming and content strategy, including the Digital Citizenship Curriculum, interactive games, and online professional development for schools. She has developed research-based curricula in digital citizenship, media literacy, information literacy, and social-emotional learning (SEL). She develops programs that help students and schools create a positive culture around learning and technology. She has also developed educational resources and curriculum for Lucas Learning, the Media Education Lab, and PBS Frontline. Kelly has a PhD in Media & Communication from Temple University. Follow her on Twitter: @kellymendoza

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