Public high schools in the Illinois Valley are ahead of the curve when it comes to teaching media literacy in the classroom.
After a new requirement was passed in Illinois to require media literacy instruction in public high schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, some local schools reported already teaching.
Principal Denise Aughenbaugh said Mendota High School has been teaching media literacy across disciplines and grade levels for years. The focus at Mendota is on analyzing sources of information and using tools like Rumorguard and Checkology.
RumorGuard is a site that fact-checks stories and explains why a story isn’t credible, and Checkology is an online learning platform with lessons on subjects like media bias and misinformation. Both sites were created by the News Literacy Project, a non-partisan, non-profit national organization with the goal to advance media literacy throughout American society. The News Literacy Project works closely with schools in the Illinois Valley to help provide resources to teachers and students.
“It’s important for students to acknowledge the first amendment and its role in democracy and a free press which creates an informed public,” said Shaelynn Farnsworth, senior director of education partnership for the News Literacy Project. “(It’s important to) understand where that right comes from and why it’s a cornerstone of American democracy.”
Jason Artman is the social studies department chair at Mendota High School. Artman is a member of the Illinois Civics Organization and led Mendota through the process of becoming a democracy school, the only one in the Illinois Valley. He uses Checkology, Rumor Guard and Civics Online Reasoning, where students learn to evaluate online information.
“The particular tools, Checkology, Rumor Guard, Civics Online Reasoning, have led to some “aha moments’' in the classroom, Artman said. “But it’s a skill I hope I’m only helping reinforce as teachers at all grade levels take a look at (media literacy’s) importance.”
Principal Ingrid Cushing at La Salle-Peru High School said there was no need for L-P to revamp its curriculum after the law was passed. Cushing said the teaching staff was already implementing the media literacy standards, and the law made the school more aware of how many courses were hitting those standards.
Media literacy is taught in English classes throughout all four years and in an essential technology course, which most take as freshman. Both are classes are required for graduation, ensuring all students learn the basic skills. Cushing also said media literacy is touched on in other classes, including AP computer science and project lead the way classes. Teachers emphasize evaluating trustworthiness of sources, cyber security and phishing and digital citizenship.
“Students’ ability to analyze and evaluate is an important thing for them to learn and its helpful to have that experience here at school with the support of their teachers guiding them,” Cushing said. “Media is a big part of our lives, and they need to be able to have that skill as they move forward in their adult lives.”
At Hall High School in Spring Valley, Principal Adam Meyer said the media literacy standards are covered in a variety of classes. Some portions are covered concisely, for example, in a media consumption unit in a sociology course. The social responsibility and civics aspects are taught throughout the duration of social studies classes, and the analysis and evaluation of the media messages portion is continuously revisited in English classes.
Meyer said Hall High School is also looking to hire a computer science teacher for next year to expand its curriculum, allowing students more opportunity to be explicitly taught aspects of journalistic standards, like the creation of media.
The Learning Technology Center of Illinois also hosts workshops and provides resources on media literacy for schools within the La Salle, Marshall and Putnam regional office of education (ROE #35). For more information or resources go to https://newslit.org/ or https://medialiteracynow.org/.