Kid Looking Confused

“Two Men Dressed As Women Shot Outside the NSA.”

When I read that headline, it suggested to me of a variety of things.  But none of those things were the point of the article or, indeed, the significance of the event.  The appropriate and relevant headline would have been “Two Men Shot During Attempted Gate Crash at NSA.”  The latter headline is quite different from the first, suggesting a different story altogether.

This headline and story are getting tucked away in my unit on information literacy.  But the truth is, I have a huge amount of real-world content in that file.  It isn’t hard to find.

I was born in the Walter Cronkite generation of news.  Headlines were not only meant to grab attention but also to directly convey the content.  Things are a little different today.  Or a lot.

Thinking for Yourself

Being literate is so much more than discerning surface meaning.  It also requires judgment.  This is the essential component of information literacy, and it was never more necessary than today.  Mastering the necessary tools of someone who is information literate is an essential skill level in today’s era of sensational headlines and grab-your-attention-at-any-cost news.

Getting students to question, question, question—and to think critically about everything they read—is a heavy task, but there’s really no more important skill than this level of literacy.  It is at the heart of college and career readiness—and, in fact, it is at the core of life readiness as well.

Five Criteria for Judging Content

Reference librarians Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate developed a set of criteria for judging web pages (Mahweh, 1999), but that can also be used when making critical judgments about anything in print.  They are:

  1. Authority: Who developed the material?
  2. Accuracy: Do other sources validate the information?
  3. Objectivity: Is the material free of bias, or is the bias openly stated?
  4. Currency: How recently was the material developed?
  5. Coverage: How deeply is the topic addressed?

An excellent practice for students is to have them analyze research materials according to these five criteria.  Ideally, that practice will transfer to their everyday lives.  What the point of education, after all, if not to be literate, discerning, and independently thinking members of society?

Tate, M.A., and J. Alexander. 1999. Web wisdom: How to evaluate and create information quality on the web. Mahweh: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Your Turn

What best practices do you have for supporting information literacy among your students?