California Educator

June/July 2022

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Can Students Vet Information Like Experts? I N A 2 0 2 2 S T U D Y, Sam Wineburg and his colleagues at Stanford University set out to determine whether they could teach kids to read laterally — like fact-checkers — and whether there would be a change in student skepticism about sources. Using materials they developed at the Stanford History Education Group, they asked 499 high school students to evaluate information found online. In one activity, students assessed the credibility of, a "site purporting to o•er nonpartisan information about minimum wage policy." To get full credit, the students had to avoid being deceived by the site's superficial qualities — that it was a dot-org, referenced scientific studies, and claimed it was sta•ed by pro- fessionals with advanced degrees — and find information about the organization behind the site, any hidden motives or agendas, and any other sources that might challenge the site's claims. Half of the students were given six 50-minute lessons in lateral reading, while the other half participated in their busi- ness-as-usual government classes. After a three-month period, both groups of stu- dents were tested on their ability to assess the credibility of a site, the accuracy of the information presented, and whether the claims made were supported by evidence. While students in the traditional govern- ment classes saw a modest gain of 25 percent, students who were taught the lat- eral reading strategy nearly doubled their scores, improving their eye for unreliable information by 71 percent. © Edutopia critical eye. Instead of taking an article at face value, we should take a step back, says Wineburg, and think about the information it contains as part of a broader ecosystem of both reliable and unreliable sources: Is the claim corroborated by any other sources? Are we looking at rsthand accounts, or does the information orig- inate elsewhere? What is the site's reputation? Media bias and reliability charts can help readers quickly identify where a major publisher lies on the political divide and how accurate its reporting is — from Slate and e New York Times to e Economist and e Wall Street Journal to Breitbart News — while fact-checking sites like,, and e Washington Post Fact Checker can be used to help quickly verify a claim. Developing a list of reputable sites and cultivating a skeptical mindset in students — information should be considered dubious until veried — should be central to how students vet information they read online. Meanwhile, a quick scan for spelling or grammatical errors, sensational claims that sound too good to be true, and overtly political perspectives and single-source reporting, along with Google searches about the site itself, can also help students identify possible misinformation. While researching, students shouldn't spend too much time on any one site, Wineburg asserts. Expert fact-checkers are adept at ignoring information while looking for answers; they almost immediately leave the site of the original claim and move laterally across the computer screen as they open new web pages. ey assume that information is low-quality until fundamental questions are answered: Does a quick search on Google yield information about a website or news article that will help me gauge its trustworthiness? Have journalists investigated the site in question and uncovered a ow of funds from organizations that have a hidden agenda? Are the site's claims conrmed by reputable sites? Getting started in the classroom Here are five tips for setting kids up to succeed at lateral reading. See more on the Stanford Histor y Education Group's website at 1. Guide students with probing questions. U.S. history teacher Will Colglazier, who is part of the Stanford History Education Group team, launches a lesson on lateral reading by asking his students to answer three key questions when assessing the credibility of a website: Who is behind the information? Investigate the people making the claims and how their motives could influence what is presented and suppressed. What is the actual evidence for the claim? Claims often appear to be scientic or based on evidence; when students gather and assess the actual evidence, does it still add up? What do other sources say? Corroborate claims and verify 45 J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2

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