This is the latest installment in the 2020-2021 school year of a weekly feature on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students how to distinguish between what is real and fake in the age of digital communication and a president who routinely denounces real news as “fake.”

The material comes from the project’s newsletter, the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.

The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades 6 through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. During the coronavirus pandemic, the project is offering access to Checkology Premium at no cost to educators and parents in the United States. More than 1,100 educators and parents in 49 states and D.C. have registered to use the platform with as many as 90,000 students.

You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides in this piece, but here is a rundown:

Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.

It creates digital curriculums and other resources, and works with educators and journalists to teach middle- and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. Just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.

Here’s material from the Sept. 28 Sift:

Misinformation cuts across generations

Two new studies tap into the growing interest in generational differences when it comes to misinformation savvy. The big takeaway? While it’s easy to blame others for spreading so-called fake news, young and old alike struggle to navigate today’s tangled information landscape.

A report from the Reboot Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes critical thinking, examines the online behaviors of 150 respondents across two age groups: those 60 and older, and younger adults ages 18 to 30. The study paints a nuanced picture of how age might impact a person’s ability to shun clickbait, recognize legitimate news headlines and assess the credibility of websites.

Older Americans, for instance, preferred clickbait headlines over neutral headlines more than their younger counterparts, but old and young both overestimate their own skills in identifying unreliable websites.

A separate study released last week zeros in on coronavirus misinformation and suggests that younger Americans are more likely to buy into false claims about the virus. The study, a joint project of researchers from Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University and Northwestern University, surveyed 21,196 people about 11 bogus claims related to covid-19.

The youngest group — ages 18 to 24 — had an 18 percent probability of believing virus-related misinformation, compared with just 9 percent for those 65 or older. (But it’s worth noting that a 2019 study found that those over 65 shared nearly seven times as many false articles during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle as the youngest cohort surveyed.)

Taken together, these studies suggest there are no easy answers or single generational culprit for spreading falsehoods online. Instead, recognizing that everyone is vulnerable to viral misinformation can help efforts to curb its spread.

Note: Not all misleading content is created equal. Claire Wardle and the team at First Draft offer a helpful guide that suggests ditching umbrella labels such as “fake news” in favor of more nuanced terms such as misinformation, disinformation and malinformation.

Resource: “Misinformation” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).

Idea: Have students replicate part of the Reboot Foundation report by discussing their own confidence in detecting unreliable websites. Then, have them peruse two websites (here and here) to decide if they can be trusted. Challenge students to defend their reasoning before revealing that neither website is a reliable source of information. In fact, both are funded by groups with significant conflicts of interest, despite efforts to appear objective. Refer to the Reboot study for a more detailed overview of why these websites should not be trusted.

Another idea: Ask students to discuss online habits with older relatives and compare how they determine what information can be trusted. Do both the students and their older relatives always read content carefully before sharing it on social media? Or have students take NLP’s “Should you share it?” quiz and compare their results with those of older relatives.

News goggles

News organizations race to relay information to audiences as quickly as possible when major stories break. One way they do this is by sending breaking news alerts to people who have their apps installed on their mobile devices. This week, we’ve selected a sample of alerts sent Sept. 23, following the decision by a grand jury not to charge any officers in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville — and to charge one of them in connection with shooting into a neighboring apartment.

Let’s use our news goggles to examine these alerts and consider what factors shaped their wording in journalists’ efforts to be fair, accurate and fast. Download our full annotations in Microsoft Word or as a PDF. Also, these classroom-ready slides pinpoint the big takeaways for a discussion with students.

Idea: Have students compare and contrast headlines of Breonna Taylor coverage from a selection of Sept. 24 front pages published across the United States. What details do some include but not others? Which headline does the class think is the best? Why? If the class had to write a headline for this story, what would it be?