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Photo courtesy of La Salle College High School

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School’s entire freshmen class learning news literacy with NLP’s resources

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headshot of Pam Szabo

Photo courtesy of Pam Szabo

If educator Pam Szabo were a student today, she’d probably be the kid asking the teacher for extra homework.

“I like to be busy. That’s who I am,” said Szabo, a veteran English teacher and reading specialist who joined La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb, as a part-time library assistant in fall 2022, when her son enrolled as a freshman.

La Salle, a Catholic all-boys college-prep school, transformed its traditional library into the McShain Center for Digital Research and Collaboration, and Szabo envisioned all the ways she could make an impact. “With my ambitious personality, I began to ask for more and more responsibilities. I was bugging my dean, ‘What else can I do, what else can I do?’”

So, the dean asked her to create a media and news literacy curriculum as a component of the school’s required freshman course, Introduction to Technology and Design.

“I have a great interest in curriculum design and development, so I started to dig for resources to teach this,” she said.

Szabo came across the News Literacy Project’s Framework for Teaching News Literacy and then discovered Checkology®, NLP’s e-learning platform. She likes that subject matter experts guide students through the lessons and that the topical subjects and examples from social media make the material relevant.

An investigative news literacy curriculum

High school student stands up smiling at the camera, in school library

Photo courtesy of La Salle College High School

To develop the curriculum, she watched all 19 Checkology lessons and found that this exercise also benefited her as a media and news consumer. “It made me stop and think of what I see in media. It made me more aware,” said Szabo, who is now the school’s media literacy instructor. Using NLP resources, she teaches more than 300 freshmen each year.

She focuses her sessions around nine Checkology lessons, including “Arguments and Evidence,” “Evaluating Sources Online” and “Introduction to Algorithms.” She frequently uses challenges offered within the platform’s Check Center, where students put their investigative skills to the test.

Szabo works through the lessons and exercises with her students, stopping frequently for discussion and closer examination. For example, she might present an image from the Israel-Hamas war and stop to ask questions that test the students’ critical observation skills: “What do you think you’re looking at? Who is saying what? Do they have the authority to say it? Is there money involved?”

Students enjoy the investigative nature of the class and are often surprised that an authentic-looking social media post is doctored, fabricated or taken out of context by a source that lacks credibility, she said.

Concepts apply to many disciplines

Two high school students walking in school hallway, facing each other while talking

Photo courtesy of La Salle College High School

At her dean’s request, Szabo is preparing to give a presentation to colleagues explaining what it means to be news-literate and demonstrating how other teachers can incorporate news literacy skills into their lessons. She also will promote the value of having a journalist as a guest speaker in class because it provides real-life authenticity and could relate to a variety of disciplines, she said.

Szabo already has witnessed how students apply their new skills in other settings. “I was helping with a research project in social studies classes, and I heard them using terminology from Checkology about finding credible resources and using some of the skills they learned — especially lateral reading.”

She noted that educators don’t need to dedicate a full class period to teach this important material. “It’s very doable even if you don’t have a lot of time. You can do it as a bellringer. And it’s valuable for assignment modules when you have a substitute teacher.”

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