South Orangetown Central School District

Helping students to become critical media consumers in an information-saturated world requires ongoing instruction and practice over the course of their K-12 experience.

“At William O. Schaefer Elementary School, we work with our youngest reading detectives as they explore fiction and nonfiction, along with ‘wonders’ and opinions, to determine what is a true story and what is fictional. As we read biographies and books about various cultures and tradition, our learners begin to learn how to discern fact from fiction in their Teachers College Reading Workshop units and in the library,” explains WOS Library teacher Celine Zatarga. “During each library lesson, students enjoy a story, learn how to search for a story or topic in the library and learn factual background information using nonfiction text features, such as captions, timelines, maps and images.”

Early elementary students also begin to develop research skills and to use web-based collection platforms like Sora and MyOn to access e-books. Library and technology coursework focuses on the importance of being a good digital citizen, how words matter, how digital footprints stay with someone and that being responsible is just as important online as it is in person.

As they move up to Cottage Lane Elementary School, students learn to identify reliable sources, to conduct internet research and to participate in digital communities. Students discover new interests and topics through their library’s digital subscriptions and use trustworthy search engines specifically designed for children ( and “Being a friend online is emphasized in the CLE digital world. Our students learn to engage in different kinds of digital communities safely and respectfully,” CLE WERLD teacher Kristine Wagner says.

“Our fifth-grade students recently did a research project using the internet. We taught them how to use multiple websites to verify information,” adds CLE Technology teacher Jacob Tanenbaum. “We discussed how to recognize trusted sites. We also looked at how web addresses and search engines work. The project lasted for several class sessions and each session included a mini-lesson on a topic related to information literacy.”

In seventh-grade, students strengthen their digital literacy and citizenship skills through Research and Debate, a quarter-long Explore class co-taught by Library Media Specialist Kim Landgraff and ELA teacher Tara McCarthy. “We use the acronyms RADCAB (relevancy, authority, details, currency, appropriateness and bias) or CRAAP (currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose) to help determine whether a source is reliable,” Landgraff notes. “But students also evaluate their personal media diet: Where do they get their news? How much time do they spend each week catching up on the news? What changes do they need to make? The idea is to get them thinking about creating a healthy balance and to build good habits. Since students are required to debate in this class–and be prepared to debate either side of a claim with conviction–they learn to look at issues from multiple viewpoints. This may entail visiting news sources they are not personally inclined to read on a routine basis. By reading about one topic from multiple news sources, students are better able to get a complete story. It also opens the door to empathy and understanding of other people’s perspectives.”

“Meme Madness” is an especially popular Research and Debate activity which helps students recognize and combat misinformation by creating both a meme that could potentially spread “fake news” and a fact-checked version. By the time the quarter ends, students realize that it’s important to get their news from reliable sources they can trust.

Once students reach Tappan Zee High School, they have the critical thinking and literacy skills to evaluate media at a more advanced level. Library Media Specialist Patty Eyer collaborates closely with English teachers to promote best practices by teaching students to read laterally. “When using the internet, we emphasize search strategies and methods, such as the importance of pulling articles from multiple sources on the same day to ensure that they were produced during the same news cycle,” says Eyer.

High school students continue to use the CRAAP method to evaluate articles, but also consider a text’s veracity, expression, headline and graphics. To determine its bias, they analyze its language, political position and how it compares with other stories from other sources on the same topic.

Instructional Literacy Coach Mark Stanford reports that developing media literacy is a systemic, district-wide practice: “The goal is that our students become experts in this work by the time they graduate.”