Teaching Media Literacy to Kids

In the current world that we live in there is constantly information at our fingertips. For kids growing up in this environment, it is easy to feel like there is information always flying at them, and it is hard to decipher what is true.

Laurel Maguire, the school librarian at Slauson Middle School in Ann Arbor has been helping students and families with this issue for many years.

Maguire has worked in a preschool library, a public library, and now has been in Slauson Middle School for the past 10 years.

“I think what brought me here to the middle school level is connecting kids to the perfect book at the perfect time,” Maguire said.

However, Maguire realizes that in the new age of digital media, there is a new skill set to be taught.

“With the way that things are going and changing, research now is all pretty much going to be online…this is a new skill set,” she said. “teaching some really critical research skills using digital resources is just super important at this age and we are starting the building blocks of that in middle school.” 

Aspects of media literacy 

Maguire believes that there are three key parts of media literacy that are critical to teach students.

She said that the first part of this is, “knowing what is news.” Maguire explains, “Right now we have so much news as entertainment and news as something sensational.”

With how much social media gives us news as entertainment, Maguire urges the importance of teaching kids what journalism and real news sources look like. She continues, “I feel it’s really important to teach kids that there is such a thing as journalism and that when we go to news sources such as newspapers or magazines with journalists that are certified, there is a journalist code of ethics that all journalists have to abide by. So although there may be bias in different news sources there are still journalists.” 

The second part of media literacy that Maguire believes is important to teach kids is the building blocks of research.

She said that a big part of this is teaching kids what databases are reliable, how to realize the purpose of a website, and how to determine the credibility of an author. Along with this, she urges the importance of lateral reading. “I think that is something that especially with AI…that it is really important to teach is lateral reading, so if you see something online, checking that news item from multiple sources.”

Maguire recommends teaching lateral reading to students for research purposes, but also for something as simple as sharing information on social media. 

Finally, Maguire talks about the ethical side of media literacy.

“The third part of media literacy is now the reflection of how do I use it and how is it impacting my life. So that is the digital citizenship side too.” She continues, “Getting kids to reflect on their use of media. So reflecting on how many hours a day are you on a screen after school, and how are you using it? Are you using games or apps that are meant to be addictive…or are you using it creatively where you have more agency.”

Along with this ethical side of media literacy, she urges the importance of teaching about plagiarism and citing sources. 

Resources for parents 

Maguire has a few resources that she often recommends to parents. The first resource that she recommends is Common Sense Media: Age-Based Media Reviews.

“They have a tab specifically for parents with information about how to talk to your kid about cell phone use, how to talk to your kid about cyberbullying, about ethical use of AI, that kind of thing,” Maguire said.

She also recommends Screenagers Movie Resources to parents. 

“There’s a whole resource page for parents and it will look at all of those issues too as well as providing some ideas for maybe a cell phone contract that you would have before you get your kid the phone,” she said.