Project-Based Media Literacy With Student Reporting Labs

Eighty percent of middle schoolers can’t tell the difference between sponsored content and objective journalism, according to a recent Stanford University study on youth media literacy. In light of the ongoing conversation about the impact of misinformation and propaganda in our politics, teachers in Wisconsin and around the nation face steep challenges and high stakes as they work to help students think critically about the media they consume.

Luckily, PBS NewsHour offers the Student Reporting Labs (SRL) initiative— a framework of curricula, project ideas and mentoring relationships with local PBS stations that puts students behind the camera to get them thinking – and working – like professional journalists. SRL students learn about sourcing, bias, fact-checking, and the nuts-and-bolts of videography and editing. And they do it all as creators rather than consumers.

Recently, Wisconsin Public Television producers Andy Soth and Trevor Keller traveled with me to Black River Falls High School to see some Wisconsin SRL students in action. We spent the day with English teacher Julie Tiedens and her student reporters, sharing insights from the work that Soth and Keller do on  WPT’s original programs Here & Now and Wisconsin Life, while also learning about the incredible news packages these SRL students have produced in their communities.

Soth and Keller gave the students advice on conducting interviews and shaping compelling stories, and also coached the student reporters in real time as they worked on an upcoming segment.

Trevor Keller helps Memphis and Kim get the right angle.

Over the course of several years, Tiedens’ students have created pieces exploring a wide range of topics, from the difficulty of accurately assessing concussions in student athletes to the impact of climate change on local businesses, and have had their work featured on PBS NewsHour in front of a national audience. The real-world experience SRL provides is clearly making an impact.

“I’ve pretty much liked every second of it, and every story we’ve done,” says sophomore Memphis Cleveland. “Each story we’ve done as a group, we’ve always had a connection to it, and we’ve felt passionate about it.”

Back row from left: Trevor Keller, Andy Soth, Julia Peterson, Kim Leadholm.
Front row from left: Sunny Rufsholm, Memphis Cleveland, Julie Tiedens.

Junior Kim Leadholm agrees: “I like this class so much because it gives me a way to keep in touch with things going on in our society, and things that are bigger issues. We’re able to create things that we care about and actually feel strongly about instead of just writing a paper on history or a date or something. We’re able to do stuff that we’re proud of and that really matters to us.”

To learn more about working with WPT Education to start a Student Reporting Lab in your school, join our educator contact list here or reach me directly at john.dollar@wpt.org.

You can also find tons of great resources and lesson plans to provide students with media skills instruction. We particularly recommend this Media Foundations course from KQED Teach (designed as teacher PD rather than direct-to-student use) and this Evaluating Information curriculum created by the Stanford History Education Group.

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