Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Developing Digital Detectives: Essential Lessons for Discerning Fact from Fiction in the “Fake News” Era

Cover Slide from #G2Great chat featuring book title, author names and chat details

By Brent Gilson

For the archive of the chat please visit the Wakelet here

From the Authors-What motivated them to explore this topic?

It’s not hyperbolic to say that we believe this is the most important work we can be doing right now. As we state in the introduction to our book, Until we get a handle on our own ability to determine what can and can’t be trusted in the information we consume, we stand very little chance of truly confronting the other problems we face as a species.

Without fail every day at the start of my grade 9 class a student will start the day with a “Mr. Gilson, did you hear about [insert topic] and I always ask them to fill me in. The majority of the time the information I get is partly true with a mix of misinformation, disinformation, and a sprinkling of alternative facts. I often times push back, I ask them where they heard this partly true thing. More often than not it is social media: some TikTok video or a snippet of Fox News or MSNBC that has been edited and crafted to tell a different story than the one intended. When I try to illustrate the gaps in information or the outright false information they are repeating, they are often skeptical of me. 

I don’t remember this problem growing up. We had newspapers and new programs with trusted anchors that were just there to give us the news. It seems as technology increases and attention spans decrease those responsible to get information to the masses have adopted the mindset of entertainment is better than education. This model has dire impact on our students and schools as students are faced with a sea of information. I think about the scene in Alan Gratz’s Refugee when Mahmoud discovers that the life jackets his family purchased were fakes. They looked alright but when needed could not keep someone from drowning. Without the proper support, our students will drown in this sea of information in the time of fake news, misdirection, and flat-out lies that fill our news cycles. Students need tools to navigate these seas and this week the G2Great team was so grateful to welcome Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins to discuss their work Developing Digital Detectives.

From the Authors- What do you hope are the BIG Takeaways for teachers to embrace after reading your book?

Technology has evolved at an exponential pace in the last few decades, but guess what hasn’t evolved very much at all in that time? The human brain. Mis-, Dis- and Mal- information are problems rooted in human behavior, which means the solutions to those problems can be found there, too!

As the chat began participants reflected on the importance of Information Literacy, the ability to discern the Mis- Dis- and Mal- information from the truth.

Question 1 from the chat Jennifer and Darren remind us: "In a landscape filled with misinformation, information literacy is more vital than ever.” Before we begin our #G2great chat tonight, respond to that statement.

Jennifer LaGarde response. Mentions how false information isn't just to misinform but divide us.
Chat response discussing the importance of teaching kids to evaluate information
Chat response highlighting the constant flow of information and how that information can be harmful.

As teachers reflected two pieces that stood out to me particularly were those of Christie Nold and Jennifer herself. The idea that so much of the book banning conversations are fuelled by this twisting of the truth and purposeful misrepresentation to cause fear is something I think needs more attention.

Chat response highlighting books banned based off misinformation.

Additionally Christie’s point regarding the use of misinformation as a recruiting tool. Praying on our youth as a means to further the hateful agenda of white supremacy. 

Chat response mentioning the dangers of recruitment of young people into white supremacy through misinformation.

Next, the chat covered strategies for how to deal with information that triggers an emotional response.

Image shows Question 2 for the chat. Asking how we deal with triggering information.
Chat response highlighting ways to help students process information that triggers them.
Image highlights another strategy in dealing with triggering information
Image highlights a strategy for dealing with triggering information
Image highlights a strategy for dealing with triggering information
Image highlights a strategy for dealing with triggering information

We might help students to look at the information presented to them with a lens of thoughtful reflection rather than jumping to the idea that we disagree and therefore it must not be true. To analyze things we need to take time. Too often even adults, when faced with something they disagree with, turn off their ability to process and just look for reasons it is wrong. This inability to really look at information makes it even more difficult to maneuver to find the truth. If adults struggle with it and have years of experience how can we expect our students to do so without support? 

One very common concern that often comes up in classrooms is the “dreaded” smartphone. Schools have policies that police how/when/if students can have phones out. Students, in my experience, need support in how to leverage their phones to be the tools for learning that they have the potential to be. While considerations like access need to be considered, when used well smartphones can be powerful learning tools. This year I had students making movies for projects with only their phones. Apps designed to be powerful learning tools are readily available if teachers simply put aside that need for control and help students see how useful our phones can be. 

These are troubling times when forces that mean to do harm have learned how to weaponize information and the internet to spread misinformation and hate. Our students are spending more and more time in these waters and without the proper education on how to discern fact from fiction we are putting kids in harm’s way.

Developing Digital Detectives provides us with the tools and language to help our students navigate these waters. We need to prioritize this instruction in our classrooms so that our students are prepared for the world at their fingertips. Literally.

The G2Great team is grateful to all who participated this week in the chat and especially to Jennifer and Darren for leading this discussion and sharing their expertise.

From the Authors- What do you hope teachers can take to heart after the chat?

News, Media and Information literacy can’t be treated as an “add on” or something we do during “advisory” periods when time allows. We must find ways to embed these skills across content areas and grade spans. Our kids, our communities, indeed our world, are depending on us to prioritize this work.


Developing Digital Detectives: Essential Lessons for Discerning Fact From Fiction in the “Fake News” Era by Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins

  • Our monthly  newsletter. It’s free and is organized into 5 sections: Explore (one resources to explore). Teach (one resource to each). Think (one resource to think about). Follow (one Information Literacy leader to follow). Bort’s Bonus: (something extra that we think people will find useful.
  • The Developing Digital Detectives study guide we created for people to use when reading our book as part of PLCs, etc. 
  • The Evidence Locker comes with a digital repository of well over a hundred resources, activities, etc. Our book is like a cookbook, with all the recipes, and the evidence locker is the pantry – with all the stuff you need to get cooking!