Media literacy

There is a way to teach media literacy in schools

In a commentary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on August 29, Juan Rodriguez asserted that “the best weapon we have to protect our democracy is media literacy.”

We couldn’t agree more. Better yet, we have a solution. Every school needs a certified teacher-librarian on staff.

The term librarian might conjure up the image of a single woman dressed in a cardigan, wearing a bun and shhh. And while we love our cardigans, that stereotype is far from accurate. Our true role at the school is that of information literacy experts in all areas of the curriculum.

The job of a certified teacher librarian is to teach students to evaluate information for bias, credibility and relevance – to teach students to be critical evaluators of the information they consume on a daily basis.

Teacher librarians play a vital role in teaching media literacy in schools. With the expansion of the Internet and the rapid growth of information, the need to educate students to recognize accurate and competent sources of knowledge is vital. They guide and instruct students as they navigate this information-rich culture.

While teacher librarians have often been seen as curators of books and resources, it is essential to recognize that they are also information specialists. They work collaboratively with teachers to ensure that students develop skills to successfully use technology and global information to succeed academically and grow personally.

The following media literacy standards, as outlined in the Utah Library Media Standards, help students lay the foundation in the following areas:

  • Information and research: Teacher librarians teach students the skills to select information from a wide variety of sources, evaluate [the source’s] value and apply new knowledge to problems.

  • Media literacy and engagement: Teacher librarians teach students to develop skills in using media and technology, to make informed choices, and to understand the components, development, and potential impact of media messages. This includes, but is not limited to, distinguishing between real news and fake news and questioning the validity of information that students view online.

At a time when misinformation is rampant in our media, having certified teacher-librarians in all schools at all levels is essential. However, budget constraints and a lack of understanding of a teacher librarian’s job by policy makers and stakeholders have resulted in a sharp decline in the number of certified school librarians in schools across the country.

In Utah, there are just over 200 certified teacher librarians for over 610,000 students. Only two of Utah’s 41 school districts have certified teacher librarians at all educational levels.

The decline of certified teacher librarians is detrimental to our rapidly changing society, as our students will not be equipped to navigate a world of increasingly complex information. In order for our children to be media literate, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community at large must advocate for certified teacher librarians in every school.

Elaine Zhang is a Certified Teacher Librarian at Union Middle School. She holds a Masters of Education and a Teaching Degree in Urban Studies from UCLA and holds an Honors in Educational Technology and Library Science.

Jenny Cassidy Olsen is a Certified Library Teacher at Alta High School. She holds a degree in English Education from Brigham Young University, an MBA from the University of Utah, and a Media Honors from Southern Utah University.

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