News Literacy Resources for Distance Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
The recent closure of Illinois schools in an effort to #flattenthecurve has required many schools to engage their students in meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment.

Many schools are leveraging technology to deliver instruction. With the increased use of technology comes the need to make sure students are wise consumers, engagers, and producers of information with their devices. Rumors are swirling in this current crisis. We can help our students navigate this “infodemic.” Here are some news literacy resources to start with.

General News Literacy Resources

  • The News Literacy Project provided open access to its Checkology subscription-based service to teachers and parents for the remainder of the school year. The package is twelve interactive lessons building on news literacy skills.
  • Crash Course - Navigating Digital Information” is a ten episode series that covers fact-checking, lateral reading, deciding who to trust, using Wikipedia, interpreting data and infographics, click restraint, social media, and evaluating evidence, photos, and videos.
  • The Stanford History Education Group has a portal for Civic Online Reasoning that provides free lessons and assessments that helps teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world.
  • iCivics created curriculum units for both middle and high school students around news literacy as well as an online game called NewsFeed Defenders.
  • Factitious is a game that tests students’ news sense. They updated the game to include COVID-19 information.
  • The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University has a Digital Resource Center that teachers can sign up for to curate resources for classroom use.
  • Newseum ED has wonderful infographics as well as lesson plans.
  • Facing History and Ourselves partnered with the News Literacy Project to create a timely unit on media literacy called “Facing Ferguson” that is appropriate for high school students.
  • The American Press Institute has activities and lesson plans for all ages.
  • Edutopia has vetted a five-minute film festival with nine videos on news literacy.
  • LAMP, or Learning about Multimedia Project, has materials that shine a light to “challenge stereotypes, fake news, and more.”


COVID-19 News Literacy Resources

What are you doing to help students navigate information during this pandemic? Please comment below. Together, we can support students for college, career, and civic life.

Current Public Health and Economic Crisis Necessitates Urgent Equity in Civics Conversations

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

During the current public health crisis, educators are scrambling to move lessons online for students while balancing the numerous needs of our own families. The pedagogical conversations I participated in assume a middle-upper class perspective given our socioeconomic status. I would argue that we are blind to the needs of many of our less privileged students and their families who may instead be in survival mode and at a minimum don’t have one-to-one access to technology or high-speed internet connections. This lack of privilege is a product of structural inequities facing many of our students’ families.

I am honored to serve on a national Equity in Civics steering committee led by Generation Citizen and iCivics, and during a virtual meeting last week, my friend and colleague Amber Coleman-Mortley, Director of Social Engagement at iCivics, raised a profound point. She said that much of the current K-12 educational infrastructure is designed to work around parents, as schools typically connect educators directly with students. The current crisis scrambled this equation and laid bare fundamental inequities related to family engagement that break decisively by race and ethnicity, surfacing a longstanding equity challenge.

To illustrate this challenge, my final analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) will address family background questions, with responses disaggregated by race/ethnicity. Previous installments addressed the degree to which students experienced civic learning opportunities and school cultures aligned with a “lived civics” framework, media literacy opportunities and outcomes, and the extent to which civic learning is threaded across the curriculum at selected Democracy Schools.

Students’ civic knowledge and skills, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Civics, are impacted by their race/ethnicity, school lunch eligibility, language proficiency, and maternal educational attainment, with white, non-school lunch-eligible, native English-speaking sons and daughters of college graduates outperforming their less privileged peers (see Essential School Supports for Civic Learning, Chapter 5). Each of these variables exerts an independent force on student performance, and in many cases, issues of race/ethnicity, poverty, language proficiency, and social class are intersectional.

Educational attainment is used as a proxy for social class given the strong relationship between education and class. Maternal education attainment, rather than parental attainment, is preferred given the high percentage of single parent families and tendency for children to live with their mothers.

I disaggregated students’ maternal educational attainment by race/ethnicity at selected Illinois Democracy Schools and the differences are profound. The maternal educational attainment for the vast majority of Latinx students is high school or less (63%), compared to fewer than one-in-five white students (19%; see Figure 1). A plurality of Black mothers attended some college (37%), whereas white (37%) and Asian (30%) mothers peak at college graduation. Moreover, nearly one-in-five white (19%) and Asian mothers (18%) hold graduate degrees, far outpacing Latinx (5%) and Black mothers (11%).


In public presentations, I often lament that I am the face of civic engagement in America: white, highly educated, middle-upper class, and a native English speaker. As these features are pulled away, one is often exponentially less likely to engage civically in our democracy, particularly in measures beyond voting. Our data from selected Democracy Schools supports this claim, as a plurality of both Asian (27%) and Latinx students (37%) reported that their parents/guardians never engage in political activity (see Figure 2). By comparison, two-thirds of Black students (67%) and three-quarters of white students (76%) reported familial political engagement at least once a year.


Dinner table conversations about community and world affairs are considered a staple of civic engagement, and while more common than familial political engagement, also break decisively along racial and ethnic lines (see Figure 3). Whereas a plurality of Latinx and Black students are neutral in response to the question (both 35%), “In my house, we talk about what’s happening in our community and the world,” a plurality of Asian (35%) and white students (36%) answer in the affirmative. Moreover, white students are the only racial/ethnic group with an above-average percentage who “strongly agree” (24%; 21% average).


Please know that this post is not meant to cast blame or dispersions, nor do I pretend to have ready answers to the challenges surfaced in the charts above. Instead, I hope to inspire reflection and a conversation where issues of equity are central. These issues are by no means new, but warrant urgent attention in this moment of social distancing and economic dislocation.

We must recognize that students come into our classrooms with varying definitions of familial civic engagement and related engagement experiences. We must also recognize and leverage the fundamental assets that students and families of color bring into our classrooms and schools, underlining once more the importance of a “lived civics framework” to designing cross-curricular and schoolwide civic learning opportunities. Starting lines are fundamentally staggered by race/ethnicity. More can be done to engage parents in the process of the civic development of their children, and the current moment forces the issue, providing our field with opportunities to engage students and their families in different, better, and more equitable ways.

Creating Safe Civic Spaces in Troubling Times - Part 2

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

In March of 2018, shortly after the tragedy at Stoneman-Douglas High School, we shared a blog that stressed the importance of creating a civic safe space for students to process current events. Little did I know how relevant that blog would be for the times we live in today.

COVID-19 has upended many of the routines and traditions that undergird our lives. Teachers have been called upon to create meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment. We must take care, however, to prioritize and model civic dispositions in our interactions with students. Dispositions like empathy, commitment to the common good, community involvement, and personal responsibility are crucial during this pandemic.

As a pre-service teacher, we were required to take Educational Psychology 101 where we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization. You might remember that there is a hierarchy to this pyramid of needs in that one cannot self-actualize, let’s say master content and skills, unless they have a firm foundation of having their basic and psychological needs met. There are students who are scared of the unknown right now. Others may be upset because they may miss important milestones like graduation and prom. Some students might know someone who has symptoms of this disease and are living in uncertainty because of the current scarcity of testing.

COVID-19 is not our fault, but its repercussions in our students’ lives IS our problem. Those repercussions extend far beyond the traditional content, but reverberate in the very core of the pyramid of their needs. To ignore these realities in our students’ lives is to ignore the foundation that must be present for learning to take place.

Here are a few ideas and resources to support you in creating that safe civic space for your students in these troubling times.
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first. This is a trite but true metaphor for today. Review these blogs from We Are Teachers and iCivics for the support you need to meet the needs of your students.
  • Your students might reach out to you with questions about COVID-19. The News Literacy Project created a web page to address misinformation about the virus that can be a valuable resource for you.
  • This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about. This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies. Start with what you and your students know.
  • If you decide to try something new, try one thing at a time and look for supplemental tutorials and resources that can support both you and your students. New EdTech Classroom has several YouTube videos to help you navigate How to Teach Remotely Using a Google Slides HyperDoc, How to teach Remotely Using Flipgrid and other resources. There are also several Chrome extensions to support struggling learners.
  • Virtual learning can take many forms as illustrated by this brief blog from Empowering ELLs. See what might be the best fit for you and your students’ situations.
  • You and your students are living through history right now. Consider having them keep a journal of their observations, questions, experiences, and challenges. You can also have them respond to prompts with a daily bell ringer or exit slip. Students can express their lived experiences in words, images, or another medium. They are writing the history others will learn from. In the short run, this can be an important formative assessment tool for you to use to calibrate your teaching. In the long run, these lived experiences can help your students take informed action to inform civil society and policymakers in adjusting protocols and support for future events.
What resources and ideas are you using to support your students during this difficult time? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Students Primarily Experience Civic Learning Opportunities in Social Science and English Courses at Democracy Schools; Cross-Curricular Applications Abound

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

My previous analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) touched on the extent to which students experienced civic learning opportunities and school cultures aligned with a “lived civics” framework and media literacy opportunities and outcomes. As the Democracy Schools Network convenes this week for the tenth consecutive year with a theme of ‘Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher: Best Practices for Civic Learning and Organizational Supports in Schools,” I am returning to 2019 student survey data to explore the extent to which civic learning is threaded across the curriculum at selected Democracy Schools.

Civic learning’s natural home is the social sciences and 93% of students surveyed said they learned about civics content in these courses, but English also ranks perennially high, with nearly 63% of students experiencing civics content here, too (see Figure 1 below). The drop-off in other subject areas is steep, with nearly three-in-ten students identifying civics content in world language courses and 18% in science courses, but less than ten percent of art/music, physical education, and math included civics content. There is limited variation in exposure to civics content by students’ race/ethnicity, although Black and Latinx students reported below average exposure in social science and English courses, the category leaders.

Figure 1: In which classes have you learned about
civic content (i.e, the US system of government and how it works)?

The data broke down similarly in measuring other proven civic learning practices across the curriculum, including discussions of current and controversial issues, civic role-playing activities, and service learning, with a majority of students experiencing these practices in the social sciences (82%, 73%, and 61%, respectively), but among other subjects, only English/Language Arts demonstrated a majority for controversial issues discussions (65%). Moreover, there is evidence of a civic opportunity gap for Black and Latinx students when it comes to civic role-playing in social science courses and Latinx students in English courses (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2: In which classes did you participate in civic role-playing
activities (i.e, political leader or politician)?

In sum, there are numerous opportunities for Democracy Schools to further integrate civic learning opportunities across the curriculum, particularly beyond social science and English. Given that the latter two subjects offer the bulk of current civic learning opportunities, teachers and schools should also make stronger commitments to ensure they are offered equitably to students of all races and ethnicities. And schools statewide should adopt the mantra that students’ civic development is not the sole responsibility of the social studies.

Exclusionary Discipline Decreasing in Illinois Schools, but Racial Disparities Persist

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last year, I assessed the impact of a series of recent laws passed in Illinois to limit exclusionary discipline and public schools and instead employ restorative practices. Recall that the School Code now:
  • Requires districts to report exclusionary discipline measures (expulsions, suspensions, and transfers to alternative schools) by student subgroups, including race and ethnicity;
  • Eliminates broad-based zero tolerance policies in favor of restorative practices;
  • And prohibits preschool expulsion from state-funded facilities.
My previous analysis of data provided by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) found a 15.1% drop in exclusionary discipline and the number of expulsions halved from 2014-2018, coinciding with passage and implementation of the aforementioned statutes. However, expulsions were offset almost one-for-one by transfers to alternative schools. Whereas the 2017-2018 numbers regressed from the previous year’s gains, 2018-2019 data reveals across-the-board reductions in expulsions, suspensions, and transfers, representing a collective decrease of 22.5% from the baseline year of 2014-2015 (see Figure 1 below).


Such progress is to be celebrated, but it comes with a caveat: racial disproportionality in punishment remains stagnant, with the state’s Black students bearing the brunt of exclusionary discipline. In 2014-2015, Black students represented 44.9% of those expelled, suspended, or transferred, despite composing only 17.5% of the state’s K-12 student population. This equates to a disproportionality factor of 2.6.

Fast forward to 2018-2019, Black students composed 41.3% of combined exclusionary discipline targets, but only 16.7% of the student population. The rate of disproportionality fell only a tenth of a percentage point to 2.5, a rate 4.2 times that of white students (see Figure 2 below).


Students identifying with two or more races are also more likely to face forms of exclusionary discipline than their percentage of the population would predict, and the rate for Latinx students is 50% higher than whites.

These alarming findings provide further evidence that public policies present opportunities more than predict outcomes. Implementation, or lack thereof, is where policies succeed or fail. To this end, the McCormick Foundation, in partnership with our grantees, is exploring how a gallant implementation effort led by the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, can be better resourced.

We will detail these interventions in full later this month. In the interim, please review the presentation I delivered last Friday at the DuPage County Social Studies Conference with Dean David Schumacher of Metea Valley High School titled “Restorative Justice Implementation.” I provided an overview of existing statutes, progress to date in implementing them, and further interventions necessary to reach their letter and spirit, while David highlighted how his school is deploying restorative practices.