News Literacy Project Helps Students Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

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By: Nu Yang

News Literacy Project Helps Students Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

The newspaper industry would quickly dry up without journalists to keep the news flowing, so it makes sense that publishers and reporters would want to make an investment in the future of their industry. Enter the News Literacy Project (NLP).

Founded in 2008 by 29-year veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Miller, the project reaches out to young people in middle and high school by bringing seasoned journalists into classrooms to help sort fact from fiction in the digital age.

When Miller started the project, he was an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau. He got the idea in 2006 when he spoke to a group of 175 students at his daughter’s middle school in Bethesda, Md., about his career as a reporter and why journalism is important. The thank-you notes he received indicated that he had made a connection, and he was inspired to think of a way to make a difference in the lives of students.

Miller left behind his reporting job two years later to focus on bringing NLP to the classroom, and by 2009, the project was in schools. The project is currently in schools in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md.

Miller said he recruited journalists he knew and respected to participate in the program. Working with educators, students, and journalists, NLP developed original curriculum materials based on engaging activities and student projects. Journalists are matched with classes based on the curriculum. For example, a White House or political reporter might make a presentation to a government class, or a feature writer might speak to an English class.

In the four years NLP has been in schools, Miller said more than 100 journalists have given 250 presentations. These journalists come from The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times. Also participating are photojournalists and broadcast journalists from stations such as CNN and CBS News.

“The students are very appreciative of the journalists coming in to talk about what they do,” Miller said. “They learn to ask questions, to be informed as a student, consumer and citizen, and to find answers to those questions.”

Dana Panagot, principal of the Facing History School in New York, said, “In a short time we have seen the project make a difference in students’ writing, in their attention to detail, in how they read, and how they react to and understand a text.”

Journalists also walk away with something to gain. “No matter how great our work is, if there is no audience, it will disappear,” Miller said. “This way, we’re building an audience, classroom by classroom.” More information at thenewsliteracyproject.org.

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