Evaluating News and Information: Helping Students Understand Personal Bias

For the last blog post in my three-part series on evaluating news and information, I want to discuss the importance of understanding personal bias when we help students learn how to analyze, evaluate, and process information. (Catch up with my first post on verifying as a media literacy skill and my second post on moving beyond fake news).

 We hear a lot about media bias. Evaluating the media for bias includes asking questions about news sources, point of view, stereotypes, loaded language, etc. Identifying this type of bias is extremely important and is often covered in media literacy classes.

I would like to challenge educators to include personal bias in media literacy lessons. Personal inherent, or implicit bias refers to beliefs or attitudes we all have that impact decisions we make. These biases are often unconscious, not explicit. We may not even understand that we have them or know how they impact our actions. Our personal bias impacts the way we see the world and media messages.

Helping children understand that they may process news or information differently based on their inherent personal bias is a key component to critical thinking and media literacy skills. Teaching students that they see the world a certain way based on factors including their environment, hometown, race, gender, and family make-up is important. I can only see the world through my eyes. My perception is colored by my life experience, my belief system, my childhood, my age, etc. Getting to know your personal bias not only helps you understand yourself, but it also allows you to understand your reaction to media and to others.

Personal bias can come up in the classroom in many ways. Debates and disagreements about material among students can be a teaching moment to explore bias and teach empathy.

Educators can also be role models in showcasing their own bias. In my classroom, my students know I’m going to tear up if I see a sweet moment in a commercial or a film about a mother and child. They also know I prefer satire to action and sitcoms to dramas. That’s me.

You can also explain to students that you chose particular books, films, and articles for your teaching because they are the resources you believe work best and are the materials you chose to provide. Reiterate that your resources are not the only available, and not necessarily the “right” materials, but they are what you decided are the best for the tasks at hand.

With the vast amounts of information we receive today, it’s important that students and all of us learn where our own values, beliefs, and experience come in when assessing media. Arming our students with more critical thinking skills, including an understanding of personal bias, will better equip them to be successful and empathetic.