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Correcting The Impact Of Negative News Bias On Mental Health



We can have an influence on the negativity of the news and media we see, and that begins with educating ourselves on where the bias towards negative news comes from. Educators have an important role in helping stem the tide of negative news bias, and edtech and eLearning platforms are uniquely positioned to step into the void of online literacy education.

You’ve probably had this experience–or a rendition of it–recently. You turn on the TV, open your laptop, or scroll through social media, and it appears that the world is constantly in a state of turmoil. As the headlines flash, you might feel a sense of stress, anxiety or overwhelm building from just a few minutes of absorbing the news. Why is this?

Why does the news tend to skew towards the negative, and how can we work to stop the way this bias impacts us and our students?

On the surface, negative news bias seems like a straightforward problem: the news is always so negative. But look just a little deeper and we start to understand that it’s not just the news that’s perpetuating negative news bias, our own brains and behavior are a part of the problem, too! 

Negative News And The Psychology Of Content

A 2017 survey found that 95% of Americans say they follow the news regularly. Over half of them (56%) say that doing so causes them stress. Studies have shown that watching negative news can increase anxious and sad moods and increase worry in areas unrelated to the negative content we’re consuming.

And as the Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker points out in an insightful piece for the Guardian, “heavy news-watchers can become miscalibrated. They worry more about crime, even when rates are falling…”

Why is this? Well, let’s break it down. This problem of negative news bias is two-fold:

  1. The way things are determined as ‘newsworthy’
  2. The way our brains process information

Let’s start with the first: How is content deemed ‘newsworthy’?

What News Is ‘Newsworthy’?

Whether you get your news online, through social media, or by watching it on TV, it would seem that crime is rampant, disasters are constantly impending, and the state of the world is worse than ever before. Why does it seem that way when some of our best indicators of human progress are saying otherwise? 

137,000 people escaped from extreme poverty. Child labor around the world has been cut in half in just 16 years. Child mortality has fallen by more than half since 1990, violent crime has decreased by 74% in the past 25 years, and life spans have increased by more than six years between 1990 and 2016.

So, where is all this good news? Why do we only seem to see negativity? Well, to put it simply, news is about what’s new, and none of these positive changes happened overnight. They were the result of slow progress. 

Things that are newsworthy, are attention grabbing and emotion-inducing. A violent crime, the impact of a horrible natural disaster, the latest political drama, these are all newsworthy subjects because they are breaking stories with new information that induce an emotional reaction. They are headlines that will catch our attention as we flip through the channels or scroll through our Facebook feeds.  

So, how does that affect us?  In a study that looked at what stories from the New York Times went viral, content that evoked heightened emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety were at the top.  But our brains handle positive and negative information differently, and negative emotions tend to involve more thinking. This means that even though awe makes it to the top of the viral list, we tend to dwell more on those unpleasant events.


Add to this another quirk we humans have and it makes negative news (particularly when there’s a lot of it) keep ringing in our ears if we fail to think critically about the news. Our brains estimate how likely it is that something will happen by how easily it comes to mind. Images that are vivid, gory, or violent–very often ‘newsworthy’ topics– will rise to our minds far easier. So, if you’ve been seeing a lot of scary posts about crime or danger, your brain will overestimate how likely it is you will find yourself in a dangerous position.

This, of course, leads us to feel more fearful and anxious and changing our behavior accordingly. 

3 Ways To Help Mitigate The Impact Of Negative News Bias

With an understanding of how news gets made and how our brains react, we can start to work on correcting the impact of the negative bias taking place.

1. Notice how much negative news you read and share

News and social media are like any other thing we consume, the higher the demand for something, the more content creators will supply it. So, if we click on and give a lot of attention to content that makes us feel anger and anxiety, the more likely content creators are to keep creating that kind of content. This is important to know because once we understand this feedback loop of negative news bias, we can learn to control it. 

Now, this is where educators come in. We can’t change the way our brains, or students’ brains react to negativity, but we can work to be more conscious about the media we engage with, and how we teach young people to consume it themselves.

2. Teach digital literacy

Teaching online literacy, whether we’re showing students how to find reputable sources online, explaining the difference between a blog and news, or how to discern opinion from fact is more important than ever. It’s vital that we help students learn to think critically about the media they consume. Every click, comment, or share we make is being counted online. The more we click on the things that spark anger and fear in us and in others, the more of that kind of content we will see.

In our own work with students through Ever Widening Circles and EWCed, we have found that young people are deeply empowered by an understanding of the power of their clicks. When they understand how content is made to give them more of what they click on, and explain that giving attention to content that makes them feel anxious or angry only creates the incentive for content creators to make more content of the same, they want to change their behavior. Suddenly they are empowered to have an influence on the media they consume.

3. Observe how what you read affects your well-being

Like any issue we face, educating ourselves and others, and becoming more aware of our actions, can make a dramatic change! By learning why we react to media and how media is created, the type of media that gets our attention and, eventually, the type of media that outlets create, will change towards what we want. 

Negative news bias is far from an impossible problem to solve and educators have an important role in helping stem the tide of negative news bias. Edtech and eLearning platforms are uniquely positioned to step into the void of online literacy education and work to educate the next generation internet users. 

Dr. Lynda Ulrich founded the new multimedia platform Ever Widening Circles (EWC) with one mission—to change the negative dialogue about our times and celebrate the insights, innovations, and good news in an unbiased and refreshingly agenda-free manner that prove it’s still an amazing world.

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11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy



11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy

by Terry Heick

In understanding the shift from literacy to digital literacy–or rather to understand them both in their own native contexts–it may help to take a look at the underlying assumptions of digital literacy.

This means looking at what’s changing, why it’s changing, and what that means for education.

1. Schools should teach the content that matters most.

Put another way: We should promote the cognitive growth of the kinds of “things” that help people make their lives better.

2. People communicate through a variety of means chief among them reading and writing.

Put another way: Reading and writing are common and critical.

3. Literacy is about both skills (e.g., reading and writing) and understandings (e.g., when, why, and how to express and communicate ideas).

Put another way: Literacy isn’t any one thing, but rather represents a person’s ability and tendency to communicate and be communicated to.

4. Through practice, literacy skills will change with or without academic guidance. Thus, promoting literacy is a matter of transforming that reckless change to growth.

Put another way: Through practice, media users will, for better or for worse, ‘get better’ at communicating through technology. Through analysis, planning, modeling, scaffolding, and practice of our own, as educators, we can facilitate more strategic growth.

5. Literacy is unique in that it affects almost all other formal and informal learning, across all content areas, grade levels, and professional fields.

Put another way: Literacy is crazy important.




6. Digital technology changes literacy–becomes digital literacy.

Put another way: Technology isn’t just about connecting; ideas are like fluid, adapting to the vessels that hold them.

7. Among these changes in the shift from literacy to digital literacy are the quantity, frequency, endurance, and tone of how we communicate.

Put another way: Abundance changes everything. When you can communicate almost any thought anytime, anywhere, things change. (See whimsy, snark, cyber-bullying, passive aggressiveness, skimming-abuse, devaluing of quality data and content, and other effects of this abundance.)

8. Holistically, then, literacy is literacy; on a more practical level, however, digital literacy creates slightly unique needs in terms of both skills and understandings.

Put another way: If literacy is different, what developing readers and writers need to know is different.

9. This could mean a lot of different things, from knowledge of the nuance of social media platforms (e.g., subtweeting), to acronyms, to quicker transitions between ideas, unique structures (shorter paragraphs) to social dynamics imposed on almost everything.

Put another way: It’s complicated and only going to get worse.

10. Eventually this will produce new genres of literature and media (e.g., transmedia, gamified social experiences, blurring of video games and movies, blurring of blogs, books, and transcriptions, etc.)

Put another way: See #7.

11. For now, this requires educators to reconsider what it means to read and write.

Put another way: That means us.

11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy; image attribution jennydowning
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4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers



ideas-for-motivating-adolescent-male-readers4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

contributed by Kenny McKee

It’s no secret that state and national assessments continue to indicate that male readers lag behind female readers in literacy and literacy skills.

The gap tends to grow larger as students enter adolescence. It’s also no secret that many students dislike reading — in class or at home. Just ask a high school teacher…or a teenage boy. While it’s not true that all teenage boys dislike reading, there is a growing trend of many becoming unmotivated readers.

Obviously, students who are resistant to reading are unlikely to get better at it. Here are four ideas for motivating adolescent male readers.

4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

1. Focus On The Now

Oftentimes, teachers emphasize the importance of reading skills or reading content by saying, “You will need this for the test,” or “You will need this for college,” or “When you get to the real world, you’ll need to be able to do this.” Well, students are living in the real world right now and for the most part, they have real concerns about their lives that they want to solve.

Many boys (and teenagers overall) like to know how learning impacts their lives in the moment, and they are generally not concerned with how schoolwork relates to an unclear future. Focusing on the future can lead to procrastination, since, to young men, the future seems a long time away (Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Also, teachers can lose focus on students’ needs in the present.

We can make the reading we choose for whole-class instruction more motivating by relating it to the ‘here and now.’ Survey your students to determine what they want to learn, and select reading materials aligned with their interests. Have students—male and female readers—create products, presentations, or skits from their reading materials.

Many boys will readily engage in activities that ask them to create something meaningful or to perform for their peers. Also, consider designing inquiry units where students research answers to questions that concern teens, such as “Is the senior year of high school necessary?” or “Is love really all you need?” Weaving literature and informational texts around such topics can motivate many students, especially if students have some voice in what the inquiry topics will be.

2. Use A Variety Of Text


In some schools, there is a narrow view of what constitutes literacy. Even with the adoption of Common Core State Standards that emphasize informational text, the primary focus of secondary English language arts classes, especially in high schools, is often the study of literature. Male readers engage in many other forms of literacy that traditionally are not valued by teachers. Since many boys do not read teacher-privileged literary fiction texts at home, many of them classify themselves as non-readers, even if they do extensive reading from the Internet, magazines, and newspapers (Cavazos-Kottke, 2005).

One solution that can have tremendous positive effects on motivation is incorporating self-selected reading as part of the English language arts classroom. Conferring with students individually over self-chosen reading provides opportunities to validate and support boys’ independent reading. Once you have learned a bit more about your male students’ reading preferences, you can find texts with similar genres, themes, or topics to include in whole-class reading. You can also better select texts for a classroom library.

3. Set Them Up For Success

Many boys need to feel like they can accomplish a task in order to even attempt it. Thus, goals must be perceived as achievable in order for boys to feel competent. The most-motivating activities offer success and demonstrate evidence of growth (Cleveland, 2011).

Scaffolding and differentiation strategies can contribute to developing a sense of competence. For example, many teachers use Newsela, a site that allows the user to alter the reading complexity of recent news stories. Students can even self-select their own readlng levels based upon factors such as familiarity with the topic, their reading purpose, and their comprehension.

Another option for students is using social scaffolding techniques such as Say Something. Students can select reading partners and then take turns reading, frequently stopping to discuss their comprehension of the text. Sentence starters can be used to help students initiate those conversations.

4. Use Male Reading Role Models

Many educators believe that a ‘Boy Code’ that stems from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled ‘feminine’ impacts reading motivation. Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age, many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading. Since they do not participate in school reading, they become less proficient at it, which perpetuates their lack of motivation (Cleveland, 2011).

Role models for male readers are important for infiltrating the beliefs of the ‘Boy Code.’ Many people point to the under-representation of males in the teaching profession, especially in English classrooms, as a factor giving the ‘Boy Code’ more power. Some studies have found that bringing successful men into schools helps. Some evidence of this claim is that boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores because their fathers are likely to have jobs where literacy is valued.

These boys are more likely to view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010). Especially for boys living in poverty, it is important for male educators to discuss their reading and the importance of literacy in their lives. In addition, having successful and influential community members share the ways they use reading can be enlightening to young men.

Kenneth McKee is a literacy and instructional coach with Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, NC. He is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. To learn more about his work, follow him on Twitter (@kennycmckee) or visit his website; 4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers; image attribution flickr user gammarayproduction

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A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text



reading-comprehension-toolA Useful Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

by TeachThought Staff

Need a reading comprehension tool to simplify texts for students?

Something practical, along the lines of our “How To Google Search by Reading Level,” and Conversion Chart For Reading Level Measurement Tools? You may find some use in rewordify.

In short, you copy/paste text to be ‘simplified,’ and it does its thing. It attempts to simplify the text at the vocabulary level (as opposed to syntatical, structural, or idea level). Nonetheless, when vocabulary is the barrier, it does the trick. The replacements don’t always do what they should–simplify the text to make it more readable for struggling readers, or students reading beyond their natural level. Sometimes the definitions are themselves confusing, as they add an additional cognitive movement the student has to make, internalizing this now sterile definition back into some kind of meaning.


In our brief use, we’ve found it useful in the right circumstance. You can’t copy/paste a chapter from a book and hand it to a child to read as a ‘modified text’ that has been ‘personalized’ for them. It’d simply make a mess of the text, and likely ruin the reading experience.

What you can do, however, is use it to simplify short excerpts for individual readers, or for a whole-class read. You can also let students use it themselves as they will, or as a model of how passages can begin to be deconstructed.

The developers explain the features of rewordify:

  • Work with all your documents in one convenient place
  • Edit and delete your documents
  • Make any document public, so anyone can find it from the search box
  • Make any document link-only, so people need a link to view it
  • Make any document private, so people need a password to view it
  • Save vocabulary lists
  • Keep track of what words you’ve learned, are learning, and want to learn, and more!

A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

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