Activities for Beginning to Develop Critical Consumers of Information
To following are brief descriptions of activities we designed to help reach our objectives:
Discuss personal experiences, or experiences of people they know, of being lied to or scammed, and how the person(s) doing it managed to pull one over one us. What strategies did they use to convince us? Extrapolate from this to introduce common persuasive techniques before moving to real life examples in advertisements and short passages of editorials.
For each article type—agenda, factual, and editorial—have students finish by creating their own short articles whereby they demonstrate knowledge of the features of each. Swap with other groups and see if students can correctly identify the bias.
In piloting some of these lessons and activities, we have found our students to be generally successful in identifying the various types of information, purposes, and biases when given explicit instruction. As always, it is easier to apply these skills in the controlled environment of the classroom with the instructor’s prompts then it is to transfer them to their real lives. For that reason, I’d emphasize bringing in authentic information sources that match closely to the way they actually consume news, including cable TV, social media sites, and radio stories.
Finally, have fun teaching information literacy! Articles from the satirical journal The Onion, outlandish claims in sources like the National Enquirer, and media clips of politicians unsuccessfully spinning a story are entertaining and fun starting points before moving onto the more insidious and subtle forms of misinformation. As serious as this work is, it need not be dull. Done right, it can be engaging and relevant, and can bring in contemporary issues that students care about.
Prooijen, J. W. (2017). Why Education Predicts Decreased Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(1), 50-58.
Where to Start in Developing Critical Consumers of Information (Part 1)
by Kristi Kaeppel
Last year, in the media frenzy of the election year, my colleagues and I sat down to consider how we could develop our adult students to be better consumers of information, thus avoiding falling prey to sensationalist, misleading, or downright false news. We knew we had an opportunity—perhaps even a responsibility—to hone the critical thinking skills of our students in a way that could have a direct impact on their political reasoning and voting behaviors. Yet, it was difficult to know where to begin. Many fake news curricula that we reviewed emphasized a combination of analytical and technical skills such as reverse image searching to see the source of a photograph and using a variety of fact-checking sources and methods. As important as these skills are, for our learners in Adult Basic Education, we wanted to start with broader habits of mind. Talking among ourselves, we recognized that if we could get our students to do a seemingly simple thing—slow down, pause, and consider that information may be skewed, biased, or intentionally fabricated—that we would be successful in a giving them a crucial first step in information literacy.
While susceptibility to misleading or fake news is found across educational levels, there is research to suggest our adult basic education students may be particularly vulnerable. Prooijen (2016) found that lower educational levels are correlated with an increased belief in conspiracy theories, in part because low educational levels are associated with feelings of powerlessness and lack of control, which increase susceptibility to false information. Additionally, the tendency to assign simple explanations to complex issues (the kind found in conspiracy theories and in fake news articles) decreases as one’s educational attainment rises (Proojien, 2016). All of this suggests that as ABE instructors, we are uniquely positioned to help counter our students’ susceptibility to believe inaccurate information.
Recognizing that we needed to start with broad, meta-cognitive skills to achieve our mission, we decided on the following as objectives for our students in developing their information literacy:
Part 2, to be posted in April, will describe activities and related resources.
by Brooke Machado
It's the reality: teachers work mostly in isolation, rarely discussing with one another what is working, or not working, for ourselves and our students. Squeezing time out of our hard-pressed day-to-day schedules is difficult. So last year, when I was invited to take part in a pilot group called “Critical Friends for ELA,” joining required some balance and investment of my time as a busy professional. Thankfully, what it yielded for me far exceeded what I put in.
Critical Friends are teachers who provide paramount assistance to one another by involving themselves in a constructive and encouraging environment over time to consider together how well they are meeting learning objectives and how tasks can be improved. The term critical should not be perceived as pertaining to criticism or disapproval, but rather as being essential or imperative.
I joined a group of practitioners who agreed to meet for five organized discussions about our students’ work and standards-based teaching. Our focus on assignments put everyday student work through a cycle of peer review and deliberation with the aim of observing the connections between each assignment’s intended outcomes and its alignment with the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE).
I shared one of my daily warm-ups and its resulting student work. The following questions then guided our discussion: What did my students learn from completing the assignment? Which CCRSAE best match the content and performance demands of the assignment? What evidence is there that the students understand the content, and to what extent have students demonstrated proficiency with the targeted CCRSAE?
Throughout the process, my emotions ran the gamut. I will admit, I felt nervous as my teaching became public. What would my peers think of my ideas? Am I on the right track? This is a warm-up, not a major project—is it worth our collective time? But what followed was a thoughtful dialogue, where my colleagues offered their own experiences with the subject matter in combination with strategies and tools they use in their own practices. Their response confirmed that what I had was pretty good, and I was encouraged to make it even better. I went forth creating new warm-up activities based on feedback from my peers. Trying out new versions of old ideas invigorated me!
For me, Critical Friends went beyond fulfilling professional development requirements: this cooperative, teacher-directed approach flipped the traditional model on its head. Compared to stand-alone trainings and workshops, our series of meetings resulted in a sustained exchange of ideas and in growth of my knowledge and skill set. The time permitted me to improve my own assignments and learn new methods of instruction, as well as to see others’ work and offer feedback, all the while encouraging me to find greater learning experiences in my classroom.
Allocating time to meet with colleagues presented a number of challenges. In a teacher’s world, “I’m all caught up!” is a laughable declaration. In the face of our myriad tasks—aligning curriculum to new standards, grading assessments, providing students with feedback, differentiating instruction, etc.—we all agree that there is more to do than the day allows. However, meetings with my group breathed new life into how I see the assignments I give. Beyond the sharing of effective practices and materials, I gained an abundance of new knowledge and a support system to help me meet the needs of my students.
In its essence, Critical Friends reveres and emphasizes reflection as an essential part of a teacher’s life and reduces the sentiment of “I’m doing this alone.” While building trust amongst one another, we worked to come up with solutions to predicaments we commonly share.
What Critical Friends is and what it accomplished for me make it a valuable learning tool. When we teachers are given and can pursue the opportunity, time, and place to improve our practices and celebrate successes together, we win by not going it alone.
by Velvet Silva
As educators, we strive to give our pupils an environment where they feel confident and comfortable expressing themselves. We understand the importance of interpersonal skills, in and out of the classroom: In order to be successful, students must have good command of verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as the ability to analyze and problem-solve. These “soft skills” are easily transferable to the workplace or other systems.
Engaging in collaborative activities and completing group projects gives students an opportunity to improve those skills. A multidisciplinary thematic unit that is aligned with the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE) allows students to improve and use transferable skills as they acquire knowledge. What a great way to make numerous academic content connections and strengthen “soft skills.” (Do your students struggle with these skills? Read about Executive Function and some classroom strategies.)
For example, consider a multidisciplinary unit about the environment in which students:
After some further inquiry and reflection, students are prepared for teamwork, which may look like this:
Of course, this is just me brainstorming ideas. I’m sure you have many of your own.
How awesome is it that when we provide rich, meaningful learning opportunities in a safe space, our students make connections and constructively converse about their ideas? They problem-solve and manage their time. They work together to accomplish a common objective. Each member is valued and is responsible for contributing to the group’s success. Completion of their final project and product demonstrates their ability to meet the CCRSAE and shows that they are capable of employing those valuable, transferable skills.
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