Topic 2 Critical thinking

  • The world is seen as a socially constructed text that can be read. Everything is considered as material to be read and interpreted. The term “text” goes beyond the traditional term and can be an image, a poster, a song, a video, a Facebook post, etc.
  • The students are researchers of language, images, spaces, and objects, exploring what counts as language, whose language counts, and who decides. They explore ways texts can be revised, rewritten, or reconstructed to shift or reframe the message(s) conveyed.
  • In critical literacy, there is an understanding that texts are never neutral and that all texts are created from a particular perspective to convey specific messages that position readers in certain ways and make them think about and believe certain things in specific ways. There is a need to examine the perspective of others, doubt, question, and understand what message they are trying to convey.
  • The sooner the learners are introduced to such practices, the sooner they will be able to become critically literate and evaluate whether the information is true or there are hidden messages behind it.
  • Apart from that, students have more possibilities for contributing to a more just and social world by being better able to make informed decisions regarding such issues as power and control, practice democratic citizenship, and develop an ability to think and act ethically.
  • For instance, critically reading a bottle of water as a text to be read could result in examining the practice of drinking bottled water and changing that practise in support of creating a more sustainable world.

Due to the increasing technology use, texts have become multimodal, and literacy moves from meaning the ability to read and write to the ability to interpret all the texts that surround our society due to widespread use of media, social and others. “Media Literacy Education” (National Association for Media Literacy Education – NAMLE, 2010):

  • Requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.
  • Expands the concept of literacy, which was mainly focused on reading and writing, to include all forms of media (audio, video, poster, images, etc.).
  • Builds and reinforces skills for learners of all ages. Like print literacy, those skills necessitate integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.
  • Develops informed, reflective, and engaged participants essential for a democratic society.
  • Recognises that media are a part of culture and function as agents of socialisation.
  • Affirms that people use their skills, beliefs, and experiences to construct their meanings from media messages.
  • Students from a very young age often know a lot about online media technologies, but they may not necessarily have developed media and critical literacy skills to help them navigate, assess, and understand the representation of the messages they encounter. 
  • Some important points for teachers working on developing critical-thinking skills in their classes are: 

a)All media messages are ‘constructed’: Learners can examine how the media differ from reality, evaluate what is shown compared with real-life experiences, or assess the background of the producer/production of media messages.

b)Media messages are created using a creative language with its own rules: Learners can examine advertising/production techniques and see how language is used to convey a specific message.

b)Most media messages are constructed to gain profit and/or power: Learners can examine the purpose of advertising or marketing strategies and teachers can encourage scepticism towards advertising.

  • “a type of thinking pattern that requires people to be reflective, and pay attention to decision-making which guides their beliefs and actions. Critical thinking allows people to deduct with more logic, to process sophisticated information and look at various sides of an issue so they can produce more solid conclusions.“
  • “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” (Glaser, 1941).

Think of something that you have recently read about e-cigarettes or any general topic (such as Covid-19 vaccination). Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who said it?

Someone, you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Does it matter who told you this

  • What did they say?

Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?

  • Where did they say it?

Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond and provide an alternative account?

  • When did they say it?

Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?

  • Why did they say it?

Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

  • How did they say it?

 Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?

In this spectrum, we propose the below activities as initial points for the developing critical-thinking skills in class in the field of the primary prevention of addiction of tobacco use at school:

James Bond for a day! (early adolescents)

Purpose

This activity can be used so that students can think critically on the sources of news they read on Internet / they find in their daily life. 

Materials

Flow

  1. Divide students into groups of 4.
  2. What does this article say? - All students read article 1 and discuss what is written in their article. They share their thoughts about the information in this article.
  3. The teacher shows the article on the projector and poses the following questions to the whole class:
    • Who wrote this article? / Where does this article come from?
    • To whom does it refer?
    • What is the purpose?
    • What language does it use to pursue its purpose?
    • Do you think the information is accurate or not?
    • Why do you think so?
  1. Discussion (whole class):
    • Why do some articles promote fake facts?
    • How will you know what is true and what is not?
    • In case you need help to know what is true, to whom could you refer?

The above activity can be adapted and be used at all levels and ages. Also, the teacher can go further and continue with the topic of fake news. In addition, the teacher can use different online tools, such as Kialo, to facilitate the results and organise critical thinking activities. Kialo Edu allows teachers to curate spaces for students to work through complex subjects together, while giving students the space to ask questions, discuss, and evaluate new ideas.

Hint!

Answer:

         Article 1 is written by someone who used a username to support the use of a shisha pen.

The article has been published as a blog for a website that sells shisha and relevant tobacco products.

The purpose of the article is to inform – and probably convince the potential user– the reader regarding any possible benefits of the shisha pen.

The language that is being used is quite informal so that it will be seemed approachable to the reader.

Sadly, the information presented is far from being accurate; the reason being is that anyone reading the article, could see that the potential benefits listed, have not used any academic references to show that research took place to support the possible benefits of shisha pen (and any other related shisha products). The article serves as a personal opinion of someone who favours the shisha pen, and since the author wishes to convince the reader, they resort to promoting fake and false information.

If an individual has time to research the topic of the shisha pen and the potential benefits that it may have, they could come across articles such as Article 2 (which is different from Article 1, specifically since the evidence has been documented with academic references), which provides information for the potentially harmful health effects of inhaling nicotine-free shisha pen.

        There is nothing new about fake news and false information. Either deliberate or unintentional, we all have been exposed to fake news.

Years ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcasted a report for spaghetti-trees in 1957 (Saeed, 2009; Bloxham, 2011); At the time, spaghetti was relatively unknown in the United Kingdom, so the British people were unaware that pasta was made out of flour and eggs (instead of being harvested from the trees!). Later on, there was the Pizzagate conspiracy theory (Kang, 2016; Wendling, 2016). Recently, there was a spread of fake COVID-19 pandemic cures which were claiming that drinking chlorine dioxide, an extremely strong industrial bleach, could cure the virus (Quinn, Legare, Hymes, 2020).

All three cases are examples of misleading news, and they were used as fake news at the time. The first example was a hoax for April’s Fools day, and the second one was used as a conspiracy theory that went viral during the 2016 United States presidential election cycle; the third one was an example of pseudoscience, offering fake cures which were not supported from the medical community.

Researching, reading, and checking the validity of the information will assist an individual in understanding the distinction between true and untrue information. Additionally, an individual must check the expertise and professional experience of the author who wrote the article that they read. Contacting an official organisation that is researching the subject that the individual is concerned about, is another way for finding whether it is true or not.