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Making Meaning – Critiquing Reality Using Web 2.0 to Foster Critical Thinking

June 17th, 2010 No comments

This webinar explored the underpinnings of critical thinking, asking three questions:

Is it developmental?
How do we know when we see it?
Can it be measured?

A website that provides perspective about the developmental aspect is Kids on the Net: Critical Thinking Skills for Web Literacy – An Analysis of What Kids Should Know about Cyberspace. This site explains the development of cognitive, emotional, moral, and psychological issues of different children’s age groups. Their resources show that learning critical thinking should address these issues in a developmental way, building skills step by step.

There are quite a few different models/definitions/attributes of critical thinking that attempt to make it possible to observe it in action. Every description depended on the discipline it came from, i.e. psychology, philosophy, educational theory, etc. Here are some of the exemplary websites:

Discussion and Model of Critical Thinking from Ed Psyc Interactive
Model of Information Seeking and Critical Thinking from Baltimore County Public Schools
Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Critical Thinking

How are we to deal with the issue of standardized testing and the teaching of critical thinking? In an ERIC abstract (ED312622) of “Literacy and Critical Thinking: The NAEP Literacy Studies and What We Are Not Teaching about ‘Higher Reasoning Skills,” by Craig Walton (1989,) the author states that the elements of synthesis or summary, analysis or problem solving, argumentation, and experimentation are skills that seem to be lacking in students. He sees a correlation of that lack with educators’ ignorance of those higher skills and how to teach them. That was quite an indictment, and worth challenging.

Socratic questioning is a way of helping students face the issue of critical thinking. The questioning can be used first by the teacher, and as the students start to become more aware of  how the questions help their thinking, the students can begin questioning each other and themselves. This website from Northern Illinois University Consortium for Problem-Based Learning provides the foundational precepts and a matrix of exemplary questions.

Web 2.0 has been called the Read/Write Web. That is because you become an active participant, not just a passive viewer – You interact with the information. How does this help critical thinking? By the fact that people make comments. All of the following websites provide examples of ways that teachers can provide students examples of commenting that they can see, critique and respond to.

Comments about places to stay:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/

A “safe” current event website that kids can practice making comments:
http://tweentribune.com/

International Movie DataBase – using movie reviews and forums as examples of critique:
http://www.imdb.com/

Going beyond the Wikipedia articles and looking at the discussion and history of the content:
http://www.wikipedia.org/

Responding to visual examples:
http://www.flickr.com/

Commenting both textually and visually:
http://voicethread.com/#home

Finally, any blog or wiki could be used to help kids learn and practice discourse and critique, as well as the Gallery, Discussion and Chat in Studywiz.

Measuring critical thinking can be a wicked problem, depending on what you are looking for. Perhaps you can develop small rubrics based on your deconstruction of pertinent elements of critical thinking. In that manner students could review or make comments based on individual aspects of critical thinking skills on which they are focused. Here is a higher education rubric for critical thinking that can be used as a reference for ideal goals. And here is another that has been used for higher education and business with a rationale as well. An accompanying document from Insight Assessment proposes that there are dispositions as well as skills involved in critical thinking and provides self-reflective questions.

Just to be provocative, here is a quote from a recent article to think about:


“DEMOCRATIC THINKING REQUIRES THE PURSUIT OF MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES

Much as Darwin’s theory of natural selection depends on genetic variation, any
theory of democracy depends on a multiplicity of ideas. It is the responsibility of
the citizenry, the media, and the schools to safeguard the expression of those
ideas. Schools have particular responsibilities in this regard. Healthy critical
analysis is one hallmark of a mature democracy, and educators have a responsi-
bility to create learning environments that help to realize these ideals. There are
many varied and powerful ways to teach children and young adults to engage
critically – to think about social policy issues, participate in authentic debate
over matters of importance, and understand that intelligent adults can have
different opinions. Indeed, democratic progress depends on these differences.”

“No Child Left Thinking: Democracy at Risk in Canadian Schools,” Joel Westheimer; CANADIAN EDUC ATION , Spring 2010; Canada Education Association; p 5-8

April 1 Webinar Notes – Blogs, Wikis, and Other Social Media

No fooling! Our April 1st webinars included lively discussions about the value of students’ online communication with written language. I especially want to thank Sherry Connally for allowing me to drag her away from her brand new grandson to join us. Sherry described her doctoral dissertation about how middle school teachers and students use social technologies for communication, collaboration, and building relationships. This dissertation will be published in a few months and made available through ProQuest.

Social Networks

Image by Plus Delta, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.

We talked about ways teachers can give students opportunities to use written language for real communications (not just writing an assignment for the teacher) and looked at a wide range of possibilities, from simple email to using social networking sites like FaceBook and Ning. When we asked if the participants felt that texting, chatting, and other kinds of online communication were having a positive or negative effect on student writing, the results of our poll were mixed. Here are some of the comments:

  • I have heard of studies that say that texting etc. are good, and I have heard of studies that say it is bad.
  • Students develop effective communication techniques through trial and error.
  • When students write/key reports, they are using “web” language.
  • The grammar and spelling are negatives, but I have used blogs and it really encouraged my students to use their writing as an interactive communication tool with their classmates.
  • The students use “u” instead of “you” etc.
  • “Web” language has a long tradition – read the letters of Jane Austen and Lord Byron – written in ‘code’
  • If social networking is used in the classroom and focus is put on language skills, then texting, chatting and tweeting can be very useful.
  • If we think of it like braille or morse code.  Both have shorthand. We used to teach shorthand in school.
  • My student’ academic writing contains “LOL” type stuff.
  • -Love using “forums” with my Spanish classes.  They are communicating in Spanish which is what I want them to do.
  • They need to know when it is appropriate to use that kind of language.
  • Kids today speak two languages.  The traditional English and chat.  They just go between the two.

Ruben Puentedura shared links to two articles about the effects of texting on student writing (Thanks, Ruben!):

Other resources we shared:

The webinar participants also had a lot of ideas about filtering and teaching digital citizenship. Here are some of the ideas and resources that were shared in the chat box:

  • Chats and BackChannels
  • Digital Citizenship
    • Common Sense Media (another partnership with MLTI)
    • For all things Chat/Skype/Video Chat – obviously educating parents and students about how to use them and how to stay safe is important.
    • I include Common Sense tips every week in my newsletter to parents.
  • Social Networking
    • I have a classroom Ning site set up for my computer apps classes.  Students blog, answer forums and add comments to their peers’ discussions.
    • Edublogs and WordPress for blogging with students.
    • My daughter’s class uses Blogspot to respond to weekly assignments.
    • Twitter is a great way to provide professional development. Following educational leaders who provide lots of resources and links is most beneficial.
    • I’ve used Facebook profiles as a way of creating character profiles during writing and reading activities.
    • One school uses FB to facilitate the iTeam meetings, another choir rehearsals.
    • Facebook is blocked in our school.
    • We (teachers) have overrides to get througth the blocked sites.
    • Google Docs is better for this and easier to manage
    • Check the Terms of Use to determine if children under 13 can use ePals or Google Docs
    • Pew Internet – great resource for research on what social media looks like, and what teens are doing with it.

Thanks to all the participants who contributed their ideas, opinions, and resources on this topic. It was a valuable opportunity for us to learn from each other.

April 1 Webinar – Blogs, Wikis, and other Social Media

March 30th, 2010 No comments

Social NetworkingThis week’s webinar in the Writing Process series will be a departure from our journey through the stages of the process. Instead, we will take a look at how students are using social technologies to communicate through written language, both in and out of school. Whether it’s through email, chat, blogs, texting or social networks like Facebook and Twitter, our students are engaged in this kind of writing every day. How can we help students use these powerful new tools effectively and ethically?

Sherry Connally, Principal of Rangeley Lakes Regional School, will be the guest host. Sherry recently completed her doctoral dissertation, An Exploration Of Maine Middle School Teachers’ Use Of Social Technologies. She will discuss her findings and talk about ways that teachers are helping students learn to communicate, collaborate, and build relationships through social media.

We will look at some examples of ways teachers can leverage interest in this type of communication to help students improve their writing, and we will share resources for doing this. As always, we will encourage participants in the webinar to share their experiences and resources so we can learn from each other.

Please join us Thursday, April 1 at 3:15 or 7:15 pm. You can find links for registration and information about how to access these sessions by clicking on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.

Illustration by Ann Marie Quirion Hutton based on an original by Maarten Korz, licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license.