Critical Thinking, Fake News, and Infographics

criticalcreativeSometimes common phrases can lead us astray. This can be due to misunderstanding, for example, the friend who heard the server ask if she wanted “soup or salad” and thought she was being asked if she wanted a super salad! (Super salad sounds pretty good, don’t you think?) Grammatical misunderstandings are so common they end up in infographics like this one. But sometimes simply hearing something as a commonly used phrase can cause us to believe it is true. Certainly we have lots of examples of such things among the fake news stories and political rhetoric these days.

But I’m thinking of a less inflammatory but still problematic phrase: critical and creative thinking. Why do I think that phrase leads us stray? Certainly I want student to have opportunities to do lots of kinds of thinking in school. But using the phrase “critical and creative thinking” can lead us to believe the two types of thinking are polar opposites when, in fact, that is not true. Creativity (or even creative thinking) is not the same as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a part of what is needed for creativity, but it is not the whole package. In fact, no major creative endeavors can be accomplished without a healthy dose of critical thinking. Once many ideas are generated, how else would a creator decide which to follow, or how to accomplish it, or how to present it to the world?

And so, my resource for today is designed to help students hone their critical thinking by looking for evidence. Courtesy of the Seattle Times and the New Literacy Project, here is a link to an infographic designed to help students sort real from fake news stories. It contains questions such as “Does it use excessive punctuation (!!!) or ALL CAPS for emphasis?” “Is there a byline (an author’s name) attached to this piece?” or “Does the example cite a variety of sources, including official and expert sources? Does the information this example provides appear in reports from (other) news outlets?“ The infographic contains important information for helping students sort through the barrage of stories they encounter on social media. It also serves as an example of another way to communicate—through infographics.

Consider using one of the online infographic generating sites to teach students to communicate key ideas in succinct ways. Here are some options to get you started. They might devise “5 key facts” about a topic or “10 things” a historical figure would appreciate” or “5 questions to ask before buying X.” Almost any subject has areas in which a concise summary would be appropriate. Try it and see. I’d love to hear about your efforts.

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