Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Question Time

I have, on occasion, presented with my students with a set of facts so utterly ridiculous that they are beyond belief. Invariably they accept everything that I tell them - despite how silly it sounds. I use these instances as ways of introducing the importance of critical thinking and questioning skills.

Developing critical thinking skills in order to question the sources of our information is a key part of our learning in the 21st century. Compared to 50, 20 or even 10 years ago, information is available from many more and varied sources. When I was in primary school (not too long ago!) my peers and I would gather information primarily from encyclopedias or other subject specific books. An author must complete a lengthy and specific process in order to become published and this process verifies the information they are presenting in their work. Today, there are means available that allow people to publish any information they like without having to go through the same processes (take this blog, for example).

This is a fantastic way for sharing ideas but it highlights the importance for us to be able to decipher which information is important or not important, true or false, biased or non-biased. I believe that a school and classroom environment should be created that encourages, not shuns, this sort of behaviour. Students need to feel safe in order to develop the confidence to question the relevance and sources of their information. When this happens, they are not only able to delve deeper into their own inquiries, they are also further developing the skills required to be lifelong learners. They are learning how to learn.

Last year at my school we have had several guest speakers come to talk to parents, students and teachers. There were a variety of interesting topics I have had mixed feelings about some of them. I was glad to hear that some of the High School students challenged one of the speakers when he took questions from the audience. They realised that the presenter was providing them with information that was not balanced and was very selective with it's references - using only evidence that supported his case and ignoring that which challenged it. Some students were able to listen to what was being presented to them, relate it to their own beliefs and challenge in an appropriate manner. To be able to apply these skills in different contexts is vital in today's information rich age and it is great to hear that some of our students have the confidence to do this.

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