January 29th, 2021

beyond the sniff test

While this doesn't specifically address spotting fake news, this is one of the intentional ways in which we are attempting to build the critical thinking skills necessary to do that.

We use a simple protocol to identify and vet primary sources, based on similar protocols that you would use for any kind of inquiry activity: observe, describe, question, research, make inferences, repeat as necessary. This is easily scaled for age, discipline, and activity. (It's part of an effort on our part to define and create a school-wide critical thinking protocol that everyone can use. Still in the development stages, but promising!)

By observing closely (reading, viewing, listening) students begin the process of describing the basic features of a claim or artifact or source. In their descriptions, they look for distinguishing features (statistics in an article, details in a photograph) and develop questions based on what they find. Then, they research the questions, which leads them, either to make an inference about a source's veracity, or they research some more.

We use this is projects throughout the school (I'm in a preK-12 school.) We've begun using this protocol with our youngest students and our oldest; with museum artifacts, primary source documents, images, and science labs.

Our goal is getting kids to understand that good critical thinking can be applied in every discipline in roughly similar ways, including spotting fake news.

Tags: critical thinking, media literacy

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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Hi Lisa:

Thanks for sharing that with us. I'd love a deeper dive -- how does the process differ from the little ones to the big kids? Where do you find the biggest challenges in getting the students to understand what you're trying to teach them? Can you envision a way to use this system with adults in a public library?

(By the way, I loved your headline "beyond the sniff test." It made me think fondly of my grandmother who always noted when something didn't pass the smell test. When I was little, I thought she must have a much better nose than mine because I couldn't always "smell" what she did!)

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Thanks for your response!

The process is the same across our grades. Kids are good at observing and picking out the 'significant detail' that requires more inquiry; it's an authentic challenge. To work with the littles, we chunk the process into its distinct parts: let's just observe and describe today. With our older students, we layer in the research component and expect that they have much more background knowledge to bring to bear on the process.

We've had great success with the projects that we've developed to teach this protocol. It helps that other disciplines are using inquiry models in their disciplines that mirror the one I describe. Our science department used the ADI model (argument-driven inquiry) and we use the Question Formulation Technique in the humanities to kick-start the inquiry process.

In a public library, I would see this as additional programming. We have a very fun project that you could scale to a public audience pretty easily, I think.

We have a strong partnership with the Penn Museum (I'm in Philly.) They have a terrific museum education program that includes loaning artifacts to schools for projects. We partner with them for a project we call "what in the world?"

I will not explain the project in detail; if you want I'm happy to provide specifics.