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Use Monthly Quiz Activities to Practice and Evaluate Critical Reading

By Carita Kiili and Eva Wennås Brante
 | Mar 24, 2017
TILE-20170324_w300

Discussions about fake news in a post-truth world and how to react to these challenging trends have become quite prevalent around the world. It is easy to share Professor Donald Leu’ s view that "schools are an important key to solving the challenge of fake news." And it is not only fake news that becomes important to negotiate; all types of online information in today’s world require critical and thoughtful readers. 

At least two issues have become especially important as we increasingly encounter online texts. First, the earlier that we begin teaching critical evaluation skills, the more prepared our students will be. Second, given the difficulty in transferring learning effects from school tasks to other situations, we believe that students need regular practice to internalize the skills needed to be critical online readers.

One idea that we believe has promise is designing short monthly quiz activities around critical evaluation skills. This practice can be used quite regularly, even with younger children, if the texts and topics selected are reasonably appropriate for a certain grade level. 

Tips for creating quizzes and advantages of the practice

To prepare your quizzes, choose four online texts on the same controversial topic (e.g., health effects from using cell phones) that differ in quality and purpose. Prepare questions for each text that address, for example, the following issues:

  • Authors’ expertise on the topic (e.g., level of education, amount of experience, current position or occupation; see question 1 in the example)
  • Purpose of the text (e.g., to persuade, to inform, to sell something, or to entertain)
  • Quality of evidence (e.g., based on research, the experience of one person, or one’s personal opinion)
  • A main point of the text (e.g., a question to assess important content)

example-TILE-20170324You might also include questions that address why it is important to pay attention to a particular aspect of online source evaluation (see question 2 in the example). To spark ideas for your quizzes, you might explore some of the examples for teaching critical evaluation provided by the Stanford History Education Group or Teaching Channel.

Next, it is time to select a tool to create your quizzes. If you are not yet familiar with online quiz tools, you can find multiple websites listing them (e.g., educatorstechnology.com).

Once you have four quizzes (one about each text), run one quiz in the beginning of each month. Remember, the questions should be used as triggers to further discussion about the topic rather than simply considering each text in isolation. The reflections and additional questions allow teachers to access students’ reasoning and how it may develop over the course of the quizzes.

At the end of the semester, hold a “final” on critical evaluation. The final gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of both content and critical evaluation skills learned during the process. At this point, questions should focus attention on comparing and contrasting the texts.  Because students usually get engaged with tasks that include elements of gamification, consider finding a colleague whose class will do the quizzes and compete for the title of Champions of Critical Reading.

Teaching students to think critically is not easy, nor does it happen quickly, so, in that respect, these quiz activities are certainly not a quick fix. Still, they are one step toward developing critical habits of thinking and reflecting about the quality of online texts. We believe that repetition is essential, and these quiz activities help to regularly take advantage of quick opportunities to discuss the credibility of news or other information.  Happy quizzing, and we hope that your class wins the finals!

CaritaKiili_w80EvaWennåsBrante_w80Carita Kiili & Eva Wennås Brante are both postdoctoral fellows at the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education 

Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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