Developing that critical ability

In an increasingly complex, fragmented and interconnected world, how do we know what is “true”? Can we believe what we find online at all, or should we rather take up a severely critical attitude to sources until their trustworthiness has been proven? Furthermore, how do we teach our students to exert the necessary caution when evaluating sources?

Being able to take a critical stance to what appears to be credible is a matter of both maturity as well as being able to question what we see. Thus, it is pivotal that teachers discuss credibility of sources with students on a continuous basis. For example, is it OK to use Wikipedia as a source of information? Research has shown that teachers and students display varying attitudes to the use of Wikipedia; teachers being more sceptical, whereas students find this source to be both easy to use and informative (Blikstad-Balas & Høgenes, 2014). Clearly, students are more pragmatic in their attitudes, while teachers question the quality and credibility of Wikipedia, and many teachers omit to draw attention to and explicitly discuss this source of information.

In a similar vein, Frønes and Narvhus (2012) discuss reading literacy and students’ ability to critically assess the adequacy and credibility of online resources, emphasizing the importance of work aimed at increasing this ability in the classroom. Young learners lack the background experience of adults, and tend to be more naïve to what they perceive to constitute reliable sources (number of “likes”, clicks, etc.). It is thus essential that teachers encourage students to always ask questions and compare sources. It may be OK to use Wikipedia as an easy-to-use starting point for locating information, but what do other independent sources say? And which sources can we trust? For instance, can sources be affected by special interests – do they aim to influence us out of particular commercial or social interests? How many sources do we need to check before we can confirm the reliability of data with reasonable certainty?

I never cease asking those important questions!

Developing young learners’ ability to critically assess credibility is a process; it requires that teachers revisit the topic at regular intervals and always encourage students to be above all inquisitive. Information posted on the internet may be manipulated – pictures can lie – and authors and sites may provide information out of self-interest. Also trustworthy sites can be hacked and manipulated, and this poses even more stringent demands on students’ ability to compare and contrast sources.

Developing a critical stance towards sources takes time; it is not something which is achieved by addressing such issues once or twice in class. But why not utilize such matters as an excellent opportunity for facilitating authentic conversations in the target language in the ESL classroom? Sociocultural theories of learning promote conversation as the medium for all learning (Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 2), for examining values, attitudes and beliefs. In short – let’s keep talking about it.

Blikstad-Balas, M., & Høgenes, T. (2014). Wikipedias inntog på kildelista – holdninger blant lærere og elever til Wikipedia i en skolekontekst. Acta Didactica Norge, 8(1), 1-17.

Frønes, T. S., & Narvhus, E. K. (2012). Egnet og troverdig? Elevers kildevurdering på nett. In T. E. Hauge & A. Lund (Eds.), Små skritt eller store sprang. Om digitale tilstander i skolen (pp. 58-84). Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

Missie. Hello, I’m Dusty and you should be petting me. Downloaded 9 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from

Thornbury, S., & Slade, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Delayed gratification pays off

This article by Håvard Tjora discusses inter alia the negative effects of children’s lacking abilities to delay gratification and how this can impact behaviour in the digital classroom – definitely interesting reading! Tjora describes how the presence of apps, games and social media in the classroom tend to interrupt teaching and learning – simply by being infinitely more attractive than “English vocabulary, the feudal system and algebra”.

Furthermore, research has shown that lacking ability (or willingness?) to delay gratification adversely impacts both academic results, job opportunities and health, emphasizing the need for learning self-regulation.

9563908_c1ccd68c21_zSelf-regulation, willpower and resisting temptation? Wow, that’s kinda hard, if you ask me!

In light of the fact that many adults seem to lack this skill altogether, spending much time on e.g. FaceBook during an ordinary workday, it might not be an altogether easy task to teach pupils the benefits of postponing rewards until the task at hand has been done. How teachers are to manage temptations and distractions in the classroom and teach pupils to stay focused definitely requires reflection and insight into the human psyche. New technologies and opportunities ought to make us more efficient, but in many cases the opposite seems to be the case.

Lai, Ryanne. Temptation. Downloaded 2 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from

Tjora, H. (2 May 2016) Konsentrasjonsøvelse. In Dagbladet Magasinet