Illalong News

  • 13th March, 2020

Developing Critical Thinking & Engaging with your Children

Like adults, our students use news to learn about what’s happening in their world. However, with news comes bias, and misinformation and a tendency, if not understood, to blur their understanding of events and issues.

A 2017 survey by a Sydney university found that Australian children, aged eight to 16, consume news, however there were few news media designed specifically for them. There is a wealth of news headlines and stories available and now, more than ever before, parents play a crucial part in helping children ‘unpack’ news. Every time we passively accept information without double-checking, or share a post, image or video before we’ve verified it, we’re adding to noise and confusion surrounding issues. Our ecosystem is polluted, and we need to help our children to take steps to independently check what they see online.

The three national news programs specifically designed for children are News Corporation’s Kidsnews, an independent daily news podcast Squiz Kids and the ABC’s longstanding Behind the News (BtN) which has been around since I was in Primary school. Although children’s news programs are important, safe and appealing, our children are still exposed to other types of news. This same survey found 73% of children regularly consume the same news as their parents or guardians and 49% get news from social media sites, which increases with age.

Further to this, the survey found that only one third of children felt they could distinguish fake from real news, which is where parents can help and assist in developing those skills in critical evaluation of information.

To assist children to think critically about news, parents need to help identify reliable news sources. Children are exposed to a range of items purveying to be news, from breakfast morning television segments to YouTube celebrity videos. In order to help decide if a source is reliable, our children should be able to answer the following about any news story: 

  • is it clear who created this news story? It’s not possible to trust a source you don’t know since you need to be able to be able to query why and how they created the story.
  • is this a presentation of the facts or does it include opinion? A fact is objective material, supported by evidence, and can be checked to ensure it is right. Opinions are subjective thoughts about an issue nobody can prove are right. If opinions are presented as facts this is misleading.

While it’s natural for news about major events and issues to evoke emotions, often media agencies seek to exploit emotional responses for their benefit. Discussing with your children media headlines accompanied by the questions about what seems logical, correct or emotive again starts students along the path to being critical consumers of media stories. Having conversations and discussions about why some news stories spread disinformation is equally important; case in point is all the reporting around the coronavirus, as is the mechanism media use to speak about people from different races and backgrounds. 

Taking the time to discuss what children see in the news helps them build critical thinking skills, as well as helping them to prepare to defend their position, to learn, to interrogate, and develop their general knowledge for a better society, a better future, a better political discourse. 

Trustworthy news is important as we rely on it to help make decisions about who to vote for, how we feel about events or people, and how to manage aspects of our lives like our finances and health. Identifying misinformation in the digital age is a challenge for everyone, particularly for younger children. 

I have long been a strong advocate of the teacher and home partnership in helping to raise the confident and capable young men and women who leave our campus at the end of their schooling journey. Over the past term, I have written about many of the College’s key Strategic Pillars, and again in this issue I am focussing on facilitating a community of learners – our parents, our teaching staff, and also our children. Through this, I hope I have highlighted some practical ideas where parents can connect with their children to engage them in debate, but also help to build those critical life skills.

Fortunately for students at A.B. Paterson College, our Teaching for Understanding pedagogical approach embeds critical thinking in all aspects of our teaching.  So much so that I have heard it repeated by senior students that they ‘trust, but verify’ when it comes to the multitude of sources of information they use for research, for assessment, for interest and for knowledge. Our students learn to read and understand critically, but to always verify their understandings using secondary sources of information.

While I would never downplay the severity of any news story and its effect on different people, talking with our children and using current events and news stories to facilitate these discussions are an important aspect of connecting with them. The secondary gain, that we are modelling the skills needed to be successful beyond the College.

Joanne Sheehy – Principal/ Head of College

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