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Improving students' critical thinking skills

By Jack Brazel

Literacy is not limited to simply being able to read and write. For students to show academic progress, they also need to display a solid comprehension of information, proficiency in the subject, and critical thinking skills. Studies show that students in the Philippines have struggled with reading comprehension, and do not process written information adequately. The effects of this are evident in society through the many young people who share information on social media without processing or verifying it—a practice that leads to the spread of misinformation. 

Improving students' critical thinking skills
Jack Brazel
There is a critical need to deepen students' literacy and enable them to analyze and scrutinize information objectively. Educational institutions need to build students' ability to determine the reliability of sources to ensure the integrity of academic research, and review their writing before submission. Leveraging technology solutions can aid in honing and improving Filipino students' collective critical thinking skills. 

Although 97.95 percent of the Philippines is literate, this statistic masks serious deficiencies in reading comprehension skills as the country has not evolved over the last few decades to meet the information processing requirements of the modern world. This gap in critical literacy contributes to troubling socio-political trends today, including the rapid spread of misinformation via social media platforms. 

To reverse this trend, education institutions must shift towards instruction that empowers students to analyze, read between the lines, and identify credible sources for their own work. A recent International Literacy Association survey of educators from 65 countries including the Philippines found teachers believe that, "determining effective instructional strategies for struggling readers" and "teaching critical literacy skills and how to analyze source material and authorial intent" are the top ways to improve literacy outcomes. Students who build their reading comprehension and critical literacy skills in the classroom have a stronger foundation for upholding academic integrity in their work—and becoming citizens with the ability to evaluate the reliability of news sources. Achieving this academic integrity requires a mutual commitment to honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage between educators and students. 

Educators also need to reinforce the importance of conducting checks of their own work to build a culture of academic integrity in their classrooms. The first is fact-checking the sources cited in research papers by finding a reliable source that disagrees with the opinion presented in the paper. While the citations may be correct, it is still important for students to fact check to uncover any weak sources and catch debatable or false information. Spelling and grammar are also important for students to habitually check before submitting papers. While basic word processors and other technologies check for errors, it is not a replacement for human analysis and getting another set of eyes to catch mistakes. Students also need to learn to check the clarity of their writing to ensure that ideas are laid out as simply as possible. The more clearly they can present information, the lower the chance of the information being misconstrued. Finally, teaching students to check papers for plagiarism and ensure that information is not copied from sources before submitting, is crucial. There are a number of ways to support this, including the ‘cleanroom writing’ technique which teaches students to clearly separate the writing process from their readings of other people's work. This will all help students be 100 percent sure that carefully-cited sources are not copied.

Teaching students these simple steps to check papers before submission can go a long way in reinforcing academic integrity in classrooms. To improve critical literacy in the Philippines, students also need to develop a foundation that will help them analyze online sources, and news information confidently. The right mix of technology tools can help both educators and students ensure academic integrity in the classroom and facilitate deeper reading comprehension among students.  

Topics: literacy , technology solutions , Filipino students , comprehension , International Literacy Association
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