One Tool, Two Uses: A Consistent and Economical Approach to Facilitating Critical Thinking

Andrew Shenton's final blog in his series on facilitating independent learning for sixth form students explores the sometimes complex topic of instilling a critical attitude to both the information the students' access and their own work.

One of the most challenging tasks for any teacher seeking to develop the independent learning skills of their students lies in instilling a critical attitude to both the information they access and their own work.

Given the prevalence of low grade material on the web today, the need to appraise information rigorously has never been more important. The intellectual demands involved should not be underestimated, however. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, the ability to evaluate – or reach a decision/judgement based on criteria or a rationale – is ranked above all others within the cognitive domain in terms of difficulty.

When appraising their own work, the situation for youngsters is further complicated by the fact that the material is theirs personally and this can hinder impartiality. A more detached view may be possible if the student leaves an interval between completing the work and then reviewing it, thereby helping them to alter their role from a writer to a reader, although even under these circumstances some youngsters find perspective switching hard.

Appraising Information

Fortunately, both evaluative tasks can be simplified to a degree if the teacher invites responses to the same basic prompts.

In recent years, various checklists for appraising information have been constructed. Frequently, they have emerged from concerns felt by their creators with respect to the lack of quality control that is applied to many readily available electronic sources. Yet long before the arrival of the Internet that is familiar to us today, writers such as Michael Marland were highlighting criteria for accepting or rejecting particular information resources.

These, and concerns raised by later writers more specifically concerned with web materials, can largely be retained for consideration by students when reflecting on the calibre of their own work. Only slight revision is required to render most of them appropriate in this context. There are several benefits of taking this approach: it reinforces the importance of the key factors, reduces the cognitive load for students by concentrating on a limited number of issues and forges a continuity across different phases of the project through which independent learning is taking place.

Evaluation Criteria

In Facilitating Effective Sixth Form Independent Learning: Methodologies, Methods and Tools, I show how one such framework originally intended for the scrutiny of “external information” can be used as a self-assessment tool. My recent article in the education magazine, Creative Teaching and Learning, demonstrates how another may be employed. Here, though, I turn my attention to a third – specifically the source evaluation criteria put forward by Marland in his classic “information skills curriculum”. If we reinterpret each of his nine fundamental concerns, our new questions are as follows.

Scope                  Does my analysis cover the full range of key issues?

Suitability            Can I be sure that my document fulfils the assignment brief?

Relevance            How well do I answer my research question? Do I stray at all from the essential foci?

Authority             Was I able to bring to bear any expert knowledge I had going into the project?

Reliability            Is my work internally consistent? Do my conclusions emerge logically from my preceding material?

Up-to-dateness  Did I draw on sources that covered the latest ideas and developments in my area?

Accuracy             Is my work free from errors pertaining to facts, formatting and typography?

Bias                      Was I able to throw off my own prejudices and present an objective analysis?

Level                    Was the subject area within my cognitive capabilities? Did it stretch me academically?

Further coverage of such dual use frameworks can be found in the book, Facilitating Effective Sixth Form Independent Learning. Buy it from Facet Publishing.

About the author:

Andrew K. Shenton, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD, DLitt, PGCE, FCLIP, has worked at Monkseaton High School, in north-east England, for the last 16 years. Dually qualified in education and information science, he has been involved in teaching the Extended Project Qualification since its inauguration in the organisation in 2010. A specialist in the fields of information behaviour, information literacy and research methods, he has over 200 publications to his name in these areas.

To contact the author directly, please email