TESL WW, May 2017 Conference: Thinking Critically

Teaching critical thinking through reading in the information age

image source: http://fourc.ca/critical-readers/#more-9409

Attending PD conferences of your local chapter of TESL Ontario is a great way to meet other teachers, network, and learn new ideas and techniques to add to your teaching toolbox. On May 13th, I attended the Waterloo-Wellington Spring AGM and PD event. The theme was “Thinking Critically” and the guest speaker for the plenary session, Tyson Seburn, spoke on the topic of teaching critical reading in an age of (mis)information and fake news. Tyson Seburn is Lead Instructor of Critical Reading and Writing in the International Foundation Program at New College, University of Toronto, and he recently published a book entitled, Academic Reading Circles.

In this blog, I want to share some of the strategies that Tyson raised in his address along with some of the resources. As I listened, I couldn’t help but recall some of the rhetoric courses that I took at University, as well as Aristotle’s 3 artistic proofs used to persuade – ethos, pathos, and logos. Throughout history scholars have focused on one or the other of these three proofs as being of primary importance. It made me wonder, which of the three is most important in this day of fake news and alternative facts? What do you think?

There is no denying that fake news is front and centre in the collective discourse of our society, and that so much of what we hear and read seems to be factually manipulated to persuade towards a point of view. As Tyson suggested, if we sometimes have trouble steering through the information we receive, imagine the confusion that our English learners must feel. We need to ensure our English learners can critically analyze the news that they read and hear. Thus, the development of Academic Reading Circles to help EAP students become deep readers and develop a critical eye toward what they read (and hear).

Tyson Seburn gave four ways to foster critical reading and thinking strategies

  • Foster inclusive spaces (create a classroom where students and teacher can share their own ideas, experiences, and yes… even opinions)
  • Improve self-esteem (by helping them navigate through the negative messages about their culture or first country that may be heard and seen in the media)
  • Build the needed skills to navigate roles in new environments
  • Positively influence perception (which comes back to point one – by fostering inclusive spaces and helping the students get to know one another in the classroom mutual respect and understanding can result)

Here are some strategies that were offered to help our students navigate fake news:

  • Teach students to read beyond the literal meaning
  • Teach them to consider the source of the material
  • Teach them to check the date of the article – is it even still relevant?
  • Teach them to consider the credibility of the source. Is the author credible?
  • Teach them to examine the supporting sources? A good activity is to look at Wikipedia with your students – what sources are provided for a given article? Is it reliable?
  • Is the material you’re reading a joke or spoof? Introduce your students to snopes.com.
  • Consider your own bias. Are you unwilling to consider ideas and sources outside of your own belief system? Help your students become aware of their biases.
  • Consider what influences your own point of view.
  • When in doubt, ask an “expert” – someone who you know and trust that has credentials. Often, for your students, that will mean you the teacher.

Finally, Tyson briefly introduced the methodological approach that is used in academic reading circles in which students read and study a text collaboratively for deeper understanding and to develop a critical eye in reading.  I was thrilled to win his book at the end of the AGM and have started reading it. It would be a great resource for EAP instructors to use, and as a LINC instructor I will glean some useful techniques for collaborative reading also!

To read more about it and even see the full lecture from the PD event you can go to Tyson’s blog Critical readers in the misinformation age . ?

Further Reading about Academic Reading Circles for EAP

Seburn, Tyson. 2015, 2016. Academic Reading Circles. A round publication. Book.

Seburn, Tyson. May 19, 2017. Critical readers in the misinformation age. http://fourc.ca/critical-readers/#more-9409. 4C blog.

Other Online Resources









Hello TESL O members. I'm Beth Beardall. I manage the TESL O Blog website working alongside an amazing team of editors and bloggers. I truly enjoy working with the TESL Ontario Blog Admin Team and have been volunteering with the TESL O Blog since 2016. I am OCELT certified and have a master's degree in Adult Education. I work in the LINC/ESL program with adult learners. I enjoy learning from others, teaching or tutoring ESL and getting to know people from around the world, and, of course, copy editing and proofreading.


4 thoughts on “TESL WW, May 2017 Conference: Thinking Critically”

  1. Hi Beth,
    What a great idea to share with everyone you learning from a TESL affiliate conference! I watched Tyson’s video, which he shared in LinkedIn, and it’s truly a really great topic- one that students (L2 and otherwise) actually dig! Two weeks ago, my students had to write a response to an article from The Onion. A response that struck me was one where the student mentioned that reading or watching parody (SNL) is a motivation to find out more about the topic – to see if the parody is far from the truth. Is it? On a positive note, if parody or even fake news propels students to find out the facts, then it is not as bad as we think. The opportunities to research, debate, compare, and re-write a new version of what could have happened or should have happened are great starters to get students talking, listening, and writing.

    1. The question is: is an increase in fake news the prompt for more to investigate what real facts are? I hope so. Unfortunately, however, I’m unsure if it is any more than if we helped our students become critical readers regardless.

      1. Hi Tyson, I guess it is true – every student will have a different level of interest in it. We can show them how to think and read critically, but in the world around us, it will ultimately be up to each person to decide how they will use the tools given.

    2. Hi Cecilia, I agree, when looking at some fake news, and especially parody of news, it can really spark some interest in the topic and students can dig deeper to find more (better?) sources of information. A great way to get them thinking and talking in English.
      On the other hand, there is a lot of negative and even hateful speech that can really demoralize people which we should also have the courage to openly talk about in our classrooms.

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