Personal News Reporting and Critical thinking



I am sad, frustrated and feel so much sorrow after last week. I have nothing new to say about the events and the hurt that was surfaced once again in our country. I wanted to use the word “arrived” but it is not arriving it has been here for a long time. It is surfacing due to personal news reporting.

When the people on the street can record and broadcast the news as it is happening things change and information travels quickly. We are not waiting for a report to be written, to be analyzed, to be created with the “correct” wording or to be decided if this story is news worthy. We watch and listen in at a specific moment in time. We see news by the people.

There is a side of me that says “yes!” for there are voices being heard that have not reached the mainstream news ever and they need to be heard.

The other side of me worries. These live reporting are only one moment in a sequence of events. It is a quick peak into the terror or confrontation that is happening for this person. We get one point a view. An important point of view for sure but it is easy to jump to conclusions before the whole story has been told.

At times the story and conclusions may be correct and others not so much. The example I am thinking about is the young man, Mark Hughes, imgres-1in Dallas at the march caring his gun, shaking hands, smiling and participating peacefully. He soon finds his picture traveling world wide – wanted as one of the suspected shooters. He finds he is receiving death threats.

He was a lucky man in that someone did not see him, jump to conclusions and harm him. We had only part of the story. In the moment we were not reminded that Texas is an open carry state for guns, we did not know his history or even that in these moments he had been walking the streets with everyone else – not running and hiding, not shooting.

So where does that leave us? We know there is value in having a quick in the moment voice (injustice may become visible) but we need to learn to think just as quickly that social media reports (actually all news reports) are a part of a story, a moment in time. We need to learn and teach that in this moment in time we must to be able to think critically and to ask questions quickly.

  • Who is telling the story?
  • What part of the story are we seeing?
  • What part of the story are we missing?
  • What actions need to be taken now?
  • What actions are better to wait on until the whole story has surfaced?
  • What are my emotional responses and what is logical and correct?

These questions are easy to ask when reading a news story or a novel. They are not easy to think about when actions are happening in the moment, emotions are running high and fear is surfacing on all sides. This is hard even for those who might be watching through technology in the moment.

This said what do I do as an educator? What do we do when we step back into the classroom this fall?

  • Conversations need to happen – being aware that some students will have had a hard summer of loss, protests and violence and others will have been at the beach, traveling and reading books in the shade.
  • Creating safe space for everyone – a place to be quiet or to talk if needed
  • A listening ear for those who need it – some will need to share their summer, others may not have words for what they went through. (It may not be the fall for the writing prompt ” what did you do on you summer vacation?” – you know your kids maybe this is just want they need – maybe not – think about it!

What needs to happen for sure is looking through our curriculum and finding those places where critical thinking is taught clearly and specifically. Then using these texts, science experiments, historical readings, writing, etc. to help our students think carefully. We need to make clear connections to these skills and how to apply them to what we read and see in the news, on social media and what we hear from friends and neighbors. We need to teach, “whose story is being told” and “whose story is being lost” in the reporting?

It is more important than ever to address the skills of observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision-making. Our student must become critical thinkers now.

We need to help our students practice these skills over and over until they become a way of working and being in our world.


About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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5 Responses to Personal News Reporting and Critical thinking

  1. Great post! This is so true and I love your ideas for the classroom. We do need to question what we read and see –this is so true on Facebook! — and think critically with evidence. I am reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and have learned that we (Americans) have been distorting and obfuscating the truth forever basically. With instant communication today it is more essential than ever that we all think critically and be skeptics, in a good way.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Thanks – I have heard that this biography is good. I have not read it yet. I do know there is so much we don’t know about our own countries history. Important to begin sharing the whole history not just part of it and to be critical about what we read.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    Wise words, Joanne. Point of view is so important to consider whenever we read or see something. Thanks!

  3. Joanne, I share your dissonance of all that is happening and also constantly bring to the page the possible implications for our teaching. Our brains are wired for quick judgement. In order to think critically, we actually have to unlearn this and practice it over and over to rewire the circuits up there. The phrases you listed to help our students think critically are the ones we want lodged in their heads for read alouds, text books, reading social media and in conversations.

    This is such an important task we have – an obligation, I think, as teachers, to teach our students this skill.

    Thank you for writing about it.

  4. Tara Smith says:

    Wise words indeed – I’ll be thinking of your words when I’m back teaching in the Fall…especially those important questions.

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