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Critical Thinking 101 The Basics Of Evaluating Information Graphic

Can You Cultivate Critical Thinking With Infographics?

by Latasha Doyle

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is ensuring that your students are actually evaluating the information, rather than just regurgitating it back to you.

Critical thinking skills are incorporated into nearly every lesson plan now, especially with the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). But how do you “grade” such a skill, and how do you give students the tools and resources to cultivate critical thinking?

Today, teachers are beginning to fully embrace visual learning as a way to help students incorporate critical thinking into every facet of their education. Visual learning has grown exponentially as technology has improved and access has spread. This makes it easier for teachers and students alike to create and use visuals to show, share, and interpret information in whole new ways.

Why Visuals?

About 65% of the population are visual learners, and numerous studies indicate people process visual input 60,000 times faster than anything read or heard. Because of this, visual aids are projected to increase learning by 400%! Of course, the value of visual learning has long been understood by any teacher worth his or her salt. Teachers have drawn pictures on the chalkboard, created charts and diagrams, and given out worksheets that all have visual components for decades now. But now educational initiatives like CCSS have created “anchor standards” to systematize the need for visuals in the classroom.

Visuals in CCSS

Common Core State Standards put a lot of stock in the power of visuals in education. In literacy, math, and other areas, the visual representation of information is considered a crucial aspect of measuring critical thinking. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 states that students must be able to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7require that students “integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.”

In math, CCSS varies by grade, but the standards essentially require that students demonstrate their ability to visually represent mathematical ideas, formulas, or components. Students must also be able to interpret and define their visual representations.

CCSS is based on the idea that students should be able to ask questions and apply knowledge in unique ways. It is also designed to help students absorb information through a variety of sources and interpretations. But how can teachers accommodate these standards into their classroom without overwhelming themselves? Which visuals help students think critically – and how can teachers prove it quantifiably?

Cue infographics.

Infographics in the Classroom

An infographic is defined as a visual image used to represent information or data. Pretty simple, right? The beauty of infographics in education is that they are so versatile. You can use infographics in virtually every subject and every student is capable of learning from them in some capacity.

An infographic is different than just drawing a picture or finding an image that somehow embodies the lesson or information a student is learning. An infographic is way to “cut through the red tape” of visual processing, and they are actually proven to improve retention.

When you use infographics in your classroom, you’re giving students the chance to process and interpret symbols faster than they could process what you write or what you say. (An image can be processed and assigned meaning in about 250ms). Depending on the age of your students, assigning a “picture value” to a concept can help them absorb it faster than reading or listening. Our brains are wired to take information from our visual centers, after all.

You’ve probably used infographics in your own classroom, whether it’s a poster of the Nitrogen Cycle, an essay map, The Periodic Table, or a representation of a specific historical event. But in order for students to follow the standards of your state and district, they also need to show that they, too, can create visual representations of what they’re learning.

Because of this, infographics are seen as a twofold resource in the classroom: as a way to teach students specific material, and as a way for students to demonstrate and share their knowledge.

Getting Students to Use Infographics

We already know that infographics (visuals that represent data or a concept) are a really great way to teach material. But the real sticky learning comes when we allow students to create infographics themselves. Seeing information is powerful; creating the information yourself is game-changing.

When students have to take a collection of data and explore it visually, they’re going to remember about 80% of it. In “participatory lessons” with infographics, your students could recall as much as 70% of what they learned 3 days later. Depending on the format of the infographic, as well as the subject, a student can “play with” information and mold it into a visual representation uniquely theirs. This helps them retain the information, as well as recall it and apply it later on.

Take, for example, a student who is told to create an infographic to highlight a specific math formula. Instead of rote memorization, that student gets to evaluate all the ways that specific formula can be applied, and will have visual cues from his or her infographic in his mind days, weeks, and maybe even years later.

The same goes for the student who has to create a timeline infographic out of a historical event. He or she is going to better understand the first events, the “domino effects” of the situation, and the specific dates, people, and places involved. Students can draw on these visuals come test time, and can even remember them as adults!

You’re probably thinking, “That’s great and all, but how do I get students to use infographics?” Odds are, they already are!

You can see it in 1st and 2nd grade classrooms, when they create charts to show the things they’ve counted. We see it with 4th and 5th grade students who have to draw a diagram of the states of water. Middle school students use plot maps to track a classic story, and high school students use them in presentations of historical events.

The only difference in any of these scenarios is the student’s level of current knowledge. Regardless of the age of your students, they can create images that display their understanding of the material. Using great infographic rubrics can help teachers objectively see how a student’s infographic measures up to CCSS, and also ensure that the graphic contains all the necessary information from the unit or lesson.

Infographics allow for the objective evaluation of complex processes like critical thinking. How many other tools in your teaching toolbox allow you to do that?

Infographics and EdTech

Another component to the Common Core standards is the need to incorporate technology – this is just another way that infographics shine. Students need to be able to: “integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats…” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2) and “make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5).

There are other standards that come into play with technology, as well, but all fingers point to the same conclusion:

We must support digital citizenship as an aspect of learning and critical thinking.

What does this mean for your classroom? It means that you and your students can create visuals, like infographics, using technology. It’s not as difficult as it sounds (for your students, at least). Infographic creation tools like Easel.ly have made infographics both simple to create and easy to access. You can also allow students to work in groups, have master access to their images, and share the graphics through downloads or share links.

These infographics can be used as part of a final project, or even a test review. They can be used to share new information with the class, or as part of a digital evaluation for CCSS. If you’re worried about teaching your students (of any age or grade) how to create their own infographics, let’s remind ourselves that they are digital natives. You can introduce infographics through a “Bring Your Own Device” instruction day, or with Chromebooks or tablets in your classroom, or by booking a day in the computer lab.

Odds are, your students are going to learn how to use an infographic creation tool faster than you. If you need ideas for how to create infographics in your classroom with the help of technology, check out this short ebook: Infographics in Your Classroom.

Let us know how your class is using infographics and technology to meet state standards, cultivate critical thinking, and create fun visuals.

It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.

Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.


Another Brief Conceptualization of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.   People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically.    They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked.   They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies.   They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking.   They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.   They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.   They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society.    At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so.   They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to appropriately consider the rights and needs of relevant others.   They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement.   They embody the Socratic principle:   The unexamined life is not worth living , because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world.               ~ Linda Elder, September, 2007

Why Critical Thinking?

The Problem
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and
imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result
A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  

(Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008)

Critical Thinking Defined by Edward Glaser

In a seminal study on critical thinking and education in 1941, Edward Glaser defines critical thinking as follows “The ability to think critically, as conceived in this volume, involves three things: ( 1 ) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life. 

(Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941)

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