Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Information Literacy and Critical Thinking

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 03.21.17

front page of newspaperThe world has never had as much news and information as it does today. Sources of information include traditional print materials (books, magazines and billboards) and electronic resources (web pages, blogs, social media and videos). We are constantly receiving information of one kind or another—and so are young people.

The information we receive has a multitude of purposes. Sometimes we’re acquiring new knowledge. At other times, we’re being entertained. Some material informs us that our lives will be perfect if we have a new car or that people will like us more if we use a special toothpaste. There are messages that advance a political cause or personality, and others that promote hatred, racism, sexism, and other negative views.

Because of this seemingly constant onslaught of messaging from print, multimedia and the Internet, reading and thinking skills are more important than ever before. Teaching young people to think critically about information is a job for both parents and educators.  

Teacher/librarians have long maintained that we teach students to look at information sources critically. Some points of consideration should include:

  • Purpose: What’s the main idea or goal behind a source? Does a website site exist to inform or to persuade? Why does this person tweet?
  • Author: Who is the information author? What is the author’s education, training, or experience to write with authority on a topic? Students are encouraged to examine site documents or external sources to find out more about an author.
  • Content: Is the content ‘fair and balanced’? Does the information seem reasonable given what you know about the subject? Is it biased? Does the author have a "vested interest" in the topic?

Most middle schools and high schools in Sonoma County have research projects that ask students to evaluate information sources considering the questions outlined above. Some schools have multimedia/video production classes that encourage analysis of videos, ads, and information. Kenilworth Jr High, Healdsburg High, Sonoma Valley High, Analy High School, and Santa Rosa High have notable programs in these areas.

As parents explore ways to promote information literacy and critical thinking with their children, the Petaluma Branch of the Sonoma County Library in conjunction with the Teacher-Librarians of Petaluma City Schools are offering two workshops in April: 

April 5: Digital Living Survival Skills for Parents, Tweens & Teens
Get strategies for safely supporting your family's life online with social media, cell phones, texting and more.  Workshop facilitated by Petaluma teacher librarians Debby Vandersande (Petaluma Jr High), Pamela Van Halsema (Kenilworth Junior High) and  Diana Spaulding (Teen & Adult Services Librarian- Petaluma Regional Library).  
Petaluma Regional Library
100 Fairgrounds Drive
Petaluma, CA 94952
6:30- 8:00 PM 
April 12: Fake News- Real Solutions
Join teacher librarians, Nathan Libecap (Casa Grande HS), Connie Williams (Petaluma HS) and Diana Spaulding (Teen & Adult Services Librarian- Petaluma Regional Library) for a lively discussion about the topics of fake news and how we can help kids critically evaluate online resources- designed for teens and adults.
Petaluma Regional Library 
100 Fairgrounds Drive
Petaluma, CA 94952
6:30- 8:00 PM 
Related Information
Information Literacy Resources- Sonoma County Office of Education
Digital Citizenship Resources- Sonoma County Office of Education & Common Sense Education

Blog: Technology for Learners