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Teaching Critical Reading and Writing in the Era of Fake News


Edited By Ellen C. Carillo and Alice S. Horning

This collection offers support for instructors who are concerned about students’ critical literacy abilities. Attending to critical reading to help students navigate fake news, as well as other forms of disinformation and misinformation, is the job of instructors across all disciplines, but is especially important for college English instructors because students’ reading problems play out in many and varied ways in students’ writing. The volume includes chapters that analyze the current information landscape by examining assorted approaches to the wide-ranging types of materials available on and offline and offers strategies for teaching critical reading and writing in first-year composition and beyond. The chapters herein bring fresh perspectives on a range of issues, including ways to teach critical digital reading, ecological models that help students understand fake news, and the ethical questions that inform teaching in such a climate. With each chapter offering practical, research-based advice this collection underscores not just the importance of attending to reading, particularly in the era of fake news, but precisely how to do so.

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9. The Resurgence of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus: How Instructors Can Use New Media to Increase Students’ Awareness of Fake News



In the 1990s, Lyle Zapato created a website (still extant) that presented the world with the elusive Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Zapato, 2018). This internet hoax found its way into literacy classrooms and was used as a strategy to teach students to question the reliability of the internet (Leu et al., 2011). In an increasingly open and accessible digital world, there are many opportunities for tree octopuses to hide among the vast amounts of information available to students in postsecondary contexts. This frequent access to information with limited knowledge on how to examine and assess text may inhibit a student’s ability to “participate fully and appropriately in the broad range of social and professional digital communities available to them” (Blaj-Ward & Winter, 2019, p. 880). As we begin the third decade of the 21st century, many traditional college students do not remember a world without smartphones, fast internet, or instant communication. This is a time where students are more likely to get their news and homework help from social media sites and Google, rather than from their instructors. Brumberger (2011) referred to these students as “digital natives,” or “millennial learners who have grown up with … new technologies … connect with friends and family through social networking, text messaging, and other technology-mediated approaches” (p. 19). These are also the students referred to throughout this chapter.

Reading and writing instructors from all levels are now tasked with preparing students, these digital...

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