Critical Literacies & Social Justice in Education

“Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge.”- Freirethink-outside-the-box.jpg

Promoting critical literacies allows students to be active participants in the world.  Rather than passively accepting information students look critically, which empowers them and allows them to focus on the importance of equality and advocate for those with less power in our society.  They begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more critical lens. Critical literacies is the relationship between language, power, and social practices.  It gives students the ability to read text in an active, reflective manner to better understand power, inequality and injustice in relationships, and classes of people. Students begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more “critical” lens, thus promoting engagement, conversation, and a critical mindset to challenge power and societal issues. Can you see elementary students using a critical lens to read and explore social issues? Middle schoolers? High schoolers?  And if so, how could a teacher take this to the next level of action, which is social justice in motion?

Encouraging critical thinkers and promoters of social justice can make a change in our world.  We can give them the tools to question issues and see life through multiple perspectives.  We do extremely important work.

In the article Out of the Box: Critical Literacy in a First-Grade Classroom, Kim Huber wasn’t sure how changing the context of her books during story time would actually affect her class, but she came to realize that story time did not have to be about “happy” books, and basic story elements, but it could focus on equality and social justice.This article could fit into the book black ants and buddhists by Mary Cowhey.  She wrote an entire book about thinking critically and teaching differently in the primary grades. The entire book focuses on teaching kids to use their critical lens and then to set their thinking into action.  She guides her students into looking at equality and power. This is a great book to read to see social justice and critical literacies in action in an elementary school.  Kim Huber came to realize that her students had a lot to say about issues that were inequitable and unfair.  She also discovered that her students made stronger connections to  the topics of social justice than to the “happy” books.  We as teachers have the ability to engage students in thoughtful conversation about different topics.  Do you ever think out of the box?  “It is in settings like Kim Huber’s first-grade classroom that children expand their understandings of the purposes of literacy and begin to see how literacy relates to their interactions with others.” (Lehand,Harste, Huber 2005. p.258) The learning, responding and interaction between her students even changed.  “…she did not expect to find that the children would start treating each other with more compassion and understanding.  She was also surprised to find that they put considerably more effort into their written and artistic responses, took on multiple perspectives, and made lots of intertextual connections when they were reacting to these books.” (Lehand, Harste, Huber 2006. p.258)

Still can’t understand Critical Literacies? Watch this Prezi about Critical Literacies.

Thank you Stephanie Jones for helping us to understand critical literacy and its possibilities in our classrooms through a character that has been written about time and time again as someone who purposefully went around blowing down poor innocent pigs houses!  As he has now spoken up we are able to see the injustice and unfair treatment of Mr. Wolf.  He was framed!!  “History, culture, and social relations are much too messy to be neatly framed, much too alive to be frozen in representation.  At least some of this messiness can be accounted for and analyzed within the layers and tenets of critical literacy.” (Jones 2006 p. 73) Jones goes on to say “The three tenets and layers of critical literacy that I offer here are inextricable intertwined and offer tools necessary to move beyond the superficial and surface level of texts of all kinds.(Jones 2006. p. 73)  She goes on to say that “Their relationship to one another make thinking about critical literacy fascinating, intriguing, and empowering while at the same time their interconnectedness may challenge those of us trying to decide what to do with our students on Monday morning.” (Jones 2006. p. 74)


When she brought in Mr. Wolf, the tenets and layers did not seem so unreachable.  After clear definitions, she gave us questions and ways to bring each tenant and each layer into our own classroom.  Jones writes, “The metaphor of being “framed” is useful in thinking about critical literacy, the three tenets (Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Social Action) and the three layers (Perspective, Positioning, and Power).”  (Jones, p. 71)  We need to teach students how to closely read a text and look at media and modes from multiple perspectives.  Using Mr. Wolf as an example, Jones explains the tenets of critical literacy, “Mr. Wolf reconstructed a mainstream story to place his perspective at the center of attention.  For him to make the decision that a reconstruction needed to take place however, he must have engaged in some level of deconstruction of the original story and realized that his perspective was not taken into consideration.  And finally, by releasing this new version of the “real story”, Mr. Wolf is engaging in social action.”  (Jones, p. 74)  Critical literacy right before our eyes.  We see a little perspective changes everything.  We think it would be an engaging activity to have the students rewrite for an antagonist of their choice in middle and high school and maybe use this same text in elementary school while answering some of the questions she presents as a starter.  Can you think of other books that have taken the antagonist and shown their side of the story? High schoolers and middle schoolers would have to critically read the story and look at events from a different perspective.

Like us, you may have read over Jones’ questions and suggestions and noticed a few that you have already implemented into your own lessons.   Her Classroom possibilities for Deconstruction of text start off simply by reading a book and asking questions about whose voices are important or unimportant, encouraging the reader to question and challenge the author’s perspective and use of power by locating disconnections or feelings of disconnection, questioning advertisements, to finally rereading a favorite book from a critical perspective. She  goes on to share classroom possibilities for deconstruction of identities. She feels this is important for students who have not experienced marginalization.  She then shares classroom possibilities for reconstruction, and social action.  Some of these are very difficult questions about identities and our position in the world.   Take another look at the different “Classroom Possibilities” sections, are there questions or activities that you could bring into your classroom?  With what you are working on right now?

Jones then writes about the layers of critical literacy.  She begins by saying “all texts are embedded with multiple meanings and one way to examine some of those meanings is to peel away the layers through the consideration of perspective, positioning, and power.” (Jones 2006. p.79) “Perspective refers to the creator of the text, the text itself, and the reader.” (Jones 2006. p.79)  Positioning allows the writer to place someone or something using the power of language and ideology.  Power is about negotiating.  “Power is never static, or stable, or still; it moves, shifts, and is used differently depending on the context in which people are relating and the people themselves.”(Jones 2006. p. 83)  She again gives us questions to help us analyze the text through perspective, positioning and power.  Did you think these questions were helpful?  Can these questions guide your readers?

Ending with a thought from Jones, “Thinking and acting through the tenets and layers of critical literacy is one way educators can begin to ask difficult questions about texts and what kinds of tools their students need to critically read their world.”  (Jones, p. 85)  We are not just giving them the questions to ask when they are reading a text, but also perspectives to consider as they move through and interact in the world.

How can we teach our students to really think critically about texts or issues when we now live in a world of snippets of information?  When they are outside the classroom, they find can find information quickly and easily.  Google it-we do it everyday.  One can usually get just enough information to move on.  Guilt comes of not knowing who wrote the information.  In High School Research and Critical Literacy: Social Studies With and Despite Wikipedia, Harouni takes us through his journey to expose Wikipedia and teach students better research practices and strategies.  Harouni’s curriculum centers around a classroom that fosters critical literacy-yet he witnessed students that were not questioning or engaging with their texts.  Observing their research, Harouni writes, “Missing, however, was a diversity of resources,personal investment in developing certain points beyond others, and distinctions between fact and opinion.”  (Harouni, p.475)  His students were simply gathering facts from Wikipedia and presenting facts for research.  There was no enthusiasm or text-to-self connections.  Instead of banning Wikipedia, he took the students through activities that exposed Wikipedia as a source that was not always credible.  This act became important to them.  This is their culture and a huge part of their lives.  A very important lesson in critical literacy- looking at the website and questioning it.

Our students should have classroom experiences that value diversity, challenge injustices and examines the right for everyone to reach their full potential in society.  Developing and implementing social justice strategies and lesson plans should be part of a school’s curriculum.   In, Developing Social Justice Educators, Duncan-Andrade shares Ms. Grant’s social justice philosophy,  “Racial, cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic status has no effect on students’ abilities to acquire knowledge.  Schools should provide students with the fundamental skills and ideas necessary to develop within the system while also preparing them to transform the system.”  (Duncan-Andrade, p.70)  Duncan-Andrade’s article shared the teaching philosophies “guiding their instructional practices, curriculum designs, and relationships with students, that made it clear that the strength of their teaching focus came from a focus on student-empowering social justice pedagogy.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.70) These teachers show us how social justice has a place in the classroom thus allowing students to feel empowered to make changes that affect them right now.  This type of teaching allows the students to be change agents in their own communities while also developing their literacy skills. What do you think of some of their practices and how could you implement social justice pedagogy in your own classroom?

We have an opportunity to help our students look at issues and injustices in their communities and the world.  They are our future and can begin to find ways to make their communities better.  It is tough to tackle some of these topics-but they are important to the children and important to our society. The children in these classrooms tackled issues of poverty, racism, violence and inequality because these were issues facing them.  What are some issues facing your own students? “The philosophies of social justice embraced by these educators go beyond the traditional narrative, which sees education as a vehicle to escape financially impoverished communities. These teachers view education as a vehicle to invest in that can improve conditions in urban areas.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.71) Do any of you work in urban areas i need of change?  Can you see your students as change agents in 4th and 5th grade?

Leland, Harste and Huber write, “while we might wish that children did not have to deal with issues like racism, poverty, and war, the fact of the matter is that many children are deeply concerned about these difficult issues when they walk into our classrooms.” (Leland, Harste, and Huber, p. 267).  What does social justice look like in your school?  Is there a need to work on more opportunities to bring social justice activities and lessons into the curriculum?

As teachers, we need to be the change so our students can be the change.  We need to think out of the box and use our curriculum in ways that not only teaches our students but allows our students to be their own change agents while they also develop  the literacy skills necessary for school success. We can do this!

15 thoughts on “Critical Literacies & Social Justice in Education

  1. Great post! Critical literacies make students think deeper into information being taught and look at the world with a more critical lens. Critical literacies allow for students to explore social issues and it makes learning far more engaging. I can definitely see elementary students using a critical lens to read and explore social issues. The earlier students start to learn the better. Teachers can take this to the next level of action by having students’ role play. I think students would enjoy learning in this type of way. As teachers we need to encourage critical thinkers especially at such a young age. As long as teachers give students the proper tools they will be able to see life through multiple perspectives.

    Learning about social issues allows for students and teachers to have great conversations and debates. Students are able to share their feelings and beliefs. Teachers need to teach young students how to think outside of the box and understand the purpose of literacy. It was so interesting to read Kim Huber’s article Out of the Box. The change that she saw in her students is what makes this type of teaching so powerful and worthwhile. If teachers are seeing positive changes in first graders teachers should definitely take this method of teaching into consideration.

    Stephanie Jones does an outstanding job describing critical literacies and its possibilities in our classrooms today. As teachers we need to teach students how to read text closely and look at media from multiple perspectives. A simple perspective can change everything. I love the way Jones implemented her lesson based on deconstruction, reconstruction and social action. I believe her questions were very helpful. They guided the students step by step. I feel that Stephanie Jones really wants her students to consider these perspectives outside of the classroom as well, while interacting with the world.

    We can create critical thinkers and lifelong learners in preparation for college and careers. Teachers need to allow for students to feel empowered to make changes. They need to be encouraged to do so and motivated to do so. Students need to know that they can change their own communities while developing literacy skills. I think it was a great idea that the students tacked topics that were most important to them, for example, inequality, poverty, racism, and violence. As a special education teacher in the Bronx, these issues are very similar to the issues my students are facing as well. I can definitely see my students as change agents in 4th and 5th grade. There is a need for teachers in my school to bring social justice activities into the curriculum. And I am going to try my best to make a difference!!

  2. Great post! Critical literacies isn’t always an easy topic to understand, but you gave great examples and resources to make the topic more attainable!

    While reading your post, I instantly thought back to my student teacher experience last year. During the months of January and February, my third graders and I were studying about Martin Luther King Jrs. birthday and Black History Month. The books that we read and the topics that we discussed were serious topics loaded with information. These were not always “happy” books, as you stated in your post, but they made my students think critically and deeply to analyze the texts, characters, and situations that took place in the book. They were able to react emotionally and we discussed how instances like what happened in the texts we read still happen in various forms today. My students were then able to discuss these issues and write about these topics.

    Although incorporating critical literacies into one’s classroom isn’t “light and fluffy” because of the topics, it is incredibly important to provide students with the skills to analyze such topics by using texts, and having them react and think critically.

    • Kori, great connection to the post this week. The topic that you discussed about Martin Luther King does make students think critically. Students are even able to think about how different the world is today compared to then. And also how different their lives are compared to how Martin Luther King’s life was. Thinking critically about a topic makes students more knowledgable and comfortable when speaking. Students need to be able to analyze topics using outside information and prior knowledge. This makes conversations and discussions so much more powerful.

  3. Great post! Critical literacies is a topic that is hard for many educators to understand. I appreciate all of the information that you provided us with and the visuals that were presented in your blog post. I feel as though it is very important that you explained how we can teach critical literacies. As well as the concept that it is not an easy topic to teach. As educators we need to take the time to teach our students how to analyze and think critically about each topic they learn about in their classrooms.
    In reading Stephanie Jones’s article I agree that we each have to take the time to teach our students how to read closely and how to pick apart each text. I agree with Jones in the fact that we need to build up our students to learning how to practice critical literacies. She also touches upon the idea of bringing what they learn in the classroom to the outside world and into their everyday social interactions. This reminds me of when we went to the Jacob Burns Center and we were taught how to explore and look closely at the different forms of technology.
    In reading these articles and your blog I feel as though we as educators are being told that we need to motivate our students and we can not expect things to happen around us. I love how you ended your blog stating that we need to change as teachers and we can not expect our students to change without our help and guidance. To teach critical literacies we as educators have to think critically and think as though we are researchers looking at ways to teach our students step by step instructions into a new text or a new subject.

  4. Great post! You touched upon the wonderful points made in the articles (and added some cool new stuff) for why critical literacies would be appropriate for all school ages.

    As a teacher, you have to be very careful about the words that come out of your mouth- especially in the younger grades where students pick up on EVERYTHING! Teachers often have that anxious feeling about whether or not certain books would be appropriate for story time because of the more realistic and harsh content that it entails. After reading the “Out of the Box” article, it became clear to me that critical literacies are so much more beneficial than they are detrimental to one’s learning about important content such as equality. Critical literacies can offer great conversation and discussion in the classroom, and will really teach students more information than they even expected!

    The Prezi you chose was also very helpful- critical literacies sure can be a hard concept to understand. The visuals and examples throughout the presentation did make it easier to grasp! This type of Prezi presentation would be a wonderful idea to use in a middle school or high school class when introducing critical literacies.

    Critical literacies don’t always contain “happy” information; however, I don’t think we should rob students of knowing the truth about important events that have occurred in our world- even if it is not all positive. Critical literacies are a terrific concept to bring into any classroom for any age group!

  5. I love this topic because I think it is so important for students to be thinking critically and outside the box, and this can be very hard to accomplish as a teacher. I definitely agree with you when you state how developing and implementing social justice should be part of the curriculum because these students are our future leaders and we want them to accomplish great things.

    I enjoyed the Duncane-Andrade article and I was inspired at how these teachers broke the chain of the “prison system mentality” in their urban classrooms and were able to get their students to start questioning what they were learning, as well as do something about the things they can change. I would love to implement social justice pedagogy in my class one day and hope I am able to do so like these teachers have. Like Kori, I too thought back to my student teaching seminar, to when I was in a fourth grade class and teaching a science unit on recycling. Since it was a topic that is very relevant to them I started by showing images of what happens when the planet becomes polluted. Next I showed a short video of all the things that can be made and done with recycled goods. Then, I asked the class if they wanted to participate in a a class recycling program where we would become less wasteful and recycle things that can be reused it another way. It was a very small gesture we made, but I wanted them to take action on an issue that affects them everyday.

    Although I do not teach in a classroom of my own and the school I work in is not in an urban community, there are still social justice issues that are emphasized and taught about in my school. The largest one being bullying. My school is huge on no-bullying policy, and every Friday morning every class has a meeting where they discuss scenarios, the ways they can solve social problems, and how to go about a difficult situation. I think bullying is a social issue that occurs and is tackled in all school districts because it unfortunately occurs everywhere, but I see it greatly diminishing once students see themselves as the agents of change.

  6. This entry ties in well with what I am doing in my classroom now. My ninth graders are working on a critical lens essay, and I have been seeing great results. It helps to focus students writing with a critical lens because it gives them a place to begin, which can be the hardest part about writing. I was able to incorporate some of the questions in Jones’ (p. 80) article to assist my students with getting to the deeper meaning of the literature they are discussing and writing about. She also discusses the use of perspective as a way to delve deeper into the text. I agree that analyzing perspective can show kids how literature is a commentary on the world around us and each author brings their own experiences to their writing.

    I also think that learning about social issues is important, and this can be incorporated into any aspect of the classroom. Teaching students to be aware of the world and form opinions about issues gets them ready to be successful in the real world. It also gives them a way to discover their interests and what is important to them, while possibly helping others along the way.

    The Duncan-Andrade article, “Turn up that Radio, Teacher,” (2005) was also beneficial to my teaching this week. By relating and analyzing popular culture, students are more engaged in the material. In addition, there are many current songs and pieces of writing that can really teach kids important concepts. Why do our classrooms have to be outdated and only focus on the “classics?”

  7. Great post guys! As a few of you have already mentioned, I also agree that teaching children about critical literacies justice can be a bit difficult. But, can it be done? Yes! Many teachers fear of thinking outside the box when teaching children about critical literacies or about topics that might not be so intriguing. I had an experience very similar to the one Kori had during student teaching. I remember my 5th grade teacher teaching us about the civil rights movement. Instead of having us right papers on the topic, she had our whole class do a play for the entire school (with the theme of the civil rights movement). I feel like our class learned more from this experience. Delivering subject content that is meaningful to children is what is important. Teachers need to find alternative ways to deliver subject content that children do not find intriguing.
    This week’s topic also connects to what we discussed in last week’s blog. The Jocson article focused heavily on poetry and how it could be used in a classroom to tell stories. Critical literacies can also be taught by incorporating technology into the curriculum. Having students produce short films about these topics might also be more engaging as oppose to writing about the topic.

  8. Amazing post! It was full of so much valuable information. As you stated, “Critical literacies are the relationships between language, power, and social practices.” Students need to learn literacy practices that are applicable and meaningful in life. They aren’t just reading to acquire the skills of decoding and comprehension. Literacy can be used as a tool to help them become stronger academically, emotionally and socially. Students can become individuals that understand not only information presented to them, but also THINK about this information. This includes other viewpoints, questioning information, ways to expand this knowledge, act upon this knowledge, and many other applications. I absolutely love the idea of having the students pick an antagonist from a story and writing it from their viewpoint such as the wolf from the Three Little Pigs!

    My school is a large advocate for service learning. Each grade level participates in a project that not only allows them to think out of the box, but also helps the larger community. For example, last year we focused on recycling. The students read books, watched movies, and completed activities dealing with our planet and disposal of “garbage”. They even got to visit a recycling facility and observe this process first hand! Seeing how important recycling is and how big of an issue it is in today’s world, the students wrote to our Headmaster asking for a plastic, glass, and paper recycling bin for the Lower School. If they could recycle one hundred items, they were told they could earn this bin. They did it! This literacy approach not only helped the students acquire “school” knowledge, but also was applicable to help the larger community!

    The students also took part in an activity where they opened a new toy and counted the number of “garbage” items. Appalled by number of items that had to be thrown away, the students each wrote letters to the game company sharing their knowledge and thoughts as well as suggestions in order to improve packaging. The game company wrote back! The students used their critical literacy skills to notice problems, present solutions and make a difference!

  9. Working in a preschool I think it is easy to forget to encourage students to think deeply about the story. Similarly to Mrs. Huber in Leland, Harste, Smith (2005) at the beginning of her school year, my colleagues and I often focus on letter sounds and predicting what the story might be about. This weeks readings were a nice reminder of why it is important to think critically about texts. “The absence of productive and analytical practices from some children’s literate repertoires is an urgent equity issue throughout schooling. Early childhood is a crucial site of practice because it is during that period that children form initial relationships with schooling and formal learning; it is there where they are first constituted as learners and there where most children are first constituted as readers” (Leland, Harste & Smith, 2005: 14). While I understand that early childhood education lays the foundation for children’s later learning and attitudes toward schooling I didn’t consider the significant importance of critical literacy. Encouraging children to be active participants in thinking and questioning texts teaches children to more with text than just enjoy it. I think in turn, children become more reflective and thoughtful little people.

    I was really surprised by Mrs. Huber’s findings…by discussing world issues like racism, homelessness and war that the children began treating each other in a more positive way. I think that part of the reason that many teachers don’t include critical literacy in their classrooms is, like I did, get caught in preparing ‘traditional’ literacy skills but also it seems like it can be a bit uncomfortable. I would think for most teachers it would be scary discussing these types of issues with children when you don’t know where the discussions might take you. What are ways that we can implement critical literacy where you and your students are still comfortable? I love your quote “as teachers, we need to be the change so our students can be the change.” It makes me want to reflect on my work in the classroom to further incorporate meaningful critical thinking!

    I have pasted a link to an article by Eric Cooper-“Let’s Teach Students to Think Critically , Not Test Mindlessly”

    The article focuses on how “memorizing is the easy part.” Getting children to apply learning and think deeply is what should be priority.

  10. I think students of all ages should learn and can learn how to critically read what they see and hear! Jones’ example of the classic three pigs story told through the perspective of Alexander T. Wolf clearly illustrates how we can show students how different perspectives drastically shift the way stories are told and how characters are positioned and hold power (or not) (Jones, 2006, pg. 74). I know my high school students would enjoy comparing and contrasting the perspectives, positioning, and power of characters in classic stories when they are told from the points of view of different characters. Besides “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs”, other classic stories told from alternative points of view include This will help students “think outside the box”, because the deconstruction and reconstruction of classic folk tales, which have become so ingrained in students’ brains, forces students to pay attention to issues of critical literacy, like perspective, positioning, and power, that they likely had not thought of before.

    I believe that with enough practice “peeling layers away from the text”, or analyzing a text for multiple meanings related to the perspectives, positioning, and power of characters or historical figures, will help students become critical consumers of nonfiction and multimedia texts, in addition to fiction texts like the classic three pigs story (Jones, 2006, pgs. 75-80). In a world inundated with texts, images, videos, etc., students need to be able to critically read and interpret multiple messages and meanings, and I believe giving students opportunities to deconstruct and reconstruct classic stories and even their own identities will help inspire “social action that focuses on injustice and pursues social injustice” (Jones, 2006, pg. 83). I could really see having my students conduct research in their community and write letters to community leaders to inspire change, especially if it relates to both what we are reading in class and their personal interests! My high school students often say “that is so unfair”, so now I want to teach them skills and give them the tools they need to make their lives more “fair.” I particularly think we should keep this statement in mind when we consider incorporating critical literacy in the classroom: “the only way we will be able to make informed decisions about when, how, and why to engage our students in critical literacy practices is through knowing them–well” (Jones, 2006, pg. 86). We need to know what our students are passionate about, how they feel about their lives and communities, to help them become agents of change within their lives and communities.

    Harouni, a high school history teacher, found out what his students did and didn’t do while conducting research and re-evaluated his research curriculum and skills “in response to the changing technological and cultural conditions that have an impact on students and the task of research” (2009, pg. 474). In other words, he allowed Wikipedia is his classroom by planning and implementing activities which allowed students to critique Wikpedia and critically analyze sources. I found it alarming that “only two students knew enough about the workings of [Wikipedia] to seriously question its reliability” (Harouni, 2009, pg. 475). In the past, I have told students that Wikpedia is not an acceptable source for research papers because anybody, regardless of whether they have accurate knowledge, can edit and write entries. However, Harouni’s results of his classroom study clearly illustrate that simply warning students about Wikpeida is not enough; “the issue should be whether they can effectively question the authorship of the articles” and all sources they encounter both traditionally and online (Harouni, 2009, pg. 477).

    We can do this by having students evaluate Wikipedia entries on which they already have sufficient prior knowledge. It makes sense that the more you know about a subject, the more likely you will see errors or inaccuracies and be able to fix them. I think having students edit Wikipedia posts on subjects they already know will be “an empowering experience” because the students will “act as the producer and presenter of knowledge, rather than merely its consumer” (Harouni, 2009, pg. 488). This is critical literacy in action: they are deconstructing and reconstructing a text that can be read and viewed by millions of people! This “real-word” audience promotes students’ personal investment in the research process itself, which is sometimes neglected by teachers (myself included!) in order to get that paper done. We can only help students become more critical researchers if we give them opportunities in class to so!

  11. Hey Ladies – great post!

    Your post really got me thinking about the school I am student teaching in right now, and how important it is for teachers to really be involved in helping their students work with and develop critical literacy. Currently, I am student teaching in an urban area and the students are having SERIOUS issues with understanding and comprehending complex texts….when it comes to interacting with critical literacies, they barely have any experience. My seventh graders, unfortunately, have come from an elementary school that did not engage them in concepts of critical literacy and, now, they are being expected to perform on a seventh grade level, but find themselves falling far too short. Your post made me reflect on my student teaching experience up to now, and I’m beginning to see how crucial it is to engage our students in becoming critical readers and thinkers early on in their education.

    I also loved your question about novels that tell the story from the antagonist’s perspective! I know so many…there is, of course, that classic children’s book that tells the story of the three little pigs from the perspective of the big bad wolf. Then, some of my favorite YA novels include, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (a story told from the perspective of a Nazi general’s son) and Monster by Walter Dean Meyers, the story of a convicted juvenile criminal, told by the boy himself.

  12. I love the quote that you opened with, those are such true words! Students do feel obliged to respond to these challenges and as teachers we need to be there to help guide our students to respond in the correct ways, especially when relating their challenges to the real world.

    Critical literacies are the perfect way to begin this. Allowing students to look at situations through a “critical lens” allows them to understand the material rather than simply accepting what is being told to them. This allows them to take a stand and advocate, as you mentioned. I could definitely see the elementary students in my classroom using this critical lens method to explore social issues. Already in my room, we go into depth about world as well as local political, economic and social issues. My students are very knowledgeable about what is happening world-wide and often they do give their opinion and apply their thoughts to our discussions. I think this is a great skill to start as early as elementary school because it becomes increasingly important come middle and high school. These students will be our future and will make the decisions that will change our world.

    I loved how you pulled the example of Kim Huber changing the books in her first grade classroom. I found that to be so interesting because so often teachers do think that the books students are being exposed to need to be “happy”. Switching to include elements like equality and social justice at such a young age is such a great addition to knowledge they are acquiring. As Kim Huber saw, and as I am seeing in my own classroom, you would be surprised how much students DO have to say about issues that are unfair, unjust, or need an opinion voiced.

    I loved that book that takes on the perspective of the big bad wolf. It makes you think when the story is turned-around to be looked at from his point of view! I love how she breaks down the story into the “3 tenets” in the differing perspective. I love your idea to have the students rewrite for an antagonist – that actually may be one of my classes writing assignments upon returning from break now!! I could think of one example of my head in Goldilocks and the 3 bears where a similar situation happened that I could model for the class. We could even relate it to the books we are currently reviewing in our reading groups.

    Yes, just like you I did notice many of Jones’ questions and suggestions were already implemented in my lessons. I found her idea of perspective, positioning and power to be great and something I would personally like to adopt. It’s a great way to help students in their writing as well as reading skills.

    There are SO many ways for students to gain information outside of the classroom. As you mentioned, the Internet and Google are an amazing resource to have available in this day and age, as long as they are used properly. Lucky for us, in my school computers, ipads, laptops, etc. are readily available at all times for students to research. For this reason, we have a computer teacher who goes in extent to tell the student the way to “properly” search the web to find reliable resources and information. I have learned so much from sitting in his class about reminding students of this that it has become second nature in my own lessons to tell students they need a reliable source and need to let us know which source they used. Looking at the differing “reliable” vs. “unreliable” parts of Wikipedia is a great way to show students why we always say this.

    Lastly, I love how you ladies ended your passage. “As teachers, we need to be the change so our students can be the change. We need to think out of the box and use our curriculum in ways that not only teaches our students but allows our students to be their own change agents while they also develop the literacy skills necessary for school success. We can do this!” Couldn’t have said it better myself ☺

  13. Hey Ladies,

    Really an amazing post and you explained everything so clearly. This is such an important topic and you gave great examples of how everything can be applied and utilized in the classroom!

    The first thing that struck me in the reading and in your post was the quote you posted from Jones: “Thinking and acting through the tenets and layers of critical literacy is one way educators can begin to ask difficult questions about texts and what kinds of tools their students need to critically read their world.”
    I happen to be working with a co-teacher who truly believes in the need for children to ask questions about our world and we begin each year with the goal of having students ask questions about everything around them. Just last week we read a book called The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. If you have never read this book, it is about 10 different items or things that you see in your world and it says what the most important aspect of that item is. For example, “The most important thing about grass is that it is green.” When listening to this story, our students began almost arguing with the book. They did not agree with what the book was expressing and they wanted to rewrite the text. So they did. It was amazing to see their passion and excitement when it came to rewriting something that they did not agree with because they wanted to!

    I love that you mentioned the book Black Ants and Buddhists in your post! I thought it was a truly inspiring one to read and I felt like most of the readings from this past week were expressing similar themes. I was truly inspired by that text and felt the same after last weeks readings!

  14. What a thoughtful and thoroughly well done post, the entry this week covered a lot of material and you guys pulled out some very essential examples of how and why we incorporate critical literacies and social justice in education.

    I really loved the Jones article about the Wolf sharing his version of the three little pigs. It’s important for students to develop narratives within the context of a complicated novel. By telling the story from a different character’s perspective they are closely analyzing the story. Even more crucial to a mission of social justice, students can rewrite classic texts in order to abolish any misrepresentations of particular groups of people or places. A great way to include multimodal representations of a particular story would be to have them make a short movie that retells a classic story in a completely different setting.

    Students and people in general learn from a felt need, if teachers rooted all of the choices made in curriculum planning around relevant social issues – students will be more likely to discover their own felt need and delve further into a particular topic. Hourini talked about his students spitting out accurate research with no passion or further questioning behind their presentations. His students could perhaps feel something about research if they were connecting events from the past to today in a very critical way. For example, America is often compared to the Roman Empire and the collapse of the Roman Empire is viewed as a warning sign. Students might perhaps examine global history a little bit closer if they are shown present day news clips or just provided with accurate and easily digestible information about the grievances our country has faced economically and socially even within the past ten years. The article below reveals some frightening parallels and alludes to potentially dubious fate for America.


    Schools are made up of tremendous minds working together to better their communities, their cities and eventually the citizens of this country. It’s a shame that sometimes exploration of a child’s felt need to really dive into social issues that are relevant to them are sometimes sacrificed for testing that has only one purpose and that is to generate data.

    In March and April, I taught “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseni with my 12th grade world lit and film class and I am astonished with how engaged my students were in this truly extraordinary story about two women growing up in Afghanistan. I truly think that they were more engaged by this novel because of how closely our country and city was affected by the actions of the Taliban on 9/11. Many of them are very curious about Afghanistan because in some ways conversations about the civilians in Afghanistan are avoided. We spent a week studying the cultural and political history of Afghanistan and I tried to incorporate current news info about Afghanistan at least two-three times a week. They had their first democratic elections earlier in April and I took a whole day to introduce and talk about the presidential candidates. It was really wonderful to see how seriously they were critiquing the credentials of each candidate. They were absoultely infuriated by many of the candidates being formally referred to as warlords. With relevant and historical info about Afghanistan fresh in their minds, they felt way more connected to the characters of Hosseini’s novel because they knew that while it is a fiction novel, the author grew up in Afghanistan and he writes from his experiences and those of women close to him that he interviewed and cared for.

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