“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.”- Freire
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!