Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teaching Critical Literacy

What Is Critical Literacy? 

I read, "Teaching about Language, Power, and Text: A Review of Classroom Practices that Support Critical Literacy" by Edward Berhman.

In this article, Behrman outlines several components of critical literacy instruction, including:
(a) reading supplementary texts
(b) reading multiple texts
(c) reading from a resistant perspective
(d) producing countertexts
(e) conducting student-choice research projects; and
(f) taking social action.

When I reflect back on my own K-12 experience, I can think of only one teacher who did any of these things, and that was my AP European History teacher, Miss LeBaron.I remember that, while I was in high school, I was profoundly inspired by Joan of Arc. She was my personal hero. I read books about her and had drawings of her in an inspirational journal, including having drawings of her for my bookmarks.

Anyway, I remember that we came into class one day, and I saw that we would be discussing Joan of Arc. I said to Miss LeBaron, "Oh, I LOVE her!" and she immediately put me on the side in which I had to be a prosecuting attorney against her.

I appreciated the experience because it forced me to look at Joan of Arc from a different perspective. Although I still completely loved her before, during, and after the lesson, I respected Miss LeBaron for making me take a critical view.

However, as I read this list, I don't think that all items on the list necessarily relate to critical literacy. I think it depends on HOW they're taught. For instance, I had a tenth-grade English teacher who used to say, "This is not a democracy. This is a theocracy, and I am God." I think statements like this do not foster critical literacy, in the sense that when a teacher calls himself God, he doesn't really invite you to question him. So even though we conducted student-choice research projects in his class, I still don't classify them as 'critical literacy' because it was done in the context of an authoritative, teacher-centered environment in which the teacher valued one right answer.

So, in sum, although I liked the article, I would take the recommendations with a grain of salt. I think some of the items on the list could lead to critical literacy instruction, but the classroom environment would have to be right for them to be TRUE critical literacy.

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