Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Critical Literacy - Part One (December 17, 2008)

No doubt, you heard or saw some things that you may have struggled with. Critical literacy is not so black and white as teaching functional literacy skills, and admittedly, not without controversy. Clearly, I am very passionate about the topic and I have encountered opposition along the way. Sometimes, changing our practice can be very lonely and isolating, but for me, the end result was worth the effort.

What are your thoughts so far? Do you see this mindset working in your classroom? In your school? Explain your feelings. Please feel free to be as honest and forth-coming as possible. The purpose of this activity is not to be judgemental of each other, but rather to work out our feelings on this rather complex issue. When you have posted, please read other responses and react to one.


Maria said...

I found the session to be very informative and enlightening. Too often I accept what information I have without questioning it's source or hidden agenda, but after our session together I know I have some work to do to be a better teacher. Critical Literacy really asks us to not take what we read or see as 'gospel' but to analyze its true meaning and explore alternatives if we are dissatisfied with what we encounter. I enjoyed reading the selection of books brought in, and they were very different from anything I've seen in the past. They really do challenge you to think about what you are reading and presenting to students, and perhaps illicit feelings that were buried deep within us all.

Jeanne said...

I was thinking about critical literacy as I read this story/joke paraphrased from one in Reader's Digest:

My husband and I were walking through an old graveyard with our four-year-old son, commenting on the likely causes of the deaths of so many children in the 19th century. Our son must have been listening because he piped up "I know how that person died". He was pointing at a tombstone with a beautiful engraved scene of the Last Supper. -- "At a restaurant".

I was thinking about the levels of literacy the child was exhibiting. He correctly understood that the stone was a symbol that someone had died. He "read" the picture and decided that it was a picture of a meal and that the number of adults meant it was likely a restaurant scene.

But, because he is not yet fully critically literate, he missed the meaning of the famous image (and the identity of the person at the centre of it) and he missed the fact that it is not common to put an image of how someone died on a tombstone.

It makes for a cute story, but it illustrates how our students need "common knowledge" to understand the "context". Is that really what we are talking about when we talke about critical literacy -- context? Or is critical literacy more the attitude of questioning?

Is the child lacking critical literacy because he came to the wrong conclusion due to a lack of information about the world, or because, when he came to a conclusion, he didn't question it?

Jenn said...

At a time when information is everywhere (quite literally), critical literacy and related skills are necessary for both teachers and students.

In our grade 12 University English course we work with Northrop Frye's "The Educated Imagination". For many students, this is their first formal encounter with literary criticism. Initially it is a difficult text, but as we begin to discuss and evaluate how Frye's ideas apply to their own experiences, students begin to have "aha moments" (as Oprah would say).

One of my favourite parts of the text is when Frye presents what he considers to be the ideal literary education. When students take Frye's theory and compare it with their own school based literary education, they begin to question why they have studied certain texts and not others. They also ask why we study the texts we do (eg. "Why do we have to read Shakespeare every year?"). This question has led to some incredible discussions about decision-making, student input and textual representations.

At the end of the unit students have developed a sense of "who" and "what" is missing from their literary education. Often, it inspires them to seek out literary works that reflect their own personal histories.