Monday, October 17, 2011

Critical Literacy Education

The definition of critical literacy found at the website for LEARN NC -- a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- cannot be improved upon. Critical literacy refers to the ability "to read texts in an active, reflective manner in order to better understand power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships." The website clarifies that text is defined as a “vehicle through which individuals communicate with one another using the codes and conventions of society,” and that accordingly, "songs, novels, conversations, pictures, movies, etc. are all considered texts." Critical reading requires readers to consider not only what is being said about a topic, but also who is doing the speaking.

As a skill set that enables readers to interpret messages through a critical lens and challenge the implied power relations in a text, critical literacy skills are connected to social issues.

The term critical literacy was developed by social critical theorists concerned with "dismantling social injustice and inequalities." These theorists are focused on "oppressive and unjust relationships produced by traditional forms of schooling" where teachers assert themselves as the possessors of knowledge. Becoming critically literate means mastering the ability to read texts "in order to better understand whose knowledge is being privileged." There is often an activist component to critical literacy education. The LEARN NC website refers to the work of Linda Christensen, and notes, "by participating in social action projects or creating a public discourse, students may see the relation between curriculum and the world beyond the walls of the school."

Critical literacy education is manifested in the classroom in a multitude of ways.Edward Behrman explains that the development of critical literacy inspires creation of many curricular forms of social justice and exploration. Behrman suggests that the different types of lessons can be devised to examine the power relationships found in textual language and literature -- and that these practices show students that language is never neutral.

Behrman’s research revealed that the most commonly used practices that support critical literacy are: reading supplementary texts; reading multiple texts; reading from a resistant perspective; producing counter-texts; having students conduct research about topics of personal interest; and challenging students to take social action.

Specific classroom activities that could be employed: use of counter-texts, incorporation of new media and teaching style.

Counter-texts involves having students generate texts, including multi-media creations, from a non-mainstream perspective. Counter-texts "may be produced in reading logs, journals, weblogs, personal narratives, and student-created videos."

Incorporating media and technology is another potentially useful strategy for including critical literacy in the classroom.

Lastly, teaching style can promote student understanding of critical literacy. LEARN NC emphasizes the importance of the dynamics between learners and educators saying, "a classroom that acknowledges the critical literacy theory must also challenge traditional hierarchical relationships between the students and teacher."


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