Beyond, Under, Over and Around
• What Critical Literacy is:
-refers to a stance one takes
-engages students in asking
questions that problematize or
grapple with the complexities
of text – oral, print, electronic;
includes video games,
-can be traced back to the work of Paulo
Freire, who taught people to “read the
word” in order to “read the world”
-seeking alternative explanations
-examining attitudes, dispositions, values and
beliefs that readers bring to a text that
shape the way they read and perceive it
-examining the way that text influences the
reader – the assumptions and beliefs that
underlie a text and the perspectives and
voices that are missing or silenced
-social action fairness, equity and meaning makers
Learners are not only code breakers, social
justice and text users, but they are also text of texts and look
critics who second-guess the meaning
beneath texts to sources and purposes of production.
(Luke and Freebody 1990)
• What Critical Literacy is not:
-teaching a universal set of literacy skills
-approaching literacy as a neutral activity
-a method or program
“There is no magical method.” (Luke)
-about traditional comprehension
questions (e.g. what is the main idea?)
-synonymous with critical thinking skills
• The Benefits:
-application across all curricular areas, modes of
expression, texts and new technologies
-encourages students to be active readers and
-applies critical thinking skills, deepens
comprehension and fosters integrative thinking
-readers interact with the text
-encourages students to research language
-respects the literacy practices of minority cultures
-develops a sense of agency, control over text, voice
-compels learners to social action
• Power relationships
• “Would it work more effectively if you explain to
students what Critical Literacy is and what you
want them to accomplish and maybe take a poll to
see which topics/issues interest them, and work
together in coming up with specific assignments?”
You’ll find that once you explain what Critical
Literacy is, students generally “buy in”
instantaneously. Where allowing students choice
is most effective is in how they choose to
demonstrate their learning and their plans for
• “Read the word to read the world.” (Freire, 1970)
• “The literate individual is someone who knows that
there is more that one version available.” (Green,
• “Literacy is itself “an emergent technology – that
is, a technology that changes the environment in
which it is used.” (Freebody, 1993)
• “The problem with words is you don’t know whose
mouths they’ve been in…” (Cosentino, 2008)
• “Literacy is a dynamic, evolving social
and historical construction. It is not
a fixed, static body of skills.
Standards of practice of literacy are
contingent on the agendas and power
relations of institutions and
communities, governments and
cultures. “ (Luke, 1993)
• First memories of reading
• First memories of writing
• Favourite reading as a child
• Favourite writing as a child
• Favourite reading as an adolescent
• Favourite writing as an adolescent
• Most important books/authors in your life
• Main roles and purposes for reading in your life
• Main roles and purposes for writing in your life
• “What do evaluation pieces look like?”
Evaluation pieces could be whatever you want
them to be depending on the purpose of
your lesson. You can have students produce
counter-texts (videos, blogs, wikis) and
work in more traditional formats (essays,
posters, pamphlets/brochures, monologues,
etc.) as long as the traditional pieces allow
students to be critical of issues of power,
gender, race, etc.
You could assess:
• Video clips
• Visual: painting, sketches, collages, murals,
• Written: letters, essays, poems, journals,
press releases, news reports
• Oral: speeches, monologues
• Digital: re-mixes, web pages, blogs
“While more young people have access to the
Internet and other media than any generation in
history, they do not necessarily possess the ethics,
the intellectual skills, or the predisposition to
critically analyze and evaluate ……. these
technologies or the information they encounter.
Good hand/eye co-ordination and the ability to
multitask are not substitutes for critical thinking.”
Dr. David Considine, Appalachian State Univ.
• “How does one go about changing established
curriculum to more of a critical literacy
That’s a bit of a toughie…
While it doesn’t appear as if the curriculum is
going to change in it’s approach to teaching
and learning in spite of recent revisions,
teachers can use the existing documents in a
critically-literate classroom. What a number
of documents are showing is an increased
number of expectations that embody critical
thinking skills – a necessary tool for critical
Remember – the curriculum tells you
WHAT to teach, not how to teach…
• Something to keep in mind:
“Literacy education is about the distribution
of knowledge and power in contemporary
society. Who gets what kinds of literate
competence? Access to text? Where and
to what ends? Who can criticize? How? To
What extent? These issues are significant
not only for students’ lives and economic
destinies, but also for the overall
distribution of competence and knowledge,
wealth and power in a literate society.”
• As teachers, we have to see
critical literacy as the ‘new basics’
for 21st century teaching and
• Resistance to the ‘back to basics’
rhetoric that reflects only those
skills assessed on standard tests.
– Seldom reflect on what sorts of
activities reading and writing actually
are – how they shape our social and
• Literacy makes you more intelligent.
• The more literate you are, the more worthy you are.
• Working-class children are inherently not as good at
• There is a single, optimal formula for teaching
literacy, which can solve the problems of student
literacy once and for all.
• Literacy learning is a “natural” and “spontaneous”
process for all children.
• Literacy consists of individualize, basic psychological
THIS IS IDEOLOGY!
• “How would parents react when they are
used to a prescribed curriculum?”
You’re not moving away from the curriculum…
But you’re certainly putting a new spin on it!
If you are concerned about parental
reaction to some of the work being done in
your course, it’s not a bad idea to send a
notice home informing parents of the
themes of your course and some of the
learning opportunities that you will be
providing for your students.
• Need to demonstrate to parents that
the functional needs are still being
met students are STILL reading
• Must be open to parental feedback
and expressions of concern
• Space can be made for parents to
• “Can I use critical literacy in every
lesson of every unit?”
So that your work doesn’t look contrived or
artificial, the idea is to establish from
the very beginning from what framework
the class will be working. Post key
questions that you always want students
to keep in mind so that the ideas are
Something else to consider…
easily accessible. may want to plan your lessons around
certain critical literacy themes (power relation,
gender identity, racism, classism, sexism, etc.)
Critical Literacy Lesson
• Engage a student’s thinking
• Guide a student’s thinking
• Extend a student’s thinking
• Critical literacy resonates with Brian
Cambourne’s (2002) description of social
2. Learning cannot be separated from the
3. The learner’s goals are central to what is
4. Knowledge and meaning are socially
constructed through negotiation, evaluation
• Pose questions, and teach students to pose
questions that “disrupt” common understandings,
question the text’s authority, and second-guess
• Examine the text from multiple viewpoints,
including those not represented.
• Compare/contrast texts.
• Juxtapose predictions about text against
discoveries made during reading.
• Compare/contrast traditional and non-tradition
versions of familiar stories/narratives.
• Create alternative texts (e.g. switching
gender roles, changing the setting).
• Focus on socio-political issues of power and
relationship among people.
• Engage student in writing to explore how
language works, the ways various
individuals and institutions use literacy to
their own ends, the reasons behind such
• Use language and literacy to reflect and
act on behalf of social justice.
• Integrate strategies for Critical Literacy into
familiar reading comprehension frameworks:
modeling with think-alouds, direct instruction,
shared and guided practice, reflection
• Read, reflect and act: create opportunities for
students to immerse themselves in texts,
questions and “fearless speaking and listening”; to
reflect on their reading/viewing/listening; to act
(Lucy West, 2008)
• Code-breaker, meaning-maker, text-user, text-
analyst: students need to develop proficiency in
each of these roles; although Critical Literacy is
most aligned with text analyst, the
• other roles are all implicated (Luke and
• Use a variety of patterned
– read-pause-make a
– read-pause-make a
• “How can I incorporate critical
literacy into a computer class?”
Apart from the Curriculum:
-bring a discourse of equity and access
to the classroom
-be cognizant of the resources with
which you teach
-be aware of the language being used
• Within the Curriculum:
-having class discussions about the kind
of work environment one might
expect to encounter in the field of
-bringing in guest speakers who are
women and visible minorities who
have achieved success in the field
examining issues of power,
gender, race and class
From p. 26 of the Computers
“Participation rates in computer studies tend to
be higher for male students than for female
students. To encourage greater participation
among female students, it may be helpful to
offer more projects and activities that have
socially meaningful applications. For example,
projects to develop assistive devices, as
opposed to the more traditional activity of
programming robotic arms, have proved
successful in engaging the interest of female
students. Similarly, projects involving
graphical programming to develop animated
stories, as opposed to abstract gaming
activities, may hold more appeal for young
women. Providing outreach programs and
establishing study groups for young women
-analyzing the impact of computer use on the
environment and developing creative action plans
to lessen or eliminate the “footprints” left behind
“Programming projects can be used to support these
expectations. For example, students might
program a survey to assess people’s knowledge of
environmentally responsible strategies related to
the use of computers. The program could be
designed to calculate the respondent’s
“environmental awareness” grade and suggest
additional strategies, or it could be designed to
provide feedback for each survey question.
Students could also design surveys to assess the
use of environmentally responsible practices in
the classroom.” (p. 28, Computersof power
examining issues Curriculum)
can inspire social action
• “Can we have a modeled analysis of
Not really… The beautiful thing
about critical literacy at
work in a classroom is
that there is no model.
The educator and
students have a lot of
freedom to shape their
inquiry as it fits their
needs. There are,
however, some ideas:
Types of Questions You Can
Use to Interrogate Text
• Textual Purpose(s):
– What is this text about? How do we know?
– Who would be most likely to read and/or view this text?
– Why are reading and/or viewing this text?
– What does the composer of the text want us to know?
• Textual Structures and Features:
– What are the structures and features of the text?
– What sort of genre does the text belong to?
– What kind of language is used in the text?
• Gaps and Silences:
– Are there ‘gaps’ and ‘silences’ in the text?
– Who is missing from the text?
– What has been left out of the text?
– What questions about itself does the text not
• Power and Interest:
– In whose interest is the text?
– Who benefits from this text?
– Which positions, voices, and interests are
privileged in the text?
– Who is excluded from the text?
– Why is the text written the way that it is?
• Interrogating the Composer:
– What kind of person, and with what interests
and values, composed this text?
– What view of the world and values does the
composer of the text assume that the reader/
viewer holds? How do we know?
Ultimately, you want students looking for
Keywords Core Concept Key Question
Authorship All texts are Who created this text?
Format All text are constructed How do I relate to this
using creative language text?
with its own rules.
Audience Different people How might different
experience the same people understand this
text differently. text differently?
Content Texts have embedded What lifestyles, values
values and points of view. and points of view are
represented in, or
omitted from, this text?
Purpose Most text are organized Why was this text
to gain profit and/or produced?