You are on page 1of 4

Running Head: CRITICAL LITERACY AND STRUGGLING READERS

Critical Literacy and Struggling Readers


Daniel Coffin
Concordia University, Nebraska

Submitted in partial fulfillment of


the requirements for EDUC 630
September 3rd, 2016

Critical Literacy and Struggling Readers

CRITICAL LITERACY AND STRUGGLING READERS

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher said something which forever changed the way I
would read. None of the words on the page, she would tell us, got there on their own or at
random. Someone, somewhere, put pen to paper and chose exactly those words in exactly that
order to say something. This statement was the first time I saw books as not just a product which
was handled to me to consume, but as a process of choices shepherded by the mind of the author.
From then on, I began to ask myself as I read: why these words and not those? Why this order
and not another? What is the author saying? What is the author not saying? I didnt know it at the
time, but this was my start with critical literacy.
A critical approach to literacy means being able to interpret and evaluate bias, point of
view and language usage, and to take action based on what one has read and considered
(DeVries, 2015, p. 186). Developing these critical faculties requires that students go beyond
literal interpretations and their initial impressions of text to wrestle with the text and determine
what it means not only in the abstract, but what it means to them in their lives. Nieto quite rightly
points out that literacy education without training in critical literacy is a partial and biased
education, because students who are unprepared to make and defend their own judgments about
text have no recourse but to fall on those given them by their teacher, shaped by the biases and
partialities of the teacher (cited in DeVries, 2015, p. 186).
Critical literacy as described by Ciardiello and Soares & Wood, revolves around six
themes: recognizing and deconstructing social barriers, exploring differing perspectives on
historical events, evaluating how culture influences language use, comparing and contrasting
texts, identifying and overcoming bias, and finding ways to take action based on ones reading
(cited in DeVries, 2015, p. 186).

CRITICAL LITERACY AND STRUGGLING READERS


While I have tried to ensure that my students read engaging and substantial texts which
can stand up to deep critical analysis, ultimately it is not the choice of texts read but how those
texts are read which generates student critical insight (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004, p. 54). A
key technique in critical analysis is juxtaposition. My curriculum currently features three
literature circles units wherein students have the opportunity to select one of three novels
organized around a theme. When students read multiple narratives about the same topic, this
allows them to share and compare these reading experiences to more easily detect and discuss
bias and consider the influence of the author on the treatment of the shared topic.
McLaughlin and DeVoogd describe a technique called alternative text wherein
students, after reading a text, generate a text of their own which expresses an oppositional
message (2004, p. 49). Such a technique requires that students be able to discern and articulate a
theme or main argument and then consider critically how the details in the text support that
theme or main argument. A similar technique is switching, wherein students consider the
influence of one aspect of setting or character (gender, socioeconomic status, national origin,
etc.) on the narrative and how that narrative would develop along alternative lines if that aspect
were to be changed (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004, p. 47).
What these techniques have in common is that they call for students to consider how the
authors intentions and biases are mediated through literary techniques in the creation of a text.
Regardless of the instructional techniques used, if students can demonstrate the understanding
that texts are proximally products of authors and ultimately products of those authors cultures
and thus subject to their biases and partialities, as well as the ability to discern and respond to
biases, one can be sure that those students are engaged in the practice of critical literacy.

CRITICAL LITERACY AND STRUGGLING READERS


References
DeVries, B. A. (2015). Literacy assessment & intervention for classroom teachers (4th ed.).
Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway
McLaughlin, M., & DeVoogd, G. (2004). Critical literacy: Enhancing students comprehension
of/ text. New York: Scholastic.