Critical Literacy is an essential component in building a culturally relevant classroom and curating an environment driven by curiosity and desire to improve the world around us. It’s the kind of classroom I’d like to have someday. Whenever I get asked, “why English?” I explain that an English education can give students the tools to question the world around them, take nothing at face value, and learn empathy and perspective through literature. I love English because there aren’t right or wrong answers and students can explore the things that interest them. Of course, not all classrooms look like this, but I was fortunate enough to have the greatest English teachers who were excellent examples in shaping the kind of teacher I want to be.
As Jenks explains, “critical literacy work has to pay attention to questions of power, diversity, access and both design and redesign, and to recognize their interdependence” (Janks 2010). I notice that a lot of discourse surrounding education and the importance of diverse content, but not as much surrounding these questions of power and access. These factors are all important to discuss when critiquing and examining texts, and often interconnected and build off of each other. This is why I appreciate the Jenks definition, as it feels very current and all-encompassing.
As we prepare to enter our student teaching and observation sites and eventually our own classrooms, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared, which is why I appreciated the Coffey article as a supplement to the Jenks piece. The Coffey article gave practical application strategies that embody the spirit of critical literacy and feel relevant and interesting for students. The strategy I felt to be paramount to building relationships and honing student engagement is giving students opportunities to choose. Coffey explains, “student choice in any type of research has long been touted by constructivist and critical pedagogues… as an effective way to involve, encourage, and empower students to actively participate in the construction of knowledge” (2010).
I think back to my time in high school and my favorite assignment. It was in tenth grade AP History. We got to choose our own groups and were assigned a different decade from the 20’s to the 80’s, and then given a full class period to present on assigned decade. My group was the 60’s– I remember how exciting it felt to dress up like a hippie all day. I was really passionate about music production and video editing at the time, so I made mashups of different 60’s music and recreated Vietnam war protests based off of footage from the era. This assignment was so fulfilling because I was able to learn and gain the critical understanding from this era through the things I loved to do. We were given little direction and just told to do what we were interested in. My AP History teacher was one of the best I’d ever have, because he understood the power young students have when you give them the power to choose.
My resource link for this week is an article on using Twitter in an English classroom to learn about critical literacy. It is a super interesting read and a potentially great assignment for our own classrooms one day. It can be found here.