In today's text and media-saturated world, students increasingly need more than just basic literacy skills. They need critical literacy skills.
What is critical literacy?
Critical literacy examines the relationships between language and power in text (text, in this case, can be anything from a picture book to a novel to a social media post). It is a way of analyzing texts to identify issues of power, injustice and equity. Similar in many ways to information literacy, critical literacy focuses less on locating information and instead emphasizes analyzing and evaluating sources from a social justice standpoint. In reality, one cannot effectively function without the other; to analyze information one must first locate it and, conversely, one cannot evaluate sources without critically analyzing them.
How Do I teach Critical Literacy?
Critical literacy can be taught in a variety of ways at all ages.
THINKING ROUTINES - Visible thinking routines, originally developed by Harvard's Project Zero, are exceptional ways to teach critical literacy. Consider trying True for Who? or Values, Identities, Actions for older students and Who Am I? or Same and Different for younger students.
PROBLEM POSING - Asking students to consider a variety of questions about the messages and voices that appear (or don't) in texts that they read can help them think about the power present in a text. Questions such as "What message is the author trying to communicate?", "How might the story change if it was told from a different character's point of view?" and "Whose voices aren't heard in this text?" can all get students thinking deeply.
JUXTAPOSITION - Sharing two texts on a similar topic side by side allows students to carefully examine the similarities and differences, as well as strategies used to influence the reader/viewer, author's biases, perspectives and intent.
SWITCHING - Many books, such as Robert Munsch's The Paperbag Princess or John Scieszka's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, switch up traditional character roles. These stories, whether they gender switch, setting switch or switch up another aspect of the story, help students identify different perspectives and consider whose voices are being heard.
TAKE ACTION - Create opportunities for your students to help their community and have their voices heard. Discover what they are passionate about and set them up to make change in that area - from anti-bullying campaigns to food hamper drives to writing to companies to change their advertising, students have a powerful voice!
Critical, and timely
In the last few years, privilege has become an important and heavily discussed topic, hand in hand with racism, sexism and heterosexism. Students today are becoming increasingly aware of power imbalances in their world; it is imperative that we teach them to not only locate and evaluate sources for their obvious reliability and validity but to also dig deeper in to the intentional and unintentional issues that may be present in the texts they encounter.