A Teaching-Learning Grant Initiative: Developing the Critical Literacy Instructional Abilities of Pre-Service Educators
Presentation at National Youth-at-Risk Conference
The goal of this collaboration was to address the efficacy of combining critical literacy and training in diverse literature for candidates in a College of Education. This Teaching and Learning grant funded initiative fostered meaningful collaboration between the reference and instruction librarian for the College of Education and an Assistant Professor of Reading in addition to providing valuable opportunities for dissemination of lessons learned. This framework will enable students to develop techniques to integrate critical literacy strategies throughout the curriculum of their future classrooms.
In addition, by providing university students who are in the early stages of their degree program within the College of Education with this experience, this project assisted the College of Education with accomplishing its strategic goals of providing transformative student learning experiences and increasing retention. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities text, General Education Transformed: How We Can, How We Must (2015), “Too many students experience general education not as a conspicuously useful and meaningful component of a coherent baccalaureate education, but as a curricular impediment that they must “get out of the way” prior to study in a major. . . they may be unable to visualize a meaningful trajectory in their curriculum, with an attendant loss of motivation and commitment to persist” (p. 5). In addition, information about teaching critical literacy in the classroom was disseminated to faculty members as well as members of the wider community as a result of this project.
Insights yielded from this initiative have helped us examine how we can better prepare our students for the demands of twenty-first century teaching through a collaborative approach.
Brief Program Description
Pre-service educators in a section of "Exploring Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Diversity in Educational Contexts" were introduced to the concept of critical literacy. Throughout the course of the semester, students were provided with the opportunity to apply their knowledge of this framework through a series of discussions around the young adult novel, Does My Head Look Big in This? (Abdel-Fattah, 2008). Guest speakers— in the form of a local high school student who recently began wearing a hijab to school, as well as a visiting scholar who specializes in critical literacy—expanded students’ perspectives. Results of a pre and post-test, as well as reflections on strategies that can be utilized in a classroom to teach children and young adults to read from a critical literacy viewpoint, will be shared.
Students who participated in our study were each provided with a copy of the young adult novel Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2008). The text, selected by the librarian, is a young adult novel featuring a seventeen-year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim woman who decides to wear her hijab, the traditional head covering worn by Muslims as a part of their faith, on a full-time basis. Over her winter break, Amal makes the decision to wear the hijab while watching an episode of the television show “Friends.” Amal has friends from a range of backgrounds who each have their own opinion regarding her decision to wear the hijab. The reader learns about intricacies of the main character’s cultural background as well as influences from her parents, family, and peers throughout the course of the book. The story deals with issues that any high school student faces, with the additional pressure that Amal must tackle. She struggles to be authentically herself in an environment that is not always welcoming to anyone who is different.
Close Reading/ Critical Literacy Theory Workshop
The Assistant Professor of Reading presented a workshop on close reading strategies to students enrolled in the course at the beginning of the semester. Close reading was introduced as a lens through which the reader sets a purpose for the literacy task, interprets words and phrases, analyzes the structure (visual and text elements), finds patterns and relationships between details, seeks to understand the author’s reasoning and use of evidence, integrates ideas from the text, and promotes connections (Lehman & Roberts, 2013). A rationale for the importance of close reading strategies was also presented to students. This led to a discussion of how the process of close reading can help students concentrate on what is being read; encourages sustained effort to understand the text; and develops critical reading and thinking skills. Overall, the value of close reading strategies to facilitate students’ ability to become strategic and independent readers was modeled.
Students were invited to participate in a close reading demonstration with Avery colored dots. Before they began reading an article from the CBS News website on the topic of print versus online reading (Weiner, 2015), students were asked to jot down their purpose for reading on a post-it note. For their first reading of the material, students were invited to overview the article in order to figure out what the text said. During the second reading, they were asked to consider how the text worked. With a pink Avery post-it dot, students recorded a text-to-self connection they generated while reading (along with a short note to remind them about the connection later). Next, they were asked to record a memorable word choice or sentence with an orange Avery post-it dot. Lastly, students utilized a green Avery colored dot to record language that conveyed the author’s perspective as they read. In the margin, they were invited to note why they selected this language as contributing to the author’s point of view.
This was followed by the “Knew-New-Q” activity (Gambrell, 2014), where students annotated the text. If the information in the article was content that they already knew, students placed a “K” in the margin. If the information was new to them, students placed an “N” in the margin. If students had a question regarding a portion of the article, students placed a “Q” in the margin. Afterwards, students shared their reflections with a peer and wrote a sentence to solidify their “Knew-New-Q” insights.
Additional close reading strategies were introduced and reinforced throughout the course of the semester. This included a “what do you notice?” chart to record ideas and spark discussion as well as additional annotation strategies that can be utilized while reading. Visual literacy activities with post-it notes (such as determining important concepts while reading and noting connections with lines, circles, arrows, and symbols to show the relationship between the ideas) were modeled. Strategies such as re-writing the text as a series of tweets, discussion circle roles, analyzing a text from different viewpoints, and creating student-generated discussion questions to accompany a text were also introduced.
Critical Literacy Strategies Employed throughout Discussions
Students were invited to employ a range of close reading and critical literacy strategies throughout their reading of the book and class discussions. These included the Avery colored dot strategy, the K-N-Q activity, making connections, visual outlines, and annotation strategies, among other means. College of Education students were invited to reflect upon how these strategies created a more critical reader. In addition, they were asked to share insights related to how a close reading lens could impact their teaching style as future educators. Student comments from the conclusion of the project yielded valuable data, demonstrating the impact of this project on these future teachers.
Additional Learning Opportunities
High School Student Guest Speaker
A local Muslim high school student was invited to visit the course. She shared her personal experience of recently beginning to wear a hijab to school. This included her peers’ reaction, as well as its impact on her participation in school activities, such as roles in the school play and gym attire. Students posed questions to the guest speaker, who spoke honestly regarding a range of inquiries about her family’s influence on her decision and her future life goals, both personally and professionally.
Faculty Guest Speaker
An outside faculty guest speaker delivered a presentation on how to implement critical literacy not only in the classroom, but also in everyday life. During her visit, the professor worked with this class, teaching students how to “read their world” from a critical perspective and ways to encourage critical thinking in the classroom.
College of Education Brown Bag Session
A Brown Bag session was held at the conclusion of the project in order to share insights gleaned from the critical literacy project with the College of Education community. We introduced the context for the project; provided details on the course as well as the guest speaker from the local high school who recently started wearing a hijab; and modeled close reading and critical literacy strategies for attendees. Two undergraduate students from the course were invited to join us to help convey their viewpoints during this informal conversation. Both students described what they learned from participating in the book discussion and how they will apply critical literacy strategies to their own teaching practices as future educators. The Brown Bag provided a valuable opportunity to disseminate information about teaching critical literacy in the classroom to College of Education faculty and students.
Critical literacy "accounts for ways that literacy can be used in service of self-actualization and social change" (Riley, 2015, p. 418). Reading has social, cultural, and political ramifications. When students become aware of the messages about race, gender, and power within the text, they can better connect with their own views about how these issues influence their interpretation of what they read (Hall and Piazza, 2008). Reading through the lens of critical literacy allows students to understand what they are reading from diverse perspectives (Norris, Lucas, & Prudhoe, 2012). Students learn how to read, but are not always taught how to analyze the text critically (Jones, 2006). This can often be attributed to the fact that their teachers may not have learned how to teach students to read texts from a critical perspective (Norris, et al., 2012). The goal of this collaboration was to address the efficacy of combining critical literacy and training in diverse literature for candidates in Armstrong State University's College of Education. This Teaching and Learning grant funded initiative fostered meaningful collaboration between the reference and instruction librarian for the College of Education and an Assistant Professor of Reading in addition to providing valuable opportunities for dissemination of lessons learned. This framework will enable students to develop techniques to integrate critical literacy strategies throughout the curriculum of their future classrooms.
Hefflin & Barksdale-Ladd (as cited in Iwai, 2013) assert the significance of using multicultural literature in schools. This is a powerful tool which helps students develop multiple perspectives about their culture and provides them with insights about understanding other cultures and people (p. 189). By including literature with differing perspectives, teachers can ensure that all students can make connections while also “providing a realistic view of our pluralistic society” (Landt, 2013, p. 22). Therefore, undergraduate students enrolled in a course taken prior to applying for admission to College of Education degree programs were chosen to participate in this study.
Students in a Fall 2016 section of EDUC 2120, Exploring Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Diversity in Educational Contexts, with a focus of this course centered on utilizing sociocultural perspectives to analyze the nature and function of culture and social class, were introduced to the concept of critical literacy and participated in an interactive series of faculty-facilitated small group discussions. The students’ initial use of critical literacy was assessed through a pre-test, and reassessed using a post-test composed of open-ended questions. An additional evaluation measure at the end of the class involved class discussions where students described how critical literacy strategies can be implemented in their future classroom.
National Youth-at-Risk Conference
"A Teaching-Learning Grant Initiative: Developing the Critical Literacy Instructional Abilities of Pre-Service Educators."
Curriculum, Foundations, & Reading Faculty Presentations.