Though certainly not an exhaustive list, the following sources (published 2012-2018) have been instrumental in shaping our NCTE 2018 panel presentation, “Raising (Critical) Voices: Preparing Teachers for Critical Pedagogies in the ELA Classroom.” By sharing this list, we hope these resources also might help others think through the challenges of teaching critically in the 21st century.
Borsheim-Black, Carlin, et al. “Critical Literature Pedagogy.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 58, no. 2, 2015, pp. 123-133.
This article focuses on how Critical Literature Pedagogy uses Critical Literacy skills “within the context of teaching canonical literature” (123). It discusses educational critical literacy methods for teaching students to “understand, question, and critique ideological messages” (123) which are embedded in canonical texts. Teaching students to use Critical Literature Pedagogy is emphasized as reading both with and against a text. Reading against a text encourages students to look at the values and beliefs which shape the text, recognize what has been left out of the text, and discuss how these things impact the message of and characters in a text, and readers’ developing understanding of the world. The article includes examples of questions to guide critical literature pedagogy in the classroom and discusses how to read with and against the historical context of and literary elements within a text. It also includes what it looks like for readers to read with and against texts when relating the texts to their own personal experiences or lack thereof. Finally, it talks about how Critical Literature Pedagogy can be applied to the types of summative assessments that teachers assign their students.
Cho, Hyesun. “Enacting Critical Literacy: The Case of a Language Minority Preservice Teacher” Curriculum Inquiry, 2014.
Cho’s ethnographic study demonstrates how non-native speakers of English enrolled in teacher education programs can benefit from exposure to critical literacy strategies/pedagogies in their coursework. Focusing especially on the experience of “Rose,” an older student who emigrated from Hong Kong in 1991 and was studying to become an ESL teacher, Cho contends that students’ initial resistance to critical literacy (e.g., like Rose not wanting to “discuss politics in the classroom” — 685) may eventually be overcome so that these same students can interrogate how language differences can be used to position them as inferior to their native-speaking peers. As a method for questioning the existing narrative in which command of standard academic English is equated with teaching competence/ability, critical literacy can help prospective teachers better understand their own “teacher identities” in rich, complex, and nuanced ways.
Comber, Barbara. “Critical Literacy and Social Justice” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 2015.
Drawing inspiration from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), Comber argues that critical literacy practices offer teachers and students a unique vantage point from which to investigate the complex relationship between economics, education, and social justice. Although she gives few details about what these practices would look like or how students would study “the relationships between people, places, and poverty” (366) in the classroom, Comber makes a compelling case that critical literacy pedagogies can get both teachers and students out of deficit mindsets regarding impoverished communities. By providing students “occasions for complex and critical meaning-making” (365) while studying narratives of money and power, critical literacy also enables students to question how poverty is both produced and problematized by contemporary systems of education.
Cridland-Hughes, Susan. “Caring Critical Literacy: the Most Radical Pedagogy You Can Offer Your Students.” English Journal, vol. 105, no. 3, 2015, pp. 129-132.
This journal article discusses the importance of using care and critical literacy together in the classroom. It draws on the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice to emphasise teaching as “caring-in-action” to support and encourage students and create in them “habits of inquiry, a sense of criticalness, and a moral edit among students to care for self and others” (qtd. In Cridland-Hughes 129). It weaves the concept of care with critical literacy when discussing how the importance of critical literacy lies not only in the interpretation of literature, but in the “active implications of that interpretation” (129). Critical literacy’s relationship with activism and social justice is discussed through the lens of care. The article also gives examples of what caring critical literacy looks like in the classroom, specifically in its being challenging, curious, supportive, and reflective.
Hendrix-Soto, Aimee. “Moving English Classrooms toward Critical Possibilities” English Journal, 2016.
Hendrix-Soto gives an account of her experience using critical literacy with a small class of struggling readers in an urban Texas high school. For Hendrix-Soto and her students, the deaths of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray (as well as the subsequent exonerations of the police officers responsible for those deaths) quickly overtook test prep as the primary focus of their class, and in a rather ad hoc fashion, the group undertook a yearlong investigation of race, power, and protest in contemporary America. By encouraging students to follow their own paths of inquiry — paths that often took them away from the traditional realm of print literacy and into the realms of digital, new media, and social media literacies — Hendrix-Soto saw her classroom slowly transform into “a space for literacies that were crucial to the community we built” (23). The experiences this community shared together may not have followed the usual trajectory for a remedial test-prep course, but Hendrix-Soto argues that such “trajectories” should not be the sole purpose of education. Critical teaching that resists the status quo may not produce “work” in the traditional sense, but it can/does produce “other things instead: understandings, interactions, and community” (26).
Janks, Hilary. “Critical Literacy’s Ongoing Importance for Education” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 2014.
In this shorter “Commentary” piece, Janks revisits some of her earlier writings on critical literacy and contends that, although many of the cultural and political trends she originally focused on in her work have faded from prominence (e.g., apartheid in South Africa), the need for critical pedagogies — and especially critical literacy — is no less pressing in the second decade of the 21st century. Pointing specifically to “texts that construct the politics of everyday life” (349), Janks invites educators to engage students in a continuous cycle of critical reading and writing that first deconstructs the language/power dynamics in these texts and then reconstructs them in ways that promote student agency in the world beyond the classroom walls (354). Janks then demonstrates how this approach to critical literacy might look in practice by walking readers through a series of five pedagogical “moves” that help students interrogate the rhetorical, political, and environmental impact of bottled water packaging and promotion. The larger purpose behind these moves is, Janks concludes, to offer students a literacy education that equips them to read and understand the power structures that will continue to influence their lives long after they finish their formal education.
Peel, Anne. “Complicating Canons: A Critical Literacy Challenge to Common Core Assessment” Literacy, 2017.
For Peel, the recent shift toward more “rigorous” national educational standards (and, in some cases, more “rigorous” national educational assessments) represents a direct threat to the implementation of critical literacy pedagogies in the ELA classroom. Despite claims from supporters of the CCSS that they leave ample room for curricular flexibility at the state and local levels, Peel contends that the standards’ core emphasis on “text complexity” — which is often defined/calculated by computer algorithms — minimizes the value of critical reading practices that can lead to highly complex readings of even the most basic texts (106). Additionally, her analysis of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) national CCSS-based exam for high school English students revealed that (a) sample passages represented an incredibly homogenous selection of standard canonical texts/authors, and (b) the questions for these passages reinforced non-critical approaches to reading that focused students’ attention on safe, standard interpretations of the material (108). In response to these concerns, Peel calls on educators to engage students in both skilled reading (which the CCSS value) and critical reading (which the CCSS devalue) as a way of “push[ing] back against narrow definitions of what counts as reading” in their own classrooms/schools.
Petrone, Robert, and Lisa Bullard. “Reluctantly Recognizing Resistance: An Analysis of Representations of Critical Literacy in English Journal” English Journal, 2012.
Petrone and Bullard discuss their review of 98 critical literacy-themed articles appearing in English Journal over a five-year period (2005-10), arguing that the vast majority of these articles either minimize or completely ignore student resistance to critical pedagogies in the ELA classroom. They then identify two main issues with this overly optimistic presentation of critical literacy research. First, they worry that “reading success story after success story” may lead teachers and administrators to believe that the process of transforming classroom practices can be as simple as “choosing the right curriculum” (126). Additionally, the authors express concern over the possibility that teachers who do encounter resistance when first experimenting with critical pedagogies may wind up “blam[ing] themselves or blam[ing] their students” for these shortcomings. In order to address these two issues, Petrone and Bullard call for teacher-researchers to pay closer attention to the ways student resistance may manifest itself in critical classrooms and then to represent this resistance as openly and honestly as possible in future research projects.
Riley, Kathleen. “Enacting Critical Literacy in English Classrooms.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 58, no. 5, 2015, pp. 417-425.
This case study focuses on one teacher, Becca, in a teacher group that studied adolescent literacy education in a large urban area. The article briefly discusses some current challenges of using critical literacy strategies and why the teachers in this study group chose to join their group. Becca, the teacher on whom this article focuses, chose to join the teacher study group because, “within the context of a school that emphasized standardization and direct instruction, she felt disconnected from her own beliefs about education and social justice” (CITATION? Becca: Creating Spaces for Student Talk in a Constraining School Environment) and wanted to rekindle a focus on education for social justice. This article touches on some key components of critical literacy and Becca’s attempts at emphasizing student talk and discussion in the classroom. It also stresses the importance and benefits of teachers creating groups to support one another in enacting critical literacy in their classrooms. It uses this specific case study to show how teachers are able to gain insight, articulate visions, discuss practices, and examine ways to teach within and against school constraints by conversing with other teachers who are committed to similar goals.
Wetzel, Melissa Mosley, and Rebecca Rogers. “Constructing Racial Literacy through Critical Language Awareness: A Case Study of a Beginning Literacy Teacher” Linguistics and Education, 2015.
This case study follows the experiences of a preservice teacher named Lisa to observe how race is examined through critical language study in both learning and teaching contexts and address the challenges of engaging in racial literacy as a White preservice teacher. Analysis of how Lisa used tools of Critical Language Awareness to “deconstruct and reconstruct meanings around race” (31) was grounded in three related literacy “events” involving practicing racial literacy: Lisa’s journal entry on whiteness, a literature lesson between Lisa and one of her Black students that focused on race, and Lisa’s debriefing session with her colleagues about this lesson. This article discusses the interactive process of racial literacy and its roots in critical approaches to language and literacy. The case study focuses on a teacher education program at a private Midwestern U.S. university that was concentrated on principles of socially just education and inquiry, and the program’s preservice teachers’ experiences in an urban elementary school. The goal of the paper is to “theorize the ways in which the framework of racial literacy and critical approaches to language are interrelated in teacher development” (29). The article touches on critical discourse studies and the pedagogical tools of Critical Language Awareness and includes implications for research, practice in the classroom, and practice in teacher education.
Wood, Summer, and Robin Jocius. “Combating “I Hate This Stupid Book!”: Black Males and Critical Literacy.” Reading Teacher, vol. 66, no. 8, 2013, pp. 661-669.
This article focuses on the relationship between Black males and literacy. It advocates for a shift away from instruction that focuses on skill-based learning and encourages the use of critical literacy strategies when working with African American male students. Within the article, “Three dimensions (the 3 Cs) of critical literacy for young black males are explored: culturally relevant texts, collaboration, and critical conversations” (661). It includes lists of award-winning books featuring Black males and an annotated list of web resources for engaging young Black males in literacy activities.