Critical Literacy, the Right Answer for the Reading Classroom: Strategies to Move beyond Comprehension for Reading Improvement

By Molden, Kellie | Reading Improvement, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Critical Literacy, the Right Answer for the Reading Classroom: Strategies to Move beyond Comprehension for Reading Improvement


Molden, Kellie, Reading Improvement


What is critical literacy and why do we need it?

Critical literacy's synonym is analytical reading. When analytical skills are employed, there is a thorough investigation so that all components are taken into account. When a reader analyzes a piece of text or other media, he/she must look at all of its components, starting with why it was written, whom it includes and excludes, and self-questioning, "Are there any biases?" According to McLaughlin (2004), "Critical literacy is defined as not only a teaching method but a way of thinking and a way of being that challenges texts and life, as we know it." Critical literacy focuses on issues of power and promotes reflection, transformation, and action. It encourages readers to be active participants in the reading process: to question, to dispute, and to examine power relations. It also asks us to second guess what we believe is true, ask harder and harder questions, see underneath, behind, and beyond the texts, see how these texts establish and use power over us, over others, on whose behalf, and in whose interest.

School is an institution within our society that promotes literacy. However, Gatto (2001) said, "School as it was built is an essential support system for a model of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control." Freire (1993) agreed with this concept when he discussed the oppression of the poor. An essential tool used for this oppression is the everyday material that we as a society read. "Books can deceive, delude, and misrepresent, as readily as they can enlighten and expand our knowledge" (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004). The reason that books have this power is because text goes unquestioned. During this article, readers should question both the author's perspective and their own. This is a persuasive essay that will only give one side of the story. After reading this, the reader must question further, going beyond the words written on this paper. The emergence of a liberated voice will be the result.

Why did the author write this?

When an author begins to write, there is at least an idea of what the purpose is. It may be to inform, explain, illustrate, entertain, explore, persuade, or a combination thereof. With this purpose in mind the author will make decisions on what needs to be included in the writing, such as contexts, language, and structure. The writer wants us to see the story from his/her point of view, so the story is angled to manipulate the reader into that point of view. Authors have the ability to choose to emphasize certain facts or people and deemphasize others. As an example of this kind of power, we might think about talking to two children after they have had a fight in the school playground. Each child tries to arrange the facts and people in the story in a way that favors his or her version of the story. In the same way, an author has the power to write about a particular topic, from a particular perspective, and choose to include or exclude some ideas about a topic. Warnock (1989) notes, "Writers read situations critically, and decide how to write, and they read drafts critically, their own and those of others, in order to revise them for particular situations."

Using critical literacy helps pull the power away from the author and makes it an equal relationship between the author and the reader by allowing us to see the texts from all angles, not just believing what is written down. We need to read against the grain. This will not only help the reader to establish equal status in the reader-author relationship, it will also help:

* To understand the motivation the author had for writing the text

* To see how the author uses the text to make us understand in a particular way

* To understand that the author's perspective is not the only perspective

* To become active users of information in texts to develop independent perspectives, as opposed to being passive reproducers of the ideas in texts.

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Critical Literacy, the Right Answer for the Reading Classroom: Strategies to Move beyond Comprehension for Reading Improvement
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