Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Opening Up Spaces for Early Critical Literacy: Korean Kindergarteners Exploring Diversity through Multicultural Picture Books

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Opening Up Spaces for Early Critical Literacy: Korean Kindergarteners Exploring Diversity through Multicultural Picture Books

Article excerpt


Given the increasing emphasis in literacy education on critical pedagogies, many scholars have documented the significance of critical literacy as a tool to help students critique the ideologies and social inequities portrayed in reading texts (Dozier, Johnston & Rogers, 2006; Lankshear & McLaren, 1993; Lewison, Flint & Van, 2002; Lankshear, 2003; Teo, 2014). However, although many teachers and educators have been making efforts to develop educational programs based on critical literacy theory, only few previous attempts have been made to investigate the implications of critical literacy in preschool (Pre-K) and kindergarten classrooms, particularly in the context of reading multicultural literature. Neither have any empirical studies been performed about how critical literacy practices can be incorporated in Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in South Korea to teach racial/cultural diversity. The scarcity of studies is more noticeable when considering the cultural and educational backgrounds of Korea.

Educational Landscape in South Korea

Critical literacy has not been practised to any large degree in South Korea, the reason being closely related to the Confucian tradition, an ancient Chinese way of thought which considers authorities and elders to be superior. Under this tradition, few Korean students feel comfortable articulating their views freely because there is an implicit consensus that a quiet student is more respectful than one who confronts teachers' opinions (Cho & Apple, 2003). Within these cultural surroundings, many Korean teachers have also followed the traditional teaching method of providing the correct answers in reading, instead of encouraging students to find their own interpretations (Kim, 2012).

The importance of critical literacy can also be found in the increasing cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity in South Korea. Historically, Koreans have been proud of an ethnically and linguistically homogeneous nation based on the ideological discourse of a pure bloodline and unified nation (Lee, 2013). However, with the recent growth in international marriages and migrant workers, an increasing number of research studies have emphasised the need for multicultural education to increase an understanding of diverse races/ cultures among all students. Researchers argue that by supporting the critical awareness of young Korean learners, multicultural education can help them grow as individuals who can combat internalised racism. However, a literacy curriculum that connects critical literacy with multicultural literature is greatly lacking in Korean literacy education.

This article seeks to make the explicit connections between multicultural education and critical literacy by investigating how early critical literacy practices help young Korean children shape their voices and cultivate critical attitudes about racial/cultural diversity and equality. Adopting a qualitative case study approach, this study focuses on the creation of 'alternative texts' by 25 five-year-old children, after they read multicultural picture books in a kindergarten classroom in South Korea. As part of a larger longitudinal study, the present study focuses on children's discussions about people from Africa and their cultures, since Korean children's preference toward Black people has been reported low (Song, 1999; Choi & Lee, 2010). Specifically, this study is guided by the following three research questions: (1) How does a critical literacy approach help Korean kindergarteners critically examine books and create their voices? (2) How do the children develop critical perspectives on racial and cultural diversity as they create alternative texts? and (3) How do social interactions with their peers and teacher facilitate their critical discussions about books? By investigating these research questions, this study seeks to understand young children's negotiation and representation of their voices, stories, and cultures through early critical literacy practices. …

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