Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

"It's Just Too Sad!": Teacher Candidates' Emotional Resistance to Picture Books

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

"It's Just Too Sad!": Teacher Candidates' Emotional Resistance to Picture Books

Article excerpt

"It's just too sad!": Teacher candidates' emotional resistance to picture books

As teacher candidates enter the world of children's literature during their teacher preparation program, they are often excited at the nostalgia for books they loved and enjoyed as children. These texts from their recollection typically have happy endings, warm, lovable characters, and soft childhood memories linked to them. Teacher candidates are frequently unaware of children's books that focus less on happy endings and more on sociopolitical issues, especially ones dealing with "tough topics" that may affect students in classrooms today.

The purpose of the current study was to explore how teacher candidates responded to picture books that dealt with a range of social issues, how they used a critical literacy lens on these texts, and how they talked about the ways these texts might fit into their future classroom instruction. During a semester long children's literature course, teacher candidates in my class learned about critical literacy and social justice, and I was eager to task the candidates with finding texts that reflected and empowered their students. I asked them to critically evaluate the way we ask students to read and think and to consider alternative viewpoints on the world. In doing so, it became evident that the teacher candidates had strong emotional reactions to many of the texts, which led to a resistance for considering their use in a future classroom. In this paper, I argue this is potentially problematic if omitting texts that elicit an emotional response leads to certain students feeling underrepresented in the curriculum, or if it leads to a lack of space for important conversations to occur regarding social justice in the classroom.

In the following sections, I will share an overview of critical literacy as was shared with the teacher candidates, as well as background on the connection between emotion and texts. I will then outline the context of the study and participants, as well as the main texts that candidates discussed. The findings of the study are then presented, followed by implications and considerations for teacher educators.

Theoretical Framework

Critical literacy theory, which stems from the notions and roots of critical theory (Giroux, 1997; Kincheloe, 2008) is not a teaching method; rather, it is a lens, and a way of thinking that challenges texts, as well as viewpoints on the world (Luke, 2007; McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2010); According to Shor (1999), critical literacy is essentially the "language use that questions the social construction of the self" (p. 282). It is concerned with analyzing and critiquing the relationships between language, social practice, and power. Analyzing texts with a critical literacy lens can help unveil ways in which language is used to manipulate readers, as well as to examine power structures within a text. Comber (2001) observed that when teachers and students were engaged with a critical literacy viewpoint, they asked questions regarding the issues of language and power, morality and ethics, and who is privileged by certain ideas, as well as who is disadvantaged. Critical literacy lessons in a classroom are always studentcentered and can lead to lively and engaging discussions about controversial or social justice oriented issues (Beck, 2005). These lessons can occur with students of all ages, including college students that are being asked to critically examine texts they plan to use in their future classrooms.

Approaching Texts from a Critical Literacy Lens

Many classroom teachers at all grade levels successfully use critical literacy tenets in their instruction to empower students and allow safe spaces to tackle "tough topics" by using literature as a vehicle (Enriquez, 2014; Fain, 2008; Labadie, Wetzel, & Rogers, 2012; McCloskey, 2012; Polleck & Epstein, 2015). Moller (2002) wanted to create opportunities for students to engage in conversations about texts that were diverse and promoted social justice. …

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