Opening the Portal: An Exploration of the Use of Postmodern Picture Books to Develop Critical Literacy and Contribute to Learning in the Australian Curriculum: English

By Turner, Carmel | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Opening the Portal: An Exploration of the Use of Postmodern Picture Books to Develop Critical Literacy and Contribute to Learning in the Australian Curriculum: English


Turner, Carmel, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


Introduction

The development of the skills of critical literacy can often be overshadowed by an emphasis on the development of decoding skills in students. Evans (2009) states that students do not obtain meaning from merely reading alone, but that the complexity of meaning can be explored through shared oral responses that offer differing perspectives to a text. This is essential when developing critical literacy skills which are the focus of one element in Freebody and Luke's (1990) four resources model. While Freebody and Luke give rightful emphasis to the roles of code breaker, text participant and text user, the area of focus for critical literacy is accentuated in the text analyst role--'What does all this do to me?' (Freebody & Luke, 1990, p. 7). Postmodern picture books challenge the reader in this sphere and are, at their best, quite demanding in this aspect of literacy.

This paper will look at a definition of critical literacy drawing on relevant research, and then it will explore the features and devices employed by the authors of postmodern picture books. The application of the aims of the Australian Curriculum which are addressed by this research will be considered and, finally, the project working with two groups of primary school students will be scrutinised in relation to the students' reactions to the devices employed by the authors of the postmodern picture books which the students read and discussed.

Critical literacy

To offer one definition on this component of being literate and all that that entails would be stylised and mono-focused. However, the fact that this aspect of being literate (and critically literate) has been the focus of much research and discussion gives rise to many frames of reference. Kalantzis and Cope (2012) state that in critical literacy the focus is not on the mechanical skills of reading, but rather the aim is for students to understand the world and people's values and actions in society. Students need to develop the ability to view societal and world issues from many perspectives before they can express a considered view of their own.

The writing of The New London Group (1996) highlights the importance of critical framing.

Postmodern picture books offer students the vehicle to be able to put into practice skills they have learnt in the acquisition of the elements of being literate. Children's literature, especially quality postmodern picture books with their multimodal format, give students authors' perspectives on social practices and offer perspectives on values that are worthy of consideration. Bradford, Mallan, Stephens and McCallum (2011) stated that children's literature has the ability to infuse texts with perspectives on social and cultural change and perspectives. Thus these texts have the potential to support students in developing the ability to critically reflect and articulate their own developing belief system. Muspratt, Luke and Freebody (1997) acknowledged that, while there is not one prescriptive approach to critical literacy, it does engage and offer students an opportunity to consider social, cultural, political and economic aspects of society.

Postmodern picture books

Postmodern picture books are characterised by the interdependence of word and picture; in other words, they are multimodal texts. The literary devices by definition are particular patterns, words or figures of speech used in literature to create an effect on the reader. The literary devices within these texts set them aside from a picture book or an illustrated story book. To explicitly characterise a book as postmodern or not postmodern goes against the spirit of the movement; rather if books exhibit two or more of the literary devices in the list that follows, they are on the continuum of postmodernism (Pantaleo & Sipe, 2008):

* The 'blurring' of the boundaries in literary texts particularly in relation to the relationship between author, narrator and reader;

* The change in status between the story and 'real' outside world;

* The layering of many different texts within the one text (intertextuality);

* Multiplicity of meanings within the story and the open-ended conclusions which differ from the 'happily ever after' endings present in the majority of children's literature;

* Playfulness where the use of semiotics engages the reader in a complex world of symbolism;

* Self-referentiality, where the reader is unable to view the text from 'outside' the story but develops a relationship within the text. …

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