Friday, June 7, 2013

Fostering Critical Literacy in the Classroom

Prior to graduate school, I had reservations about reading a book like this one to my students.  I always worried that they were too young and I didn't want to be the one to introduce them to controversial topics too soon.  However, after learning about the importance of fostering critical literacy in the classroom, I wanted to take an opportunity to do this kind of work with the fourth grade students at my internship. So I did a read-aloud of this book, which ensued a grand conversation with the whole class. 

Surprisingly, the children had so much to say! It was one of the most fruitful conversations I ever witnessed as a teacher. And the best part of it all was that my participation was very minimal.  The children were the ones leading the discussion. They were going back and forth, questioning the stereotypes in this book by asking questions like: Why is more okay for girls to be like boys (girls dressing in baggy clothes, acting like tomboys) than it is okay for boys to be like girls (boys wearing dresses, liking the color pink)? Who decides what is okay and normal? They were doing all the text-deconstruction and text-reconstruction work on their own! In addition, many students were making connections that they knew someone in their lives like the princess boy. This led to the conversation that the issues presented in the book are far more prevalent and personal to us than we think. The discussion ended with talking about acceptance - the important theme in the book. The vast majority of the class agreed that we should be kind to people who are different than us, even though that means standing up for them.

By doing this read-aloud and allowing students to engage in a meaningful conversation about the book, I provided them with a platform to think critically about societal stereotypes that affect individuals today. After this rich discussion, I am sure to do more critical literacy work in my teaching, even in the younger grades like kindergarten and first grade.

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