Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading

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Word of the Year 2016: ‘Post-Truth’

 

Fittingly, and somewhat depressingly, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 is ‘post-truth.’

In a year of politics demonstrating that feelings count as facts, the Oxford Dictionary defined ‘post-truth’ as “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In the wake of Brexit, as well as the the recent U.S. presidential election, according to the Casper Grathwohl of Oxford Dictionaries:

“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse… Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

Some argue the fault lies in the way we curate our own ‘bubbles’ of news and social media. But I’d add that the foothold gained by ‘post-truth’ is directly linked to the way we have come to teach ‘reading’ in today’s schools. A particular consequence of standardized testing is a renewed emphasis on close reading—which prioritizes evaluating a text based on its own internal logic rather than reading critically in terms of context, authorship, and counter narratives. Want to fight post-truth? Educate. Refuse to accept or promote single story narratives that say there is only one lens through which to understand the world, events, or groups of people. Read. Really Read. Continue reading

No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement

Just. Say. Sit Down—his voice buzzed into my earpiece—Stop saying ‘Please.’

No, I was never in the secret service. This was a teacher training program. From the back of my classroom, my “real-time coach” whispered into a microphone, a notebook covering his face so students couldn’t hear. If it sounds like a bizarre setup, it was. While it’s always helpful to have another set of eyes on the room, this coaching was directed at reforming my language. Yes, I suffered from a particular linguistic afflictionone that was ostensibly leading to noncompliance in my classroom: my propensity for “permission seeking language.” I asked too many questions, made requests instead of commands, and had the gall to say “please” and “thank you” to the students in my classroom.

No-Nonsense Teaching

A recent NPR article outlined the increasingly popular “No-Nonsense” teaching method. In this approach, teachers manage their classrooms through explicit directives, minimal praise, and 100% compliance. To. The. Letter.

“Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you’re following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper.”

The piece calls the approach a “unique teaching method [that] empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.”

But last week, the NYTimes released footage of a teacher at Success Academy, a No-Nonsense charter network, berating a 1st grade classroom for struggling with math. Continue reading

Your Final Project Word Cloud

Critical Literacy Word Cloud‘Tis the season! It’s the end of the semester and students everywhere are frantically typing up projects for classes that all seem to backload 95% of the work onto the final week.

No exception here. Just finished a big ol’ “Literature Review” – essentially our program’s first year initiation right – synthesizing 30-or-so studies on a teacher-research topic of one’s choosing.

At some way-too-late hour of the night, on a whim, I copied and pasted the entire beast into a word cloud generator, the results of which you see above. Not only was it nice to see my main topics artistically arranged on a single page, but it was also useful for editing (making me realize, for example that I had used the word “practice” far more times than was humanly tolerable – to the thesaurus!).

If you’re curious as to why the words critical and literacy look like  Godzilla and Mothra stomping toward a terrified-city-of-other-words in my word cloud, it’s because I reviewed research about using critical literacy approaches with English language learners: the idea being that “literacy” means more than just reading and writing, but is also a political act. As our society often uses literacy to “disempower those who, through Continue reading