Thursday, April 19, 2012

SCED 4200 Blog Post 10: Critical Literacy

Literacy is generally regarded as the ability to read and write, and that perception is what gives the impression that English classes are difficult or at the very least that a student can’t find practical application of literary skills or techniques taught in the classroom.  My view is that literacy, in its most basic sense, is the ability to understand the nuances of a given topic.  A person who is literate in wilderness survival, for example, is aware of the strategies and skills necessary to live in the wilderness and can converse with those who share that literacy, speaking in common terms and jargon.

Critical literacy isn’t terribly different from my conception of “normal” literacy.  It’s the ability to not only understand the specific terminology of a given topic but to make decisions based on that understanding.  With the example of the literate wilderness survivalist, knowledge of techniques allows one to make decisions that can lead to survival even in dire situations.  My wife and I actually found ourselves turned around in the wilderness after dark, and we decided we needed to start a fire and wait until sunrise so we could see where we were going.  If it wasn’t for my wife’s familiarity with starting and maintaining fires, we would have been in for a night much colder than it was.

This definition of critical literacy prompts me to challenge my students to not only come to class and fulfill the minimum requirements of the class but to become experts in fields relevant to their futures.  While this should certainly promote competency in chosen careers, it also includes the ability to make informed decisions in social or political issues.  Students should be able to glean life lessons from whatever they read, whether it’s the literary “canon,” or texts the student reads freely, growing as individuals and as members of society.


  1. I like and agree with your definition of what literacy is. I think that if students understand it as well they will be more open to becoming literate in other areas. For example if your wife is able to share her fire making skills with you and you are able to share a literacy skill of your own. you will both feel important.

  2. You have good definitions of critical literacy and I’m able to see your growing understanding of the continuum of theory and its application in your teaching. Understanding the power of the theoretical tools and lenses available to us can help us as teachers to move our teaching from narrow task based skills to more complex empowering forms of these skills that promote critical literacy and a commitment to more inclusive classrooms that promote social justice and an individual value in our students. I hope you’ll continue to reflect on and understand the theories that inform your teaching so you can be deliberate and intentional in your instructional choices