Enacting critical literacy at the intersection of instructional models and local policy: classroom practice in Sweden, Canada and Australia

Year: 2016

Author: Alford, Jennifer, Schmidt, Catarina, Lau, Sunny Man Chu

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Critical literacy education has, as one of its cornerstones, an interest in positive social change and addressing social justice. In this paper, we present data from classrooms that show how teachers enact critical literacy in three neo-liberal, Global North contexts: Sweden, Canada and Australia. Against a backdrop of proliferating instructional models of how to do critical literacy world-wide, alongside local education policy and curriculum that is at various stages of endorsing and embracing the ‘critical enterprise’ or not, teachers teach literacy critically. How they do this, within different educational jurisdictions and influenced by different critical literacy policies and instructional models, is our interest here. Literacy teaching approaches, and the policies that inscribe or omit them institutionally, are always taken up, augmented and even resisted by teachers in differing ways. First, we present the ways in which critical literacy (CL), as a component of learning to be literate, is constructed in curriculum documents in these three contexts. In comparing the ways in which official policies represent CL, we paint a brief picture of how it is manifesting at this hierarchical level across these three contexts at this point in history – how CL in policy is being ‘done to’ teachers (Ball, Maguire & Braun, 2012). We then present a range of influential critical literacy instructional models that share synergies with each other and that have gained traction internationally. These models offer ways for teachers to interpret and enact CL, and they contribute to the professional development space that often sits between policy and curriculum on the one hand, and the day to day classroom work of teachers, on the other. Thirdly, snapshots of classroom practice on a local, contingent scale in one elementary school in Jönköping, Sweden, one middle school in Toronto, Ontario, and two high schools in Brisbane, Queensland will then be explored to show the often “sophisticated, contingent, complex and unstable” (Ball, 1994, pp. 10-11) process of teachers translating policies on critical literacy, curriculum priorities (or otherwise) around critical literacy, as well as best practice models of how to do critical literacy. At this nexus, stands the teacher endeavouring to negotiate, interpret and translate these ‘texts’ into everyday classroom work; undertaking complex meaning-making processes to make critical literacy fit with the multiple and complex realities of their own and their students’ lives (Morgan, Comber, Freebody & Nixon, 2014).