Mobilising critical literacy: teacher agency in acritical times.

Year: 2018

Author: Alford, Jennifer, Schmidt, Catarina, Lyngfelt, Anna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Critical Literacy, with its focus on socially just readings of the world, remains an important aspect of education. Yet within the current, neo-conservative climate, it remains the object of ideological tussle and obfuscation in education policy, and teachers struggle to shift away from dominant perceptions of critical thinking with a focus on so called reliable sources and detecting an author’s claims. Critical Literacy risks losing its transformational place in education unless it can be re-imagined and enacted in ways that educators can mobilise amid contemporary, competing demands of education. This presentation presents analysis of three teachers' agency in their attempts to legitimise critical literacy in primary and secondary classrooms in Australia and Sweden. Drawing on Priestley, Biesta and Robinson’s (2013) model of teacher agency that draws attention to three interactive dimensions of agency: iterational (the teachers’ past life and professional experiences), projective (creative configurations of future goals) and practical-evaluative (present judgements amid contextual constraints), we explore the teachers’ agency through classroom observations, interviews and artefacts. Insights are provided into the ecological conditions framing their agency - including the teachers’ own personal experiences prior to becoming a teacher, the curriculum, school culture, classroom resources, student diversity - and how these enabled and constrained their attempts to mobilise critical literacy. Findings suggest that the practical-evaluative and the projective aspects of agency appear to be firmly rooted in the teachers' iterational experiences, and that the iterational dimension is crucial to maintaining the enactment of critical literacy. All elements of agency need to be considered urgently by teachers and teacher education for critical literacy to remain relevant in reimagined ways.