Becoming a teacher of critical literacy: “You need to go on a big journey”

Year: 2019

Author: Sandretto, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Critical literacy is an important tool for teaching for social justice. A critical literacy analysis of a text involves acknowledging texts are rarely neutral. When authors construct texts, they make choices about what is included and excluded, and how something or someone is represented. Readers can make multiple interpretations of texts and may resist a reading the author anticipated. Importantly, texts shape how we understand ourselves and others. When readers use critical literacy to analyse texts, they open up possibilities to resist or (re)write unjust discourses. Although critical literacy has a long history, it is not mandated in literacy policy in Aotearoa New Zealand. This paper critically explores data collected from 17 teachers who participated in literacy projects in New Zealand where they discussed the work they had to undergo to becomea teacher of critical literacy.

The omission of explicit attention to critical literacy in New Zealand policy has implications for teachers as well as students. A number of teachers have not had opportunities to develop a critical literacy lens with which to critically interrogate the texts of their own world, let alone develop sufficient confidence to support their students to do so. The term text comprises any medium constructed for communication using any of the five semiotic systems available: visual, spatial, linguistic, gestural and audio. A text can take a variety of forms including digital, paper, speech and so on. The literacy projects described in this paper sought to support teachers develop critical literacy pedagogy for primary and secondary classrooms with a variety of texts.

To analyse the data, I critically examined initial and exit interviews, and audio-recorded group discussions to identify participants’ understandings of critical literacy, and examples of them working on their selves to becomea critical literacy teacher. Foucault’s work on technologies of the self provided the theoretical tools to understand the practices the teachers were engaged in during the course of their ‘big journey’.

I argue the teachers had to embody the critical literacy practices for themselves before they could enact them with their students in classrooms. They needed opportunities to practice theory and theorise practice, as evidenced in the analysis. I conclude with a discussion of ‘what worked’ for the teachers on these projects, and subsequent implications for teacher education. To support students to develop this tool for social justice, we need to support teachers to becometeachers of critical literacy.