Attempting and reflecting on my final Critical Literacy project has been one of the most difficult assignments for me throughout the entire Masters program. Seems fitting it is the last. For months I have contemplated how I could accurately communicate my learning of Critical Literacy in a way that would convey any sort of real meaning to the reader. Prior to that, I was also very concerned with how I would go about creating a final product that would not only mean something, but stay with me in some way throughout my career. Thankfully, it was suggested that I create a Critical Literacy Resource Bank, which I could use in my own classroom and potentially share with others in the future.
Initially, the resource bank I began to create was a black binder full of lesson plans, a list of selected Children Picture Books and web-links to various educational websites. I spent hours looking for current and relevant material that I felt would be useful in the classroom, printed them off, and stuck them in a divided binder. I had a plan for the binder of course, but the process seemed juvenile and inauthentic. Laughable really. I felt like my final project was starting out much weaker than I had envisioned, and feared it would eventually end up on my bookshelf collecting dust like the many other hard copy resources I have obtained over the years. It was at this time that I decided I should create some sort of online resource.
After a few days of reflecting, I decided to play around with a number of different wiki and blog sites. I wanted my resource to not only contain useful information that I could easily access, but I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate and something that I could constantly add to without hitting up a photocopy machine. After experimenting with a few sites I ended up going with wordpress.com as I already had 2 existing blogs (1 personal and 1 professional) attached to this particular domain. I still wasn’t sure if this was the best site for my purposes but I needed to get the ball rolling.
As I began to add the resources I had initially collected for the binder, I began to reflect on my initial goal of creating my own personal resource bank. Keeping in mind the term “Critical Literacy” may mean different things to different people, I had to fledge out what types of resources actually reflected what Critical Literacy meant to me, and why. As I explored the web, I found myself wading through an affinity space I never knew existed. If only it was as easy as googling “Critical Literacy.”
While attempting to be the best Critical Thinker I could be, I did not want to be guilty of selecting and sharing information that solely promoted my own ideals, morals, beliefs and values, whatever they were. I wanted to select a variety of resources in which I could see literature, media, current events, politics and propaganda through multiple lenses and which I could “accurately” communicate to my students. I felt if I limited myself to a narrow definition of Critical literacy (say a definition according to one or two people), I would limit my own learning and that of my students whom this resource was geared toward. I felt I needed to select a variety of material that had the potential to hit home with myself and my students; material that was relevant and which had the potential power to spark meaningful conversations, potentially taking on some form of personal reflection, social action or greater community response. Of course, my approach begged the question “How do I know what resource has the potential to hit home?” I couldn’t answer that question. I can’t answer that question until I get to know my students. So it must be said that although I’m collecting a variety of different resources authored and created by many different people who come from many different backgrounds, I cannot just expect to click on a video and spark a meaningful conversation with my class. As an educator, it is crucial that I know and understand my students and where they come from before I even think to introduce a particular topic.
Keeping these ideas in mind, and after spending a few days collecting a number of different resources, I tried to find patterns in which I could categorize my resources and access readily. As I sorted through the resources I began to realize what a broad spectrum Critical Literacy entails. As I selected material I felt was at the very least relevant and thought provoking I decided to create the following categories:
- Classroom Activities focusing on Critical Literacy
- Critical Literacy Links
- Key Critical Literacy Questions for Teachers & Students
- Professional Resources for the Critical Literacy Teacher
- Social Media
- Using Children’s Picture Books as a Vehicle for Critical Literacy
During the organization of my blog, I also decided to link it to my educational Twitter Account to better access social media in hopes of obtaining current, real-time resources. It was here that my enthusiasm and collection really took off. I began to follow and be followed by a variety of accounts that focused on education, social justice, equity and every day tweeters/bloggers sharing current ideas and events that were happening all over the world. I was tweeting with teachers, authors, advocates of social justice, and many others who led me in many different paths, acquiring new knowledge and shaping my ideas of Critical Literacy along the way. Strangers were actually reading and liking my posts! All of this was very exciting. I felt like I was actually contributing to an affinity space within the vast spectrum of Critical Literacy. However, as I began to compile more and more resources, my ideas of what Critical Literacy meant to me were evolving and my hesitancy to communicate my own ideas of the definition within the blog remained strong.
If possible, it was if my definition of Critical Literacy was both narrowing and broadening at the same time! Certainly, I feel it is important to be open to change, especially with respect to the topic at hand, and so I became more comfortable with the notion that even though my stance on Critical Literacy was not firmly in place, I could (and should) confidently continue on acquiring a variety of resources regardless if I agreed with the premise as means of my enhancing own learning.
As stated earlier, upon researching resources for my blog, I began to notice just how much the definition of Critical Literacy differed amongst its users. As my category of Children’s Picture Books suggests, some people see Critical Literacy as a vehicle for addressing the inequality of power and inequities that deal with gender, age, race etc. Some educators may use texts to not only interrogate works of power but also to aid in discussing multiple perspectives from the author’s, reader’s and/or character’s points of view. Others may understand Critical Literacy as a way to evaluate arguments and critique language not only in Picture Books but also in movies, videos, politics, every day conversations and other social discourses of which we may or may not participate in. For Friere, literacy is about reading the word and the world and his quote “language is never neutral” that appears on my homepage reflects his views of Critical Literacy, highlighting the continued oppression that exists today. I’m not sure if one understanding is better than the other, but the message seems consistent; to understand that we each view certain texts and discourse in certain ways because of who we are and what we know. To understand ourselves while we strive to understand the world around us is an important facet of Critical Literacy.
Upon reflection of my blog, I am happy with what I’ve started to create, however as I continue to post I feel as though I need to incorporate more reflections and personal direction for use in my own personal classroom. I want to remain sensitive and take care not to offend others but I need to work out where I stand as a Critical Literacy thinker and facilitator, not only the with resources I present but also with respect to the issues we are faced with each day. I know that as an educator I do not want to be guilty of leading a conversation in one direction or another, but I do not want to merely read a Children’s Picture book or show a video to a classroom of children and rely on twenty Grade 6 students to initiate deep conversation. I need to think more about how I can integrate these resources as a vehicle for Critical Literacy and ways in which I can tap into eleven-year-old minds without perpetuating the dominant values and beliefs of which I am part of.
The most important thing that I have learned throughout the process of creating my Critical Literacy Resource Bank is that it is okay to take a particular stance on my beliefs. It is okay to have particular ideas and values and to engage in conversations supported by my own personal views. What also has been made apparent throughout this process is that my personal values and beliefs can be discussed with an open mind in order to generate truly meaningful conversation and learning. For me, my most meaningful learning experiences in the past have occurred when I have been able to communicate my own personal beliefs and in response, being presented with information that differed entirely from what I thought I knew to be true. Of course, as I write this I realize again that I am part of the privileged; someone who is able to freely and openly communicate their ideas as they see them, and share them with the world. I do not take this lightly.
So, as you can see my final project and my ideas of Critical Literacy are still very much in the initial stages. I would be humbled to have an experienced Blogger or Educator in the area of Critical Literacy explore my collection, however I do take comfort in the fact that I’m trying. I’m trying to be more of a Critical Thinker. I’m trying to facilitate a safe learning environment that encourages myself, and my students to grow as learners and responsible citizens within our community. I am eager to continue to grow and I am so thankful for what I have learned, and continue to learn. I hope someday my students will hear themselves say the same.