The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 25

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Resourceful Research

Dr. Keri Franklin is an Associate Professor of English at Missouri State University. She is also the Director of the Ozarks Writing Project.

the sociopolitical issues, and taking action and promoting social justice. Collectively the dimensions provide a layered analysis of the interactions around texts presented in this study. Viewing literacy through this lens provides space for taking up multiple literacies that students rely on to accomplish tasks in their personal, home, and/or academic lives and places emphasis on situating literacy practices in their social context. Engaging in literacy practices informed by critical literacy creates opportunities for teachers to better understand how young readers actively rely on their rational judgment about the world as they encounter the word (Freire, 1970). In this study, we examined small group literature discussions where third grade students tried to make sense of World War II and the related events to that war. Given this context, we are drawing on critical literacy as a framework for making sense of how these conversations encompassed historical, cultural, and social understandings. If we understand the nature of children’s use of different dimensions of critical literacy, we may have a better chance to assist them to practice critical literacy.

The Design of the Study

The data analyzed for this article represent a subset of the larger study’s data collected in a third grade classroom. The classroom teacher, Ms. Green, (all names are pseudonyms in this study) volunteered to participant in this study because she wanted to continue thinking about quality literature discussions and reflect upon her teaching with the first author. Ms. Green was an experienced teacher who taught in a suburban elementary school in a Midwestern state. Ms. Green believed that she could achieve many goals in small group literature discussions, and one of them was to help the students think critically about the world we live in through multicultural literature. Ms. Green had 21 students in her room at the time of the study, most of them were white and middle class. For literature discussions, Ms. Green formed heterogeneous small groups. She met each discussion group at least once a week for about 20 minutes. She often started out a discussion by asking the students a big question and let the students talk among themselves. During the interview, Ms. Green explained that big questions are open-ended questions that do not require any correct answers but give the students opportunities to share their opinions and thoughts about the story. Even though Ms. Green actively participated in the discussion, she tried not to lead the discussion as long as the students’ talk stayed on the topic.

Ms. Green and the first author selected Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Coerr, 1999, Sadako in short below) for a small group discussion. Sadako is a story of a Japanese girl who was diagnosed with leukemia due to radiation exposure from the atomic bombing. After the Sadako discussion, Ms. Green and the first author decided to bring Faithful Elephants (Tsuchiya, 1988) for the children to read because we learned that the children wanted to talk more about what happened in Japan during World War II. Faithful Elephants is a story of three elephants in Ueno Zoo in Tokyo during World War II. The elephants were intentionally starved to death to prevent the future damages that they could bring in case the zoo was bombed.

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