The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 26

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Four Critical Literacy Dimensions in Literature Discussions

When we analyzed the students’ talk according to Lewison et al.’s (2002) four dimensions of critical literacy, we were able to identify three dimensions in the children’s talk. Without the teacher’s guidance, the children naturally took up two dimensions: interrogating multiple viewpoints and focusing on social justice issues. However, they needed the teacher’s assistance for disrupting the commonplace and taking actions for social change. In the section below we will share how it looked like to take each dimension of critical literacy in small group literature discussions in Ms. Green’s room.

Disrupting the Commonplace

During a discussion about Faithful Elephants, Brad (male student) mentioned Japan’s attack a couple of times as if he was blaming Japan for starting the war. Below is an excerpt from one of the interactions where Brad mentioned Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.

Brad: They bombed Pearl Harbor.

Luke: Yeah, why did they even do that?

Brad: Yeah, really.

Luke: What’s the whole point? I mean…

Brad and Luke in this group were sharing the image of the Japanese as bad guys who started the war and destroyed America’s land. However, Ms. Green did not let the children keep talking about the Japanese as bad guys.

Ms. G: We were at war with Japan. Why do you think that the author wrote this book?

Noah: Because like he’s Japanese, probably has strong feelings against it.

When Noah shared his thought on author’s intention, the children started talking about the Japanese people as victims of the war rather than the people who deserved to be blamed for the war. Noah did not explain further what the author’s strong feelings were, but we inferred that sad feeling could be one

of them from Noah’s comment in the excerpt below.

Noah: I think it’s actually a pretty sad story.

Erin: Yeah it kind of is.

Ms. G: Did it make you think,Erin, of anything or just…

Erin: Well, it made me think of when, it was kind of rude of us to (pause) throw bombs on them.

In the excerpt above, Erin expressed her feelings for the Japanese people and she used the word “us” which implied that she included herself for the responsibility for the atomic bombing that ruined the people’s lives in Japan. When Brad initiated the conversation on Pearl Harbor bombing, his classmates’ facial expressions and speaking tones reflected their anger about the Japanese attack.Their responses were eliciting angry feelings and talk about Japanese people and they were circulating negative images about the Japanese that were not being challenged. In this discussion, it was possible that the children could make negative images of the Japanese, if they kept talking about them as the ones who dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor and that was the only image of the Japanese people. However, Ms. Green interrupted it by shifting the focus of the discussion and invited the children to think from the Japanese author’s perspective. Her simple guidance allowed the children to think about the Japanese people’s feelings whose lives were never the same due to the war. The children not only stopped considering the Japanese as bad guys, but they also felt sorry for them for destroying their lives with the atomic bombs.

Interrogating Multiple Viewpoints

We found that when the children discussed Faithful Elephants, they shared the multiple viewpoints of looking at the zookeepers’ decision on killing three elephants. One of the viewpoints was denying the story as an event that happened in history as Noah reveals in the next excerpt.