The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 29

Listening to these students’ responses to multicultural literature, we learned that small group literature discussions can be places for critical literacy. In this study, Ms. Green built in small group literature discussion time in her language arts block. During the discussion, she monitored children’s talk carefully but let them lead the discussion. Even though she selected the books for children to learn about historical events, she did not lead the discussion to the direction of talking about those events. Instead, she let the discussion flow with whatever topics that the children wanted to discuss. We also learned that book choice matters when practicing critical literacy (Labadie, Wetzel, & Rogers, 2012). In this study, Ms. Green selected books with an intention of exposing the children to historical events with which they were not familiar. When the children did not have much background knowledge of the particular historical event, reading different books about that event consecutively helped them to build prior knowledge. What Ms. Green did was when she found that the children were interested in learning about World War II and atomic bombing in Japan, she found another book that addressed the same issues and kept the same group for another discussion. We think that this teacher’s instructional decision created a chance for the children to think more deeply about the historical event they were interested in learning about. Moreover, the children extended their thinking beyond that particular historical event. They pondered about the different faces of human: cruelty and humanity.

When the children were engaged in talking about the historical events in multicultural literature, they took multiple viewpoints to take a look at the historical event, and they talked about sociopolitical aspects of the war. However, they needed a teacher’s intentional prompt (Labadie, Wetzel, and Rogers, 2012) for disrupting the commonplace and taking actions and promoting social justice. Out of Lewison et al.’s (2002) four dimensions of critical literacy, we did not identify the fourth dimension, taking action and promoting social justice. This can be the area where children need much help from teachers. In critical literacy, understanding the socio-political issues of social justice and historical events is important, but taking action and promoting social justice is another level of critical literacy. If this is the dimension that children tend to miss in literature discussion, then, teachers need to plan for the activities that assist children to practice this dimension.

This study was conducted in one classroom setting, and the students who participated in this study did not have diversity in terms of their ethnic backgrounds and their family’s socio economic status. As noted, most of the students did not have much background knowledge on World War II. Students with different ethnic groups may generate different responses than what Ms. Green’s students generated. For example, even though the students in Ms. Green’s class showed their empathy, bombing in Japan may be considered as a someone else’s story. However, for Japanese American students, the same story may be considered as their story. Therefore, they may have different responses to the same stories. It will also be interesting to see how older students who have more background knowledge on World War II would respond to the same stories.

Conclusion

Critical literacy practices can be incorporated into any subject matter. In this study, the teacher did not provide much information to the children about the historical events that they discussed. This omission caused us to wonder if the children’s talk could be different if they studied the historical events first, then talked about them in literature discussions. We would like to encourage teachers to discuss historical events in children’s literature with their students. When teachers monitor children’s talk and find their practice of critical literacy is lacking, they can assist children better so that children can deeply learn about historical events and other related issues.

References

Cai, M. (1998). Multiple definitions of multicultural literature: Is the debate really just “Ivory tower” bickering? The New Advocate, 11(4), 311-323.

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