Critical Literacy for this century in three part harmony

TrioCritical literacy is a way of thinking, not only about text (the traditional view), but a way of thinking about any message conveyed via any medium. Literacy is a “21st Century Skill” that is comprehending meaning and creating meaning using a medium. In this participatory culture of the web, it could be photographs, drawings, animations, podcasts, vidcasts, or live presentations using audio and/or video. Three areas (the harmony, if you will) converge to create understanding of literacy: What you get, what came before, and what you make of it.
Simply put what you get is your immediate, right now understanding of the message, whether it is text, audio, video, macropost, or micropost.
What came before is what you bring to the message, your insights, your knowledge, your connections, what resonates with you. And what you make of it relates to the higher levels of Blooms’ Taxonomy.

A while back, I read Critical Literacy: Enhancing Students’ Comprehension of Text by Maureen McLaughlin and Glenn DeVoogd. The authors state that critical literacy is a way of thinking about text. Since I consider literacy to be about of comprehending and creating in a medium, I would extend their meaning of critical literacy to be a way of thinking about everything. I often tell the learners in my room to question everything. Many are surprised when one of them questions me and is praised! It is simple math, really. There are 19 of them and 1 of me. Now where is the brain power? Yeah, exactly.

One of the techniques for enhancing critical literacy is called “Problem Posing”. Using this method, the learning leader poses questions after learners have experienced the medium. These questions include


  • Who is named in the medium? Who is missing?
  • Which viewpoint is represented? Which viewpoint is ignored?
  • What does the author intend by the piece? What does the author want you to think?
  • What are the alternative views?
  • How could this piece promote freedom from bias?


Using just this one strategy with fiction mediums and nonfiction mediums, we could encourage learners at all levels to think critically. Being able to think critically is the hallmark of freedmen/women. It is sad when our students are afraid to question teachers/professors and then grow into adults afraid to question all authority figures.
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