In the back of her class, I watched one of my favorite classmates read to her sophomores. As she reads, she pauses, allows phrases and dialogue, and asks students to make predictions.
When she finished reading, my colleague asked some questions about the plot, background, and character traits. The class was a success in many ways – the students were eager to get involved. However, my colleague told me she wanted more reading time. After seeing my students engage in drama-related literacy activities, she was curious about how to incorporate these ideas into her literacy classes, so I share my 9-day critical literacy and drama framework below.
What are key competencies?
Although there is no fixed definition of critical literacy, its essence is to examine the relationship between language and power in texts. The work is sensitive and thoughtful. The selected text, students’ comfort and familiarity with the text, and course objectives all have an impact on what happens in the classroom.
Using the four dimensions of critical literacy – breaking the mundane, considering multiple perspectives, focusing on sociopolitical issues, and taking action – as stepping stones, I focus on how purposeful questioning, discussion, and impromptu drama affect the way students engage in reading and writing lessons.
Preparing the Stage
The first step is to choose a strong mentor text, one with multiple narratives, telling alternating stories between lines and illustrations. Valuable texts should be used to initiate counter-narratives or conversations about identity and social issues or differences in power and privilege. Children should be able to see themselves and understand the lives of others through words.
Here’s my 9-day plan for reviewing the lyrics to Phil Cummings’ “Boy”.
Day 1: Introduction and discussion:
First, I lift the cover and have students make predictions and share ideas. Then I read the book to the students and take a break for a partner talk. After reading and discussing, I ask the following questions:
- Whose voice did you notice most in this story? Whose voice is missing?
- What do you think the boy wants the villagers to know about him?
- Can you tell what the villagers thought when the boy approached the fight?
- How did the dragon discover the village? Does Long have a family?
- How is your life similar or different from the boy’s life? How can we use this story to see our world differently?
Day 2-3: Check and set proxy activity
The purpose of dramatic activities is to extract deeper meaning from the story. Drama offers more than just acting – it’s a way of learning. In each drama activity, students volunteered to adopt characters from the text.
If the point of the class is to give a voice to a repressed character or reveal motives, I can pick the hot seat, which means students interview a character. Along with the boy, my students chose to interview the dragon, the boy, and the townspeople.
Maybe the student wants to encourage a character at a critical time. If so, I might make a sound corridor where students line up and express what is not being said in the text. Sometimes students’ opinions are divided – in this case, town hall meetings allow for consideration of important topics in the book. For example, when studying boys, students participated in a town meeting to decide whether dragons should stay in town.
Finally, when we speculate on a character’s story, I sometimes have students create flashbacks to gain new insights into the story or imagine future scenarios to keep the focus beyond the end of the book.
Day 4: Shared writing
As a group, we write an article. I introduce link text, simulate my thinking and ask for input from students. Work can be a letter to a community member, author, or character in the story. It can also take the form of a diary entry, told from a different perspective as a character or part of a story.
Based on the reading, discussion, and drama activities, students discuss possible writing forms (e.g. poetry, letters, comics, journals) and participate in peer meetings so they can brainstorm and get feedback.
Day 5-7: Writing
Students need time to create meaningful work. At the same time, they write and then revise their work. I participate in writing sessions with students (individual classes or small groups) to support and push each of them.
Day 8-9: Share your work
Sharing text and developing an action plan is an integral part of the process. Action plans are student-led and ongoing.
Examples include organizing fundraising events, partnering with community organizations, or participating in charitable projects. Over the years, I’ve seen this effort take many forms, including performing skits in nursing homes, volunteering to stock up on shelter shelves, and supporting local Special Olympics groups. Creating space and time to support action plans changes the type and quality of work students do.
Later in the semester, I found myself in the back of a colleague’s classroom. This time, I watched her host a talk show interviewing characters. The students’ opinions have come a long way, and when I asked her how she found the class, she said, “Now that I’ve done it, I’m never going back!”
About the article
Although there is no fixed definition of critical literacy, the essence of key competencies is to examine the relationship between language and power in texts. The work is sensitive and thoughtful.
The selected text, students’ comfort and familiarity with the text, and course objectives all have an impact on what happens in the classroom. In this article, we’ve discussed the importance of Critical Literacy in Early Elementary Grades.
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