I first heard the term critical literacy in a workshop a few years back. During this session we worked in groups to define critical literacy as building thinking skills that enable students to consider all viewpoints, respect differences, and become more self-aware. I believe this definition goes hand-in-hand with Haas Dyson’s (2001) definition of literacy. Dyson says that critical literacy involves participating in activities or practices in which we use language, oral and written, to reflect on given words and, most importantly, on their familiar relational backdrop.
Christensen (2000) described how students often feel alienated in schools. She stated that students believe knowledge is foreign and it’s about other people in other times. This is why it is important to practice critical literacy classrooms. Teachers can read novels written from the point of view of a child from another culture or set in another country. When doing this you’re providing an opportunity for your students to stand in the shoes of another; that is critical literacy. Teachers can allow students to hear stories about people who have different traditions than their own. Teachers can also allow students to consider the differences between their lives and the lives of people like them who lived through war, the Great Depression, or the Civil Rights movement. This too is critical literacy. Asking students to write from the point of view of someone much older than they are is critical literacy. These activities all serve the same purpose: they help the student to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to learn to understand other people’s circumstances and perspectives and to empathize with them.