As a part of our Project Work of examining societies around the globe, the 3rd Graders are exploring books about important people and events sometimes overlooked in society. Some of the texts we have read described the experiences of the Wampanoag people who lived in the area where the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated and the Taino people who lived where Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas. These texts have allowed the children to develop their critical literacy skills. Critical literacy is defined as the ability to read texts in an active, reflective manner in order to better understand power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships.
Stories of familiar historical events and people can be very layered and it is essential to unpack the many perspectives embedded within these layers. History is sometimes told through one perspective and often times many voices are left unheard. It is important that we question these perspectives and critically think about what other perspectives there may be. Critical literacy challenges us to read texts in a reflective and deeper way to better understand multiple perspectives. It can also prompt people of all ages to think and talk about social issues in both present and past history. In the elementary grades, this often prompts us to ask: Who else’s story is it? What do you think the author wants us to think? What information might be left out or misconstrued, and to what end? How can reading critically help us become better readers and people?
When the third graders were asked why it is important to think critically about other perspectives, some of their responses included:
We don’t want people to just hear one side of a story.
It is not fair to just talk about one experience.
If we don’t listen to other points of views then people may continue to judge others based on things that they shouldn’t be judged for.
These conversations allow students to become comfortable with the notion that each story can be seen from multiple vantage points, resulting in different interpretations. Learning to read and think critically is an important skill for academic achievement in history and social studies because as students progress in school they are asked to defend arguments, explain historical events from multiple perspectives, and answer document-based questions requiring thoughtful interpretation. Critical literacy also helps students to better appreciate and celebrate the diversity of human experiences as they become informed citizens of our increasingly complex world.
Jessica Contreras, MSEd
3rd Grade Head Teacher
Definition of critical literacy from The UNC School of Education, http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4437