I first heard the term critical literacy in a workshop at the International Reading Association conference. 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. North Carolina is changing, and those changes are reflected in classrooms across the state, possibly even yours. The largest groups of new immigrants are Hispanics from Mexico and Hmong from Southeast Asia, not to mention the steady influx of people who have relocated here from New York, New Jersey, and the rest of the United States. The cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity in North Carolina’s schools grows every year, and with this diversity comes opportunity.
Perhaps you’re already using some activities to build critical literacy in your classroom. If you read novels written from the point of view of a child from another culture or set in another country, you’re providing an opportunity for your students to stand in the shoes of another: that is critical literacy. If your students hear stories about people who practice religions different than their own or if they 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, that too is critical literacy. If you ask you students to write from the point of view of someone much older than they are, that’s 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.
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