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Last week, I decided to read aloud a book about astronaut Ron McNair’s experience with getting a library card as a child with my first grade class. I believed that the story of the young African American boy who stood up for his right to check out books from the public library could be somewhat challenging for my six and seven year old students to understand, but I thought it was a great way to start helping my students start to be critical readers. As we read the story, I stopped at key parts to ask questions about what my students thought was happening in the story, what the author was trying to teach us, and how we could learn from this book. My students answers seemed to be right on with what I had originally wanted them to get out of this read aloud and discussion.
After reading more about Critical Literacy (the deconstructing and reconstructing of text, resulting in some type of social action) this week, I realized that what I thought was a great lesson in which my students were being critical readers, was more of me coaching them to the answers I wanted them to have. I went into the lesson seeing Critical Literacy and an outcome. I asked very direct questions like “That’s not fair is it?” and “Wasn’t it nice of the lady to offer to check out his books for him since he couldn’t?” While my students reached the outcome I had hoped they would reach, I didn’t give them the chance to come to that view on their own.
In order to teach my students to be critical readers, I need to model how to read with a critical eye, looking for multiple perspectives, but I don’t need to do it all for them. I need to make sure I ask more open ended questions that allow my students to come to their own conclusions, not my conclusion. I need to help them make connections to others’ perspectives, not just their own life. My students need to be able to seek their own perspectives about social issues, not just understand and take on my perspective as their own. I believe in the importance of teaching students to read critically, but there is not a procedure to do so. It is my job to create a space where my students can read, discuss, and consider multiple perspectives of texts. This isn’t going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to the challenge that it brings for me and my students!