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Reframe Podcast: Episode 48

Critical Literacy Encourages Multiple Perspectives

Critical Literacy Encourages Multiple Perspectives

 Miami students with Katherine Batchelor

We’ll hear from Katherine Batchelor about how critical literacy can help future teachers take a step back, and get a clearer look at a bigger cultural picture. And she’ll also talk about some new research that helping students see the world in new and sometimes eye-opening ways.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

All across the country, schools are becoming more culturally and racially diverse. But even so, there continues to be a lack of multiculturalism in most classrooms today. And according to Katherine Batchelor, Miami University assistant professor of teacher education, this is a problem.

So in this episode, we’ll hear from Katherine Batchelor about how critical literacy can help future teachers take a step back, and get a clearer look at a bigger cultural picture. And she’ll also talk about some new research that helping students see the world in new and sometimes eye-opening ways.

(Music Fade)

Dr. Batchelor, thank you so much for being here. Can you begin with some background on what critical literacy actually is, and why this is an important area?

Katherine Batchelor:

Okay. For critical literacy, it's rooted in democracy, injustice, and it's considered a literacy lens or a model of literacy, as well as a practice. And it is engaged to encourage students to use language to really question their everyday world experiences. In particular, the relationship dynamic between language and power. And so, it posits that text and education are never neutral, that there's always a hierarchy going on. It’s a sociopolitical system that either privileges or oppresses, and especially regarding race, class, and gender.

So some critical literacy practices -- when I teach through a critical literacy lens in my literacy courses for pre-service teachers and for the grad classes -- there are a lot of practices that teachers can engage in. For example, reading supplementary texts, especially if you have a curriculum that's designed in English to do the canonical texts, which are usually privileges white protagonists and there are a lot of marginalized voices that are left out. So how can we include and expand that? And that's what link text sets does. And I can talk a little bit more about that too.

But also, link text sets, also with critical literacy, encourage multiple perspectives. And asking students to read from a counter-narrative perspective. So for example, if you're reading the Little House on the Prairie, asking students to consider indigenous voices, and who was there on the Prairie besides the family.

And so, it's basically teaching students, especially as young as preschool, to be agents of texts rather than victims of text. And so, you start to critically analyze and see what is there. With students in particular, in a course that I teach that's young adult literacy, I ask students to really examine the books that they're reading, and look at the protagonist’s voices, and whose voices are missing, whose are not heard, especially in their own curriculum growing up in high school. And then, with them going on to be high school English teachers, how can they change this? How can they disrupt the commonplace? How can they add other things including like student choice and student-led projects?

So that becomes very eye-opening to practicing teachers, as well as pre-service teachers going into the field. Especially, you know, teachers need to really look out for historically marginalized youth.

And that also comes back into play with critical literacy, understanding the conceptions of text being more than just print. It can also be non-print and bringing students out of school literacy experiences into the classroom, such as video gaming. Also, dance, drama, music. All the things that you think of … not traditionally school text, but that they can be brought in as school text. And so, that's kind of what's going on right now with my research, and why I think it's important.

James Loy:

It sounds like it's taken the traditional idea of literacy, but expands it quite a bit. You said you're not talking about just books, but it's beyond just literacy in the sense of learning how to read. It’s almost about learning how to read the social structure of things. It’s a much bigger, much broader view of literacy in a way, right?

Katherine Batchelor:

Yeah. It's like what Freire says. It is reading the word and reading the world. So that's a big underlying theme of critical literacy practices.

James Loy:

Can you talk more on how a focus on critical literacy can help teachers? How does learning about critical literacy help prepare future teachers for what they will face in the classroom, or the modern challenges they will deal with with students today?

Katherine Batchelor:

In schools typically right now there's lack of multiculturalism. Lack of marginalized voices as protagonists. And so, predominantly… so what what's happening is that schools in the United States are becoming more and more diverse, with language and culture, and race in particular. And, unfortunately, the education now: 80 percent of the workforce of teachers is predominantly… they identify as white middle class females. And so, here you're going into school and you've got this imbalance of a difference of perspectives, a difference of backgrounds and ideologies, for example.

And so, there's going to be this little bit of, “Well, I'm a teacher, I'm coming in it from my viewpoint, my perspective. But yet I identify only in this way as white female middle class. So that way I'm only reaching what I want to reach.” Instead of realizing that the students that are in front of you are not going to be looking at the same viewpoints and ideologies that you carry with you. And sometimes people walk in with blinders on sometimes. But that's like… we need to disrupt that.

James Loy:

You already mentioned … briefly you talked about this idea of linked text sets as part of your new research and how it helps students think more critically and inclusively. But can you explain more about what a linked text set actually is, and how that fits into your new research?

Katherine Batchelor:

Sure. Linked text sets are a collection of text between five and 15 of print and non-print text. And so, text again is more than print. It's also non-print. So it could be YouTube videos, it could be TED Talks, it could be songs, lyrics, it could be drama performances, dance performances, for example, poetry, graphic novels, comics, video games. Things like that. And so, the way that linked text sets work is that you can have a common text that's like a surrounding whole class novel text, if you wanted to start off that way. But then you have it surrounded with others. It's almost like that main core text is the Sun, and then the other surrounding linked texts are like a sphere of the planets. And so, the way that you can analyze things is either through conception of like themes, thematic issues, or essential questions in particular. And that way, when students read multiple texts, they are able to always go back and discuss the theme. They're always able to go back and discuss how does this text relate to this text? Or the essential questions I'm wanting students to delve deeper into.

So the benefit of linked text sets is that it provides so many intertextual connections that students need to make. It also provides a counter-narrative of other voices instead of the one infamous voice that's traditionally used with the one whole class novel. And it also, again, it makes it more relatable for students when you bring in the non-print out of school literacies. It makes them more inclined to want to engage. It also makes it more relevant to their lives and they'll want to go deeper and learn more, especially if you're using the main text, for example, as a canonical text that they have absolutely no interest in reading, or they don't identify with. But if you bring in these other out-of-school literacy examples, they'll be able to make more connections and get it that way.

James Loy:

And the three … specifically in the paper, you talk about … you focus on Black Lives Matter, sexual assault, and ending the stigma around mental health, correct?

Katherine Batchelor:

Yes. And those were all students selected. And so, they were able to create their own linked text sets on these topics. And those were the three that I highlighted because I just thought that they were so powerful. All of them were powerful. I had 23 in that data set. And I selected those in particular because of the deep variety of the types of text. But also the topics in particular. And that they were not afraid to go into their school in their first year of teaching and want to use these as link text sets, to use this particular topic and theme with their students.

So what I did was I had students create a topic that was tugging at their heart, that was a social justice topic that they could select. And then, they were able to collect them and put together their wide array. But then I had them go one step deeper, because it is a critical literacy focus. I said, “Okay, now that you have looked at this, I want you now to look at it from a critical literacy lens of: now you created this awesome unit that you think is awesome. But now look at it again with a bigger picture of whose voices are missing? Who's not heard? Who's being privileged? Look at all the different positionalities that you can identify with, and now look at it from a different lens and write a reflection paper on it.” 

And they were just blown away. They were like, “Wow, even though we have gone this whole semester talking about all of these things, and all these different groups. Why didn't I include this?”

So there's a whole variety of people that are being marginalized and not represented in this particular topic, especially when it comes to using literature in the classroom. And sometimes it may not be your fault because they're just not available. The books just aren't there. They haven't been written yet. Or they are there and you just weren't realizing it because you're coming at it, again, with your own positionalities in mind.

And that's what I'm trying to disrupt with those teachers, that when they go into schools this is what they now can do.

James Loy:

So when you at those voices that are present and the voices that are missing, is it important to assemble the text sets first, without initially making that judgment of who is included and who is not? Or is that something that only becomes clear once you have an established a set of texts and then afterwards, you can take a step back and see more clearly what’s missing?

So . . . I guess I wonder if an analogy might be: If you’re trying to figure out what puzzle pieces are missing amongst this big box of puzzle pieces. You might assume all the pieces are all there. But you don’t know. Only until after until you try to assemble that puzzle can you then see what pieces are missing. Is that a useful analogy?

Katherine Batchelor:

Well, that's a good . . . I love that analogy. It’s actually almost like if you had an awesome puzzle, that the voices would already be included, they would already be there and that you would just have to put the pieces together to make this awesome linked text set, and always be ever mindful in the back of your mind that all of these other positionalities exist, and so include them. But that can't always happen sometimes. But I think once you do this practice and activity, you're never going to forget it. Because you realize, Wow, shame on me. Why did I leave all these voices out? And so, when you go to create future units, you have that in the back of your mind saying, okay, I'm not going to exclude this. I'm not going to exclude this. I'm going to position this. I'm going to center this as the unit instead, of making it maybe even just a link, as maybe central to the curriculum.

James Loy:

Alright. Wonderful. Well, Katherine Batchelor, Miami University assistant professor of teacher education, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Katherine Batchelor:

Thanks for interviewing me.

James Loy:

And thank you for listening to this episode of the Reframe podcast. If you liked what you heard, you can find many for episodes for free, right now, on Apple Podcasts, on Google podcasts, and on SoundCloud.

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*Intro/outro music used in podcasts: "Tech Toys" by Lee Rosevere