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Critical Literacy is the ability to identify purposes, motives, and potential biases of a particular text to enhance overall comprehension and critical thinking. Teaching adolescents to uncover these meanings helps them form perspectives on society and prepares them for civic participation in the complex world. Those students who are explicitly taught to question text show higher reading comprehension.
Early adolescents begin to make inferences about texts but may largely accept what they read in a text as truth. As they grow, adolescents are increasingly able to understand the power structures presented within texts and take on the perspectives of other groups. By high school, Inferencing and questioning skills are sharpened, and Critical Literacy becomes a more explicit, three-part process:
This three-part process can be used to question the source and biases of a text to support deeper understanding including:
Critical Theory views society and culture through a contextual lens and addresses the multiple inequities that exist. Critical Theory researchers suggest that all texts are subjective in nature and have multiple meanings within these socio-cultural lenses. Research within this area focuses on societal disparities based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual identity. Building students' Critical Literacy skills through this lens can raise their socio-political consciousness and support civic action and participation.
New Literacies include understanding of multimodal texts which result from developments in technology (e.g., the Internet, social media) and greater information available digitally. These literacies are necessary for societal participation and require an increase in awareness and information literacy, that is, the ability to discern fact from fiction in digital sources.
Physically acting out a text or enacting major themes from texts enhances reading comprehension, particularly as texts become more complex.
When adolescents can connect and communicate with authentic audiences about their interests and values, reading and writing become more personally meaningful and relevant.
Students practice making and finding meaning in texts through book discussions moderated by teachers to varying degrees.
For adolescent learners, the Composition process can become more robust, as learners begin to express ideas through multiple media, which includes visual, audio, and digital production.
When students express information visually, they are activating more cognitive processes while problem solving and increasing their experience with alternate texts.
When preparing for and debating with peers, students analyze, form, and express verbal arguments, fostering their critical thinking and literacy skills.
Teaching students how to effectively search the internet is critical for helping them learn how to find accurate and relevant information and aids in developing information literacy.
Research shows that, along with traditional reading comprehension strategies, students use unique strategies to read the non-linear, hyperlinked structure of online texts.
Interpreting and composing discipline-specific texts requires tailoring literacy strategies, like annotating or asking questions, to the disciplinary goals and practices.
Teaching students how to systematically evaluate sources prepares them to navigate in an increasingly complex, digital world.
Visiting places connected to classroom learning provides opportunities to deepen understanding through firsthand experiences.
As students move through multimodal stations pertaining to a particular unit, the social and physical nature of the activity supports deeper understanding.
During guided inquiry, teachers foster student autonomy by designing lessons centered on meaningful questions in which students locate, analyze, and present relevant information on their own or in small groups.
Learning about students' cultures and connecting them to instructional practices helps all students feel like valued members of the community, which improves Motivation and can mitigate Stereotype Threat.
Practicing until achieving several error-free attempts is critical for retention.
By observing, rereading, and closely analyzing published writing, students see examples and learn the strategies of good writing that they can integrate into their own Composition.
Instruction in multiple formats allows students to activate different cognitive skills and Background Knowledge that are necessary to remember procedural and content information.
Providing multiple texts on the same topic or theme allows students to interact with multiple perspectives and develop their critical thinking skills.
Connecting information to music and dance moves enhances Short-term and Long-term Memory by drawing on auditory processes and the cognitive benefits of physical activity.
When students provide constructive feedback on each other's work, they learn to give relevant suggestions, receive specific ways to improve their writing, and engage in Metacognition.
Using visual aids, such as pictures, diagrams, and charts, allows for additional processing time and supports learners by breaking down content and skills into more manageable parts.
When teachers ask questions or have students create questions before introducing a text, they activate student interest and help them assess what they already know about a given topic.
When students write from a non-dominant or marginalized perspective, they consider and give voice to points of view that are often missing.
Providing guiding prompts and questions for students to use when reading or participating in discussions deepens their understanding of texts and gives them space to question and grapple with issues of power, justice, and equity.
Teachers can provide individualized support through one-on-one conferences to assess reading comprehension, understanding of content, and spark further interest in reading.
Student reflection on learning, particularly when done collaboratively, is critical for moving knowledge of content and strategies into Long-term Memory.
Students build their confidence, strategy use, and comprehension by reading and rereading multiple texts.
Response devices boost engagement by encouraging all students to answer every question.
Having culturally relevant reading materials, including multicultural and diverse texts, are critical for supporting all students.
Providing access to a variety of multimodal texts that align with the interests of learners allows them to practice digital, information, and Critical Literacy.
Giving students voice and choice in their learning is critical for making learning meaningful and relevant to them.
During reading, giving students the opportunity to explain their thinking process aloud allows them to recognize the strategies they use, solidify their comprehension, and move knowledge into their Long-term Memory.
Think-pair-share encourages meaningful student discussion by allowing for extra processing time and multiple shares.
Providing visuals to introduce, support, or review instruction activates more cognitive processes to support learning.
Writing conferences allow students to fully immerse, share, reflect, and receive feedback during the writing process, promoting Motivation for continuing the sometimes lengthy revision process that occurs in the upper grades.
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