Helping students become critically literate readers

After reading Aukerman’s article “Why Do You Say Yes to Pedro, but Not to Me?” Toward a Critical Literacy of Dialogic Engagement, I have come to realize that I have not been helping students become critically literate readers.

I have noticed that I focus a lot of attention to the mechanics of reading and the comprehension skills we all teach:  summarizing, main idea, inferring, retelling, etc.  There is a deeper element to my teaching that is both powerful….and missing.

This element can be taught through thoughtful selection of texts and activities.  I can teach the main idea while focusing on deeper aspects of the text and allowing students to examine the text in a more thoughtful way.  This will allow me to teach life skills, character development, and help students have a critical mindset in conjunction with academic skills.

Critical literacy is teaching children to think for themselves, to examine the gray areas of the world around them, to gather information and make their own informed judgements about things they interact with in their daily lives.

In my classroom I feel as though I have done a poor job teaching students how to be critically literate.  To understand that not everything they see or hear is correct.  To view topics, people, problems, and situations from multiple perspectives.

The article suggests that teachers should promote critical literacy through “dialogic engagement.”  Aukerman’s example of second graders discussing a question one student had about the book reminded me of my classroom in a way.  However, instead of seeing them discuss the book in a thoughtful way, I would see that type of discussion as off topic because they were not discussing the skill we were learning.

I now see the importance of allowing students to freely engage with the text in a variety of ways, to form their own judgements about text and to discuss their thoughts with others with the goal of refining their opinions, interacting with others, and engaging with the text.


5 Responses to “Helping students become critically literate readers”

  1.   moniquegareau Says:

    I totally agree, Michelle. I feel like we’re often encouraged to have our students “dig deeper” usually in terms of comprehension and other reading skills, but rarely to do so when thinking critically and maybe challenging the points-of-view in the story. For me, reading anecdotes and having real examples of critical literacy shown to me make it seem much easier to integrate into the classroom.

  2.   leighahall Says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself! I am glad you used the reading as a way to look at your own practice. You’ve identified some areas for improvement. What will you do next?

  3.   shellybell87 Says:

    The next day in class, instead of cutting students off when they responded to the text because they weren’t completely talking about summarizing, I let them say what was on their mind about the text. I also had other students respond to what they said. This seemed to open up their engagement with the text and allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of the text, of each other, and of how their opinion can change when new or different information is presented!

  4.   andersem Says:


    I feel the same way. I feel that there is so much pressure to teach a skill within a given time period that I am so focused on teaching the skill, giving little regard to what the students are actually saying. I also give very little time to critical discussions. Since discussions are often uncontrolled (you never know where they are going to go), I often choose different activities or cut off the discussion when it is time for us to move on. I have to learn to let go of the time. If we are having a meaningful discussion, it doesn’t matter that our mini lesson has turned into a half hour discussion, or that we may not get to the next activity. What matters most is that the kids are learning how to think for themselves and to ask questions to help gain a deep level of understanding. Critical literacy definitely takes control in a classroom, and I have to be willing to let it do just that!

  5.   eegarvey Says:

    You sound like you are trying to promote the need for critically literacy in your classroom. I agree with you also, feeling as though we often can not allow students to voice their opinions about texts because we are too focused on the skill at hand. You could always incorporate a reading response journal, allowing students to voice their thoughts through writing and having them share out with a partner, small group or whole class. Just a thought!

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