Category Archives: critical literacy

The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

When I was enrolled in Clare’s graduate course on literacy teaching, our class was assigned a reading from Alfred Tatum’s 2005 book Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap. It was one of my favorite readings and the class discussion was so engaging; many of my peers, myself included, were overcome with emotion. I will never forget reading the introduction, which felt like a Hollywood script until I realized that this is many people’s reality and that the incident he describes is representative of a large problem that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the role of literacy in the lives of young black men must be reconceptualized.

According to Alfred, the book is his attempt “to speak on behalf of all those young black males who yearn for understanding as they journey through rough terrain. Many of these young men want educators to respond to their needs and so help release them from a poverty-ridden paralysis that stiffens dreams” (p. 3).  Check out the introduction/the book here!

On a similar note, I came across this uplifting article a few days ago. An 11- year old boy started a book club, Book N Bros, that celebrates black books and African-American literature that shies away from the typically negative urban stories. With an emphasis on black protagonists, a new book every month, and meetings to discuss themes and complete worksheets, the aim is to improve the literacy rate among boys 8-10 years old. Some of the books that have already been read include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time.       Awesome!BlackProtagonistBook

Allegory as a Literary Device and the big Screen

Allegory as a literary device is a powerful tool in literacy development.  Beginning in the early years teachers use allegory to explore moral lessons and critical issues. How often do we read books with animal characters who experience significant challenges and how well do children respond to the texts?… very well!

Last week I (yiola) took my children to a birthday party at the movie theatre where they watched The Angry Birds.


I had no idea what the movie was about although my 4 year son mentioned it had to do with birds protecting their eggs from pigs. Hmmmm, sounds… interesting.  As I sat in the movie theatre I watched and chuckled at the community of birds and enjoyed the simple characters of each bird… and then I watched as ships sailed onto “Bird Island” and a King Pig with a small entourage befriended the birds, showering them with gifts and new ‘treasures’ that were unfamiliar to the birds. Slowly the pigs began to take over the island and they stole all the birds’ eggs.  The birds then tried to rescue their eggs. Lines such as: “They stole our kids… who DOES that?” and later when the birds invaded “Piggie Island” to rescue the eggs the “King Pig” exclaimed, “what are you doing here? This is a civilized brunch” left me sinking in my seat and feeling uncomfortable. Without doubt The Angry Birds, to me, is an allegory of colonialism. After viewing the movie I began researching articles and critiques and while I found several interpretations very few note colonialism.

To my surprise, many an in-depth discussions have occurred over The Angry Birds. From story line to historical facts to critical literacy to media literacy, I am pleased to see how an animated film could spark such interesting discussion. Now, imagine how using popular culture like the popular video game The Angry Birds and combining it with popular media like a Hollywood movie and applying analysis and interpretation of the use of allegory in a middle school or high school setting to discuss critical social issues like Aboriginal history or immigration. Narratives are such powerful tools for thinking about life. Allegory as a literary device has the potential to raise significant awareness and heighten a love for literacy.


Photo Journal of my Experience @ AERA

Here are some snapshots and highlights of my experience at AERA this year. If I (yiola) could name the experience I would call it:  Goosebumps and Inspirations… it was just that good.

  1.  I attended a Round Table session (this is where presenters gather at a “round table” and share their research). The Round table is a great opportunity to not only share your work but hear from others in a less formal manner.  This round table was hosted by the  Writing and Literacies special interest group (SIG) and the focus of the round table was critical literacy.  Dr. Barbara Comber from the University of South Australia presented on critical literacy pedagogy in the early years. Her work and my work are closely aligned.

2.I attended a presidential talk that was a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Phil Jackson. The focus of the talk was on the question of education.  I really like what this panel did: each panel member selected a passage from a text written by Dr. Jackson and talked about its significance to them. A paragraph was read from The Practice of Teaching and the idea of transformative teaching… such an important and central idea in progressive education. A piece was read from Handbook of Research on Curriculum: Conceptions of Curriculum and the the idea that school is systematically harming children… and how can we work against that?  Linda Darling-Hammond read a passage from his famous book Life in Classrooms and spoke of the “multi-dimensionality and simultaneously nature of teaching” and the essential relationships associated with teaching. And, one panel member shared from Dr. Jackson’s last book published in 2012, What is Education and spoke of education as pure and simple; something we must rededicate ourselves too over time.


3. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the presidential lecture  for Division K hosted by Dr. Lin Goodwin, Teachers College Columbia University.  A remarkable speaker who not only inspires with her words but truly challenged me to think about what quality teacher education requires. What I like most about Dr. Goodwin is her genuine nature. A distinguished academic and also a beautiful human being. Here are some pictures from her talk including slides from her presentation.



4. Yet another interesting Presidential session with Wayne Au, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Kevin Kumashiro (and others) that explored policy and standards in Teacher Education. Laden with some controversial findings for the testing systems for new teachers and teacher education programs, the presentations were provocative and interesting:


5. The last session I would like to share is one where we presented at the Constructivist SIG. A lovely group of people from across North America, we exchanged ideas of what it means to teach in constructivist ways. Our team leader Dr. Clare Kosnik presented work from the Literacy Teacher Education research and presented on a group of literacy teacher educators who had strong constructivist pedagogies.

Finally, AERA is held at such interesting places. One has to take some time to enjoy the beauty of the district and take in some of the sights.

Global Conversations in Literacy Research

One of the amazing things about our research team is we share common interests in literacy teaching and teacher education while at the same time we explore our own avenues of research. My areas of interest are in critical literacy pedagogy and teacher development.  I (yiola) have been enjoying and learning a great deal from another amazing literacy research based website and would like to share it with you.

Here is the link:

Global Conversations in Literacy Research (GCLR) is a series of interactive open access web seminars that feature cutting-edge literacy research conducted by international literacy researchers. GCLR is grounded in critical literacy, and sees as its mission to use networked technologies to connect global audiences in a virtual space that allows participants to exchange ideas on literacy theory, research, and practice. Each year, GCLR features scholars whose work addresses a range of literacy areas of interest to international audiences.

Some of my favourite researchers in critical literacy have shared webinars on the site.  I appreciate the global nature of the site and the sense of shared understandings through varied contexts.

An inspiring site — enjoy!

Butterfly Books: An amazing resource

It is common to find educators and parents in search of good books for children.  What makes a book good? What is a worthwhile read? What kinds of books do we want children to read? Why?  I have discovered a resource for thinking about and finding children’s books and am excited to share it with you.

Helen Antoniades, founder and operator of Butterfly Books, has embarked on a most inspiring journey in search of great books for children.

A front line social worker in Toronto, Ontario Canada, Helen has spent her adult life counselling children and adults from all walks of life. The  last 4 years of her practice was at the Hospital for Sick Children.  After 17 years of social work Helen, feeling burned out,  decided to start something new and explore her passion for healing others in an alternative way. Always passionate about books, she chose to share her knowledge of and experience with using books to help children understand and deal with issues in their lives.

Helen began her search by asking a lot of social worker colleagues for their go to books. Then she began asking friends in related fields. This interest grew into the blog, where she alternated “regular” pictures books with therapeutic books as suggested readings for children. As her journey continued Helen began exploring the “regular” books she was coming across and has broadened her scope to quality books that are reflective of diversity.  You can find Helen’s website at:

Butterfly Book’s mission statement:

Butterfly Books is a children’s book subscription service whose goal is to make receiving a new book an eagerly anticipated, joyful event with an aim to foster and sustain a love of reading in children.
In addition to creating excitement about reading, the service will give children the opportunity to explore other worlds and experiences through books.  Part of the focus will therefore be on ensuring diversity of characters and topics within the books chosen.
This service is also a way to make giving books as a gift more inviting.  This personalized approach will connect families through the love of books and the satisfaction of a quality gift given and received. 
There is also a handy Facebook page with wall postings that share a book per week. It is an efficient and helpful way to access interesting books and gain insight to how they can be explored with children, often including book reviews.
Check out the website, like the FB page, and get connected with Butterfly Books!

Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools

Jo Lampert and Bruce  Burnett have recently edited an amazing text,Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools. The text is available from Springer.

This volume captures the innovative, theory-based, and grounded work being done by established scholars who are interrogating how teacher education can prepare teachers to work in challenging and diverse high-poverty settings. It offers articles from the US, Australia, Canada, the UK and Chile by some of the most significant scholars in the field. Internationally, research suggests that effective teachers for high poverty schools require deep theoretical understanding as well as the capacity to function across three well-substantiated areas: deep content knowledge, well-tuned pedagogical skills, and demonstrated attributes that prove their understanding and commitment to social justice. Schools in low socioeconomic communities need quality teachers most, however, they are often staffed by the least experienced and least prepared teachers. The chapters in this volume examine how pre-service teachers are taught to understand the social contexts of education. Drawing on the individual expertise of the authors, the topics covered include unpacking poverty for pre-service teachers, issues related to urban schooling as well as remote and regional area schooling.

Our (Clare) research team contributed a chapter to the text which focused on six literacy teacher educators who purposefully prepare student teachers to work in high poverty schools. Here is the chapter: TchingforHighPovertySchools

Ideology ~ Indoctrination to Critical Thinking: The right fit in Teacher Education

Something has been weighing on my mind this year as I teach my courses in teacher education. I (Yiola) have been teaching a number of different courses in teacher education (curriculum, foundations, child development, assessment) and each one has been carefully crafted with the students in mind (some are Masters level courses and others are undergraduate).  Wherein lies the balance of teaching academic courses that are seeped in ideology and the promotion of critical thinking?

I believe it is inevitable that ideologies find there way into our course outlines, our lectures, our readings, our practice ~ after all, we are humans with perspectives and schemas. Knowing where we stand on issues that we teach, I think, is key to developing a course that is not only filled with information (content/pedagogy) for future teachers but that is accessible, inviting, and open to deeper understandings.  In my courses for example critical pedagogy is a framework. Students know that when they take my courses they will be presented with readings, discourses, case studies, and policies that are framed in critical theory.  I choose this for a number of reasons: I believe in equity and social justice education; I believe in equitable opportunity for learning; I believe in disclosing and deconstructing status quo in order to deepen our understanding of “what is going here”? and I believe that many student teachers are hearing of this ideology for the very first time.

And so, I am often left questioning: how far do I take this? how far can I go when presenting an ideology in teacher education? Is it fair to present a dominant perspective? Is it inevitable? Some would argue that by not expressing a point of view, we are simply adhering to one anyway and silencing many others.  Where and when  does ideology channel into indoctrination? Do student teachers feel imposed upon or offended when only one perspective is shared? but what about when its a perspective that is often marginalized? Is there even time to invite critical thinking about ideologies when teaching students about curriculum?

Let me provide an example: Literacy Curriculum in Teacher Education. Literacy education is taught in as many ways as there are literacy educators. We know from our research in literacy teacher education that there are powerful, effective, and varied ways of approaching literacy teacher education. And so, there is not one right way.  One teacher educator may teach with a critical stance while another teaches from an empirical psychological stance, while yet another teaches from a holistic perspective. If I could, I would love to be a student in each of these courses to catch a glimpse of the ways in which teaching literacy can be considered.  To the student teacher, is one way better than another? Is one way less indoctrinating than the next? Is there a way to prompt critical thinking while teaching subject content/pedagogical knowledge?

I am constantly thinking about the perspectives I bring to my courses, what gets included and what is omitted and why. I am constantly thinking about my tone and the messages I relay and the possibilities of interpretation from the learners in my class. I am interested in critical thinking and pushing boundaries of understanding. I am not interested in indoctrination.  This in and of itself is an ideology of sorts.


A New Book on Participatory Culture and Digital Technologies


I (Pooja) have long been interested in the notions of participatory culture. Often considered  the opposite of consumer culture, participatory culture is defined by Henry Jenkins (2009, p. 5-6) as a culture in which there are:

1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

2. strong support for creating and sharing creations with others

3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices

4. members who believe that their contributions matter

5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).

I was excited when I learned authors Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd authored a new book titled: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics (2015). I have provided the blurb on  the back of the book for those potentially interested in learning more about participatory culture in the 21st century like I am:

In the last two decades, both the conception and the practice of participatory culture have been transformed by the new affordances enabled by digital, networked, and mobile technologies. This exciting new book explores that transformation by bringing together three leading figures in conversation. Jenkins, Ito and boyd examine the ways in which our personal and professional lives are shaped by experiences interacting with and around emerging media.

Stressing the social and cultural contexts of participation, the authors describe the process of diversification and mainstreaming that has transformed participatory culture. They advocate a move beyond individualized personal expression and argue for an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself.”

Participatory Culture in a Networked Era will interest students and scholars of digital media and their impact on society and will engage readers in a broader dialogue and conversation about their own participatory practices in this digital age.


Chimamanda Ngozi’s Book Being Distributed to ALL 16- Year-Old Students in Sweden

I have written about the powerful words of Ms. Adiche before. Her words stop us in our tracks and make us re-consider notions of identity, language, and gender. She has a new book out entitled We Should All Be Feminists. It is based on a speech she delivered at a TEDx conference a few years ago. I have already ordered it!

The most amazing thing about her new book is how it is being distributed. The Swedish Women’s Lobby has decided to distribute Adiche’s book to every 16-year-old student in Sweden. In a CBC article, publisher Johanna Haegerström believes her book will be an entry point into a larger discussion about gender roles in society. He said:

“Our hope is that the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie text will open up a conversation about gender and gender roles, starting from young people’s own experiences”


Upcoming Book Release: Courageous Leadership in Early Childhood Education: Taking a Stand for Social Justice

I am excited for a new book edited by scholars Vivian Vasquez, Mariana Souto-Manning, and Susi Long. The book focuses on social justice practices in the context of pre-school and elementary schools.


The book gives voice to educators, family members, and school administrators, offering several insights on social justice in early year classrooms, including:

* Highlights the actions of administrators as they take a stand to transcend standardized approaches to teaching and learning, creating more equitable educational environments.

* Portrays strategies and resources used to engage teachers in critical examination of self and the institutions in which they work.

* Describes principles and practices that guide administrators as they support the development of culturally relevant practices and policies.

* Offers powerful ways early childhood administrators can approach inequitable mandates. (

The book will be released in the end of December/early January!