CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 16. . . .December 18, 2009
It’s Critical is a useful teacher resource providing examples of the practices of teachers across the continent as they engage their students in critical thinking. The book is divided into two sections: Part A, Engaged in Literacy and Part B, Models of Classroom Practice. The two chapters in Part A are written by David Booth. Chapter 1 “Just Tell Me What it Means!” encourages readers to examine our perspectives on literacy, expand our definition of “text” and “enlarge the literacy sphere of every child we meet.” Booth recognizes that not all teachers would want to, or are able to, involve their students in the agency and social justice actions that are “demanded” when we embrace critical literacy, and so he suggests moving students toward “the critical understanding of a variety of texts, such as novels, historical recounts, ads or photographs.”
Booth uses the second chapter to describe a variety of strategic reading activities (literacy events) that include: making connections, determining important ideas, making inferences, visualizing the text, asking questions, synthesizing, summarizing, analyzing, monitoring and repairing meaning. He then goes on to describe a few ways to organize the classroom to assist students in developing deeper understanding of texts.
Readers are encouraged to move from theory into practice by reflecting on their current classroom practice. To facilitate this analysis, Booth has written two pages of questions teachers can ask of themselves. These reflective questions provide a bridge to Part 2 of the book which provides readers with models of contemporary classroom practice.
Booth writes an introduction to each of these eight chapters and then illustrates each particular topic with examples written by 38 educators representing various fields. Most of the events use English Language Arts and Social Studies examples, but there are some math, science and music ideas also. Readers are provided with two examples of “deepening understanding through text sets” and 10 examples using the Arts to deepen understanding, showing a preference for the arts, or attempting to push teachers to think beyond the traditional over-used modes of reading and writing.
Models of “Book Talks” include an informative discussion of the benefits and challenges of using wikis and blogs to facilitate virtual literature circles; using a theme-based collection of novels to foster critical and higher order thinking skills; transcribing literature circle conversations; and developing a Boys Book Club.
In addition to those mentioned above, chapter topics also include graphic texts, storytelling, writing, inquiry and media as other ways to deepen student understanding. The individual authors provide many thought-provoking ideas for experienced and novice teachers. Some models are detailed descriptions and include examples of student work, such as “Discovering Symbolic Ways of Transcribing Music” (p. 125-128) by Leslie Stewart Rose, while others could use some more details to make them ready to use.
For example, under Text Sets, Linda Cameron’s enthusiastic discussion of the exploration of “wolves” could be made even more helpful to teachers if the text set she used was included. She mentions that “many positive portrayals of Canis Lupis came from aboriginal tales” (p. 78) but does not include a reference to any specific tales or the source of these tales. Her discussion of Rosenblatt’s categories of how children’s literature may work in powerful ways could also be strengthened by connecting these categories to the ways in which her students responded to the various wolf texts they explored.
Indicative of our rapidly changing technology, Anne Burke’s discussion of MSN is Real Talk, Real Text (p. 138), could now be expanded to include newer social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The suggested categories of discussion: situated practice, overt instruction, critical reflection and transformed practice provide a framework for analysis of language use beyond the new technologies.
While It’s Critical is not consistent in the “ready to use” details each model provides for a teacher, each model does present an important vehicle for deepening students’ and teachers’ understanding and comprehension of the texts we encounter in and outside of school.
It’s Critical concludes with three pages of question prompts teachers can use to deepen comprehension, brief biographies of all 38 contributors and a list of references and resources.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba.
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