WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom

Introduction: Reading Critically through Global Inquiry

Reading literature to think about and transform oneself and the world involves reading to inquire into issues in children’s life experiences and in the broader society. These experiences support children in becoming critical and knowledgeable readers and thinkers. Readers are encouraged to engage deeply with the story world of a text and then to step back to share their personal connections and to reflect critically with others about the text and their responses. They engage in shared thinking about ideas based on critical inquiries that matter in their lives and world. This process of thinking is the focus of Van Horne Elementary School, which has a school-wide emphasis on global inquiry. Teachers and students work together in critically considering the world and their roles and responsibilities as global citizens.

Children at the school engage intensely with fiction, picture books and novels, to think deeply and critically, lingering longer in these texts to consider multiple layers of meaning and ideas. They also engage with nonfiction literature and read critically to compare information and issues across texts and learn facts about the topics as well as to consider conceptual issues. Literature is a tool for understanding the world and considering broader social and scientific issues as well as a means of facilitating children’s interest in a topic.

Critical literacy focuses on issues of power and oppression. Readers are challenged to critique and question “what is” and “who benefits” as well as to hope and consider possibility by asking “what if” and taking action for social change (Freire, 1970). Through critical literacy, children learn to problematize and develop a critical consciousness—to question the everyday world, to consider multiple perspectives, to examine power relationships within soiopolitical issues, and to consider actions to promote social justice (Lewison, Flint, & Sluys, 2002). This issue of WOW Stories is focused around these four dimensions of critical literacy.

The first section contains vignettes that highlight the ways that teachers support children’s thinking about literature and literacy to encourage them to question their “everyday” experiences through new lenses and to consider multiple perspectives. These vignettes include response strategies that teachers use to challenge children to think more deeply about literature and the kinds of tools, such as flowcharts, that facilitate children’s thinking. Other vignettes in this section share the engagements teachers use to immerse students in multiple perspectives through using a range of texts and a study of world languages, as well as through a focus on inquiry.

The second section contains vignettes that highlight ways of engaging children as conceptual thinkers about difficult sociopolitical issues. Teachers write about the instructional engagements they use to encourage students to think conceptually, in this case about power, hunger and poverty, and in making local and global connections to these issues. The third section contains vignettes in which teachers reflect on how they build on students’ conceptual thinking about difficult issues to move into taking action to promote social justice. Students first need to understand the issues and uncover the causes of difficult social issues before they are able to take action in a thoughtful manner.

The vignettes in this issue show teachers’ struggles to support students in global inquiry as well as the tranformations in student thinking and their deep engagement in these inquries and global literature. The thread that runs across all of the vignettes is the belief that readers have the social responsibility to negotiate personal and cultural meanings from literature that create the possibility for social change in both their immediate and global communities.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder.
Lewison, M., Flint, A.S., & Sluys, K.V. (2002). Taking on critical literacy: The journey of newcomers and novices. Language Arts, 79(5), 415-424.

Kathy G. Short, Editor

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