Creating Spaces for Critical Literacy for Bilingual Learners: Korean Kindergartners' Discussions About Race and Gender

Creating Spaces for Critical Literacy for Bilingual Learners: Korean Kindergartners' Discussions About Race and Gender

So Jung Kim
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3955-1.ch002
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With heightened emphasis on critical literacy pedagogies, attention to critical literacy for young children (CLYC) has rapidly increased. Yet, there is a paucity of studies examining CLYC in bilingual settings, particularly in Pre-K contexts. Utilizing a qualitative case study design, the current study examined how early critical literacy can be implemented as a medium to help young bilinguals critique texts and develop critical perspectives about race and gender. The study was conducted in a kindergarten classroom at the Korean Language School in a Midwestern city in the US. The data were collected over a semester using multiple collection sources including audio/video recordings, observational field notes, interviews, and children's artifacts. Findings suggest the potential of early critical literacy practices in bilingual contexts to open critical conversations about race and gender with young children. The study also provides teachers with tips on how to create supportive literary environments for young bilingual children.
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With the changing demographics in the United States, diversity has become part of children’s daily experiences (Ramsey, 2003; Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). Children have numerous chances to meet people from racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse backgrounds (Ramsey, 2003; Soest & Garcia, 2003). A volume of literature has documented that young children understand race and gender differences from a young age as they start direct observation of the world (Aboud, 1988; Ramsey, 2003; Sorin, 2003; Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). However, many teachers still avoid discussing race and gender issues with young children (Dresang, 2003), because they believe that young children “know little or nothing about such things as racial and ethnic matters” (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001, p. 4). Given this situation, race and gender awareness does not always develop in a positive way for preschool and kindergarten children (Vuckovic, 2008). Vuckovic (2008) argues that prejudice is especially serious in preschool and kindergarten (Pre-K) children because at those ages “difference” is often related to fear. Children’s prejudice often arises from their own dislike for the differences, rather than simple imitation of their parents (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001; Vuckovic, 2008). An insecure feeling when encountering other skin colors makes them tend to develop negative attitudes toward other racial/ethnic groups (Aboud, 1988; Ramsey, 2003).

As pedagogical approaches to help young children develop positive understandings toward racial, cultural, and other diversities, multicultural education (e.g. Ali & Ancis, 2005; Nieto, 1999, 2004; Nichols, 1999; Pace & Lowery, 2001; Soest & Garcia, 2003), multicultural literature (e.g. Bishop, 1992; Cai, 2002; Harris, 1997) and culturally responsive practices (e.g. Gay, 2000; Nieto, 2004; Vuckovic, 2008) have been emphasized during the last few decades. These studies have highlighted the importance of including multicultural literature and cultural resources in the literacy instruction to benefit all children regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. These studies have provided insights on the significance of teaching children diversity through culturally relevant practices, yet most have been conducted in school-age monolingual children’s contexts. As a result, very little is known about how multicultural practices can be implemented in earlier-age bilingual contexts to teach diversity and critical thinking to children. The dearth of prior studies is especially challenging when considering that multicultural education, critical pedagogies, and bilingual education have the same goal, which is “to prepare professional social workers to transform oppressive and unjust systems into non-oppressive and just alternatives” (Soest & Garcia, 2003, p. 4).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Race and Gender: This study defines race as not as biologically determined but socially constructed. The important facet of race and gender is not a biological feature but the social significance placed upon that within the context of power and privilege.

Multicultural Literature: Multicultural literature is broadly defined in this study as literature that “incorporates nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, family status, geographic difference, linguistic variation, and any other possible differences from the mainstream culture.

Critical Literacy for Young Children (CLYC): CLYC is defined as an affirmative pedagogical practice that encourages young children to examine texts critically within the context of power, inequality, and social justice.

Critical Thinking: By adopting Freire’s definition of critical thinking, this study sees critical thinking as “transformative” thinking that questions authorities, rather than cognitive thinking employed in problem-solving and assessing accuracy.

Critical Literacy: Critical literacy is defined as a literacy practice that explore race and gender and challenges the dominant ideology inherent in text---the tenets of disrupting a common situation or understanding; and examining multiple viewpoints.

Bilingual: The study adopts the definition of bilingual as people who can functionally utilize two different languages for different purposes in various situations to meet given needs.

Social Justice: Based on human rights perspective, this study approaches social justice as reproduction of and respect for group differences without oppression, rather than distribution of benefits among society’s members or the allocation of resources and wealth. That is, the goal of social justice is to promote respect for differences, and to enhance full participation of everyone for social equity.

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