Fostering Critical Literacy and Cosmopolitanism: Research on the Influence of Discussion Strategies

Fostering Critical Literacy and Cosmopolitanism: Research on the Influence of Discussion Strategies

Cynthia K. Ryman (University of Arizona, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7823-9.ch013


Literacy is embedded in the context of culture and society. In preparing preservice teachers for their future as agents in social change, understanding the power and potential of critical literacy is necessary. Critical literacy provides the opportunity for dialogue that confronts issues and conceptualizes ways to bring about social change. The value of learning how to utilize discussion strategies to encourage critical literacy is important in all classrooms. This research combines aspects of critical literacy based in social justice, reader response theory, and cosmopolitan ethical criticism in investigating the effects of discussion strategies on fostering critical literacy and cosmopolitanism in an undergraduate children's literature course for preservice teachers. Constant comparative analysis is used to interpret the data and to recommend changes in instructional strategies. The findings and recommendations of this chapter provide valuable insights in assisting literature instructors at all levels in fostering critical literacy.
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I found that literature discussion groups were most valuable in a way that I’ve never thought of before. After reading a novel, I like to reflect personally, but with these discussions groups I found more insight. We all read the same book but had totally different thoughts on it. This helped me think more critically on each book.

I really thought the literature discussion groups were important because I was able to see my peers’ opinions and see new things in a book that I didn’t see before.

It really made me engage more with my peers and I was able to think more critically.

At the end of each semester preservice teachers enrolled in Children’s Literature in the Classroom are asked to reflect on the most meaningful and impactful experiences from the course. Many of the responses, like those above, identify how literature circle discussions impacted students’ views of the importance of critical literacy. For most of the preservice teachers enrolled in this course, the literature circle discussions were their first exposure to critical literacy. This chapter will take a close look at the use of discussion strategies as a means to foster critical literacy in an undergraduate teacher education course focused around the use of children’s literature.

Children’s Literature in the Classroom is a core course requirement for all elementary preservice teachers at the University of Arizona. The majority of undergraduate students enrolled in this course are working toward a degree in the field of education. This class is their introduction to the diverse formats, genres, and issues in children’s literature. The students come with their own preconceived ideas of what the study of children’s literature means. Most have come through a school system that focused on the use of literature to test comprehension and teach various skills associated with reading. These students are part of the No Child Left Behind generation and experienced throughout their schooling the escalating emphasis on standardized testing. Coming from this personal background of experience, students tend to focus their initial literature discussions on the objective facts and details of the text. The training that they received in locating what they consider the technical aspects of text throughout their elementary, middle and high school academic careers has become an ingrained response to literature. As with all socially learned behaviors, this approach to reading and responding to literature will persist and, without critical reflection, become the modality of their future teaching practice in the classroom. The first objective on the syllabus for the Children’s Literature in the Classroom course is that the student will gain a better understanding of himself/herself as a reader, and of how to engage in personal and critical response to literature. This type of response to literature is unfamiliar and often intimidating to the students. In order to meet this objective, students must develop a new approach to reading and responding to literature.

The goal of this study was to determine how to help students respond to literature more critically and to connect on a personal level to issues and diverse ways of seeing the world. In showing students how to approach literature in this way, the hope is to vitalize not only their connection to and appreciation of literature, but also change the way they will engage children with literature in their future classrooms. Within this research study several discussion strategies were introduced with the goal of encouraging a more reflective and personal response within literature circles. The specific research focus is to determine how implementing discussion strategies geared toward encouraging critical and reflective responses influences the focus and content of discussion in literature circles and helps students recognize the value of critical literacy, both personally and in their practice as future educators.

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