RM Winter 2016 FLIP

other words, to move beyond talk about global issues into authentic and meaningful action for social change …c hildren and adolescents need perspective, not protection as they consider who they are in the process of becoming and how they can make a difference” (Short, Giorgi & Lowery, 2013, p. 35).

to promote a deeper understanding of why poverty and homelessness occur, and allow students to explore “what if” possibilities that challenge the status quo. However, to do so we need to facilitate authentic learning experiences that provide students with opportunities to take action in relation to the issue. Doing More: Creating Authentic Learning Experiences Grounded in Children’s Literature Critical literacy scholars discuss many ways to create authentic experiences that move toward action in relation to picture book read-alouds that explicitly address social justice issues such as poverty and homelessness. Authenticity is an important element so that students are able to reflect on what they have learned and how their views or opinions may have changed after their experience. For instance, Short (2011) highlights one way to engage children in authentic action in response to social justice themed children’s literature: “Authentic action is based in children having responsibility throughout the process, including witnessing the outcome of their action when possible. A continuous cycle of action and reflection spirals throughout the process” (p. 54). A poignant example in Short’s article is when the students decided to clean up their school’s playground. After the initial clean up the students investigated where the trash came from and were shocked to learn it was from them. The students then took action to move the trashcan to a different part of the playground to help alleviate the trash problem and put the receptacle in a more usable location. In another insightful discussion of children’s literature addressing low socioeconomic status or “tight times,” Kathy Short (2011) compared three books –Monica Gunning’s (2004) A Shelter in Our Car , Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (2007), and Vera B. Williams’ (1982) A Chair for My Mother . Short describes how a class discussed all the books in terms of wants and needs and created a continuum of where the books fit in those terms. This continuum “provided a way for children to access difficult issues in their community and provided a bridge for connecting to these issues on a global level” (p. 53). Utilizing the books in this way allowed the students to make connections to their own lives when maybe times were tough or with some experience they might have had. This also helped the students to understand that there are varying and changing levels of poverty. The children in this particular classroom were negotiating a more nuanced understanding of socioeconomic status; one that was not static and simple, but rather fluid and complex (i.e. shaped by larger social structures). Chafel, Seely Flint, Hammel, and Harpole Pomeroy (2007) also share stories of both teachers and researchers who utilized critical literacy in their elementary classrooms to engage children in topics that included poverty and other social issues. Harpole Pomeroy describes her experience as a teacher in an emergency shelter school and some of the discussions she had with her students about their personal experiences living in poverty. By building on students’ lived experiences through literature, Harpole Pomeroy goes beyond a pedestrian approach to social justice-themed children’s literature (O’Neil, 2010). In

Doing More In Relation to the Common Core State Standards

Reading Matters Looking Ahead

Given the emphasis on close reading and deep understanding in the Common Core State Standards, scholars remind us of the “bigger task” at hand. Cunningham and Enriquez (2013) assert: The CCSS ask teachers to think deeply about what it means to be truly literate in the twenty-first century: that we comprehend as well as critique, value citing evidence from the text, and come to understand other perspectives and cultures (p.28). Indeed teachers, and their educators, need to be aware of how effectively children’s literature can be incorporated into the classroom, not only as an exercise in close reading, but also as an exercise in civic engagement (Wolk, 2013). There is so much to be gained from use of this type of literature including involving students in social action projects that they help to create themselves. For example, in a discussion of critical literacy practices in a first-grade classroom, Mary Cowhey (2006) examines how to reimagine the traditional school food drive: Food drives can be a developmentally appropriate activity for young children when used as a vehicle to do the following: Challenge stereotypes; Teach understanding of the complexity of the causes of poverty; Introduce local activists and organizers as role models addressing needs and working for long-term solutions; Empower children to take responsibility in their community; Remove the stigma of poverty. (p. 29) A traditional food drive is one in which no stereotypes of poverty are either addressed or challenged, no critical questions are asked of the students as to why poverty and homelessness occur, no activists are introduced, and students are not empowered to take the lead in creating social action in the community. This traditional approach does not encourage students to dig deeper into the root causes of the issue, it only allows the students to provide a superficial solution to a more widespread issue. Cowhey moves beyond a pedestrian approach to issues of hunger in relation to poverty and homelessness; she is employing thoughtful critical literacy practices that aid in the facilitation of social change. Her re-imagination of the traditional food drive promotes multiple levels of understanding (i.e. individual, community, systemic) and allows students to achieve a greater level of understanding than a pedestrian approach would. Indeed, there is a growing body of critical literacy scholarship about how to create authentic learning experiences that incorporate

Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org | 83 |


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