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Critical Literacy Critical Teaching: Tools for Preparing Responsive Teachers

reviewed by Glenda Moss - 2006

coverTitle: Critical Literacy Critical Teaching: Tools for Preparing Responsive Teachers
Author(s): Cheryl Dozier, Peter Johnston, Rebecca Rogers
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807746452, Pages: 210, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

I wondered how far I would read into this book before making a meaningful connection out of which to converse and begin this book review, or response. I am on page 79 and I want to talk to Cheri Collisson and Nakresha and other teachers and learners who are exploring what it means to be critically literate, to teach for critical literacy development, and to prepare culturally responsive teachers. Although I am now 56, I can still remember both years that I attended second grade. I continued to be placed in the lowest reading group at the end of the second year in second grade. I was in grade nine and Grace Shelton was my teacher, when I learned to skip words that I did not know and move forward in becoming a reader.

Grace became my English teacher in January 1965. She assigned my class to read The House of Seven Gables. I laughed as I looked at the 187-page book with small print and one small sketch of the house near the end of the book. Only when I looked at the sketch did I have any concept of a “gable.” I told Mrs. Shelton there was no way I could read that book. She listened to my narrative story of failure to learn to read and declared to me that people had “lied” to me, that I “could” read. She then proceeded to teach me a strategy for reading. No, she did not call it “strategic reading,” I picked that up on page 79 of Critical Literacy Critical Teaching. Mrs. Shelton told me to read all of the words I knew on each page of the book and skip the ones I did not know. What freedom! The focus was not on what I did not know or could not do; the focus was on what I was capable of doing. That is one of the primary themes of critical teaching for critical literacy.

I responded, “I won’t be able to pass your daily quizzes.”

She engaged me, “If you read all of the words you know on the pages assigned for homework, put your name on the card (3 x 5) and turn it in. If you do not read all of the words you know on the pages, do not turn in a card.” She trusted me.

I could do that and did. Each day I turned in a card with my name on it with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. It was not until the end of the book that I actually knew a couple of answers to her comprehension questions. Somewhere along the way, I had started going back to words that I skipped and made sense out of them. I even started looking up a few words in the dictionary because I wanted to know what they meant so I could understand what I was reading. I read every word that I knew in that book and some that I did not previously know. I listened to the book discussion during class.

I had conversations with Mrs. Shelton everyday. We talked about my basketball games, my family, and what I thought about various conflicts that were going on within the school. I had never had a conversation with a teacher before Mrs. Shelton. Literacy involves speaking, listening, reading, writing, observing, and critically thinking.

When I read part one of Critical Literacy Critical Teaching, I was not sure why a secondary teacher educator was asked to review this book study of a Literacy Lab class situated in an elementary setting. I thought about my use of critical dialogue to promote student learning in the middle school setting, high school setting, and university setting (Moss, 2004b). While my utilization of critical ethnography and critical narrative methods as a scholar–practitioner model (Moss, 2004a) of inquiry for practice, inquiry in practice, and inquiry of practice resulted in meaningful connections with the authors’ integration of research and teaching, and inquiry and practice through case studies, ethnography, and teacher research, I questioned whether secondary teacher educators would be able to use this text in a critical reading in the content area course.

Critical Literacy Critical Teaching is not designed to be used in a traditional way as a textbook in a literacy education course, but it is an excellent read for classroom teachers or preservice teachers interested in critical, inquiry-based teaching. The subtitle, “Tools For Preparing Responsive Teachers” may suggest the book offers direct instruction, yet the authors’ presentation of a “data poem” from “excerpts from teachers’ final reflective essays” indicates the book is a narrative analysis of using a Literacy Lab to develop critical literacy among classroom teachers and their students.

Telling is not teaching.

I was interrogating my student,

Not engaging in conversation.

Good teaching does not come from a book

Or a prepackaged curriculum kit.

Good teaching comes from

Following the lead of my learner. (p. 164)

It is clear that this text presents a study of a specific literacy class, “Literacy Lab,” which closely connects teacher education and development within the urban schools context. In part, the class can be compared to site-based field experiences, professional development school models, reading clinics, lab schools, and service learning projects. The authors describe the Literacy Lab, its connection to their literacy education courses, the use of inquiry based methods, and case studies of participants.

I am writing this responsive review within the tension presented by the complexity of what critical literacy and critical teaching means, who is defining it, who does it, and who receives it. The authors state that “the histories teachers bring to our program reflect their schooling in a very uncritical literacy in a segregated society” and “consequently, our tools are designed to disrupt these learning histories and help expand teachers’ interest in the discomfort of learning and teaching a literacy of agency—a critical literacy—with the aim of achieving a more socially just society. Our experiences show that these changes in teaching are tied to changes in the ways teachers view children, themselves, and literacy learning” (p. 165). The authors make a clear case for the role of conversation in building relationship, negotiating learning and teaching, and analyzing processes and strategies. They present the “changed” way of conversing and interacting between teacher and student as “dialogue” and a “shift toward a more symmetrical relationship” (p. 154).

It doesn’t take close analysis to see that the elementary students used as subjects in the literacy lab class are identified in a way that communicates they are outside an established standard of literacy progress as “a sixth-grader who must leave his after-school YMCA class to go to a ‘tutor’ in the Literacy Lab” (p. 168), the teacher dominates the questioning part of the conversations, the teacher has the authority to judge answers by saying “good” (p. 155), and developing an interest and skills in reading is the goal. Critical teaching is evidenced by the teachers’ ability to relate to marginalized students’ lives and engage in meaningful conversations out of which the teacher and student learn. Problematic for me is the nature of the teacher learning—better understanding the child so as to be able to mediate successfully the learning process toward State established definitions of literacy within No Child Left Behind legislation. This tension indicates the book would be an excellent choice for study by educators who wish to engage in critical self-reflection and critical dialogue as paths to personal and professional growth towards becoming reflective practitioners as defined by reflection in practice for changed action (Rogers, 2002).   


Moss, G. (2004a). A narrative analysis of scholar-practitioner teacher leadership preparation. Journal of School Leadership, 14(2), 171–194.

Moss, G. (May, 2004b). Teacher-students dialogue to promote critical thinking. Middle School Journal, 35(5), 40–49.

Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), 842–866.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 8, 2006, p. 1691-1694
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12276, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 7:03:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Glenda Moss
    Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne
    E-mail Author
    GLENDA MOSS, an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne, is Co-Site Director for the Appleseed Writing Project—Indiana and co-editor of Scholarly Partnerships Edu. Following 13 years as a full-time middle school teacher, she now prepares secondary teachers. Moss views her teaching and researcher as inseparable, using critical narrative inquiry methods in her teaching and research of her teaching. She believes in the potential of critical narrative inquiry as a path to developing critical pedagogy among teachers and is working with Hampton Press on a book publication, Crossing Boundaries and Building Learning Communities: Critical Education and Narrative Research as Praxis, to present narrative inquiry as a tool for revitalizing teacher education. Moss researches critical narrative inquiry and uses the same inquiry methods to research and develop teacher education, critical pedagogy, multicultural education, portfolio assessment, and educational leadership.
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