Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Critical pedagogy encourages students to respond to texts not just as literary critics, but as politically aware members of a community.
One of the central tenets of critical pedagogy, especially as it is outlined by education scholar Paulo Freire, is the establishment of classrooms in which teachers and students learn together. Critical pedagogy allows students to speak with greater authority because they are drawing on knowledge they already possess. While discussing creative assignments, moreover, teachers and students can create a dialogue in which they both learn about the issues they mutually face. At the same time, teachers can help students to find their own voices and their own capacity for action. In this mode, students generate questions and determine the direction of their studies, while teachers participate as equal, fellow members of their shared community.
Critical pedagogy is also a valuable means of helping students to interact with their communities more effectively. By speaking in a self-expressive mode, students are able to connect their own experiences with those of their communities. Just as importantly, students who develop a means for creative political expression begin to consider how they want their thoughts and words to affect others. As students work to guide their own studies, to critique the political ideologies at work in their communities, and to develop creative dialogues with others, they become active, teaching participants in their classrooms and communities. Critical pedagogy, at its heart, moves toward this goal. As educator Henry Giroux writes: "[Critical] pedagogy ... signals how questions of audience, voice, power, and evaluation actively work to construct particular relations between teachers and students, institutions and society, and classrooms and communities."
Impact on teaching literature
Critical pedagogical classrooms encourage students to see literary texts as cultural constructs which both comment on and develop out of given ideologies. They also encourage students to direct their own investigations of literary texts, focusing on issues that are important in their daily lives. That focus often inspires students to read literature more closely, exploring why an author might have made specific literary choices and how those choices support or resist dominant ideologies.
Critical pedagogy also offers students a means of finding connections between literature and their own communities. Because critical pedagogy in literature classrooms combines literary analysis with political action, teachers often find it valuable to move from criticism of a given text to activism in the community. A teacher may begin by encouraging students to investigate the practices of a given culture, for example, and then ask students how these practices support or subvert the political power structure. Students may then write argumentative essays, petitions, or proposals for making positive changes in their communities.
Incorporating critical pedagogy in the classroom
In the classroom, teachers can introduce critical thinking by comparing texts that reflect in different ways on a single political question. A teacher might ask students to compare different kinds of texts that refer to the same issue (for example, medical texts and memoirs that refer to foot-binding); or he or she might ask students to compare multiple literary texts that explore the same issue but in different cultural settings (for example, two memoirs, one Chinese and one African American, both of which focus on the politics of beauty).
By comparing cultural practices from a variety of perspectives, students learn to read critically. In addition, critical pedagogy often forces students to lay aside prejudices about cultures unfamiliar to them. Cultural practices that at first may seem unusually barbaric -- for example, the foot-binding practiced in Ruthanne Lum McCunn's Thousand Pieces of Gold -- seem, after further consideration, to mirror the more familiar and "acceptable" practices of dieting or cosmetic surgery.
Teachers will also want to focus on texts with strong political content, such as memoirs that describe the experiences of people of color, for example, or novels that explore the social and cultural practices of a given community. These texts can help students to locate similar practices in their own communities, so that they can become active participants in their worlds.
Benefits and challenges of using a critical pedagogy approach
A critical pedagogy approach offers students a way to bring texts into their lives in an immediate way: They learn how their thoughts and their actions connect. Critical pedagogy also encourages students to explore how they can make effective arguments. Moreover, by finding ways to critique and change practices in their own communities, students realize that they are ultimately responsible for their communities.
Assignments may consist of papers or presentations that combine literary analysis with historical research or proposals for change. Teachers may also ask students to design their own assignments, responding in a way they see fit to the issues raised in class.
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