English Teaching: Practice and Critique

Critical literacy as an approach to literary study in the multicultural, high-school classroom

Volume 10 Number 1 May 2011

Terry Locke (University of Waikato, New Zealand)

Alison Cleary (Alfriston College)

As an approach to literary study, critical literacy is not a widespread practice in New Zealand secondary schools. This article draws on a major project on teaching literature in the multicultural classroom that take place over two years in 2008-2009. In it we report on a case study where a Year 13 English teacher designed and tested a novel English programme with a reputedly less able and culturally diverse group of final-year students entitled “13 English – Popular Culture”. In it, she guided her students through a range of reading tasks aimed at developing in her students an awareness of ways in which texts position readers to take up certain meanings and not others through the language used. Over the course of the programme, students moved from compliant readers to readers who were sensitized to the manipulative power of texts. They enjoyed being exposed to a variety of theme-related texts, especially when these empowered them by enabling them to deploy their own cultural resources in responding to and challenging the texts they encountered. Students needed careful scaffolding in respect of metalinguistic understanding in order to be able to discuss the specific ways in which language constructs meaning. Indeed, these students struggled with this aspect of a critical literacy approach. However, despite the fact that these students were engaged in high-stakes assessment at a higher level than in the previous year, all gained more NCEA credits than they had in Year 12.