Critical Literacy Practices in an Elementary School Classroom: A Study of Teacher Learning

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Critical Literacy Practices in an Elementary School Classroom: A Study of Teacher Learning

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Abstract This study explored the use of critical literacy practices employed by five third-grade teachers during their shared reading instruction. These individuals worked within a community of elementary classrooms. The purpose of the research study was to understand what critical literacy practices looked like as teachers learned about and then refined their practices, and how teacher self-efficacy influenced the implementation of new ideas. I also wanted to understand the experiences of the participant teachers during professional development (PD) sessions as they worked to learn about and integrate critical literacy practices, and how these PD experiences were and will be influenced by the teachers’ individual feelings of self-efficacy. Using an embedded multiple case study methodology, I examined the following research questions: 1. What are teachers’ initial understandings of critical literacy theories and practices? 2. What particular learning processes provided to teachers support their implementation of critical literacy practices? and 3. What do critical literacy practices in elementary classrooms look like? What are the ways in which five third-grade elementary teachers learn to implement critical literacy practices during shared reading? This study was framed through a combination of research on teacher communities and social cognitive theory, matched with the use of qualitative case study method including surveys, interviews, and observations. This qualitative inquiry employed an embedded case study design where each individual teacher was an individual unit of analysis and the grade level team was a second level of analysis. In this case, individual teacher data was nested or embedded within the context of the grade level team. This design allowed me to analyze the data at the individual level and then cross analyze case data at the team level. Findings generated from data analysis indicated team conversations, examples of practice, and the recursive nature of the inquiry process helped to support teachers’ implementation of critical literacy practices. Additionally, findings showed that teachers took up the use of critical questioning and discussions with students during shared reading as a way to implement critical literacy practices. As the study developed, question type appeared to progress and grow in sophistication. Teachers’ knowledge and use of critical literacy increased by the end of the study, and the teachers remarked that knowing more about critical literacy changed how they planned their lessons, how they read texts, and the level of student engagement during those deeper discussions. The findings of this study support four implications for elementary teachers’ practices during shared reading. First, professional development in critical literary practices during shared reading is necessary for increasing depth of text analysis and comprehension for elementary students. Second, professional development and coaching promotes an ongoing, cyclical learning process for teachers, vs. a one-time workshop or training. Third, critical literacy can be used to deepen reading instruction while fitting in with directed curriculum rather than serving as a stand-alone, additional subject that is taught during the school day. Finally, for substantive, sustained changes in critical literacy teaching practices, educators need ongoing team time to productively analyze texts, pre-plan questions, and reflect on lessons together.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2018. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Deborah Dillon. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 128 pages.

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Pesarchick, Melanie. (2018). Critical Literacy Practices in an Elementary School Classroom: A Study of Teacher Learning. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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