A Literary Approach to Self-Esteem

Informational Essay

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Photo credit: Camila Padilla (2015)

What is critical literacy?

Critical literacy is defined as the process to actively read a text in a manner that promotes a deeper understanding of socially constructed concepts, such as inequality, and injustice in human relationships in all school grade-levels (Clarke & Whitney, 2009). Critical literacy can be a powerful tool to encourage individuals to understand and question the attitudes, feelings, values, and beliefs that make up their self-esteem through written texts, visual applications, and spoken words. As children become critically literate they are able to develop and master the ability to read, analyze, critique, and question the messages inherently present within any form of text. Facilitating the development of critical literacy promotes the examination and reform of social situations and exposes students to the hidden schemes within texts. Thus, in order to become critically literate, we must teach students to do more than read and write; students should become agents of social change. Shor (1999) describes the main purpose of critical literacy is to “challenge the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development”, thus allowing us to rethink the world and self dissent in society in order to connect more fully with the personal, the global and the local, the economic and the pedagogical, for rethinking our lives and for promoting social justice. As early childhood and primary years are a crucial site of practice early intervention of different critical literacy strategies, "critical literacy is like a pair of eyeglasses that allows one to see beyond the familiar and comfortable" (Clarke & Whitney, 2009). This is why as we build ourselves in a world that is building us, we produce different expectations of ourselves, different identities, and different levels of self-esteem.

What is Self-Esteem?

The development of the self comes in phases and is shaped by experiences. Confidence and self-esteem play a key role in children’s lifelong success, especially with the willingness to try, and being able to cope with failure. For example, if children believe they are good readers, they will look for opportunities to improve and increase their reading skills; however, if they believe they have difficulties with reading, they will likely avoid tasks associated with reading and give up more easily when they are required to read. Self‐esteem refers to how children feel about themselves and expect to be accepted and valued by others who are important to them (Hoffman & Young, 2004). Because it is important for them to feel accepted, a healthy sense of self is crucial for determining how they will approach life and interact with others. Self‐esteem represents a person’s need to belong and feel loved unconditionally; it is not just a happy positive idea about oneself, but rather a reflection of one’s character and self‐respect. It is based on the person’s ability to handle life situations and tasks; we develop our self‐esteem by interpreting feedback received from others. Therefore, topics like bullying, body appearance, racism, special needs, and peer pressures, which often involve bring-downs, aggressiveness, and sometimes abuse, can lead to a child’s low self-esteem (Unilever, 2015). Helping children develop self-esteem is a matter of helping them gather evidence that they are competent and capable. This evidence needs to be genuine and based on experience. When adults create opportunities for children to take risks and experience success, they are helping them develop a sense of self-worth. An important venue that supportive adults can approach in order to teach children to solve problems and express confidence is through critical literacy.

Enhancing Self-Esteem Through Critical Literacy

As children come to our classrooms as unique individuals, they need to be provided with the best learning environment that is safe and supportive to explore their unique strengths and capabilities. Bibliotherapy has for long been used by teachers across America as a reading process to stimulate academic achievement through helping children cope with some of the most common social issues in schools: bullying and body appearance. This therapeutic method is aimed to assist students with stressful temporary problems in order to improve their learning experience (Sridhar & Vaughn, 2000). A recent study in a second grade classroom, teachers and counselors collaborated in reading interventions using read-alouds and literature circles to target self-esteem issues, such as behavior, peer relationships, self-control, physical development, stress, dealing with feelings and emotions, and school success (Stringer, Reynolds, & Simpson, 2003). The method required teachers and counselors to use developmentally, age appropriate books that address a variety of self-esteem concerns typical of second graders. The teachers and counselors served as facilitators in the guided, open discussion reading process in order to create a positive link between the child and the text to promote the student’s self-observation in order to facilitate the student’s self-identification with the main character’s emotions and experiences (Meller, Richardson, & Hatch, 2009). The bibliotherapeutic process has been recommended to school psychologists and teachers to encourage children to use their critical literacy skills to create intertextual connections that will help them build on their knowledge about their inner self. Because learning is so complex, “the most accomplished teachers learn to teach with the end goals of readers and learners in mind” (WETA, 2015), and find the best strategies to implement reading instruction, critical literacy, and classroom strategies and activities with the purpose of reaching every single student, and support parents at home.