"Reading" with a question in mind

Focusing on the questioning aspect of critical literacy.

What is critical literacy? What does it mean to be critically literate?

Critical literacy is defined simply as the process readers use to seek out multiple perspectives in texts, expand their reasoning, and become active thinkers (McLaughlin and DeVoogd). Basically, deeply analyze a text to better understand it.

What do you mean by "reading?"

"Reading" and Reading

When we pick up a text to read it, we see words, phrases, sentences, pictures and we process all of that information in our brains. However, take the same text, pick it up and "read" it. What mood are you in, what's going on in your life, who is this author, why not another author, look for things that are overshadowed or missing, consider how it makes you think and feel, give thought to what it will do to change your opinion/perspective on any given issue. "Reading" causes questioning and questioning leads to a better understanding (or sometimes more questions) of a text. Engaging in a meta-cognition of a text. This idea causes readers to recognize their power over literacy events and the ability to use this to navigate through their literate lives.


What did the experts find during their research? What did they really learn?

  1. Text, context, and learner cannot be considered independent of each other (What we're reading, where we are (physically and mentally/emotionally), and who we are work together to play a HUGE role in how we read and comprehend text).
  2. Thinking and reasoning are inherently dialogical (discussions about and around text is innate; we automatically want to talk about what we're reading OR write about it). Think literature circles/book clubs.
  3. Participatory approaches to reading support adolescents academic literacy development that promote peer interaction (because we want to talk about the text with our peers or teachers, we will become actively engaged in our own learning).
  4. Student-centered, not teacher-led/teacher-centered (allowing students to "you do" reading pushes them to learn new things and have new experiences without teacher-bias or the teacher inserting their own opinion/perspective).
  5. Critical Discourse Analysis (this offers a method for the critical examination of behind-the-scenes dimensions of a text through critical discussion questions/prompts; sometimes reading between the lines or inferring).
  6. Seeing the world differently (students expand their reasoning, deepen their understanding, and seek out multiple perspectives which exposes them to a fascinating, intellectual world).
  7. Foundations of reading text are paramount (teachers must consider what students can and cannot read; their reading level.)
Asking and responding to questions while reading--Lesson 4 of 7 (Common Core Standard RL.8.1)

Context and Classroom Practice

Because I read Critical Literacy: Enhancing a Student's Comprehension of Text by McLaughlin and DeVoogd, I was intrigued by learning more about the idea of deeper reading with a question in mind. I already read wanting to know more and thinking about my thinking, but I don't really know how deep I go with my thinking. This led me to consider how this translates to my teaching. Do I teach my kids how to use their meta-cognition to truly reflect and consider how whatever they read may correspond to events or ideas from their own lives? Have I taught them strategies to be more reflective?

The evidece from my research findings, as well as the two class texts read for this class specifically state the necessity for critical literacy and its positive effects on students' comprehension. More specifically, the research I read states that it is vital for students to expand their minds in terms of reader-response, become meta-cognitive, and recognize their power of questioning to change the stance of how they read.

For the last 4 weeks, my students and I have been reading Edward Bloor's fictional novel,

Tangerine. This novel is the perfect example of using this strategy of reading with a question in mind (being meta-cognitive) because it is about a young, 7th grade boy going through family and life changes; his life gets turned upside down. McLaughlin and DeVoogd state "Readers transact with text from aesthetic and efferent stances. The aesthetic stance is a more emotional perspective; the efferent stance is a more factual one." Because of this, some readers are automatically going to question the text and think about their thinking, while others are only concerned with the "facts" presented (what do I need to know to answer comprehension questions from my teacher?"). P. Karen Murphy, et. al found that "Meta-analysis and class discussion play a fundamental role in text-based comprehension." They state that "It is one thing to get students to talk with each other during literacy instruction, but quite another to ensure that such engagement translates into significant learning."

As a result, I realized that I couldn't just put my kids into groups and expect them to "Go to town with their thinking and learning," I had to specifically teach the strategy of how to become meta-cognitive with their thinking and how it really does help with the comprehension and understanding of a text. So, here's what I did:

  1. Before beginning our novel, I engaged my students in a whole-class discussion of what it really means to understand text. We asked questions, gave examples, and practiced it. This lasted for about two days.
  2. Next, we read the front and back cover of the book and made predictions about the story and what other stories we've read that are similar. We held our thinking in our journals.
  3. Then, I introduced the strategy of the double-entry journal to them (see handout). This strategy is a way to get students to establish a method of active reading and generate connections among the text to themself (world, other texts). We then began to read the novel.
  4. Finally, we are now fully emersed in our novel, using the double-entry journal regularly, and are stopping to discuss any questions we have with our partner or the whole class. More importantly, I am designing questions for them to answer (either out loud or in their double-entry journal) that are meta-cognitive and go deeper. The whole-class conversations that come from these questions are deepening our understanding of the text and forcing us to continue to ask thought-provoking questions as we read. It is during this step in our strategy that students are learning about the power they have over their own reading and what stance they are reading from.


What have I learned from this?

I realize that this strategy, for me, is a work in progress. I have only just begun to crack the surface of getting my students to become more meta-cognitive and, because it is the end of the school year, I am limited in my practice with this strategy. I want to see it in practice with seasoned teachers that have been using it for a while and I want to see the "thought process" of their students. I believe this will help me tremendously and I don't think I can teach this strategy next year without observing other teachers and students using it.

This has led me to the realization that I may not have been effectively teaching my students how to read with a specific purpose. I'm certain I have been helping them with their reading comprehension, motivation to read, and their ability to choose appropriate texts. But, I don't think I've been getting to the root of thinking while reading; I think I've grazed over it and maybe spent a day or two here and there, but not an in-depth, strategy-based lesson. So, I now know that I need to start this strategy from DAY ONE next year and approach EVERY text that we read with this strategy. If I do this, my students will have a better chance to perfect (or almost perfect) their ability to be meta-cognitive and go deeper with their questioning while reading.

My plan is to look for summer professional development opportunities that center around this strategy and I think I've found a great source for that......