The Edna L. Sterling Collection


Tavia Quaid



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Concordia University–Wisconsin


This action research study was initiated out of my concern that secondary education was heavily focused on career preparation rather than citizenship and student participation in the democratic process. An interest in how critical literacy teaching methods could increase student democratic consciousness prompted the three-cycle critical action research design. The foundation for the study was critical theory. Critical theorists, in particular seminal writer Paulo Freire (1970), have addressed goals for education that develop student inquiry and analysis of how different types of power are portrayed by writers, thus identifying the key components of critical literacy. Social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1934/1997) addressed literacy methods that align with critical literacy teaching strategies. Vygotsky’s methods are included in the International Baccalaureate’s approaches to teaching and learning: the pedagogic framework for the instruction of IB’s curriculum. The study research question was to what extent does critical literacy, as implemented with the International Baccalaureate’s Approaches to Teaching and Learning, develop students’ democratic consciousness and their skills for participatory democracy. In three ninth grade pre-baccalaureate classes in the Pacific Northwest, this study used critical literacy instructional methods to address reading, speaking, writing, questioning, and creative discourse to develop students’ democratic consciousness. Critical discourse analysis, new historical criticism, reflective journals, research that identified the origin and purpose of the sources, Socratic seminars, informal and formal correspondence, and selfassessment were the key instructional strategies implemented. The cycles were based on three core texts: Cry, the Beloved Country (Paton 1948/2003), The Samurai’s Garden (Tsukiyama, 1994), Enrique’s Journey (Nazario, 2013). Socratic seminars and online discussions expressed student questioning and respect for others’ ideas and perspectives, while creative assessments iii demonstrated student insight and proved the impact of affective learning. Formal letters to elected officials proved students’ ability to present a logical argument for societal improvement. However, the results indicated that more authentic evidence of student democratic participation might have been observed if opportunities for service learning had been included among the instructional methods. The study results demonstrated that younger secondary students showed democratic consciousness in response to multi-skill critical literacy methods that promote student inquiry, reflection, and creativity.






democratic consciousness, critical theory, critical literacy, instructional methods

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The Use of Critical Literacy Methods to Teach for Democratic Consciousness

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