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Critical literacy

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In previous posts I have outlined how an author uses particular textual elements in order to convey their intended message. Authors creatively choose particular words, language features and visual elements in order to manipulate the reader into believing a particular point of view (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl, & Holliday, 2010). This does not mean manipulation in a bad way, all texts want the reader to be convinced of something, for example, Joyce (2012) uses colour to convince the reader of the character’s sorrow in The Fantastic Flying books of Mr Morris Lessmore. However, author’s intentions are not always confined to the development of narrative elements. Texts can be used to convince a reader/viewer to consume a particular product, for example, or perhaps to believe one point of view over another. This is when being a critically literate reader provides much more than aesthetic benefit alone.

Critical literacy involves the analysis of texts in the search for underlying messages of the author’s intent (Temple, Ogle, Crawford & Freppon, 2011). Rowan (2001) asserts that all decisions made by an author communicate something about their values. Critical literacy involves the consideration that texts are written by a particular person within a particular time and place and knowing that the text can reflect the social, historical and cultural values and issues of those contexts (Temple, et al., 2011). A critically literate individual will read in an active way by looking for signs of how the author is trying to position the reader’s point of view (Winch, et al., 2010). This does not need to occur through the deep analysis of every text; rather, it is a developed way of thinking; a hint of scepticism that applies to every day interactions with texts of all forms (Temple, et al., 2011).

Winch et al. (2010) point out that critical literacy also involves understanding how a reader’s own views influence the interpretation of how a story or event or character is portrayed. The image below serves to exemplify this and the fact that critical literacy applies to all text types:

Consider two possible interpretations of this advertisement: 1) this lawn mower is so easy to use that even a woman can operate it which degrades the capabilities of women and portrays them as weak; or 2) society has moved so far forward in equality for women that it is becoming a social norm for women to be seen in traditionally masculine roles and it would therefore be abnormal to not show a woman in this role.

I could interpret it in one way or another depending on my experiences and the attitudes and dispositions that I have developed.

Critical literacy, therefore, is a powerful tool. It involves analysing texts, through both intensive analysis and general day to day scepticism, and requires an understanding of self, as well as how textual features can be used to create meaning. Being a critically literate reader gives me power over my own thinking as I am able to understand how I am being manipulated and make a choice as to whether I agree with the author’s portrayal or not.


Joyce, W. E. (2012). The fantastic flying books of Mr Morris Lessmore. London, UK: Simon and Schuster.

Rowan, L. (2001). Write me in: Inclusive texts in the primary classroom. Newtown, NSW: PETA.

Temple, C., Ogle, D., Crawford, A. & Freppon, P. (2011). All children read: teaching for literacy in today’s diverse classrooms (3rd ed.). Boston, USA: Pearson.

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.

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