Teaching critical literacy in a higher education institution in a Gulf State
Wood, Marika Michelle
This thesis provides an analytical account of the design, teaching and evaluation of an optional critical literacy course in a higher education institution in a Gulf state. This study set out to address the following research questions: 1) How can one foster critical literacy in students where there are distinct constraints on the freedom of expression and action? 2) To what extent do student and teacher perceptions of critical literacy change throughout the taught course? 3) In what ways, and to what degree, was the course successful in teaching analytical and critical reading? Students’ reactions to, and evaluation of, the course and their perceptions of its value in terms of their analytical skills and critical literacy development were sought throughout. Critical literacy deals with issues of power and social justice. Part of its purpose is to empower the disempowered. As such, teaching critical literacy in any context has associated risks, but taking ahead a research and development project in this geographical context revealed sociopolitical and cultural challenges that have not been considered sufficiently to date in the literature on critical literacy. My research took the form of an action research project, as I designed a course using critical pedagogy to teach students first the analytical skills required to engage with texts before introducing the additional elements which characterize a critical literacy approach. This particular approach was adopted as students had had very little prior experience of textual analysis. Two cohorts of students enrolled on the course, one taught by me and the other by a colleague. Data were collected throughout the 16-week course that included pre- and post-course survey questionnaires with students; pre- and post-course interviews with my colleague; analysis of students’ classwork and assessments across both cohorts; weekly team meetings; and my reflective journal. The data were analysed using thematic analysis to answer the study’s research questions. The key findings were that sociopolitical and cultural constraints limited the type of texts that could be incorporated into the course. They also placed restrictions on class discussions at times. There are also certain virtues and skills required of teachers when teaching critical literacy in this and similar contexts. However, despite these challenges the course did achieve success in teaching analysis and critical literary to students, as significant achievements were evident in their classroom contributions, their on-going work and in their assessments. There is also the potential for the course that was designed, following some minor improvements, to be implemented in other higher educational institutions across the Gulf region, (e.g. United Arab Emirates), by practitioners interested in teaching critical literacy to their students. The importance of teaching textual analysis is emphasized in this study, as these foundations had to be put in place before the teaching of critical literacy could commence. Currently, the literature on critical literacy does not discuss this in much detail. There is a need in future theorizing on critical literacy to consider how its principles could be framed in a way that takes account of the sociopolitical context in which students and teachers have to operate; and similarly for work on critical literacy to consider more closely the affordances and constraints of different contexts.