Response to Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children


Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children by Vivian M. Vasquez

In the wise words of a student from this classroom, “YOU CAN BE STRONG FROM YOUR BRAIN!”

This book basically enacts a lot of the lofty ideas that Mike Rose writes about in Why School?  It talks about how we must include students’ voices, cultures, and backgrounds in our curriculum.  Students have a voice and they are encouraged to share their own thoughts, beliefs, and values with the group and then they are created into artifacts, which in turn will end up on the audit trail.  Students meet in class meetings where they discuss topics that all start off with the central theme and then based on their discussions, it informs what they are going to study and investigate next.  They not only have ideas, yet they have opportunities to act on their questions and make a difference in their contexts.  They create surveys, write petitions, write letters to companies, and tape their conversations in the speaker’s corner to make sure their voices are heard.

She suggests that we offer students critical challenges to their questions.  When a student asked why he couldn’t attend a French Café, she answered with a critical challenge, which treated his question as an opportunity for taking social action and disrupting inequity.  Similar to how Dyson (1993) writes about the social worlds of children learning to write and how children nudge the bounds of the official imaginative universe that prevails in schools.  Vasquez’s student challenged current theoretical and pedagogical thinking, and he did this while participating in the complicated world of school.

She even brought up notions of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1993) that were appropriate and valued in school—her students were aware that print carried meaning and the kinds of language that was more conducive for eliciting a response.

Overall, I thought this book offered a unique perspective on critical literacy.  She notes in the introduction that her desire is to construct spaces where social justice issues can be raised and critical curriculum could be negotiated with children.  After reading the book, I do feel that she accomplished this and I hope to incorporate many of these ideas in my classroom.  I will end with this quote which appropriately summarizes the book, “Chidren who learn using curriculum that is based on what matters to them are more likely to feel that what they are learning is important to their lives” (p. 141).



  1. Which piece of writing produced thus far (either text- or video-based) do you anticipate submitting to e-Anthology 2.0 (
I’m not sure yet…but thanks for reminding me, Dave! I think I may submit something I’ve been working on from the personal writing time or the second video since you suggested that. I’m glad you said something, otherwise I wouldn’t have even thought about submitting it.
       2.  Why are you considering that particular piece for submission?
I like both pieces because I feel that they represent a lot about me and the writing that I produced at UIWP.

So close, but not really…


1. What have you learned during production of Video #2?
I have learned that the littlest thing in editing takes an GINORMOUS amount of time. I have learned never to think I’ll be done in 5 minutes.

2. What are the major challenges you encountered?
I had some challenges with sound. I initially recorded on a flip cam and imovie didn’t really like that. So, I reverted back to recording directly into imovie, which was a better option.  I also simply ran out of time, so the quality of all components was not where I wanted it to be.

3. What are your plans for the evening?

Well, I’m writing this at 8:37 am, so last evening I put the kids down and I pretty much worked on the video =)

Thumbs up for “Why School?”


Rose truly has a gift. I am enamored by his gift of writing and also by him as a person. There were multiple times throughout the text that I had the urge to write down various quotes because I wanted to hold onto his words for a bit longer and I had to sit back for a few moments to think about his thoughts and ideas about schooling.  These are some of the big ideas:

  • He offers a model for an educational program that of necessity meets educational, psychological and social needs in an integrated and comprehensive way.
  • The kinds of opportunity we make available are profoundly affected by what we think education is for.
  • What is the idea of opportunity?  We cannot have this mentality that we all have access to the same opportunities when in reality our values and beliefs are passed down from our family.  The social class of one’s parents is affected by a whole range of factors.
  • We are trapped in a language of schooling that stresses economics, accountability, and compliance.  This language is not one that inspires.
  • One of the contemporary forces shaping the way we think and talk about school has been the proliferation of high-stakes, standardized testing, exemplified in our day by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  What kind of education does a program of testing foster?  That question resonates with an even more basic one: what kind of education befits a democratic society?  Rose’s hope is that we debate the merits and flaws of programs like NCLB and develop more fitting ways to talk about children and the schools that shape their lives.  The current drive to enact and enforce standards by statistical measures dominates schooling. But what effects do such measure have on instruction—standardized measures can limit the development of competence by driving curricula toward the narrow demands of test prep instead of allowing teachers to immerse students in complex problem solving and rich use of language.

Overall, I felt that this book of essays was a charge to educators, parents, and students alike to be more reflective about our thoughts, attitudes, and assumptions on education.  He writes, “Reflection will enable us to reframe the discussion of standards, moving it away from the either-or polarities of equality versus excellence.”  I also am challenged to think about my own students as I plan and teach.  We cannot leave out their histories and cultures as we plan our lessons and units, they must be a part of it. 

Response to Writing to learn vs. Writing for assessment


Anytime we can add thoughtfulness, voice, and creativity to a standard five paragraph essay it’s something to hold onto.  I agree that it’s essential to give kids meaningful opportunities to go back to their writing and to provide tools in the revision process.  The chart provides a scaffold for kids to be reflective and to clearly organize their thoughts.  I also think this would be a neat activity to do with a peer– possibly having a peer work on the front part and if they are able to pick out the subtopics and supports/details for each and then coming back together and swapping papers. This would also provide students with an understanding if someone else got the message that was trying to be conveyed.

I did an activity similar to this when my fifth graders were preparing for the writing portion of the ISATs. After I assessed their papers using the ISAT rubric, they would go through it and highlight their topic sentence, subtopics and support/details for each in different colors. Through this they were able to reflect if the essay had all the “necessary parts,” if it was cohesive, and if there was enough support. And then there was a reflective piece they would work on with a peer.  The students found this to be meaningful and helpful because they were able to have another look at their essays and they also liked getting different perspectives from their peers.

For the second video I’m thinking about…


ImageGrowing up in an immigrant family, I did not have access to many of the same resources that my peers did.  I envied the opportunities and experiences that they had readily available to them: going to Brownies with their moms, sharing the highs and lows of their day in English at family dinners, and having bedtime stories read to them.  A bedtime story may seem to be a literacy event that most families practice.  However, this was not the case in my home.  My parents deeply valued education and they emulated many of the characteristics described in “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”  How could parents value education, yet not read to their children? This is one of the main points I will make in this video, as well as how my own values, beliefs, and experiences with literacy have shaped the way I raise my own children.

Response to Why School?


A few things that resonate with me:

  • I appreciate Rose’s perspective. He writes, “Because education became such a source of meaning in my own life—saved it really—I’ve been attuned to the different ways children give expression to the sense that a particular teacher’s classroom is a good place for them”…(p. 33).  He speaks from his own schooling experience and is able to pair it with his own research. He comes with a particular lens and he offers a different way to see education today.
  • He paints pictures through vignettes that make you feel like you are there and stirs a mix of emotions.  He writes, “Schooling like this is a powerful thing to witness.  And a powerful thing to go through. Over time, you see, you feel something: it’s the experience of democracy itself.  The free play of inquiry.  The affirmation of human ability” (p. 41). 
  • Refers to an appeal for “binocular vision” when regarding poor kids in school, a vision that affords both damage and promise, that enables one to be mindful of the barriers to achievement and still nurture the possible.
  • He also discusses NCLB and does not simply attack the standardized testing and this high-stakes era, yet he poignantly asks to consider NCLB in broader terms and posits a larger question: “what kind of education befits a democratic society?”  Rose’s hope is that we can learn to debate the merits and flaws of programs like NCLB and develop more fitting ways to talk about children and the schools that shape their lives.
  • So far, so good =)