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Questions that matter, conversations that count: Implementing critical literacy with young children

Raella Kahuroa
Abstract: 

 

This article describes how two critical literacy activities were successfully incorporated into an early childhood centre in Aotearoa New Zealand. The article discusses the design of the activities, how the activities worked in the classroom, and the children’s perceived learning. The article concludes that critical literacy activities with young children are possible. This was achieved through the use of critical questions and critical conversations that address issues that truly matter to the children concerned.

Questions that matter, conversations that count

Implementing critical literacy with young children

Raella Kahuroa

This article describes how two critical literacy activities were successfully incorporated into an early childhood centre in Aotearoa New Zealand. The article discusses the design of the activities, how the activities worked in the classroom, and the children’s perceived learning. The article concludes that critical literacy activities with young children are possible. This was achieved through the use of critical questions and critical conversations that address issues that truly matter to the children concerned.

Introduction

It was during my postgraduate studies in education that I first heard about critical literacy and became excited about providing learners with opportunities to become text analysts, as opposed to simply being text consumers (Luke & Freebody, 1999; Vasquez, 2007). The more I learnt about it, the more I wanted to use this approach in the early childhood centre where I worked.

Implementing such a programme was not straightforward. The majority of the literature, while enlightening, focused on high-school (for example, Locke & Cleary, 2010; Sandretto, 2011; Sturgess & Locke, 2009) or primary-school-aged learners (Vasquez, 2003). Reasons for this focus include the language- and text-rich nature of critical literacy work, as well as the use of higher order thinking. Such requirements lend themselves naturally to older learners, whereas for preschool children the same requirements were potential barriers to entry.

With no clear pathway forward, formal research in the form of a Master of Education thesis became the most appropriate way to proceed. This article examines two activities from that research, both centered on the multimodal text of children’s stickers. A brief explanation of critical literacy concepts prefaces discussion of each of the activities in turn, with particular attention paid to how those activities were prepared, and the texts for each activity selected, accompanied by an analysis that discusses perceived learning from the research.

Seeing the world through critical literacy frames

Since critical literacy is not widely adopted in teaching practice, it is worthwhile to provide some brief explanation of what the approach encompasses.

The question of “What is critical literacy?” is always challenging as this approach can be taught in a variety of ways,1 draw on different theoretical traditions,2 and reference various practice models.3 A working definition from the work of Vasquez, Egawa, Harste, and Thompson (2004) describes the approach as:

The body of practices that involve the critical analysis and transformation of texts, based on the understanding that texts are ideologically charged and as such represent particular points of view where some perspectives are silenced while other perspectives are privileged. These practices also operate on the belief that texts are socially constructed and therefore can be reconstructed. (p. xiv)

In other words, critical literacy encourages readers to look at texts through different critical frames, and to ask questions or have conversations about what they see from those perspectives. Sandretto (2011) identifies 13 different frames, or themes, that are often used in critical literacy analysis, including age, race/ethnicity, consumerism, class, culture, gender, stereotypes, environmental issues, historical context, ability, choice, sexuality, and difference (p. 76). To these must also be added the overarching and intertwined issue of power, as power affects the way in which society allocates value and priority to all of these themes (Janks, 2010).

As the above list of themes may indicate, critical literacy has strong roots in social justice (Freire, 1996; Janks, 2010). Texts are used as a way of understanding how ideas, normalities, values, and priorities are maintained and perpetuated through language forms (Janks, 2010). To this end, in critical literacy attention is paid to uncovering those discourses (Gee, 2012) or stories (Locke, 2004) that we use to make sense of the world. These stories are frequently invisible to us and seldom acknowledged consciously (Locke, 2004). Critical literacy pushes us to identify what we have subconsciously absorbed from our environment and adopted as “the norm”, through the exploration of the texts we use (Lewison, Leland, & Harste, 2008).

It is worthwhile to note that the term texts is interpreted very broadly in critical literacy. Texts includes “everyday” texts (Vasquez, 2003), such as advertising and product packaging, as well as multimodal texts that can be “written, verbal, digital, live or moving” (Sandretto, 2011, p. 75). The inclusion of multimodality is particularly significant for early childhood practice, given that preschool children are not usually print readers. In this article, the primary texts used were children’s stickers.

Another important part of critical literacy theory is the idea that no text is neutral. Janks makes her case against neutrality by pointing out that all texts “are designed to convey particular meanings in particular ways and to have particular effects. Moreover, they are designed to be believed” (2010, p. 61). By taking the position that texts are value-laden, readers give themselves space to ask critical questions. Through critical literacy analysis, texts can be repositioned as versions of reality, perspectives on the world, or as representative constructs (Janks, 2010) rather than as definitive authorities.

Consideration must also be given to the compatibility of a critical literacy approach with the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996). Critical literacy can be situated within wider notions of social justice, notions that align with some of the learning intentions expressed in the curriculum. Such intentions include children learning to recognise discriminatory practices and behaviour (p. 66), being able to take points of view other than their own and to empathise with others (p. 70), and developing an emergent sense of diversity and fairness (p. 66). These examples align with critical literacy aims, such as developing a critical stance (Lewison et al., 2008), and go some way towards demonstrating that there is room for a critical literacy approach in Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996).

Putting critical literacy to work in the classroom

My research began with a question: Could a critical literacy approach be constructively used in an early childhood centre in Aotearoa New Zealand? And if it could, what could that teaching and learning look like?

The resulting research was conducted as part of my Master of Education programme through the University of Waikato. I was both teacher and researcher, with the study being carried out in the centre where I worked at Paddingtons Kindergarten in Rimu Street, Hamilton. Paddingtons is a privately owned early childhood education centre for children aged 2–5, catering for a maximum of 27 children per session.

The study worked with a small participant group of seven children, all aged 4 at the time the research commenced. The group was composed of three boys and four girls, with two of the children identifying as Māori, one identifying as Filipino, and the remainder identifying as either Pākehā or European. The children were also to be referred to by pseudonym in all written work, to protect their privacy.

Ethical requirements4 included the holding of an information evening for interested parents, information and consent letters for parents, information and assent letters for the child participants, and a requirement for me to wear a distinctive item of clothing5 that would serve as a way of visually identifying whether we were doing the research activities, or continuing with our regular programme. Each participant child was also able to choose a sticker at the end of each activity. No other incentive was provided. Additionally, all raw data gathered was to be kept secure and confidential, particularly videos and photographs of the children and their work.

Critical literacy can be used successfully in an early childhood centre, and in these examples the approach provided a meaningful way to explore a real-world topic with young children in a sense-making and exploratory way.

The study used teacher research methodology to justify my role as both teacher and researcher (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993), and an action research methodological approach to carry out the study. Sixteen action research cycles based on the approach of Kemmis and McTaggart (2005), comprised the data-collection period.

This article particularly focuses on two activities that took place over a period of 3 weeks, from late October to mid-November in 2012. The study began to get really interesting when I realised that what was really important to the children at that point was the serious subject of gender boundaries. Of course, this is not what the children called it, preferring terms like girl things or boy things. It all began with a princess sticker, and it was completely accidental.

Stickers: A story about gendered choices

It was the end of Activity 9,6 and the children were busy selecting their participation stickers. David wanted a princess sticker, but was stopped by Olivia and Maya who told him princess stickers were girl stickers. Immediately I was intrigued, and so the conversation began.

Me: Can David have a girl’s sticker?
Olivia & Maya: (in unison) No!
Me: How come?
Maya: ’Cause he’s not a girl, he’s a boy, ’cause he can have a boy sticker.
Me: So what makes him—what makes these girls’ stickers? Why are they girls’ stickers?
Maya: Yeah ’cause this is girl stickers.

What really surprised me in our discussion was the depth of feeling the girls had on this topic. They appeared decisive, passionate, and united in their efforts to stop David taking a girl sticker. Prior to this activity, the girls’ participation had been consistent, but muted. This sudden engagement captured my attention.

After being confronted by the girls, David quickly turned his attention from the princess stickers to Ben 10 stickers. Ben 10, with its watch-slapping, alien-transforming, eponymous male hero, can be considered firmly in “boy sticker” territory.

Me: David, what do you think? Do you think you should be able to have a sticker like that? (I gesture towards the princess stickers)
David: [indistinct] Get that one (He taps a Ben 10 sticker three times with his finger)
Me: You want a Ben 10, that’s totally fine, do you think you should be able to have one of these? (I point to the princess stickers)
David: No.
Me: How come?
David: ’Cause I don’t want one.
Me: Sometimes you like girl stickers though.

David’s actions also interested me. As his teacher, I knew David frequently elected to play with items traditionally identified as feminine. From my perspective, his interest in the princess sticker was consistent with what I had observed. Yet, on this occasion, when confronted by his female classmates, he immediately turned to stickers that could easily be considered “boy”. Even my attempt to support his prior interests by reminding him that he sometimes liked girl stickers was not enough. David accepted the girls’ rebuke without argument, selected the Ben 10 sticker in good humour, and that was that.

In reviewing the sticker video, I noticed how the children were using a text to establish gender boundaries by labeling the stickers as either “boy” or “girl”. This understanding helped me recognise that the stickers were a text that mattered to the children. This approach of selecting a text because of the children’s engagement with it is consistent with the work of other teachers (Lewison et al., 2008; Vasquez, 2004).

I consequently devoted two activities in the study to the sticker texts. This was not the first time I had encountered children reinforcing gender boundaries amongst themselves in the classroom. However, this was the first time I had attempted to explore those boundaries in any serious way with the children.

What we did: Using critical questions with the children

The two activities in the study used few resources and were completed in less than 15 minutes each. In the teaching sequence of the data collection they were activities 13 and 15. Activity 13 took place on 7 November 2012 at 11.27 am, while activity 15 took place on 14 November at 11.21 am.

Activity 13

This activity was designed to help the children “see” the gender boundaries they were enforcing. Lewison et al. (2008) call this process naming, describing it “as articulating thoughts that are outside of commonplace notions of what is natural” (p. 13). Naming can be a good starting point in critical literacy work (Lewison et al., 2008) as it encourages learners to identify what ideas they are currently taking for granted in a text.

But how to help the children see what was invisible to them? This was the challenge. The response to that challenge came in two parts: first, through the selection of the stickers themselves, and, second, through the careful design of the questions.

Five stickers were chosen for this activity, either because they enforced the children’s current ideas about gendered items, or because they contained elements that could potentially challenge those ideas. The use of multiple (albeit, very small) visual texts provided opportunities to contrast and compare elements and ideas against each other, and hopefully provoke discussion. This use is a simplified form of the approach used by Locke and Cleary (2010).

Each sticker was placed on an individual piece of card so that it could be easily focused on. The first two stickers selected were overtly “boy” or “girl” oriented, one being a Ben 10 sticker and the other a princess sticker. These stickers were included to provide a contrast both to each other and to the additional stickers introduced after them. The third and fourth stickers were picked because each contained elements that could belong to either gender. These two consisted of, first, a green cartoon insect wearing a bow tie, with a small pink flower near its tail, and, second, an orange flower surrounded by blue swirls. Because each sticker contained both “boy” and “girl” elements, the children needed to pay close attention to the details of each sticker, thus encouraging them to name what they saw. The last picture was of the cartoon figure SpongeBob SquarePants, who, despite being male, was also non-human, and popular with children of both genders.

The second part of preparing this activity focused on the questions used. Earlier in the study my questions had been interrogative and closed in nature. Here, I focused instead on using authentic questioning (Sandretto, 2011). This form of questioning is open-ended, and genuinely embraces the learner’s perspective and ideas rather than rigidly adhering to the teacher’s agenda. It also shuns the IRE pattern of initiation-response-evaluation (Sandretto, 2011), which tends to close conversation rather than extend or continue unpacking it.

I purposefully used only two questions, and they reflected my best thinking at the time. The questions were “What stickers would you choose?” and “Why did you pick those stickers?” Other more open-ended questions I could have used could have included “What can you tell me about this sticker?”, “What makes this a boy/girl sticker?” or, “What do you like/dislike about this sticker?”

With the stickers selected and my questions prepared the activity was ready. I had no particular plan about how the discussion could develop. I considered this aspect important; in previous activities preconceptions about what should be accomplished had closed learning opportunities. Sandretto (2011) also notes the importance of teachers remaining open to student input and ideas in critical literacy discussions. I set the stage with the sticker text, used the questions as an invitation to join what I hoped would be an interesting conversation, and the activity commenced.

A small excerpt is included from Activity 13 to give some indication of how the questions played out in context. In this conversation, Zach and David have just selected the Ben 10 sticker as one that they liked.

Me: So what is it about Ben 10 you like?
Zach: [he slaps his wrist, mimicking the action of Ben 10 hitting his special watch] ’Cause he’s got a watch with animals in it, and he turns in something.
David: And he’s got a cool watch.
Me: He does have a cool watch. Who didn’t pick Ben 10?

Olivia, Pania, and Maya [all girls] can be seen to raise their hands.

Me: How come we didn’t pick Ben 10?
Maya & Olivia: [in unison] ’Cause we don’t like it.
Me: How come we don’t like it?
Maya: That’s not a girl, that’s a boy.

In this short passage, Maya makes a clear statement about gender boundaries. She starts by clarifying why she has rejected Ben 10: it is because the character is not a girl. It is interesting to note that she starts by saying how the character is different to her, using her own gender as the point of reference. The implication here is that because she is a girl and Ben 10 is not, he is different to her and therefore not desired. Being able to see this boundary to the point where Maya can name it verbally is a significant step towards consciously engaging with texts (Lewison et al., 2008). Consciously engaging can be seen as the first step towards adopting a critical stance, whereby learners begin to develop thoughtful responses to texts (Lewison et al., 2008).

Maya’s response highlights another important point of critical literacy theory: that often you have to sit outside a particular discourse or way of being in order to be able to see it clearly (Janks, 2010). The boys, who are “inside” the world of Ben 10, do not overtly comment on the character’s gender and instead reference his special abilities. Maya, who sits “outside” the Ben 10 world simply because she is female, is quick to identify gender as the reason for her dislike.

Activity 15

The focus of this activity was on the kinds of sticker choices children made for others in the group. I hoped that encouraging the children to choose stickers for each other, particularly across genders, would help make visible the rationales they were employing. This invitation to choose can be considered as entertaining multiple ways of being (Lewison et al., 2008). By encouraging children to choose a sticker for another child, they needed to consider what that child might like—to try and see the stickers from that person’s perspective.

Of the eight sticker books used, four were based on Ben 10, the movie Cars, Disney princesses, and SpongeBob SquarePants, and four followed themes of transport, flowers, smiley faces, and Japanese erasers respectively. The questions used were framed as “Which sticker book would you pick from for [child’s name]?” After the child made a selection, I would follow up with an additional question: “How come you would pick this one for [child’s name]?” Part of our conversation follows.

Me: Ok, what would you pick for you Zach?
Zach: [Zach picks up the Ben 10 sticker book and points to a creature that he verbally identifies as a fox]
Me: Cool, how come you picked this one?
Zach: ’Cause I want a fox sticker.
Me: Could I give these ones to the girls?
Zach & David: No.
Me: [to the girls] Would you not want them?
Maya & Olivia: [shake heads] That’s a boy sticker.
Me: How do you know it’s a boy sticker, these don’t look like boy or girl stickers?
Zach: I like that one.
Me: Ok, so can you tell me why these are boy stickers? [I hold up the entire Ben 10 sticker book]
Zach: ’Cause they are … [tapers off]
David: ’Cause, ’cause, ’cause them all has boys on them.

In a similar way to Maya in the previous activity, here David arrives at the conclusion that the Ben 10 stickers are boy stickers because they have boys on them. David’s eventual statement of “’cause them all has boys on them” indicates that he has seen what makes the group identify the stickers as “boy”—it is the depiction of gender. Like Maya, David is consciously engaged in naming (Lewison et al., 2008). The difference between his statement and Maya’s in the previous example is that David is a boy himself, and associates with the Ben 10 world.

This insight was not easy, and both Zach and David struggled to formulate their responses. Given time, David gave an answer that made sense to him, and one that Zach did not contest. The literature supports the idea of naming as difficult, stating that “humans think using unconscious frames” (Lewison et al., 2008, p. 13). This is particularly true when the individual is located inside the frame or discourse being examined, as David was here.

It is also worth noting that both boys had time to think about their responses and were not rushed into responding. Wait time is important for critical literacy dialogue (Lewison et al., 2008; Sandretto, 2011) as learners are being asked to engage in new and complex ways of thinking and responding to texts. Therefore, giving learners time to formulate their responses is conducive to supporting and extending critical conversations.

However, these examples did not necessarily mean that the thinking of all the children was changing. At a different point during the activity I asked Zach if I could have a boy sticker. He said, “No. ’Cause you’re a girl.” While Zach was articulating the reason for his decision, and by doing so engaging in consciously naming (Lewison et al., 2008), he was also using that same language to draw boundaries for me. This was interesting as his language choices suggested that even though he could see gender as a significant factor in our conversations, it had not caused him to think any differently.

However, changing thinking is not necessarily what critical literacy is about. Some practitioners, including myself, consider the critical literacy learning journey as extending an invitation, beginning a dialogue, starting a journey, or planting seeds (Sandretto, 2011). Critical conversations need not result in any appreciable outward change in the child’s thinking (Sandretto, 2011). It is the process of making that thinking visible, perhaps even understanding that ideas can be investigated, that is important.

What we learned: Sharing our thinking through critical conversation

Two of the children also shared their thinking with others. This took place in child-initiated conversations that followed through on ideas from the activities. These conversations counted, because they touched on something that was truly important to the child concerned. They saw the children revisit ideas about gender, and gender boundaries, but by their own choice and in their own time.

Olivia initiated a conversation that counted using critical questions; this conversation was related by her mother during our interview at the conclusion of data collection. Olivia had raised the issue of gendered choices with her mother, by asking who could wear blue and who could wear pink. Her mother had asked if Olivia, as a girl, could wear blue. Olivia had responded yes, she could. However, when her mother asked if boys could wear pink, Olivia had said no.

Olivia’s mother had considered this conversation unusual at the time, and had wondered if it had something to do with our work at kindergarten. The time frame provided placed Olivia’s conversation in the midst of our work on stickers. Lewison et al. (2008) indicate that asking questions that make a difference is one way of conducting critical inquiry. This questioning appeared to be what Olivia was doing here as she extended her thinking about boy and girl things to clothing.

Maya also initiated a critical conversation, this time with me. During our work with stickers, but outside of the activities, Maya decided to talk with me about who could have stickers. She gave clear indications of her shifting thinking, saying, “David likes boy stickers but girls can like boy stickers, David likes, um, girl stickers.” She immediately had my attention, as this statement was in contradiction to her original statement, the one that had started the sticker topic. Now Maya seemed to be rethinking that position, at least to the point where she indicated some acceptance of David’s preferences, whatever they might be. Our conversation continued:

Maya: David can like the stickers, ’cause you give David a sticker, a girl sticker.
Me: Well, he liked a girl sticker.
Maya: Yeah. He can have girl stuff, David.

In this portion of the conversation Maya seems to be doing what Lewison et al. (2008) call “entertaining multiple ways of being”. She shows some recognition that David has a perspective, and indicates some respect for that position by stating he can indeed have girl stuff, as he had once wanted. This generosity did not stop with David. As our conversation continued, I asked more questions about her new position:

Me: So, who could have a princess sticker?
Maya: Boys can.
Me: Wow, cool. Who else could have a princess sticker?
Maya: Zach.

Here, Maya’s thinking seems to have been extended more widely than just David. Through Maya’s dialogue I see evidence of her growing ability to inquire as she accepts a viewpoint other than her own, a viewpoint she had originally taken a very different position on.

Maya’s thinking on the boy/girl topic is far from settled, but the fact that she could contest those discourses in some way was a big step. Clearly she had been thinking about it and had something to say. That she voluntarily opted to talk about these discourses in a sense-making way was also significant. To me this demonstrates her emergent reflexivity, which can be described from a critical literacy perspective as an awareness of one’s own role in perpetuating the current status quo (Lewison et al., 2008). By using language to redefine gender boundaries in a broader and more equitable way, Maya shows her willingness to change the status quo, with some recognition that the previous system limited David’s choices.

My role in this conversation shifted as well. Whereas in previous conversations I had been initiator and extender, in this conversation the more appropriate position to adopt was that of listener and sounding board for Maya. Sandretto (2011) describes this shift as repositioning, where a teacher relinquishes expertise and authority within the critical dialogue to enable students to find their own position.

In conclusion: Thinking about a critical literacy approach

Critical literacy can be used successfully in an early childhood centre, and in these examples the approach provided a meaningful way to explore a real-world topic with young children in a sense-making and exploratory way. Through simple visual texts, young children were able to make visible some of their thinking by using critical questions and critical conversation—because these were questions that mattered to the children, and conversations that counted for them.

This work has changed the way I teach. I have realised there is a lot to be gained from questions, conversation, and critical analysis of both serious and important things. This approach is supported by Vasquez (2004), who also found a high level of engagement with her preschool students regarding serious social justice matters, such as gender equity, discrimination, ageism, and fair representation, to name a few.

Using this approach, texts are no longer static but fluid and negotiable mediums that can reveal the ideas, biases, boundaries, and thinking of both individuals and society (Lewison et al., 2008), as well as being a means to revisit and reinvent the same. I have learned to look at the text of a child’s actions and conversation with the aim of trying to see what actually matters to them. Now, I can see how the right questions can take you anywhere a child wants to go. Being open to that possibility is an exciting thing indeed.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the children, teachers, and management of Paddingtons Kindergarten for their support. I am particularly grateful to the children of the participation group and their families for their time and their stories. I would also like to thank my supervisors, Terry Locke and Linda Mitchell, for their guidance and assistance, as well as Amanda Bateman for the timely help provided as my critical friend.

Notes

Critical literacy can be used successfully in an early childhood centre, and in these examples the approach provided a meaningful way to explore a realworld topic with young children in a sense-making and exploratory way.

References

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1993). Inside/outside: Teacher research and knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press.

Freire, P. (1998). First letter: Reading the world/reading the word. In S. Steinberg, J. Kincheloe, & P. McLaren (Series Eds.), Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare teach (D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliverira (Trans.), pp. 17–26). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses (4th ed.). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Janks, H. (2010). Literacy and power. New York: Routledge.

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2005). Participatory action research: Communicative action and the public sphere. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed., pp. 559–603). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lewison, M., Leland, C., & Harste, J. C. (2008). Creating critical classrooms: K-8 reading and writing with an edge. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Locke, T. (2004). Critical discourse analysis. London: Continuum.

Locke, T., & Cleary, A. (2010). Critical literacy as an approach to literary study in the multicultural, high-school classroom. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(1), 119–139.

Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1999). Further notes on the four resources model. Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/research/lukefreebody.html#freebodyluke

Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

Sandretto, S. (2011). Planting seeds: Embedding critical literacy into your classroom programme. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Sturgess, J., & Locke, T. (2009). Beyond Shrek: Fairy tale magic in the multicultural classroom. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(3), 379–402.

Vasquez, V. (2003). Getting beyond “I like the book”: Creating space for critical literacy in K-6 classrooms. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Vasquez, V. (2004). Negotiating critical literacies with young children. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Vasquez, V. (2007). Using the everyday to engage in critical literacy with young children. New England Reading Association Journal, 43(2), 6–11.

Vasquez, V., Egawa, K., Harste, J. C., & Thompson, R. D. (Eds.). (2004). Literacy as social practice: Primary voices K-6. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Raella Kahuroa is a teacher at Paddingtons Kindergarten in Hamilton.

Email: rdek@ihug.co.nz

1Examples of the different ways classroom teachers have approached critical literacy teaching can be found in the work of Lewison, Leland, and Harste (2008) and Vasquez (2003, 2004). Vasquez (2004) focuses exclusively on critical literacy with preschool children, although in a Canadian setting.

2Sandretto (2011) provides a discussion of the different theoretical traditions that can be seen as underpinning critical literacy practice.

3Examples of critical literacy practice models include the four resources model (Luke & Freebody, 1999), the instructional model (Lewison et al., 2008), the Janks synthesis model (Janks, 2010), and, from an Aotearoa New Zealand context, the critical literacy poster (Sandretto, 2011).

4Ethical consent for this study was secured through the University of Waikato educational ethics committee in the first instance, and through Paddingtons management in the second instance.

5The distinctive item of clothing was a large, silly hat, which the participant children quickly learned to recognise and respond too.

6This activity took place on 24 October 2012 at 11.20 am.