critical pedagogy

New Literacies & Digital Inquiry


Literacy is an evolving concept. It wasn’t until the 70’s that reading instruction began morphing into literacy instruction. Prior to the 70’s the concept of reading was grounded in psycholinguistics and centered in decoding printed text, with less emphasis on encoding practices (Lankshear & Knobel 2006). Among the most prominent historical reasons for the concept of literacy to take front and center in formal education is Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, in which literacy is conceptualized as ‘reading the word and the world’:

“In Freire’s pedagogy, learning to write and read words became a focus for adults in pursuing critical awareness of how oppressive practices and relations operated in everyday life. (…) Within Freire’s approach to promoting literacy, then, the process of learning literally to read and write words was an integral part of learning to understand how the world operates socially and culturally.” (Lankshear & Knobel 2006)

The rise of a sociocultural perspective in language studies and social sciences strengthened the role of identity and Discourses (Gee 2000) within the concept of literacy. Discourses are “ways of being in the world’, which integrate words, acts, gestures,attitudes, beliefs, purposes, clothes, bodily movements and positions, and so on.” (ibid. 2006) Each one of us has a primary Discourse which we learn from and use with our immediate group (family members, intimate relations), and we also have multiple secondary Discourses that will vary according to our social relations and our participation in different secondary social groups, such as community groups, churches, and schools. Literacy then becomes ‘literacies’, in its plural form, since they are “bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can only be understood when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts (Gee et al. 1996). Freire blew up the concept of text, from the printed word to the world; Gee and the sociocultural perspective blew up the concept of reader identity and its interplay with texts. Both galvanized the concept of literacy as being critical, multiple, socially situated and embedded with power. Literacy is, after all, a sociological concept.

The three-dimensional model of literacy (Green 1988, 1997) embodies a sociocultural perspective by articulating language – the operational dimension, meaning – the cultural dimension, and context – the critical dimension. “(…) rather than focusing on the ‘how to’ knowledge of literacy, the 3D model of literacy complements and supplements operational or technical competence by contextualizing literacy with due regard for matters of culture, history and power.” (Lankshear & Knobel 2006) Literacy in its singular form now describes a category of proficiency level in any given area, whereas literacies are fully charged by a sociocultural perspective. It is as if the term multiliteracies set in motion the tetradic heuristic of reading comprehension (RAND 2002), blurring its divisions.

New literacies presuppose one’s understanding that “the internet has happened to education. Now what?” (Cormier). The advent of the Internet has blown up the variety of modalities of texts. “The Internet, in particular, provides new text formats, new purposes for reading, and new ways to interact with information that can confuse and overwhelm people taught to extract meaning from only conventional print.” (Coiro 2003). The multimodality of online texts elicit new strategies from readers. Online reading is, thus, “a problem-based inquiry process involving new skills, strategies, and dispositions on the Internet to generate important questions, then locate, critically evaluate, synthesize, and communicate possible solutions to those problems online.” (Castek, Coiro, Henry, Leu, & Hartman 2015) I understand the use of the terms ‘online reading comprehension’ and ‘digital inquiry’ as being in different ends of a conceptualization spectrum. The first term refers simply to the location or text type – online as opposed to offline, or traditional print – whereas the latter coalesces into a new understanding of online reading as necessarily sparking from a continuous process of inquiry. Digital inquiry therefore necessarily begins with a question and engages the reader in new strategies such as locating, critically evaluating, self-regulating so as not to lose sight of one’s purpose, synthesizing and communicating information with the Internet (Leu et al., 2007) “The fact that online reading comprehension always begins with a question or problem may be an important source of the differences between online and offline reading comprehension.” (ibid 2015) Therefore, the benefit in moving from ‘online reading comprehension’ to ‘digital inquiry’ is the increase in awareness of the centrality of inquiry and one’s capacity to formulate questions and identify problems as critical skills for readers to engage and participate as citizens in today’s information and innovation age.


Online reading/digital literacy skills, strategies, practices, and mindsets are equally important for today’s learners compared to those related to offline reading comprehension, vocabulary, and/or fluency skills and strategies. Digital inquiry strategies build on and expand offline reading strategies. In an era when our youth is immersed in social media and ‘digital for play’, super exposed to the algorithmic manipulation and the subtle education of the eye and the senses, it is essential that they develop the skills that will enable their understanding of the inner workings of the Internet, as well as their engagement in critical digital consumption, production, distribution, and invention (Mirra & Morrell 2018).

Internet Reciprocal Teaching is a promising online reading instruction and digital inquiry methodology in that it effectively scaffolds learners’ abilities to understand and engage with online, multimodal texts. Gradually and intentionally moving from teacher-led instruction, to collaborative modeling of online research and comprehension strategies, to inquiry, teachers find opportunities to build on their curriculum, expanding the offline work with traditional print texts and engaging learners in the development of critical strategies and dispositions, thus preparing them for active citizenship in today’s highly complex and culturally multifaceted social environments. In an age where the social fabric of our democracies is challenged by an information ecosystem that is ever more polluted (Phillips 2020), we need to look beyond media and beyond literacy. We need to situate ourselves as critical readers of the world, and support our youth in becoming critical readers and participants themselves.


Castek, Coiro, Henry, Leu, & Hartman, (2015). Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension.

Coiro, J. (2003). Expanding our understanding of reading comprehension to encompass new literacies. The Reading Teacher.

Coiro, J. (October, 2013). (Online reading comprehension challenges video of keynote delivered in Colombia: “Comprensión lectora en línea:oportunidades, retos y nuevos pasos” available on YouTube:

Hammerberg, D. (2004). Comprehension instruction for sociocultural diverse classrooms: A review of what we know. The Reading Teacher, 57(7), 648-656.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). From ‘reading’ to ‘new literacy studies. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel, New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning. Berkshire, England: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.

Mirra N, Morrell, E. & Filipiak, D. (2018). Digital Consumption to Digital Invention: Toward a New Critical Theory and Practice of Multiliteracies, Theory Into Practice, 57:1, 12-19.

Phillips, W. (2020). “Looking Beyond Media and Beyond Literacy” keynote delivered in the 2020 Northwestern Media Literacy Conference.

RAND Model of Reading Comprehension. (2002).

Offline Reading Comprehension: Developing Strategic and Engaged Readers

visual representations and mind maps

This is my reflection in response to week 2 assignment and readings of URI’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy, EDC 532: Seminar in Digital Literacy with Kara Clayton and Dr. Julie Coiro.


Strategic readers know that the purpose of reading is to understand, and that there are a number of comprehension strategies that they can adopt in order to build knowledge from reading. Strategic readers are able to apply such strategies in “the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language,” as the Rand Reading Comprehension Study Group defines reading comprehension. Strategic readers process information by constantly monitoring their understanding. In that process, strategic readers, when faced with understanding challenges, engage in problem solving and self-correction.

Buehl (2007) provides insight into the seven cognitive processes of proficient readers, beginning with making connections to one’s prior knowledge – which is regarded as the one most critical strategy for learning to take place, since no new knowledge or understanding is constructed in a vacuum – to generating questions, creating mental sensory images, inferencing, prioritizing, and synthesizing the information being read. Add intrinsic motivation to that process and the result is a strategic and engaged reader. Importantly, the more one reads to understand, the more motivated one becomes, and the more social interaction ensues, for engaged readers are prone to sharing and socially connecting around what they are learning. The more one interacts, the more strategies are mobilized, and the more one’s knowledge base grows, leading to the desire to read more. That is the engagement cycle, as defined by Swan (2003).

Teachers and librarians not only can but indeed they must foster engagement and self-regulation as critical ingredients for strategic reading by means of a balanced comprehension instruction approach that encompasses a supportive classroom context and a model of comprehension instruction that models and supports the development of reading strategies for learners. (Duke & Pearson, 2002)


The seven comprehension processes of proficient readers (Buehl, 2007) are mirrored in the six individual comprehension strategies that excellent reading teachers are intent at scaffolding and modelling for and with learners (Duke & Pearson, 2002). Think-alouds represent a strategy for activating schemata and generating questions. Inferencing and determining importance are engendered in text structure analysis. The ability to synthesize is exercised by means of summarization. The creation of visual and sensory representations is both a process and a strategy which boosts one’s synthesis capacity, also helping in the self-monitoring and self-correction process.

RAND (2002) provides us with the heuristic for thinking about reading comprehension, defining its components: the reader, the text, and the activity, all of which are nestled within a sociocultural dimension, which is by and large overlooked by NAEP (2015/2019). Indeed, how does a standardized assessment account for a virtually infinite sociocultural variance? If RAND gives us the reader, the text, and the activity, Duke & Pearson (2002) give us the teacher, and CORI (Swan, 2003) pulls in the sociocultural dimension by articulating skills and strategies, knowledge, motivation, and social collaboration.

Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction gives us the ‘how’ by leveraging the three basic needs for intrinsic motivation, namely competence, autonomy, and belonging. In other words, learners need a sense of self-efficacy, choice, and opportunities for social interaction and human connection. CORI then represents the supportive classroom context articulated by Duke & Pearson, one in which learners read a lot, read for real reasons, engage in high quality talk about text, and ultimately strive for the construction of conceptual knowledge.

I find that one of the greatest challenges in my own teaching context, as well as in the Brazilian educational system, is making instruction coherent as opposed to fragmented, as proposed in CORI. Such coherence and transdisciplinarity entails a whole set of very unique beliefs that have not necessarily been cultivated by teacher training programs, and certainly not in traditional and mainstream educational settings. The shift from a fragmented to a relational and systemic view of and approach to knowledge construction and instructional design (as opposed to lesson planning) requires major transformations in teacher education and school culture.


Fragmented teaching is not time productively spent, at least not for learners. It may make teaching and planning less complex for the teacher, but it is ultimately disengaging for all involved in the educational experience. I was particularly struck by the difference between lesson planning and instruction design: intention. Johnson (2014), referring to the implications of the TPACK framework, says:

“The framework supports and deepens literacy practices, allowing teachers to become thoughtful instructional designers. Washburn (2010) writes, ‘Instructional design differs from lesson planning, the term we traditionally use to describe a teacher’s pre-instruction preparation. Designers communicate by intentionally combining elements’ (pp.2-3)”

  • I wonder what a teacher development program that enables teachers to operate that shift from fragmented to systemic, from instructor to coach, from planner to designer, looks like?
  • I wonder what will it take for teachers of all subject areas to realize that they are, first and foremost, literacy teachers?



Duke, N.K. & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. In What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 3rd edition. International Reading Association.

Swan (2003). Why is the North Pole Always Cold? In Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI): Engaging Classrooms, Lifelong Learners

Johnson, D. (2014) Reading, Writing and Literacy 2.0. Teaching with Online Texts, Tools, and Resources, K-8 (chapters 1 & 2)

Buehl, D. (2014). Fostering Comprehension of Complex Texts (Chapter 1 pages 3-11) in Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th Edition). International Literacy Association.

RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] Abridged Reading Framework for the 2015/2019

Why learn about learning?

paulo freire

Paulo Freire

The learning process is human, organic, and complex, in that each individual, unique in his experiences, identity, as well as socio-historical context, transforms the act of learning into an absolutely personal and self-transformational experience. However, for that process to be a truly transformational one, both of the learner and of the world surrounding him, it is necessary that the learner engages the object of study, as well as the act of studying itself, in a critical manner. For Paulo Freire, it is this critical stance facing one’s object of study, and throughout the act of studying, which propitiates the fundamental goal of education, that of creating, re-creating, and co-creating knowledge, ultimately re-creating and reinventing the world around us. This is the critical stance in face of the search for knowledge which realizes the full potential of education, which is to bring about change.

If we are to understand the act of studying, of searching for knowledge, as a process of (re)creation, then we need to admit that the process is dynamic in its nature. Critically engaging a given text is establishing a dialog with its author. It is by means of this dialog, of this questioning, and this critical vision that knowledge can be reinvented, rewritten, and recreated. For it to be so, it is necessary that the learner has a heightened sense of agency, that is, that the learner sees himself as being the agent of his education; that he acts as subject in his search for knowledge, in his learning journey. The attitude of letting oneself be domesticated or indoctrinated does not lend itself to the critical posture advocated by Freire. The subject must penetrate the text, imbued with a sense of curiosity, fearless of letting himself become problematized by his dialog with the text.

The act of letting oneself become problematized is an act of surrender to the dynamic and organic process which is learning. Being open to learning is embracing uncertainty, for the act of learning critically presupposes an engagement with the text with an open and inquisitive mind. It means to venture into the unknown. The journey of learning becomes even more revealing if we let ourselves be humbled in face of the search. Being humble is being critical, in that learning is a challenge that requires hard and systematic work, and that many times may demand more than what we are capable of responding in a given moment. We must, therefore, persist and look to become better equipped to return to the text/object of study ready to understand it, to establish a fruitful dialog with it.

It is the duty of every educator to search for self-knowledge and self-reflection as a learner. Living the experience of learning first-hand opens up a channel for important insights into the learning process which may result in disruptions necessary for the refinement of our teaching approaches, methods, and techniques, for our being/becoming educators with the full potential to foster the kind of learning experiences which will instill our learners` curiosity and critical engagement with their own education, as well as the world around them.

In the words of Paulo Freire:

“Studying is not an act of taking in ideas, but of creating and recreating them.”

FREIRE, Paulo in Considerations regarding the Act of Studying (1968)