Critical literacy

Critical literacy is essentially ‘reading between the lines’. While there are many definitions for critical literacy, Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl and Holliday (2010) have outlined one as “reading with a growing appreciation of how argument and viewpoint are presented and supported” (p. 534). This is an interesting concept. It takes on the assumption that text is written with a particular viewpoint and the author, through the writing, has somehow encouraged the readers to react in a certain way. In this sense, critical literacy is the acknowledgement of this and the recognition of such examples in text.

Text is a way of communicating (Winch et al., 2010), for this reason, one might assume the words on a page are the only way the author is communicating to the reader. Perhaps there should be consideration into that is not being said in the words or even how the words (or pictures) are placed on the page. These types of thinking constitute critical literacy. Mulhern and Gunding (2011) express the thought that, as all texts are created by people, it is inevitable that there would be biases, values and attitudes ingrained into the works. It is further stated that through the acknowledgement and understanding of these factors, readers are able to better interpret the meanings behind the text (Mulhern & Gunding, 2011).

Perhaps the most widely used interpretation of critical literacy is part of Luke and Freebody’s Four Resources Model. Within this model, the component of “text analyst” describes a reader who looks for an author’s purpose, can identify points of view and make judgements on how these have influenced the text (Luke & Freebody as cited in Winch et al., 2010). Luke (2012) states that within classrooms, the common display of critical literacy studies are shown through the students identifying author bias and constructing comprehensive meanings by drawing on background knowledge and textual information.

As for how it is taught, critical literacy, according to Makotsi (as cited in Busayo, 2011), is best learnt through exposure to a wide range of reading materials. Xu (2007) further describes the most basic way to incorporate critical literacy into the curriculum is through guided questions. Educators can provoke more critical thinking in relation to a text by asking questions that prompt thoughts to shift into deeper meanings than the ones students might initially identify.

Despite the evidence stating critical literacy is an important factor in developing true understanding of a text, there appears to be no mention of the subject within the Australian Curriculum. The question remains however, to what extent should people be encourage to read with a critical mindset? Does a focus of this nature detour from the purpose when one is reading for enjoyment purposes? These are the factors that could potentially be holding back the inclusion of critical literacy into the Australian Curriculum.



Busayo, I. (2011, Nov). The school library as a foundational step to children’s effective reading habits. Library Philosophy and Practice, 1-12. Retrieved from

Luke, A. (2012). Critical literacy: Foundational notes. Theory into Practice, 51(1), 4-11. doi: 10.1080/00405841.2012.636324

Mulhern, M., & Gunding, B. (2011). What’s critical about critical literacy? English Quarterly Canada, 42(1-2), 6-23. Retrieved from

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

Xu, S. (2007). Critical literacy practices in teaching and learning. New England Reading Association Journal, 43(2), 12-22,98. Retrieved from



One thought on “Critical literacy

  1. Wendy Balassa August 28, 2013 at 4:42 am Reply

    Hi Kristy and thanks for your blog.

    You have provided a good summary of current understandings of critical literacy which are well supported with relevant, appropriate literature. Although this is a comprehensive selection of evidence I would have liked it to be more personal as I am not getting a clear sense of your understanding. Your work is well-presented and well referenced Kristy.


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