Teaching critical text analysis creates thoughtful learners

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Today, as countries around the globe celebrate International Literacy Day (ILD), reminding the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, helps advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.

While literacy is still regarded as a cornerstone subject in classrooms across Australia, studies show that individuals with lower levels of literacy skills are at a significant risk of limiting their access to employment opportunities during adulthood.

And with a recent report by the Australian Educational Research Organisation (AERO) claiming that year nine students were ‘using punctuation like children in year three’, it’s clear that there is more work to do within the Australian education sector.

To help gain a deeper understanding of the importance of continued investment in improving knowledge and access to literacy education in today’s classrooms, EducationDaily reached out to Dr Noella Mackenzie, Education Consultant and Associate Professor, Charles Sturt University.

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Critical analysis is key

Teaching critical analysis of texts, Dr Mackenzie told EducationDaily, is a vital skill for Australian children to hone. But, because these texts are not limited to traditional books that are professionally produced and fact-checked, encouraging young students to apply critical analysis of everything being read and consumed is more important than ever.

“The texts Australian students are being exposed to (outside school) are often accessed online and may be self-published. They may be in the form of social media posts, videos (e.g., YouTube), posts on professional-looking blogs or websites, or even podcasts. There is often no evidence of the fact-checking, peer review, or editing, associated with professionally published texts. At school, many are also using the internet to complete their assignments. This leaves Australian students vulnerable if they do not know how to read, view, or listen through a critical lens,” she says.

The role of teachers must also evolve to meet this changing relationship between the student and the material they are reading and viewing, Dr Mackenzie told EducationDaily.

“All teachers need access to professional learning opportunities on how to teach critical reading skills and manage the internet in the classroom context,” Dr Mackenzie says. “The technology has been provided to students and schools, but the pedagogical approaches lag behind because the professional learning opportunities have not been available to teachers. In a recent study conducted by one of my PhD students (yet to be published), year 10 students often conducted superficial internet searches and accepted the first information available, without critical review. Teachers’ workload was such that they marked students’ work in terms of the answers they provided, not where the answers had come from, nor the students’ understanding of the answers.”

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Teacher must guide students

To respond to this style of media consumption, Dr Mackenzie says teachers need to know how to guide students to access and critique texts from a range of sources – “not just the readings or texts that are officially linked to a subject or discipline”.

“The critical analysis of texts becomes more complex as students move from primary into high school,” she says. “When students are in primary school, they usually have one main teacher who controls the kinds of tasks they are engaged in. There is an overall understanding of the skills and texts students need to access. As they move into high school, students may be interacting with six or more different teachers from different disciplines.”

And with the extra pressures of multiple subjects, and teachers leading students to take short cuts to complete tasks, the result is, Dr Mackenzie told EducationDaily, that many students simply don’t appreciate why to read critically, or how to do it.

“This requires increased professional learning opportunities for teachers so that they can identify and teach the literacy skills common across disciplines as well as those unique to their own discipline,” she told EducationDaily. “Consistency across disciplines will make it easier for students to become critical readers, rather than passive users of information.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live