(Dis)entangling the paradoxes and possibilities of critical literacy in the community college Introduction to Literature classroom

Joanne E Gabel, University of Pennsylvania


In this study, I examine my efforts as a community-college Introduction to Literature instructor to facilitate my students' agency as learners and knowers as well as their social consciousness awareness by implementing a critical literacy pedagogy. In recognizing the dissonances in the subjectivities of white, middle-class community-college students who, as members of the dominant culture, hold political and social power at the same time that they mark themselves as powerless as students, my study examines the tensions resulting from my efforts to change the learning paradigm. My study analyzes the tensions in the processes in students' becoming agentic learners and socially-aware citizens in a curriculum grounded in contemporary literary theory and the consequences of juxtaposing multicultural texts with the traditional canon toward processes of shared meaning making. The study is a qualitative analysis of teacher inquiry taking place over a three-term academic year focusing on student-teacher relationships, student-student relationships and student-text relationships. It is grounded in poststructural feminist pedagogy, critical literacy, and Whiteness theory. In analyzing the data, I used a poststructural framework, drawing in particularly on Elizabeth Ellsworth's ideas of modes of address. My results address three areas: The instructor's struggles as a critical teacher, students' paradoxical responses to opportunities for fostering agency; and tensions in students' responses to reading texts through literary theory. My findings argue that the process of becoming an agentic subject necessitates making visible the tensions and struggles between who we are and who we want to be as learners and knowers. In the findings, I explore the possibilities for transformation that arise when students embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. Results from my study also explore the relationships between critical literacy and literary theory and argue that in fostering a multiple perspectives approach to reading texts, literary theory serves as a bridge for fostering students' agency as learners as well as fostering their awareness of social injustices. My study offers possibilities for transforming the Introduction to Literature classroom as well as for teacher research at the community-college level. It raises questions about the nature of critical teaching that may be applicable at all levels.

Subject Area

Language arts|Community colleges

Recommended Citation

Gabel, Joanne E, "(Dis)entangling the paradoxes and possibilities of critical literacy in the community college Introduction to Literature classroom" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3125823.