The dilemmas of critical teaching: One teacher's journey

Marjorie E Madden, University of Pennsylvania


The status of Developmental Education at four year colleges remains the subject of an ongoing debate in higher education. The purpose of this study was to document, analyze, and interpret the teaching and learning that occurred in my developmental reading classroom as I tried to create and implement a critical and feminist pedagogy. I conducted my study at a four year state college that has questioned the place of developmental education in its move towards university status. I addressed two major questions. First, I examined the beliefs and assumptions behind my practice and the ways that they changed over time. Secondly, I considered how feminist, critical teaching influenced the ways that I conducted and wrote about the study. Documenting my teaching over two years for three sections of developmental reading, I used the methodology of portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1997) for analysis and writing about the study. My results addressed two major areas: my evolving understandings of critical and feminist teaching and what it means to research and write about my theory of practice as a woman. Findings explore what it means to share power in the classroom, the relationships between critical teaching and literacy, and how the teacher negotiates the topics of racism and sexism in the critical and feminist classroom. Results from the study argue that in trying to realign traditional classroom relationships, the teacher must recognize that mutual understanding and reciprocity can never be complete, but must remain fragile and asymmetrical. Findings show that students who engaged in an anti-bias curriculum gained confidence and autonomy as readers and showed improved scores on a standardized reading exam. Findings also indicated that rich discussion of volatile topics such as racism and sexism require attending to the relationships between teacher and students and among students: using affinity groups created a context for successful cross-talk. The study also provided a context for using vulnerable writing as a conceptual framework to understand myself and my study at a different level. My research offers important possibilities for rethinking curriculum in developmental education and suggests the significance of teachers taking an inquiry stance on their practice.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Madden, Marjorie E, "The dilemmas of critical teaching: One teacher's journey" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9976450.