To read this content please select one of the options below:

“What they allow us to learn”: exploring how white English teachers cultivate students’ critical literacies through curriculum and pedagogy

Lauren Leigh Kelly (Graduate School of Education, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 1 December 2022

Issue publication date: 20 March 2023




This qualitative research study examines classroom observations and transcripts, teacher and student interviews and student writing to investigate how white English teachers can cultivate students’ critical literacies regarding race and oppression through classroom literature. As research and practice in the field of critical literacy has yet to effectively center black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) lives and histories, this study aims to expand on existing critical literacy research by examining how literature teachers disrupt the perpetuation of whiteness through literature instruction that explicitly grapples with race and structures of oppression.


This research examines the pedagogical practices of two white English teachers through a yearlong investigation of classroom instruction and curriculum in an urban high school in a large Northeastern city. The overarching question of this study asks, how do white English teachers cultivate students’ critical literacies regarding race and social justice through classroom literature? Additional questions that guided this study are: How do students in these classes learn about structures of oppression? What language is used in these classrooms to discuss ideas about power? What texts and materials do these teachers use to engage students in critical literacy practices?


The findings of this study provide insight as to how white English teachers can foster students’ critical literacy development regarding race and oppression through their pedagogy and curriculum. The two teachers’ introduction of critical language and frameworks in the classroom supported students’ ability to critically engage with classroom literature and with their own social worlds. In addition, these teachers’ practices emphasize the need for white teachers to decenter their own knowledge and identities to effectively foster students' critical and sociopolitical development.


This research responds to McLean et al.’s (2021) call for a disruption of the “perpetuation of Eurocentric, hegemonic perspectives by white scholars” in the field by centering race in approaches to critical literacy development in the classroom. By analyzing data from classrooms in the same school with distinct curricular approaches, this study examines not only what but also how educators are teaching in classrooms designed to cultivate students’ critical and sociopolitical development through English Language Arts. This study offers hope for developing critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies among non-BIPOC educators who teach Black and Latinx populations.



This project was supported with funding from the Spencer Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Boston University Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.


Kelly, L.L. (2023), "“What they allow us to learn”: exploring how white English teachers cultivate students’ critical literacies through curriculum and pedagogy", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 11-28.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles