Carmen Medina, associate professor in the Literacy, Culture and Language Department, has received funding for a project to enhance and develop teacher skill and knowledge in the area of critical literacy with young critical readers and writers. She called the project significant, given that most educational initiatives in Puerto Rico respond to U.S. mandates such as “No Child Left Behind” or “Race to the Top” and tend to come with approaches and materials for teaching and learning to become literate that do not consider the cultural uniqueness of been Puerto Rican.
“In our work we want to foreground and establish connections with Latin American and Caribbean communities focusing on the powerful array of children’s literature available in Spanish that explore different social struggles,” she said. “We want to shift the lens to reclaim a space as literacy educators who can read the word from another perspective as socially and culturally situated.”
Medina will partner with Maria del Rocío Costa, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico on the project. Medina said she and Costa have been collaborating on critical literacy research projects for the last ten years. During the duration of the project, set to take four years, they will work with a cohort of pre-service teachers at the University of Puerto Rico through their last year taking literacy methods courses, their student teaching year and as first-year teachers.
“We want to do this particular research because it brings together multiple aspects of our previous critical literacy work such as working with pre-service teachers and working in elementary classrooms with teachers and children,” Medina said. “Furthermore, we always wanted to have an opportunity to have enough resources to develop a literacy curriculum grounded in children’s literature in Spanish to support novice teachers in local schools.”
Although there is an abundance of research that provides portrayals of preservice teachers, teachers and children working on critical literacy curriculum, Medina said there are not much information on how to support pre-service teachers in teacher preparation programs, their student teaching or their first year of teaching.
“Teaching and learning methods that support children critical comprehension and interpretation is really important in order to engage with the many of the social, economic and political issues Puerto Ricans currently face,” she said. “The long term support preservice teachers will receive in this project will help us better understand the challenges and possibilities of these kind approaches to literacy development.”
Recent statistics show that in 2015, 85% of the children who entered public schools in Puerto Rico lived below poverty levels. Medina pointed out that number reflects data before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
“It is concerning to think what that number might look like now,” she added. “When I think of Puerto Rico as a colonial territory of the United States, I feel responsible to think my work at IU is helping improve the educational conditions of children there in ways that could bring new hope for social change.”
The project is in collaboration with the IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), and will be funded through a Title VI grant from CLACS.