Linking Community Literacies to critical literacies through community
language and literacy mapping
Minda Morren L
Texas State University, ED 3023, 601 University Dr, San Marcos, TX, 78666, USA
Community mapping expanded teachers' views of what counts as literacy(ies).
Through community mapping teachers shed deﬁcit perspectives of their communities.
Connecting critical literacies units to community mapping was key for teacher learning.
Teachers reﬂected that critical literacies were not as difﬁcult as they initially thought.
Received 25 April 2019
Received in revised form
6 August 2019
Accepted 17 September 2019
Available online 28 September 2019
In this study, teachers engaged in Community Language and Literacy mapping to understand the re-
sources present in their communities in urban, rural, and suburban schools. Through the ethnographic
project, teachers built on their ﬁndings to create critical literacies units. As a result, teachers embraced
complexity and considered multiple perspectives. However, many found it difﬁcult to push their students
to action and social justice. Overall participants broadened their view of what counts as literacy, deep-
ened their understanding of critical literacies, and used community language and literacy practices in
their classroom teaching.
Published by Elsevier Ltd.
A pervasive question in literacy teacher preparation and
development has been how to effectively train and develop
teachers for an increasingly diverse student population, a popula-
tion that is typically different from the teachers themselves
(Anders, Hoffman, &Duffy, 2000;Dozier, Johnston, &Rogers, 2006;
Koerner &Abdul-Tawwab, 2006). Teachers often view historically
marginalized communities as full of barriers to school language and
literacy learning rather than as funds of knowledge (Gonz
&Amanti, 2005) or sources of important resources of languages
and literacies for their students and for the curriculum. Yet suc-
cessful teachers place increasing importance on multiple ways of
knowing and doing (Haberman, 2011), including utilizing students’
communities as vital resources for teaching and learning. These
same teachers strive to develop culturally sustaining pedagogies
(Paris, 2012) that connect academic instruction with languages,
literacies, and knowledges children bring from their own experi-
ences (Au &Kawakami, 1991;Delgado-Gaitan, 1990;Ladson-
In the ﬁeld of literacy there has been a call to “read the world”in
order to “read the word”(Barton, 1994;Freire &Macedo, 1987).
Additionally, scholars stress the importance of considering local
community practices in order to better devise effective and rele-
vant literacy curricula (Comber &Simpson, 2001;Street, 1995).
Some call these community literacies “lived literacies”, that is the
languages, literacies, and symbols present in students' daily lives
(Bausch, 2003;Dozier et al., 2006;V
asquez, 2003). One method
that has been used with increasing success to assist teachers in
understanding students’experiences and environments is com-
1. Community language and literacy mapping
Community Mapping is a process of uncovering the resources in
a given area or community. It is an inquiry-based data collection
and communication tool used internationally in various ﬁelds to
identify community assets and capacities, including data such as
languages, art, literacies, networks and opportunities (Amsden &
VanWynsberghe, 2005;Jackson &Bryson, 2018). In education,
community mapping has been used with educators to uncover
E-mail address: Minda.Lopez@txstate.edu.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Teaching and Teacher Education
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tate
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Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 102932
deﬁcit thinking (Valencia, 2010) and bias about students and
communities (Fox, 2014;Jackson &Bryson, 2018;Tredway, 2003),
to contextualize learning in a particular school and community
nez-Jasis &Jasis, 2011), and to broaden
teachers’views of pedagogy and instruction (Dunsmore, Ordo~
Jasis &Herrera, 2013).
In their study of early childhood preservice teachers, Jackson
and Bryson (2018) examined how culturally responsive peda-
gogies (CRP) were manifested in 21 preservice teachers' learning
through a community mapping project. All of their participants
were women and the majority were white. They found that the
community mapping project helped uncover the participants'
biases and deﬁcit thinking, especially pertaining to race and so-
cioeconomic status. In addition, the preservice teachers appeared
to broaden their ideas of what it means to be a teacher, of the
importance of understanding students' lived experiences, and that
teachers should be engaged in their communities. Their ﬁndings
suggest that engaging in community mapping can increase pre-
service teachers’understandings of the context where their stu-
dents live as well as provide important nuanced contexts of the
communities in which they teach. While Jackson and Bryson (2018)
did not have their preservice teachers engage with students and
families in the community, they found the community mapping
exercise to be an important and meaningful tool for developing
culturally responsive pedagogies.
In a similar study with practicing teachers, Fox (2014) noted that
documenting additive community resources is one way to shake up
and reverse the deﬁcit myths about low income or language
learners. In her study in the southeastern United States in a grad-
uate program in literacy, in-service teachers participated in literacy
mapping and imagined they were following similar routes to school
as their students. They surveyed urban, suburban, and rural areas
and found the mapping exercise as a valuable way to understand
the multiple views of literacies in the community. Disparities in
resource distribution between urban and rural areas were made
evident, such as an abundance of materials in the store in the
suburban area and a dearth of materials in that same chain store in
the lower socioeconomic neighborhood. Teachers were able to see
the literacy resources and the gaps in their communities, albeit they
relied on traditional deﬁnitions of literacy materials such as books,
signs, marketing materials, ﬂyers, and the like. This study also led to
action esome examples include the creation of a resource guide to
the community, one teacher developed an “adopt a library”plan for
her school to implement more library access, and another example
included summer grant funding was granted to keep some school
libraries open during the summer.
While some of the aims and approaches are very similar, Com-
munity Mapping is distinct from a funds of knowledge approach
alez, Moll &Amanti, 2005) in that teachers were not asked to
go into households nor were households viewed as central to the
data collected. Instead, in this Community Mapping approach,
teachers were asked to carefully document and examine the lin-
guistic and literate signs, features, and practices in the communities
in which they teach in order to “read the world”(Shor &Freire,
1987, p. 35) and to better understand their students’worlds and
incorporate them into literacy teaching.
In this study, we used community mapping techniques to collect
and analyze data on the languages and literacies that were present
in the communities surrounding each of the nine teachers' schools.
Then utilizing these data, teachers designed critical literacies units
of study for their students in response to what they found. A central
goal of the exercise was for teachers to reject deﬁcit views of their
students’communities and to instead notice and document the
various language and literacy resources in their school communities.
In this inquiry-based professional development project, teachers
engaged in Community Languages and Literacies mapping through
ethnographic data collection techniques including:
Spending time observing the neighborhood and area around
their school while paying particular attention to languages and
Documenting the languages and literacies they saw on bill-
boards, advertisements, signs through various methods
including ﬁeld notes, photos, audio/video recording and sketches
Recording how often they found aparticular language or literacy
Interviewing a community member to gain “insider”knowledge
into the language and literacy practices of the community
As the teachers collected and analyzed data on the communities
surrounding their schools, they were asked to use that information
to build critical literacies (McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004;Muspratt,
Luke, &Freebody, 1997;V
asquez, 2003) units and tie some aspects
of their unit to the linguistic and literate resources present in the
community. It is important to note that there are multiple per-
spectives on critical literacies and they have been described in
many different ways in the literature. As a group, we read several
research articles and agreed to follow Muspratt et al. (1997) in using
the term critical literacies (rather than the singular “critical liter-
acy”). We came to understand critical literacies as
Creating a lived literacies curriculum that arises from our
communities, including sociopolitical experiences and histories
asquez, 2003) and broader deﬁnitions of what counts as lit-
eracies (Rush, 2003). Understanding the sociopolitical di-
mensions of our communities, including resource distribution
acknowledges that literacies are not neutral (Street, 1995) but
hold political and social power with the potential to change lives
(Freire, 1970;Janks, 2000) and as such, critical literacies seek to
interrogate and make visible such power.
Rejecting an essentialist view and instead embracing
complexity by problematizing through raising questions and
seeking alternative solutions (McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004).
Considering multiple perspectives (Lewison, Flint, &Van Sluys,
2002) and paying attention to and seeking out the voices of
the marginalized (Harste et al., 2000)
Engaging in praxisdreﬂection and action about our worlds in
ways that have the potential to transform it (Freire, 1970)
These points were useful to teachers as they used the data they
gathered in their school communities and created units of study for
their students. In many cases, these four elements of critical liter-
acies were interlaced throughout the lessons and built upon each
other, sometimes in inseparable ways.
This is the study of a group of practicing teachers who used a
Community Literacies and Languages Mapping approach to inform
their literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse
students. The nine teachers, all women, were graduate students
pursuing a Master's in Reading at a large public Hispanic Serving
in Texas and were selected because they agreed to
A Hispanic Serving Institution or HSI is a federal designation for universities in
the United States where at least 25 percent of undergraduate students identify as
Latinx (US Department of Education, n.d.). An HSI may be a public or private
institution and they vary in size. See Garcia, 2019 for more information.
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 1029322
participate and had enrolled in a graduate level multicultural lit-
eracy course where the mapping project and critical literacy units
were required assignments. The teachers varied in age from early
twenties to late forties; the majority were white, middle class, with
one self-identifying as Black and two self-identifying as Latina. The
teachers worked in different districts, schools, and preschools in
the area, ranging from urban, inner city schools to suburban and
even rural areas. They were at various stages in their careers
ranging from novice (under three years' experience) to experienced
teachers (ﬁfteen years' experience or more). Overall the teachers in
this project are similar to the nationwide statistics of the teaching
force in regards to gender, age, and ethnicity. In 2015e2016 in the
United States, 76.6 percent of all teachers were women and 80.1
percent identify as white (NCES, 2018).
As the instructor for the course, my objectives were to disrupt
the deﬁcit perspectives (Valencia, 2010) teachers may have had
about the communities their students lived in and to provide
increased opportunities for interaction with diverse groups and
build relationships (Boyle-Baise &Sleeter, 2000) within their own
school communities. As one of the teachers said, “This ethno-
graphic approach to mapping the community was more concerned
with attempting to understand the linguistic development and
practices in the community than with trying to discover correct
ways for learning language and literacy acquisition.”In fact, “cor-
rect”ways of language and literacy was not something the course
focused on, but traditionally education has treated learners’lives,
cultures, knowledges and literacies as a blank slate, with ofﬁcial
views of knowledge and literacy as the only legitimate ways of
knowing (Luke &Woods, 2009). As a result, drawing on community
literacies is sometimes seen as out of place in schools and is
becoming increasingly uncommon in this era of scripted curricula
and high stakes testing (Crocco &Costigan, 2007).
Related goals for the Community Mapping project included a
desire for teachers to get to know the physical and social di-
mensions of the communities in which they were currently
teaching. For this reason, each participant selected a different
physical community to document and “map out”, within a large
metropolitan area. It was my hope as instructor for the course that
each teacher would see the assets or community cultural wealth
(Yosso, 2005) of their school communities. Another aim was for
teachers to gain localized knowledge about the communities in
which they were teaching because many of them did not live in the
same area and they often experienced a cultural disconnect with
their students as a result. Teachers were asked to select a deﬁned
area around their schools, and this was left unspeciﬁed in order to
allow for ﬂexibility because of the different kinds of neighborhoods
and schools where each teacher worked. Some worked in very
dense, urban settings while others were in rural, sparsely popu-
lated areas. Thus, each teacher was able to select the exact
geographical area they would analyze and provide a rationale as to
what area they chose. As part of the assignment, teachers were
asked to visit the area more than once and to document the lan-
guages and literacies they encountered by utilizing photos and
ﬁeldnotes that could contain drawings and texts. In addition,
teachers were required to select at least one community informant
to interview about the area. For more of the assignment descrip-
tion, see Appendix A.
As an extension of their mapping projects, I sought to push
teachers to build critical literacy units based on the data they
collected, in hopes that their literacy teaching would take on a
deeper dimension and broaden the teachers' notions of what
counts as texts and literacies (Dozier et al., 2006) while also
meeting national and state standards for teaching literacy. I wanted
to inculcate in the teachers the value of learning about their com-
munities to better understand their students’experiences, building
on what students know, and using that knowledge to engage in
culturally sustaining literacy instruction (Paris, 2012). For the crit-
ical literacies unit, teachers were required to identify a topic or
theme and a corresponding critical literacy principle from course
readings (McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004) along with the state
standards they would address (in Texas the broad curricular stan-
dards are called TEKS and the standards for Emerging Bilingual
students are called ELPS). Teachers were required to select at least
eight multicultural books and identify at least six literacy-related
activities. They were to write the unit as a compilation of lesson
plans and materials so other teachers could replicate it if they
desired. They were to implement the units into their instruction at
some point in the semester. See Appendix B for a complete
description of the critical literacy unit assignment. The ﬁnal step of
the entire project was for teachers to reﬂect on the mapping
experience as well as the critical literacy units. They turned in a
detailed reﬂection letter of what they learned and how their
teaching changed as a result of the project. They were asked to
describe if anything had changed in their ideas and practices
regarding language and literacy pedagogies.
Although I had taught this course several times and had used a
variation of this assignment each year, this was the ﬁrst time I
documented and analyzed the teachers’responses and engagement
in the process. For this qualitative study I asked,
How can Community Literacy and Language Mapping contribute
to teachers' professional learning and conceptions of literacy?
In what ways do teachers incorporate students' lived literacies
into their literacy teaching through critical literacy units of
To answer these questions I collected class discussion notes
from three classes where the mapping and critical literacy units
were presented and discussed, mapping projects and reﬂections,
critical literacy unit projects, and reﬂections made by the teachers
of the process. Data from all nine participants' community projects,
critical literacies units, and reﬂections were analyzed using case
study and emergent theme data analysis strategies (Creswell,
1998). Participants agreed to voluntarily participate in this study
after the semester was completed and their grades were turned in.
They signed consent forms that were generated through an Internal
Review Board approved process at the university. All participant
names and place names are pseudonyms to protect participants’
Throughout the course of study, I assumed an iterative
approach by cycling back and forth between data collection and
analysis. In the preliminary stages, I began the analysis with an
open coding scheme according to Strauss and Corbin (1998).
Through open coding, I identiﬁed potential themes by culling out
examples from the various artifacts and written responses. All data
was examined according to the different assignments (community
mapping, critical literacies, and reﬂection) and grouped by
emerging themes such as, fear and uncertainty, surprising, new
ideas, traditional literacy, multiliteracies, environmental print,
literacy in action, reading the world, and praxis. When concepts
and categories developed that were similar, typologies were
created according to a three-step process outlined by Berg (2004).
First, I assessed the data and categories or themes that emerged.
Then, I made sure that all the elements were accounted for. Finally,
I examined the categories and their contents and drew conclusions
from these categories.
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 102932 3
I have taught at this school for almost three yearsnow and I have
never really looked at the community. I feel that I am very
dedicated to my job and I care deeply forthe development of my
students, but as I realize while completing this project, I've
never really taken a look at what the world looks like and means
to my students. I'm realizing now that I have made some as-
sumptions about what life is like for them, even though I
promised myself that I would never do that when I became a
teacher. This project played a role in helping to break those
assumptions and give me a more accurate view of my students'
Jessica wrote this in her reﬂective letter after completing the
mapping project and critical literacies unit. We discussed the
project in class and most of the teachers had similar experiences.
The careful and systematic process of mapping language and lit-
eracies enabled teachers to see the communities in which they
worked with different eyes. When teachers take on a learner's
stance, to examine the community resources, school curriculums
can be enhanced (Cummins, Brown, &Sayers, 2007).
In literacy teaching, we have long used environmental print as a
starting point with young children learning to read and write
(McGee, 1986). But after children have acquired literacy in the early
grades, the environment and broader context of literacy learning is
often left out of the literacy curriculum. Christine, one of the
teachers who participated in this project, offered a possible
When I drive to work or go on awalk with my family I often tend
to overlook the literacy present in the community. I know where
the stop signs are, but never pay close enough attention to read
them. I look past the house numbers and street signs. I see the
yellow realtor's sign or a house for sale in the neighborhood but
I don't read it, I assume I know what it says. When I walk down
the street to get my mail from one of the large mailbox stations I
put my key into the exact keyhole everyday without even
reading which unit number it is. I am a literate person and I have
read all these signs and things before, but on a daily basis I
simply overlook a lot of the literacy in my community.
Christine's statement resonates with what Jessica said in the
opening vignette. Sometimes as teachers we don't notice the
everyday literacies of our students. We have become so accustomed
to the literacies around us that we begin to tune them out. Perhaps
because of this, many teachers expressed concern regarding the
project in the beginning. Some shared that they didn't think they
would ﬁnd enough visible literacies in their communities to com-
plete the project. Christine, who lived in a rural area, described her
initial feelings this way,
I was very anxious because I kept thinking there is no literacy in
[Madison]. When I started to pay attention I did start to see it but
I had to look VERY CLOSELY. If I didn't keep my eyes open I would
miss an empty Bill Miller's [restaurant] cup on the side of the
road, the Super S grocery store bag that is caught in a fence, the
small sign that says [Madison] Bowling Club on the side of the
building, or even the changeable white community signs located
in different areas of town.
Christine's initial statement that there “is no literacy”in her
community shows both this tendency to overlook the familiar as
well as a deﬁcit or narrow view of what counts as literacy. The
examples she gave of eventually ﬁnding literacy are also tied to
traditional notions of literacy. But because local languages and lit-
eracies can and should be used as resources for language and lit-
eracy learning, a major goal of this project was to facilitate a more
astute ability to read the world and to open up teachers' deﬁnitions
of literacy. Through this project I sought to extend teachers' col-
lective sense of the literacies present in our world and the worlds of
our students (Rush, 2003).
Jessica, who worked in a suburban area and initially thought
ﬁnding literacies in her community was easy as she drove past strip
malls and a myriad of stores and restaurants, reﬂected on the
experience and how she began to expand her understanding of
I saw plenty of children running around and playing with each
other, but not one group of students (or even a single student)
had a book in their hand or was writing a story down in a
notebook. I feel that I was sort of stuck on the more obvious
deﬁnitions of literacy activities and had trouble locating any-
thing else. I'll admit that I had to drive around a few times before
I really started noticing what was around me. When I couldn't
ﬁnd the more obvious signs of literacy activities, I tried to think
of the types of things my students would pay attention to or
would have to interpret to be able to live there. For example, the
neighborhood park that's a few blocks down from my school has
a list of rules and expectations that need to be followed for the
kids to be able to play their safely. Once I noticed that sign, I
think I started looking at the neighborhood in a different way. I
noticed the street signs that the kids would have to be able to
use to be able to get to their friends' houses, and all the for sale
signs on the houses that might have told them that their friends
would be moving away or new friends could be moving in. I also
took a closer look at the environmental print inside the many
apartment complexes that we get students from. They had
message boards that were covered with notices, for sale signs,
and posters. It started to become very clear to me how much
print my students are surrounded with and have to interpret on
a daily basis.
The idea that literacies may be present in a particular commu-
nity but open to interpretation, that students might have different
ways of interacting with print than we might initially think, opened
up a new way of thinking about literacies for many of the teachers.
They began to discuss ways that students see and take on various
literacies and how school practices may not always reﬂect or value
the experiences and points of view of the students. Teachers began
to reﬂect on their narrow views of literacy and how closely exam-
ining their communities helped them embrace additional literacies.
Another teacher, Erin, also expanded her views of literacy after
she discussed deﬁnitions of literacy with a group of third graders in
the rural community where she lived and worked as part of her
data collection for the language and literacy mapping. She asked
students about the literacies they experienced and saw in their
community on their way to school. She was initially surprised with
the way they responded to her query and described it as,
One of the ﬁrst things a student shouted out was “Trees!”One
might normally discard this idea, but I allowed them to take it
farther and explain why they brought this idea up. The eager
third grader told me that most of his route to school was trees.
When asked why this was considered literacy, he explained that
seeing the trees reminded him of nature and that he needed to
play outside and get dirty. Perfect! There was a deﬁnite message
there, and he got it loud and clear. Many of the children echoed
the nature theme offering up the neighborhood swimming
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 1029324
holes and springs, animals, and outdoor localities. It is obvious
these students spend a lot of time in nature and consider it a
formative part of who they are. They were also able to make the
connection that living in such a beautiful place reminded them
to take care of their planet.
While initially Erin may not have seen trees or the environment
as pertaining to literacy, the students she worked with were
sharing with her how they read their world. Through various ac-
tivities including teacher reﬂections and class discussions such as
these, the teachers began to think about community literacies in a
different way. This, coupled with readings, was the foundation for
moving from community mapping to critical literacies as part of
their literacy curricula.
3.1. What is the connection to critical literacies?
As they were collecting and analyzing data on their school
communities, teachers used their data to build critical literacies
units connected to the linguistic and literacy resources evident in
the community. Although the critical literacies units took on many
different forms, each of the teachers incorporated these four ele-
ments into their literacy curricula. Using these principles we agreed
on as fundamental to critical literacies as a guide, in the following
sections I will present more detailed examples of how teachers
used the literacies they found in their students’communities to
build critical literacies curricula.
3.2. Bringing the outside in: lived literacies as legitimate literacies
As previously mentioned, there are multiple approaches to
critical literacies. For some, critical literacies curricula are not al-
ways aligned with students' experiences (Comber, Thompson, &
Wells, 2001), yet this dimension was crucial to our project and
understanding of critical literacies. Lea Shulman says, “The ﬁrst
inﬂuence on new learning is not what teachers do pedagogically
but the learning that's already inside the learner”(Shulman quoted
in Frederick, 2001). Literacies are already inside the learner through
children's experiences with the world (Freire &Macedo, 1987).
Teachers reﬂected on their own growing awareness of the literacies
of their students through the languages, literacies and varied re-
sources in the communities in which they taught. They wanted
their students to also experience a greater understanding of how
literacies can be represented in the “world”around them.
In reﬂecting on what I saw, heard and discussed with members
of the community and students [through the community map-
ping project], I realized there was a deﬁnite direction I could go
when planning critical literacies lessons for this community of
learners. The students are living in a growing and changing
community, and living through the struggles that come with
such growth …they live in a community struggling to redeﬁne
Erin took notice of how the students’daily lives in her rural
school were rapidly changing due to growth, demographic changes,
and gentriﬁcation in the area. She decided to build a critical liter-
acies unit around a dynamic notion of community, because as she
noted in her introduction to the unit, communities are often viewed
as one-dimensional. The study of communities is included in
virtually every standardized curriculum starting in kindergarten,
but in many instances, community is portrayed as a static entity.
Erin wanted to use aspects of community that her students un-
derstood, as well as incorporate some of the traditional notions of
community such as a classroom, family, a city. But she also wanted
students to critically examine the responsibilities of communities.
She began her critical literacies unit by asking students to think
about the resources in their community, much like she had done in
the community mapping project.
Next, she had students explore what aspects of their community
were important to them through a questionnaire. Then in class,
students began to identify and pinpoint on a map of the area
important resources, some natural resources that had been iden-
tiﬁed through the questionnaires, and others that were ofﬁcial or
institutional such as libraries, banks, etc. After these resources had
been “mapped”in a similar way that Erin herself mapped the lit-
eracies she saw in the community, she guided her students through
closer analysis of the resources by asking students what patterns
they were able to identify of where people live and where certain
resources are located. The students made hypotheses about why
these patterns occurred and remarked about the inequitable and
changing distribution of resources. Some class discussions centered
around wealth distribution and the tensions between growth and
natural resources management. The careful examination of their
own community and local resources culminated with a visit from
the city's mayor. Students asked him questions about resources and
how they were allocated as well as future plans for more equitable
distribution of resources.
3.3. Embracing complexity
While Erin's students described their routes to school as full of
trees and they lived in a rural community experiencing de-
mographic shifts, Lynn's students lived in a very different com-
munity. She worked in an urban school with a high percentage of
Spanish speaking students located in a densely populated area of a
very large city. Lynn described the area around the school as “lit-
eracy overload”with a high number of signs in English and Spanish.
She also portrayed the school community as actively supporting the
Spanish-English bilingual population and with a rich history of
Spanish missions within the school district boundaries. But despite
this rich history, Lynn noted that historical events were taught in
simplistic and whitewashed (Sleeter, 2017) ways in Texas, further
encouraged by state standards' lack of depth. Lynn's critical liter-
acies unit was designed to take into account the historical resources
in the area of the Spanish missions, the cultural and linguistic
background of many of her students, and to expand on the stan-
dardized curriculum of Texas history. Lynn knew that many of the
students in her class were Mexican immigrants or Mexican Amer-
icans and her community mapping project reinforced the under-
standing that Spanish was spoken and used as much if not more
than English in the area. Yet she knew that the folklore surrounding
the Alamo and other Spanish missions in Texas simplistically de-
picts the Tejanos or Mexicans as the “bad guys”and the Anglos as
the “good guys”. Instead of presenting history this way, she wanted
her students to understand the complexities of life during the time
the Spanish established missions in Texas (during the late 17th and
early 18th centuries). She noted, “it is important to represent issues
from the sides of the Tejanos, Native Americans, and Anglos and
ﬁnd resources that address the positives of having the missionaries
in Texas and the negative side of the missionaries as well.”
Throughout the critical literacy unit she asked her students to
consider multiple perspectives around issues of ownership, power,
and government and religious interests in the early settlements in
Texas in different ways.
One way that Lynn brought to life these issues of ownership,
power, and interests, is through moderated classroom debates.
Lynn assigned her students particular points of view (Spanish
colonizer, Native American, Anglo-European English speaking
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 102932 5
colonizer, Mexican) and then asked them to use various sources to
put together a proﬁle of that community group and what their
interests would be during the time of the early mission settlements.
As part of the project, students brought in artifacts representing the
resources in the area (i.e. plants, tools, clothing, photographs). The
students then participated in a debate bringing to life the com-
plexities of life during the time of the Spanish colonization and
missions in Texas. She also had her students create a companion
reader's theater that they performed in both languages. These ac-
tivities helped the students articulate the various perspectives they
had studied and helped them see the multiple points of view their
Understanding multiple viewpoints and how to use language in
powerful ways are both important aspects of critical literacies, but
they do not stand alone. An equally important, and perhaps more
difﬁcult aspect of critical literacies is engaging in action to promote
social justice. In many of the teachers' critical literacies units, social
action or praxis was less evident than the other aspects of critical
literacies. One notable exception was Jessica. Initially she wasn't
sure how much she would be able to do with her third grade stu-
dents, but after mapping the resources in her community and
determining that her suburban, middle class students were privi-
leged, she wanted to help them better understand poverty.
Jessica identiﬁed the critical literacies themes of complexity of
problems along with social action and praxis as the focal point for
her unit. First, she chose about a dozen ﬁction and nonﬁction books
that dealt with the hardships of poverty. Then she designed several
lessons where students discussed wants versus needs, homeless-
ness, resources and scarcity, and the impact of poverty on various
communities. She frequently asked her students to compare what
they were reading about with their own community and experi-
ences. Jessica describes Chambers' (2009) nonﬁction book, Tackling
Poverty, as one that had quite an impact on her students and
together with resources from http://www.kidscanmakeadifference.
org/they decided on a service project they implemented in their
local community. While this was different from Jessica's typical
lessons, she reﬂected on the importance of such learning at the end
of the unit.
She said, The big idea of teaching critical literacies is to help your
students become aware of world issues, discuss them, and have
them come up with some kind of plan of how they can make a
difference. I learned how easy this was when I taught my own
lesson. The kids really enjoyed it and I could see, just from doing
one lesson, how many beneﬁts these types of [praxis] lessons
could give my students.
4. Discussion: looking back, looking forward
The teachers who participated in this project were asked to
reﬂect on their learning and to describe how community mapping
and the critical literacies units changed their teaching, if at all. I
especially wondered if teachers had broader views of literacies and
if they had seen the beneﬁt of community mapping for bringing
community literacies into their classroom literacy instruction.
While some teachers talked about how community mapping
expanded their views of what counts as literacy, most of the
teachers described how learning more about the community their
students lived in was eye-opening for a variety of reasons including
seeing new challenges in the community such as the invisibility of
particular linguistic or ethnic groups. Some teachers described how
simply documenting all of the language and literacies they noticed
helped them think about literacies in new ways. Yet the project
appeared to have the most impact when teachers asked their own
students to engage in community mapping as well. One special
education teacher who was enthusiastic about having students
explore the literacies in their own lives, Lezlie, said that community
mapping and a sociocultural approach to literacies not only opened
her up to new ways of thinking about literacy but it also helped her
name a theory of effective teaching for all students. She quoted
erez (2004) who describes literacy teaching from a socio-
cultural perspective as one that “seeks to understand the cultural
context within which children have grown and developed. It seeks
to understand how children interpret who they are in relation to
others, and how children have learned to process, interpret, and
encode their world”(p. 4).
Very few teachers described fear or anxiety regarding the
community mapping (although many expressed doubt they would
ﬁnd many examples of literacies, particular more traditional
writing). However, all of the teachers described initial uncertainty
or fear about the critical literacies units. Despite those fears there
were some teachers whose natural inclination was to jump in and
try it out. These teachers came to realize this project not only
expanded their own views of pedagogy, but also reinforced and
allowed them to name practices they already engaged in. For
example, Jessica said,
At the beginning of the semester I had a very intimidating view
of what critical literacy is and how it should be incorporated into
the classroom. I had this idea that it was this really complicated,
long, and drawn out set of lessons that you had to guide your
students through. While building my own unit and rereading
some of the articles to help me, I really started to realize that
critical literacies is not something new and foreign to my
Although critical literacies were not necessarily new to some of
the teachers, none had previously engaged in a systematic collec-
tion and analysis of language and literacy data in their school
communities. Many teachers reported how engaging with their
school community in a deeper, more sustained way broadened
their view of what counts as literacy and literacy teaching.
Engaging in the community language and literacy mapping project
before creating the critical literacies unit helped teachers under-
stand the range of literacies that exists in their students' commu-
nities and was an important tool for helping the teachers think
about ways to bring students' literacies into the standardized lit-
eracy curriculum, to incorporate the old with the new. Erin
described the role of multimodalities and multiple sources in un-
derstanding her students' lived experiences and literacies by
saying, “Books are not enough. We need to open our eyes and look
around to incorporate the literacies that surround our students and
are relevant to them.”Literacies that are relevant and responsive to
students may be engaging, but at times national and local curricula
do not keep up with the changing technologies and multiple lit-
eracies present in students’communities and lives. Moreover, there
are trends towards more scripted, standardization in literacy edu-
cation (Crocco &Costigan, 2007;Jerald, 2006). Thus, we spent time
discussing how to include community literacies along with
authentic and relevant experiences while also attending to required
standards. Providing teachers with ways to do both was an
important element of addressing their needs as professionals and
assisting them in seeing the possibilities.
This project was designed to open teachers' eyes to the lan-
guages and literacies present in the communities where they teach
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 1029326
so they can cultivate critical literacies instruction and build
responsive classroom instruction around students' practices and
lived experiences. Starting with the Community Mapping activity
was key in helping teachers understand their students' lived liter-
acies and broadening their sense of what counts as literacy. Most of
the teachers reported the mapping as instrumental in helping them
think about literacies in new ways and to shed deﬁcit perspectives
of the communities in which they taught. Yet there were some
instances where the community informant reinforced negative
views of the community. For example, in Christine's rural com-
munity a retired teacher she interviewed stated that there were
very few opportunities for students to engage in literate practices in
the community. This perspective heightened Christine's anxiety
about ﬁnding examples of literacy in the community and contrib-
uted to her overall view of the rural community as deﬁcient.
On the other hand, teachers who also asked their students to
identify the literacies of their lives and engage in similar mapping
and literacy identifying activities were able to speciﬁcally build on
community literacies in even richer ways than we initially imag-
ined. For example, Erin lived in a rural community that was similar
to Christine's. However, she built on children's own notions of lit-
eracies in their environment and nature, broadening her own sense
of literacies and eventually creating a rich curriculum built around
their unique community's natural resources. While it is difﬁcult to
control for the potentially negative perspectives of community
informants, in the future it would be important to hold discussions
around choosing informants and deﬂecting such limited views.
Interestingly, the public school students themselves, when asked,
provided the most open and broadened sense of literacies.
Although in this project it was not a requirement that teachers
engage students in this way, it may be beneﬁcial to do so in the
future. After all, students are best equipped to give us insight into
their own lives and literacies.
Connecting the community literacies to a pedagogical product,
the critical literacies unit, was key for the teachers’learning and
ability to incorporate community literacies in their lessons. In the
past, I had asked teachers to examine or explore community re-
sources but stopped short of bringing those resources into their
classroom instruction. In this study, teachers were required to build
on what they found and it enriched their learning and their
teaching. Perhaps because communities are made up of different
perspectives, two elements of critical literacy seemed to be a nat-
ural ﬁt for all the teachers: embracing complexity and considering
multiple perspectives. However, with the exception of Jessica, they
found it difﬁcult to create opportunities for action and push their
students to promote social justice in concrete ways.
In the opening vignette Jessica describes her realization through
the course of this project that she had made assumptions about her
students and the community she promised herself she would never
make. Jessica's point is important in thinking about the potential
for Community Language and Literacy Mapping projects such as
this. In this time of increased student diversity, teachers can and
should learn about and with their students and communities
through careful observation and ethnographic methods (Rogers,
2000;Villenas, 2019). In addition, connecting students' lived liter-
acies to ofﬁcial, standardized curricula can be powerful. The
teachers in this project all built critical literacies units that included
both state standards and the community resources they found.
Although this can be difﬁcult in these increasingly scripted times, I
hope the story of these teachers will encourage other teachers,
professors, and researchers in explicitly bringing community lit-
eracies into classroom literacies. This can be one more tool for
providing relevant, authentic, and critical literacies curriculum for
Community language and literacy mapping project
Community Language and Literacy Mapping is an inquiry-based
method that can be utilized by teachers to place literacy learning in
context by connecting students' lived realities to school instruction.
Too often, schools adopt reading curricula that are not relevant or
responsive to students’lives or that reﬂect a deﬁcit discourse
whereby the language and literacy resources of communities,
particularly those of marginalized students such as Emerging Bi-
linguals, students from the working class and families of color, are
either viewed negatively or are ignored altogether.
We seek to change this practice and instead to engage in
culturally sustaining pedagogies (Paris, 2012) that are responsive to
the cultures, languages, and lived experiences of your students.
For this assignment, you will map the cultural, linguistic and
literacy “geographies”(Moll, 2010, p. 454) of your school
How will this work?
1. You will spend some time observing and wandering in the
community surrounding your school (or if you are not working
in a school you may choose a school near where you live or
where you previously worked or want to work).
2. You will determine what size area you want to document (the
type of school you are working in eurban, suburban, or rural-
dmay inﬂuence the size you decide to document and analyze.
3. Begin to document the language(s) and literacies present in the
area by taking photos/videos, observing the neighborhood,
writing ﬁeld notes, drawing, and interacting with the people
who work and live in the area. Spend time documenting the area
at least three different times.
4. You are required to informally interview at least one community
informant as part of your research. A community informant is
someone who lives and/or works in the community and is
willing to talk to you about the area. You decide who to inter-
view and what questions exactly to ask them. Some of your
questions should pertain to what kind of beneﬁts and assets are
present in the community and what they enjoy about living/
5. You will write up your ﬁndings by describing the area sur-
rounding your school and your rationale for choosing this
particular geographical area. You will also describe and provide
examples of the language and literacy resources that are in it.
You may quantitatively tally what you ﬁnd, but you must
include photos and interviews from your project and draw out
themes or a combination of the two. You may also engage your
students in this work with you (not a requirement). For example,
you can ask your students to also document the languages and
literacies they experience in the area. Or you can ask students to
take photos of languages and literacies they experience, etc. This
is a form of ethnographic research.
How will I be graded? Please include the following in your
An introduction including a description of the areas you are
Rationale for the areas you chose to document (i.e. it is the
attendance boundary for the school or it is the route I use to get
to school or it is the route a student uses to get to school, etc)
Discussion of language(s) noted on billboards, signs, books
people are reading, placards, etc ewhat is there? What is NOT
there? What kind of variation do you see?
opez / Teaching and Teacher Education 87 (2020) 102932 7
o Include some representative photos with the discussion
Discussion of literacies noted in practice ewhat is there? What
is NOT there? Again, is there variation?
o Include some representative photos with the discussion
Description of your community informant and rationale for
choice of informant
Selections from the interview that informed your understanding
of this community …what was the informants' perspective of
the community? Was it congruent with your own? What kind of
insight did he/she give you? What was the value in talking with
A conclusion that reiterates your ﬁndings about this community
and what it taught you about languages and literacies or any
conﬁrmations/new learning that took place for you, how it re-
lates to your work as a teacher, as a literacy educator (see
Bausch, 2003 for examples)
Connections to any scholarly workdreadings from this class or
others with appropriate APA citations
Overall organization/mechanics/writing style (I expect graduate
level work with few errors and APA style)
Critical literacy unit outline
Theme: (Identify a topic or theme you will cover in your unit.)
Focus Principle:(Identify one critical literacy principle you will
address in this unitdsee McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004.)
Strategies: (Identify at least one strategy that will allow you to
focus on your principle.)
Grade Level and TEKS (TEKS refers to the required curriculum
in Texas): (List appropriate grade level and TEKS.)
Multicultural Literature Collection: (Write out a complete
bibliography of books to be used in this unit. Use the Children's
Literature Data Base on the Texas State Library Website and other
course resources). At least 8 of these books need to be written by
and about marginalized groups (these should be relevant and
appropriate for the age group you have selected).
Activities: (Include at least 6 literacy-related activities that will
address your critical literacy focus principle.)
EL Lesson: (This literacy lesson will focus on an English Learner.
Describe the learner's characteristics, i.e. proﬁciency level, language
background, etc. Include TEKS and ELPS for this lesson as well as the
steps and strategies used.)
Preparing for the Unit: (Describe what the teacher will need to
do to prepare for the lessons. Include websites, books, and articles
to help teacher's background knowledge.)
Materials: (List all of the materials you will need to complete
TEACHING THE UNIT
I. Engaging Students' Thinking: (How will you build students’
background knowledge about your topic and help them to begin
thinking about your critical literacy focus?)
II. Guiding Students’Thinking: (Describe how you will teach
your students as they begin to think about and explore your critical
III. Extending Students’Thinking: (Explain how you will help
students extend their thinking. Include at least three different ac-
tivities that will help students enhance their understanding of your
critical literacy focus.)
IV. Modifying for English Language Learners: (Identify three
different strategies to meet the literacy needs of English Language
V. Readers Theater: (Include one script of a readers’theater to
use with this lesson.)
Resources: (List any books or resources used in creating this
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