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Critical Comprehension [Grades K-6]

Critical Comprehension [Grades K-6]
Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning

February 2023 | 288 pages | Corwin

Because high-level comprehension cannot be divorced from wide-ranging texts

To be literate is to think through multiple perspectives, exploring diverse texts, and using the power of story to give students the life skills to discuss just about anything with critical curiosity. Critical Comprehension transforms this vital work into an accessible, three-step lesson process.

Using picture books, multimodal texts, and thoughtfully framed questions, each differentiated lesson expands students’ understanding of a text through:

  • First read: the “movie read”, during which the text is read without interruption
  • Second read: The teacher poses questions that probe deeper meanings through interaction with the text to summarize, name and highlight issues, analyze and infer, to make more informed decisions about what to believe and what to question.
  • Third read: Harnessing students’ curiosities, the class revisits the text to talk back to theme, symbols, central idea, or social, cultural, historical influences at work on author and audience

Popular media, classic novels, breaking news — the world’s content is ready for students to absorb. But are we ready to help them read it well? Equipped with this resource, the answer is, Yes, we are.

Chapter 1: What is Critical Comprehension
Chapter 2: Exploring Individual and Collective Identities
Chapter 3: Perspective
Chapter 4: Examining Stereotypes
Chapter 5: Confronting Bias
Chapter 6: Interrogating the Past and the Present
Chapter 7: Consuming Critically

I so wish I could have read this book years ago when making my first (clumsy) attempts at helping my second and third graders think more critically about the endless stream of texts they consume each and every day. I could have been so much more effective. Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez have provided a treasure trove of detailed lessons and resources designed to help justice-minded teachers not only understand the need for literacy learning rooted in efforts to address issues of injustice, but better understand what it might look like in their own classrooms. My hope now is that teachers are brave enough to do the work that needs to be done!

Chris Hass, Author of Social Justice Talk
Chris Hass, Author of Social Justice Talk

Critical Comprehension encourages educators to read critically, to take action, and to be part of a necessary global change. Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez relate their personal story, which enhances the call to disrupt what they refer to as “the perpetuation of dominant narratives that privilege some people at the expense of others.”  They describe opportunities that will allow learners to construct a deeper meaning of texts through a critical literacy lens while moving forward to take social action. This book uses a leading-edge instructional framework to center children of all ages as agents of their own learning. I believe this book will leave you with an overwhelming desire, to work alongside young learners, and will give you the inspiration and knowledge required to "be the change."

Carolyn Clarke, Assistant Professor, St. Francis Xavier University
Carolyn Clarke, Assistant Professor, St. Francis Xavier University

Wow. Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez have created a blueprint for critical comprehension that needs truly to be in the hands of all educators, pre-service and veteran. It's the book I want to share with my undergraduate students and the book I want my children's teachers to have. It is rife with concrete examples and beautiful questions to springboard the critical thinkers we all aim to cultivate. 

Nawal Qarooni, Educator, Author, and Literacy Coach
Nawal Qarooni, Educator, Author, and Literacy Coach

Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez wrote the book I wish I had when I was first studying critical literacy in grad school many years ago. Not only does this book define critical comprehension for teachers, but it masterfully supports teachers in putting the work of critical comprehension into practice in the classroom. This book is a great text for both teachers just starting on their journey of including critical comprehension throughout their school day and those who have been doing the work for years. The lessons are practical, meaningful, and highly engaging for students. This is a book I will turn to again and again in my work as a classroom teacher and writer.

Christina Nosek, Author of Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading
Christina Nosek, Author of Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading

Critical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning by Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez offers teachers a powerful look at ways to support young readers to read with criticality. The book is full of tools, teaching resources, lessons, book lists and questions to help us, as educators, examine our classrooms and practices. The authors help us to understand our own positionality in the classroom and they give us many opportunities to reflect throughout the book. It was helpful for me to get a peek into so many different classrooms to see how some of this work played out with children.

As an educator I feel fortunate to have this team thinking together and sharing their expertise. The combination of their personal stories and classroom anecdotes makes for very powerful learning as we all work to create inclusive classrooms.

Franki Sibberson, Author of Beyond Leveled Books
Franki Sibberson, Author of Beyond Leveled Books

Sample Materials & Chapters


Katherine Ann Kelly

Katie Kelly is a Professor of Education and Coordinator of the Literacy Graduate Program at Furman University in Greenville, SC. As a former teacher and literacy coach, Katie’s teaching and research interests include engaging children in meaningful literacy experiences and practices to foster lifelong literacy, equity, and justice. She is widely published in several peer-reviewed journals including The Reading Teacher and Voices from the Middle. She has co-authored three other books: Reading To Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply Speak Freely and Take Action (Heinemann), From Pencils to Podcasts... More About Author

Lester Laminack

Lester Laminack, Professor Emeritus, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina is now a full-time writer and consultant working with schools throughout the United States and abroad. He is the author of over 25 books for teachers and children. His academic publications include Climb Inside a Poem (Heinemann) Cracking Open the Author’s Craft (Scholastic), Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Aloud and Guided Conversations (Heinemann), The Writing Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide (Heinemann), Writers ARE Readers: Flipping Reading Strategies into Writing Instruction (Heinemann), The Ultimate Read Aloud Collection... More About Author

Vivian Vasquez

Vivian Vasquez is a Professor in the School of Education at American University in Washington, DC. She is a former pre-school and elementary school teacher. Her interests in creating spaces for critical literacies, in early years classrooms, began while she was a kindergarten teacher in the early 90s. She has published numerous articles and book chapters, and she has authored or co-authored fifteen other books including the award winning Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children. Vivian’s honors and awards include the Outstanding Elementary Educator in the English Language Arts Award, the NCTE Advancement of People of Color... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781071879337