An exploratory case study of educators learning together about religion in children's literature




DeWalt, Lora Michelle

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This exploratory case study examines the experience of literacy leaders collaboratively analyzing award-winning picturebooks to understand the interactions of religion and children’s literature. The critical literacy educators worked together to conduct a critical content analysis for themes of religion. I observed their analysis sessions and discussions in order to consider the following research questions: What religious connections do literacy leaders identify and draw upon when analyzing award-winning picturebooks published between 2014-2019 through a lens of religious pluralism? How does participating in a collaborative critical content analysis, focused on religion and picturebooks, expand literacy leaders’ understanding of critical literacy and support their vision for socially just pedagogical practices? Using theories of literacy as a social practice (Street, 1984), religious literacy (Dinham & Francis, 2015; Skerrett, 2014), and religious pluralism (Eck, 2001; Rouner, 1984) I examined the literacy leader’s collaborative analysis process. Additionally, I drew on Rosenblatt’s (1978) transactional theory, Sipe’s (2008) theory of literary understanding, and Janks’ (2000) conceptualization of critical literacy through domination, diversity, access, and design. I conducted pre-and-post surveys from participants, audio and video recorded the analysis sessions, collected artifacts including emails and anchor charts, and individually interviewed each participant in a semi-structured format. The data collection took place over six months in the summer and fall of 2019. My analysis processes included both inductive and deductive coding. In response to my first research question, I found literacy leaders connected religion within children’s literature through personalization, hermeneutic, and aesthetic impulses. My findings add to Sipe’s (2008) understanding of personalization by demonstrating how the literacy leaders personalized and made meaning from the texts in response to their multiple relational identities as readers, teachers, leaders, and women. Additionally, my data analysis supported Janks’ (2000) notions of critical literacy as interconnected. However, through participation in collaborative critical content analysis, the literacy leaders demonstrated increased intersectional understandings of religion as a component of critical literacy education and expressed personal awareness of religious intolerance as a form of systemic oppression in schools.


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