Developing critical reading
: how interactions between children, teachers and texts support the process of becoming a reader

  • Vivienne Mary Smith

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis is a theoretical exploration of critical reading in the primary school. It interrogates the term 'critical reading', examines and conceptualises the thinking processes by which readers make texts mean and proposes a description of critical reading as it is evidenced in young children.

    At the heart of this thesis is an ethnographic study of the reading practices of classes in three contrasting primary schools. It follows and records the reading experiences of one class of children from each school, beginning in the middle of Year Two and continuing until the children near the end of Year Three.

    The resulting empirical data is reflected in and measured against theoretical understandings of learning and of reading derived from a number of sources. Vygotskian and Bakhtinian theories of the interdependency of thought and language are considered, critical pedagogy is explored and literary theory, especially the ideas of reader response theorists and postmodernists, is examined.

    From this process of reflection and assimilation, three theoretical positions are achieved:

    • that the interactions that take place between children, between children and teachers and between children, teachers and texts are of vital importance in the development of children as critical readers. The thesis stresses the central role of the teacher in controlling the possibilities of dialogue in the classroom. It argues that children who are exposed to the heteroglossia (Bakhtin 1981) of Mennipean dialogue and rich and varied textual experiences are better equipped to read critically than those who are not.

    • that the process of reading can be modelled to show the nature of these interactions. The thesis proposes a series of theoretical models that attempt to map out the dynamic, interactive process by which readers make texts mean. The models chart the pushes and pulls of thinking that a reader must employ during the act of reading in order to shape meaning from an indeterminate text.

    • that a description of critical reading activity in young readers can be postulated. The thesis proposes a sequence of indicators that seem to be characteristic of the behaviour of children who are developing the ability to read critically.

    Finally, the thesis stresses the necessity of reading widely to children if they are to take on the heteroglossia that will enable them to read critically, and the need to empower them by encouraging and honouring their own interpretive voices.
    Date of Award2000
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    • University College Worcester
    SupervisorMargaret Perkins (Supervisor) & Margaret Meek Spencer (Supervisor)


    • primary school
    • critical reading
    • education
    • young readers
    • ethnography

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