Faith and Literacy


"Faith and literacy" by Amanda Villagomez (CatholicTeacher.com)

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc, 2017. All rights reserved.

Reading the world with a Catholic lens.

By Amanda Villagómez

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Childhood and adolescence are formative phases for identity construction. Knowing that the Catholic faith should shape who we are, parents and teachers have the challenge of working collaboratively in order to nurture a strong foundation in the faith as students interact with secular contexts in different ways throughout their lives. Providing a bridge between Catholic values and secular culture can support emerging into adulthood with a strong sense of Catholic identity that will influence goals, decisions, and actions. Literacy experiences are rich with opportunity to explore and consider scenarios through the lens of faith.

Knowing the Faith

In order to effectively view the world through a Catholic lens, youth need a solid understanding of the faith. Attending Catholic school provides unique possibilities to supplement what parents are doing. The universal call to holiness prompts us to strive towards heroic virtue with Jesus and the saints as our mentors.

Intersection of Faith and Literacy

Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of reading highlights the importance of the active role of readers. When teachers make explicit connections between deep engagement with texts and Catholic faith, this contributes to scholars being able to authentically navigate life as disciples of Jesus. 

If teachers collaborate across content areas and grade levels, there can be a consistent focus on applying faith to literacy activities for students. For example, if in religion class they are studying Jesus’ actions with an inquiry stance and then in reading analyze characters thoughts, actions/reactions, and decisions in comparison to how Jesus interacted with others, they will be able to read through a Christ-centered lens. They can also consider historical scenarios in social studies or current events in science with Catholic morals as a framework. Infusing the faith throughout the day helps students to have a more integrated sense of self, starting to make connections that being Catholic should impact who they are and how they view the world in their day-to-day lives. 

English Language Arts Example

Teachers can have a guiding theme that promotes inquiry and discussions about texts aligned to virtue, including the following examples:

  • Stand up for what is right, even if you are standing alone. How do people resolve conflicts and show their true beliefs?
  • Words are powerful. How do everyday actions affect others?
  • Rise to the challenges that come your way. How do people respond to the decisions and events that shape their lives? 

Alongside developing an understanding of virtue, within these themes, teachers can prompt students to analyze examples and non-examples with questions such as: Which characters are demonstrating courage? How is temperance supporting the character’s ability to deal with conflict? Why would it have been hard to model these virtues? Why was it worth it to strive for virtue even though it was hard? How did a lack of prudence make the problem even bigger? How did characters respond to this injustice? How did the character learn from the experiences and change as a result?

Next, teachers can help students reflect on personal growth with questions such as: How have you reacted in similar experiences? How can you grow in virtue based on what you have learned through these characters’ experiences?

Support for this type of thinking can be woven throughout different layers of the reading block, such as read-aloud, book clubs, and independent reading, providing students with ample opportunities to see their teacher and peers navigate this type of thinking and develop their own abilities.

Common Core Connections

This work aligns with ELA Common Core expectations in many ways. For example, analyzing through the lens of the faith aligns with Reading standard 3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. Having the theme and inquiry question span across multiple texts supports Reading standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. If teachers incorporate analytical essays for students to demonstrate understanding of the texts, that can align with writing standard 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence, as well as writing standard 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

By intentionally thinking about how a foundation in the Catholic faith can support text analysis, Catholic schools can impact students’ abilities to “seek what is above” (Colossians 3:1) in their day-to-day lives.

Amanda Villagómez is a wife, mom of five, and teacher educator from Oregon. Some of her greatest educational interests are faith formation and literacy.

All content copyright © Today’s Catholic Teacher/Bayard.com. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for classroom/parish use with full attribution as long as the content is unaltered from its original form. To request permission to reprint online, email editor@catholicteacher.com.