“Critical literacy seems really interesting, but why talk about menstruation?” A critical literacy approach to teaching and learning about menstruation
For the majority of young people, puberty and sexuality education is an important source of information about menstruation. Menstruation is part of the Positive Puberty unit, Year Six to Eight in the New Zealand Health and Physical Education curriculum. The Positive Puberty unit states that students develop a positive attitude towards the changes occurring at puberty. However, dominant discourse of shame and secrecy still construct menstruation as a worrisome event that must remain hidden from awareness. I argue that a different approach to the teaching of menstruation is necessary if we are to achieve outcomes that construct puberty, particularly menstruation, in a positive way. This research uses a critical literacy where teachers and students mutually investigate a variety of possible multiple readings (re)created in the texts of print advertising produced by menstrual companies. Teachers and students from Year Seven and Eight (ages 11-12) made up the participants of this study. The teachers attended two workshops to explore menstruation and critical literacy, and mutually construct lesson plans for an observed classroom lesson with each participating teacher. From each classroom a mixed-gendered group of six students took part in pre and post-lesson interviews, and the teachers all participated in exit interviews. All workshops and interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed, and the transcriptions along with my field notes of the lesson and their activity sheets made up the data of this research. I subjected this data to post structural discourse analysis to explore the use of critical literacy as an approach to teaching menstruation. From this analysis, I argue that while teachers still take up and (re)produce discourses of shame and secrecy, students were able to use moments of resistance to explore alternative constructions of menstruation with critical literacy dialogue promoting this exploration. As a result, I argue that while shame and secrecy are still being (re)produced, a critical literacy approach can open up new ways to construct menstruation. However, both teachers and students may need further development and experience engaging with a critical literacy approach that challenges and expands discursive constructions of menstruation. And finally, as education and research into puberty and sexuality education remains underdeveloped, I propose that more research examining how we teach the subject, and in doing so how we expand the discourse that are made available to young people, is needed.
Advisor: Sandretto, Susan; Gunn, Alex
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: puberty and sexuality education; menstruation; critical literacy; sexuality education; dialogue; teacher education
Research Type: Thesis