Ensuring Criticality: The HILL Model

Contributing Faculty
This module was produced by Dr. Tomeka Wilcher.

Essential Questions

  • What is criticality?

  • How can we ensure our students are engaging in authentic learning experiences that will motivate them to explore who they are, question their biases, employ criticality, and take action?

Transforming instruction to ensure criticality consists of intentionally crafting a course that inspires students to think critically about themselves, their culture, the world, and the information that is presented within these systems. It involves thought-provoking questions, opportunities, and assignments that shift paradigms and motivate students to employ criticality. Criticality is "the capacity to read, write, and think in a way of understanding power, privilege, social justice, and oppression, particularly for populations who have been historically marginalized in the world" (Muhammad, 2018 as qtd. In Muhammad, 2020, p. 120). When students have criticality, they are not passive in their learning experience but challenge what they read, see, and hear. Providing students with authentic learning experiences that allow them to explore social injustices and problematic elements of power and privilege within their discipline shifts a class's culture as well as their mindset and perspectives. Teachers can structure their course with objectives, learning targets, and learning outcomes that equip students with the tools to question their biases and play a role in dismantling policies that disempower and create inequitable circumstances for marginalized people.

When teachers engage students in the process of employing criticality, they move beyond critically thinking about a topic. They become change agents who are working toward social transformation. They learn to identify the difference between facts and truths because it is in the truths where lived experiences are captured (Muhammad, 2020) and empathy is evoked. Immersed within a learning environment that is culturally and historically responsive, students become responsible consumers of knowledge who learn discernment and practice reflection. Within this course all voices are heard and honored (Muhammad, 2020).

In order to transform and humanize a course, teachers can implement the HILL Model. This model focuses on students' histories, identities, literacies, and liberation. The HILL Model is an equity framework grounded in Black education. Members of 19th century Black literary societies created four goals in which this model is structured: Identity, Skills, Intellectualism, and Criticality (Ramos-Brannon & Muhammad, 2020; Muhammad, 2020).

Identity: The teacher provides opportunities for students to explore who they are as they explore the course content. Students' identity must be explored because it aids them in making connections to themselves, the content, their peers, their teacher, their community, and the world. Students are complex and layered. Within these layers lie many identities that they must respond to so they can evolve and gain a fresh perspective as they tackle the content alone, with their teacher, and with their peers. As students are learning, teachers can provide space and opportunity to ask the question, "How am I learning about who I am and about the lives of others?"

Skills: In crafting the course, teachers create learning objectives and outcomes, which stem from the question, "What disciplinary skills am I advancing?"

Intellectualism: Assessments do not define intellect. To tap into students' intellect, teachers are introducing students to diverse texts with varying perspectives and thought-provoking ideas. They are also creating opportunities to tap into their students' emotional intelligence and social self-awareness. Students are asking themselves, "What am I becoming smarter about?" Teachers are asking themselves, "What must my students know and do to exemplify competence, ability, and expertise?"

Criticality: To ensure criticality, teachers craft lessons that encourage students to question information and to take action. It's important to embed texts, writing opportunities, and projects to explore social injustices, power, and privilege. Teachers as well as students should ask the questions, "How am I developing an understanding of power, equity, anti-racism, and anti-oppression?" Teachers should constantly reflect and ask the question, "How will I engage students' thinking about power, anti-oppression, and equity in the text, in communities, and in society?"

Curriculum Sheets

HILL Framework Planning Tool


Muhammad, G.E. (2018). A plea for identity and criticality: Reframing literacy learning standards through a four-layered model. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 62(2), 137-142.

Muhammad, G.E. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.

Muhammad, G.E. (2009). Protest, power, and possibilities: The need for agitation literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.