A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
An instructional focus on Critical Literacy (CL) encourages students to become active readers and writers of cultural texts so that they can create their own meanings to shape and transform their social conditions” Lankshear & Mclaren, 1993; Shor 1992 (cited in Lau, 2012)
Tenets in critical literacy have now been to transform education effectively. Taking into account Freire and Macedo’s (1987) definition “reading the word and the world”, to reshape and what is so-called the ‘banking model’ of education (Luke, 2012) where learners’ lives and cultures were taken to as irrelevant. (p. 5) led to think critically in critical literacy to deeply overwhelm previous educational tendencies and give a ‘revolutionary social analysis’ (Luke & Woods, 2009) to education. In doing so, critical literacy has been widespread as a mean to venture in a new socio-cultural curriculum which entails reflexive theoretical lines; feminist, poststructuralism, critical race theory, postmodern cultural theory, postcolonialism (Luke and woods, 2009) into the meaning of being ‘critical’ bring forward insights for a more inclusionary curriculum regarding cultural analysis. Luke (2012) argues “critical literacy is an overtly political orientation to teaching and learning and to the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic content of the curriculum. It is focused on the uses of literacy for social justice in marginalized and disenfranchised communities. (p.5). As a consequence, the term critical literacy has been piecemeal introduced in the voices of a more equality culture, and look widely to contribute the improvement of literacy practices in the educational and technological context. Mora (2012) states that “ there is a broad to learn more about how teachers and teachers educators modify their literacy beliefs and practices as they respond to historical, and technological changes. (p.8).
Concerning all these aforementioned issues, it must be a commitment to deal with critical literacy in Colombian national context. It is well-known that Colombian educational policies are not mostly implicated with critical theories specifically in public contexts; in contrast, there is a particularly outdated focus on dominant traditional models without deepening on history or community events. There is a broad focus in these models on the development of revisionist versions of history and curriculum, altering dominant descriptions of national history, colonialism and political history and processes. Nieto, Bode, Kang, & Raible, 2008 (cited in Luke & Woods, 2009, p.13). That is, it is of an immediate action to make awareness in order to nourish Colombian education and create appropriateness of what could have been critical approaches such as critical literacy as a whole.
Analyzing teaching processes and materials. Working on critical literacy may help English language teaching processes to make shifts in Colombia educational setting. Taking as a reference that critical literacy seeks for the inclusion of several critical theories, cultures, and critical consciousness (Izadinia & Abednia, 2010). The teaching process must aim to school transformation and an active management of knowledge. The goal of these approaches to education is the development of critical consciousness, which imperative to human action and social transformation and the ranking of their own identities through their own actions. Cervetti, Perdales, & Damaco, 2001 (cited in Izadinia & Abednia, 2010, p.53) and instead of being passive recipients of knowledge, they actively construct knowledge (Izadinia & Abednia, 2012, p.53). In other words, the Freiran condition of ‘reading the word and the world’ call us to render a new perspective in teaching; it suggests going in depth in education, language education for the case, and analyzing language education teaching in our cultural setting. It is to assume that open minds to an analytical and critical discourse entails to overview what our students are interested in, their origins, what they have in and around their cultural context. The alternative is to begin from learners’ worldviews, in effect turning them into inventors of the curriculum, critics and creators of knowledge (Luke, 2012, p.7). Accordingly, introducing a critical literacy practice to the teaching process we are acquainted with becomes a powerful balance to achieve shifts in actual curricula and at the same time our classroom atmosphere.
This entails working with learners to question class race, and gender relations through dialogic exchange. In such a setting, traditional authority and epistemic knowledge relations of teachers and students shift: learners become teachers of their understanding and experiences and teachers become learners of these same contexts (Luke, 2012, p. 7)
All these concerns about critical literacy must enable teachers to analyze materials in classroom practices. As an academic challenge, it is perfectly clear that the use of materials in literacy such as textbooks is means to responding to the required critical discourse in the construction of a critical thinking. In these approaches the essence of education is not mastering the A to Z of the books but developing critical thinking skills in order to transform inequitable, undemocratic, or oppressive institutions and social relations. Burbles & Berk, 1997 (cited in Izadinia & Abednia, 2010). Going beyond texts, that is a truth the use of texts in classroom language teaching has worked as a procedural order of ideas, that is to say, texts have worked enough as a mean to transmit knowledge through a set of rules and later on being transmitted according to a topic. Yet it is even more than a truth that these kinds of texts we commonly draw on the classroom setting are not appropriately at all for critical literacy practices; they do not what the target purpose of entailing materials of this kind is. According to Luke & Woods (2009):
Language, texts, and their discourse structures are more than neutral or factual representations of the world. Texts are a means for construing, shaping, and reshaping worlds in particular normative directions with identifiable ideological interests and consequences for individuals and communities. (p. 9).
Hence, seeing the common textual practice from critical literacy, it makes a distinction of what traditional discourse is and what the actual discourse actually means in terms of a transformative education. Fairclough (1992) has defined a discourse as a practice not just representing the world, but of signifying the world, constituting and construing the world in meaning (p. 64) (Cited in Locke and Cleary, 2011, p.120). Texts then, in critical literacy may appeal to shift a reading a writing attitude in students to tackle meaningful texts. (Locke & Cleary, 2011) states that a:
Critical literacy puts a value on encouraging language users to see themselves as engaged in textual acts which are part of a wider set of discursive practices that actively produce and sustain pattern of dominance and subordination in the wider society and offer members of society prescribed ways of being particular sorts of people. (p. 121)
Going deeply with the abovementioned about texts, I will state some arguments contrasting three texts, I have had the opportunity to work to learn and to teach with and giving more insights of what critical literacy proposes for a transformative teaching in and outside the classroom. I want to clarify that the study made to these texts is not made thoroughly, but in general terms, so the analysis of them first starts describing as follows.
The development of communicative skills. Through this approach, the activities in the classroom are designed for oral comprehension, control practice, and free production. As a goal this kind of a approach on the texts seeks for developing skills through an integrated way. Besides, the texts propose situations for everyday life contexts such as school, social life, home and so forth. It is supposed to work with students throughout meaningful experiences by using both oral and written language.
An integrated syllabus. It takes grammar as a basis; as integrated approaches are presented communicatively, grammar is used by practical activities, functional and situational and also linking the four skills as well as pronunciation and vocabulary.
Content-based approach. The texts embody contents which are relevant for students or catch their attention such as music, television, sports, famous people, places, etc. Even, one of the texts, remarks that through this approach, students discover and do things, extend their knowledge about other cultures and their own doing reading and writing.
A task-based and cross-curricular approach. The texts contain tasks which entail to understand and use the language cooperatively and communicatively. The development of projects through units helps students to contextualize across other areas students are acquainted with. According to the texts, students doing these kinds of activities cooperate with others while learning.
Evaluation. It is the last step offered by the texts. This part encircles all what was learned in terms of grammar by the students and a self-assessment to survey what they have known or missed to know during each unit.
Although these main features found while analyzing the texts are somehow appropriate to teaching the use of the language, nevertheless, it would be meaningful as well to border on the critical use of the language. I will address some issues which concerning critical literacy theory, texts, teaching process and classroom atmosphere ought to target:
Immersion on multiculturalism. To include ‘politics of voice’ (Luke, 2012) might access to a more inclusive discourse. It must lead to avoid marginalization and exclusion of ethnic minority groups which means to favor discourses of multicultural education or multicultural and social reconstructionist education (Locke & Cleary, 2011, p. 121). In other words, an education through multiculturalism entails an engagement to respect several forms of difference.
Global changes associated to technology. Janks (2012) argues that in “an age where the production of meaning is being democratized by web 2, social networking sites and portable connectivity, powerful discourses continue to speak us and through us” (p. 150). It is a fact that new sources of technology have overshadowed the way we communicate. As a result, there must be a construction of utility between education and technology and to take advantage of technological skills as a powerful tool to foster critical thinking and current changes.
Texts as a mean to create self-awareness. Teaching and learning participants might arrange their position towards working with texts which favor ‘critical language awareness’ Fairclough, 1992 (Cited in Luke & Woods, 2009). This approach guarantees the inclusion of a critical pedagogy acknowledging the distinctive critical function of texts.
The development of a critical pedagogy, such critical literacy leads to curricula transformation. Beginning with the idea to shape and reshape the world and educational practices must be the referent point to start with these critical theories as a matter of reflexivity and the inclusion of ethnic minority groups, social differences and a revisionist approach for history in order to revise the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic contexts which implies to target on critical literacy. A transformative focus on it pretends to create multicultural spaces and perceptions of teaching and learning in which a critical use of the language be meaningful for all. Likewise, it would be relevant to undertake the use of materials enabling teachers and learners to broadly change thinking into critical thinking. In the same way, new technological resources bet to venture as well into current studies immerse in critical literacy challenge us to evaluate and revaluate curricula and engage in economical, sociolinguistic, social relations changes and a new vision of culture in teaching.
Janks, H.(2012).The Importance of critical literacy. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 11,(1), 150-163.
Izadinia, M, & Abednia, A. (2010). Dynamics of an EFL reading course with critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [online], 6(2), 51-67.
Lau, M.C. (2012). Reconceptualizing Critical Literacy Teaching in ESL Classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 65(5), 325-329.
Luke, A. (2012). Critical Literacy: Foundational Notes. Theory into Practice, 51(4), 4-11.
Luke, A. & Woods, A. (2009). Critical literacies in Schools: A Primer. Voices from the Middle, 17(2), 9-18.
Locke, T & Cleary, A. (2011). Critical literacy as an approach to literacy study in the multicultural, high-school classroom. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(1), 119-139.
Mora Velez, R.A. (2010). An analysis of the literacy beliefs and practices of faculty and
graduates from a preservice English teacher education program (Unpublished
Doctoral dissertation). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign IL.