ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín


“Books play and important role in children’s social and academic development” because it is in their “early childhood years”, they develop their literacy. Ana Paez

In order to evaluate a text or some texts under its appropriateness or not to be used in a Critical Literacy (CL) instruction, it is necessary to understand, first, the definition of CL and its distinction from Functional or Cultural Literacy; second, to present some few characteristics of an education framed under this instructional approach and, then to explain the importance of using and adopting high quality books and materials, in the classroom, that allow learners to think critically and have a better performance and development within CL teaching and learning. All those ideas and concepts mentioned above will allow me to carry out a more precise, accurate and reasonable evaluation of some materials (Textbooks) I have used as a learner and as a teacher during the time I have been exposed to English primers. For this paper, I propose the following order. First, I will frame the analysis under the theories that will support this paper, employing Allan Wakers, Ana Paez, Peter Mayo, Joan Wink, and Sunny Man Chu Lau words and explanations they have provided about these topics and concerns.  Second, I will do the analysis of two textbook –One I used when I was a learner – New Reading English is Fun, Book 4 (NREF), and one I am currently using as a teacher, in the High school I am working in, which I will call UB, since I do not want to mention its exact name due to some ethical and professional issues I am concerned about; and then, I will provide a conclusion in which I will try to state which of the two books or if the two can be used to teach CL in the best possible way..

Firstly, Critical Literacy is explained as an educational project where “Readers and writers use a variety  of modes of inscription—print, oral, and multimedia—to understand, analyze, critique, and transform their social, cultural, and political worlds.” (Luke, 2009). Moreover, CL has some aims and purposes, among others, CL provides an answer to the new “social, cultural, and economic conditions.”, in a “point-of-decolonization” educational philosophy that uses new “literacies stemming from the new digital technologies” that at the same time transform communities, societies, students and teachers` world (Luke, 2009). Functional or Cultural Literacy is defined as a mean to obtain access to a “standard cultural and linguistic baggage” a world where there is an imagination of “what should and can be” is always present (Mayo,1995). A teaching and learning process under this instructional approach should be applied on a frame with some characteristics; it should motivate learners to be active readers and writers of “cultural text” when they create and present their own understanding of the readings and writings in order to shape and transform their surrounding, communities and social circumstances and it needs teachers that do not consider their learners limitations as an issue or as a barrier to cope with “complex social and moral issues”(Lau,2012). And the importance of the usage of high quality books lies on the idea that they can develop learners’ comprehension of social issues, elucidating deep and meaningful questions, conversations and discussions from and by students in class sessions, while developing all language skills at the same time (Perez, 2010).

Secondly, the following analysis will be based, as mentioned previously, on two textbooks; New Reading English is Fun and UB. First, I will describe their similarities in appearance, layout, structure and the way the goals are states for the students, and second, I will present their differences related to content, topics, activities and the objectives they are aimed to and want to obtain from and by the learners. NREF and UB were both designed for teenagers and adolescents between seventh and ninth grade. Both of them have been used in private and public institutions to teach all English skills, however, NRFE prioritizes reading and writing while UB uses the four skills (even the grammar) to achieve its goals. Their blurbs and the tables of contents are very appealing, and they present, in a simple but clear and remarkable way, all the contents, topics and concepts they are going to develop through the book. The goals of each book are clearly stated along with its claims at the beginning and at the end of the texts. The images found through NREF and UB serve for specific and different purposes, they help students to understand a reading, they introduce a topic and they make part of certain activities; and their layouts are not cluttered but well-presented and well distributed.

However, both books have some important differences not only in their arrangement but also in their objectives, contents, and goals they expect to develop in the students` processes. About their presentation, the most remarkable differences are: New Reading English is Fun language contents are presented through readings, not through units or chapters as they are in UB. Each one of the NREF texts has pre, during and post reading activities while UB chapters start with a listening that is usually a dialogue with some comprehension questions, then continues with a vocabulary section and another dialogue that works as an introduction for the grammatical topic covered on it, and it ends up with a speaking activity.  In some other chapters, the unit starts by a vocabulary activity, then it goes to a reading comprehension activity that serves to approach the grammar and some grammatical exercises connected to the topic and then, it finishes by a speaking and writing exercise. But these are not the differences that really matters; the most important differences lie in the content and the objectives of the readings and units or chapters both books have and it is there where I want to base the second part of my analysis.

UB book, is a text which topics are connected to either English and American teenagers or English and British culture; topics such as students who are not from those countries and go to their schools to practice English; the routine, entertainment and plans they like doing on week and weekend days; the structure, architecture and style from their buildings, clothing and belongings; the preferences, behaviors and attitudes teenagers from those countries have or should show towards and in different situations; the history, landmarks, famous people and wild life those places have and even the ideals, morals and life perspective they are suppose to follow or to pursue to be happy and successful in a globalized or developed world. This book is just a modern version of a colonial book that shows and takes into account life in those Anglo-Saxon countries, without showing interest or motivation to know and learn from and about other places and cultures (Mayo, 1995). They do not show people like us interacting or dealing with the situations we have to experience here in our country, everyday, or the situation there, when a Latino has to travel in there to learn a different language or when he or she is searching for a new life quality that – according to them— has more opportunities and a better future for their children and families.  This book just allows students to analyze and criticize the social, cultural, and political world (Luke, 2009) from Europe and North America; it is not a cultural text that has its own meaning (Lau, 2012), it is just a text that perpetuates the ideas that those countries are better, that life there is better too, and that they have a better culture than we do. Moreover, it shows that we have to be like them, to behave like them and to follow their life perspectives and ideals to be a recognized citizen or an influential person that has a meaningful life (Mayo, 1995). We can even say, this book doesn´t allow students to think about their own context in a different way or in a different country because in this test, it is just projected the same stereotype of what success, happiness and life perfection is based on American and European Lives and contexts.

On the other hand, we have the book New Reading English is Fun which topics are more about the society, above all, about the Colombian society, history, story and life from its teenagers and inhabitants. It also presents topics that go from daily issues young and teenager Colombian people experience, such as, self image, family relations, sexual choices, drug dependence and physical fitness, moving into global and social issues, like save our planet and animals in danger of extinction, to topics that deal with our own history, foundations, origins and legacy, such as, South America´s Resources, Indian Legends, Colombian History, Discover the Amazon Region and the Galapagos Island and the Magic of Pre-Columbian gold. This is a book that was thought to be used in Colombia, with materials and readings that make part of our story and history; Cultural tests that have their own meaning (Lau, 2012) and a meaning for us. Stories that portray the life of our people either in the present or in the past, something that can help us to understand many of the mistakes and wise decision we made, are making and have made during many centuries and years in order to repeat them or to avoid them for the future. A text that allows and helps us; first, to inquiry and analyze, and then to discuss and create critical discourses, conversations and debates (Luke, 2009) about the society, culture and politics of our own country and continent. A book that prioritized the Colombian culture over the foreign ones and that even respects and teach us about a minority and other minorities that everybody, in Colombia, has a connection with (the Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and Pre-Colombians), showing that no culture is more important than the other (Mayo, 1995) but that all of them can live, positively, together, learning from each other, engaging and fostering cultural diversity, free of thought and mind and a good life in community and in society.

Then, there is one question that arises. If we want to use any of those two textbooks to implement, to generate or to promote a Critical Literacy instruction in our classroom, while engaging our learners in a search for a better understanding of their surroundings and a better comprehension of themselves. Which one of these textbooks, would it be?  in my personal opinion, which I expect that it will be shared by the readers of this text and my colleagues, the best option we have is to use New Reading English is Fun because it will help us to create considerations, deliberations and exchanges where our students can understand their reality, context and background in order to propose options and ideas that will lead into a transformation of their lives, reality and even in a transformation of our own lives, profession and labor as teachers and people (Allan, 2009), (Lau, 2012); those ideas can become proposals that would change and transform the social, economical y cultural space where everyone of us lives and where everyone of us would like to live in. (Mayo, 1995). But, it is necessary to clarify that the book is not only the agent which will provide the frame or the space for the class discussion and analysis that will help learners to go beyond reading and understanding texts, which at the same time will help them to be critical actors of the negative and positive aspects of the society, but the teacher who using those materials and a set of questions, activities and other resources will engage learners in a process of thinking and re-thinking about the different issues they face and will face in their lives, the situations that need to be transformed but that can only be changed once students realize they happened or are happening and once they understand they are able to transform it (alter their own reality) and this book is an excellent tool to promote and elucidate that analysis, critique and changes in our learners.

Bibliography And Webgraphy

Cárdenas, R. & Cardona, G. & Valencia, L. (2009) New Reading English is Fun, Book 9. Bogotá: Fondo Educativo Panamericano.

Lau, S. (2012) Reconceptualizing Critical Literacy Teaching in ESL Classrooms. Literacy and Language Learners. The Reading Teacher vol. 65 (Pp.325-339). Newark, DW: International Reading association

Luke, A. & Woods, A. (2009) Critical Literacies in Schools: A Primer. Voices from the Middle, vol. 17 Number 2, December 2009 (Pp. 9-18). Chicago, IL. National Council of Teachers of English.

Mayo, P. (1995) Critical Literacy and Emancipatory Politics: The Work of Paulo Freire.. Int. J. Educational Development. Vol. 15, No 4 (Pp. 363-379). Great Britain. Elsevier Science Ltd

Paez, A. (2010) Critical Literacy in the Classroom [Slide share presentation]. Retrieved from: website.



  1. Chris
    September 9, 2013

    Hi, Julian I found very compelling your post, specially because I didn’t know there was a text book that its contents are focused in our culture rather than focusing in the american and British culture, like most of the EFL text books do. I have a question if a text book is based in the American culture. How a teacher from a different country where english is not spoken can contextualize the contents into his culture and fight against tbe American stereotype and the political, economic interests that lie behind it? Like for example the book you mentioned above “UB” how that teacher would use CL practices in order to change that and avoid the americanism stereotype?

  2. rudaca2013
    September 10, 2013

    Julian. I think I agree with you in the choice of the textbook, considering the contents in the light of the course that we are now taking. However, I can’t help thinking if what we think right now about textbooks is just the effect of the readings on our own beliefs, or if it is what we really think. I can’t imagine a textbook to teach Spanish without aspects of the Spanish culture, beliefs, ideologies, customs, traditions, and many other things that go around the language. A Spanish textbook for American learners of Spanish in the context of Manhattan, Houston, L.A. or any other city or town would look a bit weird to me. We may be affected by historical events that somehow have mingled with foreign language teaching.

    • Cristy
      September 22, 2013


      I would like to take a look to “New Reading English is Fun” book, because it sounds a very interesting material to use in our regular classes, also because usually the classes are planning according to the book’s topics, and most of them bring foreign culture to be studied. And I didn’t have had the opportunity to use that kind of materials as a teacher neither as a student along the years I have had contact with English language. The activities from this kind of books could be familiar, useful and motivating for learners and at the same time, this activities could help students to be close to the language and to be aware of their learning process.

      Anyway those books that are designed with foreign themes could be interesting in order to know about others cultures around world, and also try to help students to be focused on their real life.

  3. Deninson Vásquez
    September 19, 2013

    Julián. I read your text,in which there are some comparisons between the book you used as a student and the book that you are using in the school where you work. As you mentioned there are some similarities as well as some diffrences.However , one of the most interesting things you tell us in your text is the issue of how one of those books work and see the world from an European or North American Perspectives.
    We have to bear in mind the we live in a country of regions and that has a lot of diversity.Unfortunately, we only teach “international culture” because we think if we do not do it, students are not going to learn anything related to the target language.

  4. Deninson Vásquez
    September 19, 2013

    Julián. I read your text,in which there are some comparisons between the book you used as a student and the book that you are using in the school where you work. As you mentioned there are some similarities as well as some diffrences.However , one of the most interesting things you tell us in your text is the issue of how one of those books works and sees the world from an European or North American Perspectives.
    We have to bear in mind the we live in a country of regions and that has a lot of diversity.Unfortunately, we only teach “international culture” because we think if we do not do it, students are not going to learn anything related to the target language.

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