A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
“The more space open or won for
critical action, the more we can speak and act critically
to change ourselves and the world”
“What is Critical Literacy”, Ira Shor
As reality makes part of our steps and language does of our thoughts, these two vehicles for living as rational beings as we are, so it is our primary responsibility to transform and resignify that reality in which we historically move and the language as means for “molding the clay” as metaphor of giving the shape to our experience of living in society. Those come to be absolutely configured in spaces for convergence such as schools where new citizens are projected to the society through pedagogical practices to “deploy education in a process of progressive social change” (Kellner, 2000), but scoping on that and in the best way of conceiving classrooms as spaces for the risks and the creativity (Mora, 2009).
Likewise, through the input and output competences in learning and gathering the world in our minds as they are reading and writing process which are seen in schools contexts as primarily bases for teaching a language process, but seen out of the real context of what a learner is interested in because they are settled just on what a teacher or an educational system needs. That is to say, in most of the cases when students as language learners come to be recipients of teaching practices that are not comprehended as transformative ways in a changeable society which is athirst of critical agents of its opened book of historicity. Indeed, it is a risk, but in favor of the silence, submissiveness and obedience of students who are called without daring to oppose and resist ideas, rules and structures just learning them while they are imposed on them as a pervasive mechanism of the educational system for maintaining the hegemonic discourse and where it raises the importance of what Mahsa Izadinia calls as the importance of developing voice in students.
In fact, that is a constant issue in teaching and learning process, the way as language is conceived and specifically the mainstream of teaching English currently focuses on developing students´ discrete language skills (Ko and Wang, 2012) because language has to be seen as the vehicle throughout we get the world and we transform it. So that, there is a socio cultural and a context to which our teachable perspective should be put on and where reading and writing do not constitute merely personal affairs involving individual skills, but social practices that a person engages in within a given society, as it is the view from Gee´s perspective.
That is when critical literacy comes to be a necessity and a current issue in these processes of teaching and learning because it begins for questioning power relations, discourses and identities in a world which has to be considered not yet finished (Shor, 1999). Hence, there is a necessity and a call for a critical approach in teaching and learning a language process, where language and literacy education requires the setting of culturally appropriate and generative contexts for enactment of cultural identity and solidarity, even equity and social justice (Albright and Luke, 2008). So that, our identity even cultural are shaped and reshaped through language and in that sort of discourse negotiations we reconfigure our symbolic world where meanings make part not just of a text but from a vivid context within they are actualized day by day. Owing to it, critical literacy would function as a theoretical vehicle to lead students, even teachers, to develop a critical relationship to their own knowledge and their own identity, (Shor, 1999).
According to that, teaching is seen in a responsible way a kind of social but a semiotic action as a path for letting students to find their own voice. Following with the metaphor of molding the clay, teachers should let students´ fingers have contact with the mud, as a matter of reason of getting their identity through letting them to get the world in a critical way and not in a passive and receptive one as it was a recipe for acting as androids which just receive information and imitate actions. Yet, there are many elements surrounding to the critical engagement as Luke identified the texts and curriculum, considering these as cultural and political standpoints for a critical consciousness in the way of having students as agents for transformation of their own realities.
Consequently, having access to both cultural and linguistic resources and the means to critique them is crucial for being engaged with textual and cultural practices (Hammond and Macken, 1999). Nevertheless, in some circumstances, the classroom exhibits not democratic power sharing because subordinate students into silence or conformity through the use of textbooks in the learning process, despite they are presented in their general description with the purpose of introducing students to the target language and its culture through a variety of activities and projects intended to tap into students´ real lives and expectations.
Thus, it comes to be strongly important reviewing the concept of critical literacy and its implications on ESL or EFL text book courses since a critical approach to language and literacy requires an explicit engagement with the question of “where texts are used, by whom, and in whose interests” (Luke, 2012). As an EFL teacher in public schools in Antioquia, I have had to use as textbooks for the tenth and eleventh graders the series of New Generations for Teenagers 10 and 11by Greenwich ELT and currently I must use the series of Viewpoints 4 and 5 by the same editorial. These textbooks have in common that they are aimed to help students to develop skills for expressing and interacting in different communicative situations, thus both series are designed under two main sections of activities for reading and writing to acquire information about educational topics, to extend students’ knowledge about other cultures and their own. However, those reading activities are primarily based for identifying linguistic and grammar structures, and they are not so attractive to students because they are very global according to a topic and are not based on students’ real context, so their expectations are always low at the pre reading activities and it is a constant necessity to complement those readings with videos from internet and extra activities for ensuring the engagement of students with the topic.
Furthermore, critical literacy involves understanding that readings of texts are shaped by the attitudes and values that readers bring to them, even as texts influence and ‘construct’ readers’ responses (Green, 2001). But, those textbooks mentioned above are not designed with evocative images for engaging students in debates before reading, even for writing because the figure it out activities are based on literal and closed questions which do not admit reflective and open dialogue in the classroom regarding to a specific topic which would engage the students and the teacher in a circle of sharing experiences for voicing from their own values and attitudes beyond the classroom and focusing on “self- seeking” rather than reading a text for a meaning seeking process (Callison, 2006).
In fact, every topic for reading and writing pieces of information about them throughout those mentioned textbooks are linked to a consolidation part where students are called to complete a set of exercises and charts that review the grammar and vocabulary worked along the unit, besides some exercises focused on preparing students to take standard tests, where students are asked to fill gaps and complete grammar charts but just compelling to be attached to isolated structures apart from a social and cultural necessity in describing their own world. That is to say, students´ voices are silenced through these mechanisms rather than triggering the scenarios for students redefine their own realities.
According to that, and having into account that by this view, school and teaching practices create a receptive literacy which involves passive reproductions of knowledge, it is necessary to establish a relation of these practices and what Giroux agreed that “schools are potential sites for interrogating social conditions and observed that this interrogation takes place when teachers establish the conditions under which students are encouraged to discuss and debate the issues they deem relevant to their lives”.
So, the challenge for us as teachers is the developmental engagement with levels of provoking and triggering students´ awareness pointing to provide them not merely with functional skills, but with the conceptual tools and strategies necessary to critique and engage society (Kretovics,1985) for comprehend it and transform it along with their own vivid voice in and beyond a classroom. As Ann S. Beck argues “Teaching critical literacy requires that the teacher highlight controversial, provocative issues in student-centered discussions that encourage students to reflect on their own experiences and to make changes in themselves and the world around them”. Hence, critical literacy is not just a matter of reading and writing, it goes further because is the deal of empowering student´s voice in a responsible act of democratic teaching for a real social change from his or her reality awareness. “What it is [that] students are learning to read and write, what they do with that reading and writing and what that reading and writing does to them and their world” (Kamler & Comber,1997, p. 4).
BECK, Ann S. (2005). A place for critical literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(5), 392-400. doi:10.1598/JAAL.48.5.3
HAMMOND, J. and MACKEN-HORARIK, M. (1999), Critical Literacy: Challenges and Questions for ESL Classrooms. TESOL Quarterly, 33: 528–544. doi: 10.2307/3587678
IZADINIA, M. & ABEDNIA, A. (2010). Dynamics of an EFL reading course with a critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 6(2), 51-67.
KO, Mei-yun; WANG, Tzu-Fu. EFL Learners’ Critical Literacy Practices: A Case Study of Four College Students in TaiwanAsia-Pacific Education Researcher (Springer Science & Business M; Aug2013, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p221
LUKE, A. (2012). Critical literacy: Foundational notes. Theory into Practice
MORA, Raul Alberto “Tres retos para la investigación y formación de docentes en inglés: reflexividad sobre las creencias y prácticas en literacidad”. En: Colombia Revista Q ISSN: 1909-2814 ed: Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana v.5 fasc.10 p.1 – ,2011
SHOR, Ira. What is Critical Literacy? . Journal for Pedagogy, Pluralism & Practice
_____________ Connecting Practice and Research: Critical Literacy Guide. Retrieved from http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLIT/CoreResources/Critical_Literacy_Guide.pdf
 KELLNER, D. 2000. Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogies: New Paradigms. In Revolutionary Pedagogies: Cultural Politics, Instituting Education, and the Discourse of Theory, ed. P.P. Trifonas. Cited by Izadinia, M. & Abednia, A. (2010). Dynamics of an EFL reading course with a critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 6(2), 51-67.
 Historicity here is treated as a mechanism of living experiences but not regarding on past events, just as the path while human being sets his or her steps in daily performance.
 IZADINIA, M. & ABEDNIA, A. (2010). Dynamics of an EFL reading course with a critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 6(2), 51-67.
 GEE, J. P. (1990). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. London: Falmer. Cited by Ko, Mei-yun; Wang, Tzu-Fu. Ibid.
 ALBRIGHT, J. & LUKE, A. (2008) Pierre Bourdieu and Literacy Education. New York: Routledge. Cited in Luke, A. (2012). Critical literacy: Foundational notes. Theory into Practice
 LUKE, Allan. Ibid.
 LUKE, Allan. Ibid.
 GREEN, Pam (2001). “Critical literacy revisited.” in Fehring, H. and Green, P., Eds. (2001). Critical literacy: A collection of articles from the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association. pp. 7-13. Cited in Connecting Practice and Research: Critical Literacy Guide. http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLIT/CoreResources/Critical_Literacy_Guide.pdf
 CALLISON, D. 2006. Critical literacy and inquiry. Educators’ spotlight digest, 1(3). Retrieved June 11, 2008 from http://www.informationliteracy.org/users_data/admin/Volume1_Issue3_Guest_writer.pdf. Cited by IZADINIA, M. & ABEDNIA, A. (2010). Dynamics of an EFL reading course with a critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 6(2), 51-67.
 BECK, Ann S. (2005). A place for critical literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(5), 392-400. doi:10.1598/JAAL.48.5.3
 BECK, Ann S. Ibid.
 Cited by IZADINIA, M. & ABEDNIA, A.(2010). In Dynamics of an EFL reading course with a critical literacy orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 54.