A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
By JOHANN E. PEREZ A
“We must prepare young people for living in a world of
powerful images, words and sounds.”
Today’s world is inscribed in technological rationality, and this sort of new rationality is allowing other forms of thought, it is generating a new culture and new kinds of interpreting the reality about mankind, the nature, and generates new perceptions about economic, social and political issues. It is a matter of a new hope for human progress as a social effort but with a constant contrast with prefixed values and, in some cases, the worst horrors on human history. This kind of new rationality belongs to the economic and social policies of the globalized world in which we live in and which leads the commodification processes that rules our lives and societies.
Since people have more ways for learning about the world and communicating or expressing through the new ways of communication that technology is increasingly offering, there is a constant claim of educating for encompassing different forms and combinations for conveying meanings in a multimodal way. Thus, Kist (2000) claims for a classroom that teaches for a new literacy would be one that favors all ways and forms of representations. By the way, John –Steiner (1997) talks about the concept of “Cognitive pluralism” in a sociocultural approach of the language and knowledge and she argues for the relationship between the internal and external forms of symbolization, that way of appropriating culturally patterned modes of reflection and expressions in constructing meaningful representations of an experience.
Those ways of representations and disseminations are called by Kress and Van Leeuwen (2002) as “modes” which are resources for making meaning in a multimodal culture. Therefore, teaching languages has to be linked to the ways as students are attached to those multimodal practices out of school where every single thing has an intention and a meaning and is the path on which they resignify their symbolic world. That is to say, language and thoughts are associated in a “mammoth condition”, so reality with every single thing in it is constantly attacking and impacting our senses, thus the symbolic aspect of the language becomes the net of that reality that is configuring every teeny second of our experience of knowledge and living, where thinking critically to that reality is a colossal necessity, due to the fact of those modes of approaching and giving meaning to every bit of our life experiences are savagely changing thanks to the technological and communication advances.
Undoubtedly, every teaching action with the language has to be with the development of students as thinkers, so there is a necessity of considering schools and classrooms as sites in which the teaching and learning practices come to propitiate a magical explosion that might transcend their walls to the world, where the students´ voices are strongly important and “need to be allowed, need to be heard, no matter the medium being used” (Delpit, 1995; Willinsky, 1990).
Concerning about how literacy is experienced in the classroom and how these literacy practices look and are stamped outside and go beyond the classroom are current issues that have evolved as a challenge for us as Second Language teachers in the way of reading the world for critiquing it and transforming it throughout pedagogical actions which are embedded on the tenets of critical pedagogy. As McLaren (2003) states “schools should be sites for social transformation and emancipation, places where students are educated not only to be critical thinkers, but also to view the world as a place where their actions might make the difference”
Indeed, James P. Gee (1991) argues that New Literacies are attached to the view that reading and writing only make sense when studied in the context of the social and cultural practices of which they are a part and adolescents signify their reality and culture through them. Similarly, Morell (2002) explains that these practices are empowering and will enable students to cope with fear, alienation, and other negative outcomes associated with being a member of a marginalized group in society. That is the purpose of fostering students´ voice in the classroom for a social and cultural awareness of learner.
Clearly, it 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).
In fact, the develop of students´ critical literacy is not only a claim but a challenge for teachers in their practice in favor of a reflection on how cultures and even individuals represent the world, where multiple versions of reality are carried out and put on the wall of human history. Hence, the necessity of exploring power relations in a community inside the school practices because of the interests that are served by these representations and those who are excluded or misrepresented in the hegemonic stream of conveying meaning in a society.
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 subordinates 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.
Even though, the arise of an increasingly techno-world and techno-societies far from being vehicles to join all cultures and communities are widening the socio economic boundaries and are propelling some new systems of exclusions. That means inequalities between individuals and societies in a world of informationalism where the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to use ICT are regarded as a necessity for economic competitiveness and the enhancement of individual life chances. That is to say, being positioned subordinately in the societies, maybe for migratory or unemployment, even employed but in a part or full time job of a lower status, it gives a marginal position which means of being with few opportunities for social encounters with people with a better position and which boost on them a lower self-confidence of being participative and open to a more demanding and industrialized world.
Picture taken from the system room at the public school Maria Auxiliadora in Ciudad Bolivar- Antioquia
Likewise, governments around the world seems to be in search as in the Plato´s Meno, this character wants or longs to acquire the understanding and virtue that enables men to manage well their households and their cities, as a worthy man should. But they are not looking for virtue as they are trying to give solutions to their communities for reducing inequalities through implementing and providing publicly accessible to ICT gadgets. In fact, and as Warschauer argues that is not enough with the provisions of equipment, it is the focus on how these are used and by whom for a concrete social development. Indeed, the internet and access to ICT have become both a target for measuring the level of inclusivity of knowledge in a society. Yet, these good intentions are sometimes the path and the opportunity to waste a sum of money in policies of technological development coverage but they are misused and not profited as they should.
Yet, the problem is not the rise of informationalism intertwined to the rising inequality and social exclusion throughout the world, because the access to ICT is not the beginning or the end of the concern, it is the mean for the challenge that has our societies nowadays, the problem is how turning diversity into a constructive contributory factor of mutual understanding between individuals and communities, being this the real solution for reducing inequalities in a globalized world, where is a demanding responsibility for the economic, political, cultural and educational systems as the main guarantors for ensuring people´s inclusion in the social, economic and political life of their communities besides engaging these communities in using technologies.
For instance, In Antioquia there was a governmental policy six years ago of carrying smart boards to public school not matter if they were far or if they were rural schools. The price of every gadget was around fifteen millions of Colombian pesos (Cop) without taking into account the costs of installing them and some usage trainings for teachers. Nowadays, those boards are misused at some of those public schools and some teachers do not use them as they should because there was not a serious policy of training and following processes of long learning and implementation. They were excellent resources for interactive learning but actually they have been used as only video beam purposes. Furthermore, the softwares implemented in the computers are obsolete according to the necessities of schools and in some cases; there is not enough speed on the internet coverage provided in the school.
So, there is a claim for increasing the ICT usage to ensure people´s inclusion as a necessity for a globalized world, as the ICT- based learning is considered a tool for transforming the learning process and learners themselves, but social, cultural, pedagogical and politic practices according to that intention have to be responsible for clear processes of development, the cultural dimension and social contexts have to be taken into account for providing tools according the interests and needs of every community in an organized and planned path for the development of the regions, for actually fighting the social exclusion.
Thus, it is necessary a definition of policies and focused specific instruments to consider the different degree of development of the sectors and communities. Given the wide gaps in productivity, participation and access to technology observed in societies around the world through typified researches, only through interventions that are adapted to the specific needs of contexts could achieve greater and better use of ICT in every single community.
Furthermore, historically and politically, literacy has been always conceptualized and conceived narrowly as mastering the skills of reading and writing in noncritical practices, ignoring the political, social, and economic factors that have conspired to marginalize people in the first place (Macedo, 1994). Otherwise, the Colombian government started a series of actions towards the achievement of what they refer to as bilingualism. Yet, efforts on this concern have not been enough despite of the introduction of the National Bilingual Program (Programa Nacional de Bilinguismo, Colombia 2004-2019). Among other changes, this policy reduced the notion of bilingualism in Colombia to English and Spanish (Usma Wilches, 2009); it also established the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2001) as the guiding norm for this reform. Even though, and regarding the reality of teaching English at public schools in Colombia, it is necessary to remark that the problem “is not the adoption of foreign language policy and standards, but the learning and teaching conditions which the government seems to overlook” (Sánchez y Obando, 2008).
Subsequently, 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).
Above all, drawing on language and thoughts come to be absolutely configured in spaces for social 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). It becomes interesting to scope on that and in the best way of conceiving classrooms as spaces for the risks and the creativity (Mora, 2009). Likewise, through the input (reading and listening) and output (speaking and writing) competences in learning and gathering the world in our minds as they are reading and writing process, which are seen in schools setting 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 establish. 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 their context.
Indeed, we are witnessing and facing a world where many media choices are turning up the volume of our lives, thus Kist (2002) has called for new practices at schools in terms of the necessity that students have to be able to look at all texts socioculturally and he cited authors for reference on this approach such as Alvermann & Hagood, (2000); Delpit, (1995); Lankshear, with Gee, Knobel, & Searle, (1997); C. Luke, (2000); and Willinsky, (1990). It is a claim for reading and writing inside the classrooms, but with another sight that is outside, in the context, in the current life, even the pure reality of students for being criticized throughout a purpose that in fact transcends the walls of a school, throughout a teaching and learning practice that is not on the texts, not on the tools otherwise in a matter of change in the way of seeing education and the roles of its actors, where students may have voice for arguing in front of current issues of their reality and the world surrounding, not in the fantasy of isolated contexts in books that may be out of their interests or technological devices that may be given to them for incomplete projects of social changes.
It is a call for doing much with little that is the way as I see an efficient practice of teaching that may have impact on society. Since the quantity of tools is not the important fact in education for effectiveness in a teaching process, tools and the innovation on them would be never enough if teachers did not have another approach far from the concern for content knowledge and memorization procedures that have not variables during years in an ossified teaching practice. Most of all, the assessment procedures are linked to these ossified practices regardless of the new modes of symbolizing and signifying the world. In these cases education turns into a boring and unattractive reality to some students who may end deserting from schools.
Certainly, in terms of this approach, classrooms are not made of bricks and walls, they are made of students´ voices and the transcendent that could be the experience of learning for the life and not only for a period of class. That is what naturally would make the difference not matter about tools but with efficient and transcendent teaching practices. Due to the fact that students arrive to school with a huge spectrum of realities that need to be heard and explore, criticize and transform through the lens of teaching and learning experience, through experiencing critical literacy where images, symbols, colors, texts, graphics and the scenario to talk according to certain realities and issues are mixed in order to create new modes of representations and sociocultural interchange, where contexts are signified and understood in an active role of schooling for a social change; that means a transformative and inclusive school through a critical approach, as McLaren (2003) claims for.
Of course, the challenge is how it can be done in a process of learning a second language. By the way, it is necessary to start thinking that every aspect of our responsibilities and duties as social agents while being teachers lead us to on simple path and it is teaching for the freedom, the possibility of helping students to find their own critical voice for transforming themselves and their realities. In that way, our practices may give them the chance to be free for looking their own thought and avoiding them of the claws of the alienation at any form in the social interrelation. Indeed, this will put us out of what Freire (1972) called “Banking model” in terms of educating from and for the students´ passiveness. And it leads us to in words of Izadinia, M. & Abednia, A. (2010) is a higher objective of the education: “In the long run, the banking model encourages passivity in students and closes their minds to the higher objectives of education, i.e. finding one’s own voice in society”.
Hence, something as so simple like listening a conversation between two young people talking about an environmental issue and their opinions and actions related to that local problem, was an excellent starting point for bringing to the classroom a discussion about environmental problems in terms of the interests of my students and then when they showed so engagement to that topic I asked them to visit and collect information about a place in the town with a serious environmental problem or which was a cause of affecting a community, problematizing on their real context, (Harrington, 2010). Students brought to the class a common interest taken from their daily life and it was the consequences of the process after cropping coffee as they live in coffee region. After that, they wrote in groups a report about that issue and they made a PowerPoint presentation to establish their findings about it and to pose a stance according to that problem and present at last a possible solution, triggering their thoughts and critiques about a problem that could be affecting them. In this case it was the atmosphere for putting on stage what John –Steiner (1997) argued as the concept of “Cognitive pluralism” according to the sociocultural approach of the language and knowledge and, of course, the scenario for multiple forms of symbolization of the culture, where the teacher “guides on the side” rather than assuming himself to be the “sage on the stage” (Renandya & Jacobs, 2002).
According to that, and as an English teacher in a public school in Ciudad Bolivar- Antioquia, where I currently interact with 11th and 10th graders, where most of them are students of low- income families, a big part of them are linked to the growing of coffee crops and with low expectations of continue studying after finishing high school. So that, I am really concerned about how we can interrelate schooling matters and practices with students´ reality and context in second language teaching and learning process. I think the way is to foster and enable their voices in the classroom for calling their awareness in terms of embracing their culture and identities. As Norton Pierce (1995) argued for ‘classroom-based social research in order to engage the social identities of students in ways that will improve their language learning outside the classroom and help them claim the right to speak’, where 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.
In short, claiming for and privileging critical literacy in the classrooms through the perspective of doing much with little is an alternative way for opening scenarios to favor students´ voice in the classroom for a social and cultural awareness of learners. So that, and as Frey and Fisher argue “Understanding the various influences on our thinking, questioning the assumptions made by authors when they write, and examining the various perspectives that guide our understanding are at the heart of critical literacy”. That is the current necessity of going deeply in every “mode” of texts in which are capsuled a singular reality or micro cosmos of meanings.
Certainly, changes in the curricula at schools should be put on the arena and nor in the paper, as Mora (2012) expose it: “the same way as texts are described from literacy has not allowed in other cases validate new media and technological mediations (Cope & Kalantzis, 2007) and respond effectively to the new realities that technology presents (Mora, 2011a)”. It is the necessity to cope the reading and writing at schools as situated and social acts (Cassany & Castellá, 2010) where students should be legitimated through their critical voices from their contexts and for them in terms of seen the school as an agent for social inclusion and change.
Cassany, D., & Casstellà, J. (2010). Aproximación a la literacidad crítica literacidad-doi: 10.5007/2175-795X. 2010v28n2p353. Perspectiva, 28(2), 353-374.
Gee, J. P. (1991). What is literacy? In C. Mitchell and K. Weiler (eds.), Rewriting Literacy: Culture and the Discourse of the Other. New York: Bergin and Garvey, 1-11.
Hammond, J. & Macken-Horarik, M. (1999). Critical literacy: Challenges and questions for ESL classrooms. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 529-544.
Harrington, A. M. (2010). Problematizing the hybrid classroom for ESL/EFL students. The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, 14(3), 1-13.
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Kress, G.R. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Multimodal Discourse: the modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Edward Arnold
Ko, M-Y. & Wang, T-F. (2013). EFL learners’ critical literacy practices: A case study of four college students in Taiwan. Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 22(3), 221-229. doi:10.1007/s40299-012-0013-5
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Macedo, D. P. (1994). Literacies of power: What Americans are not allowed to know. Boulder, CO: Westview Press
McLaren, P. (2003). Life in Schools: An Introduction of Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Cited by UMBARILA GÓMEZ, Silvia Patricia. Building Students’ Voices through Critical Pedagogy: Braiding Paths towards the Other. Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 2, p. 55-71, apr. 2011. http://revistas.udistrital.edu.co/ojs/index.php/calj/article/view/83/122:
Mora, R. A. (2009). It’s not how literate we are, but how we are literate. ASOCOPI Newsletter, August, 2-4.
Mora, R. A. (2012). Literacidad y el aprendizaje de lenguas: nuevas formas de entender los mundos y las palabras de nuestros estudiantes. Revista Internacional Magisterio, 58, 52- 56.
Morrell, E. (2002). Toward a critical pedagogy of popular culture: literacy development among urban youth. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
Sánchez S., Ana C. and Obando G., Gabriel V. 2008. “Is Colombia Ready for Bilingualism? Profile Magazine 9:181-195.
Shor, I. (1999) What is critical literacy. Retrieved from http://www.lesley.edu/journals/jppp/4/shor.html
Usma, Wilches, Jaime “Education and Language Policy in Colombia: Exploring Processes of inclusion, Exclusion, and Stratification in Times of Global Reform” PROFILE 11, 2009. Bogotá, Colombia. Pages 123-141
 Cited by William Kist in Beginning to Create the New Literacy Classroom: What Does the New Literacy Look Like? Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy Vol. 43, No. 8 (May, 2000), pp. 712 Published by: International Reading Association
 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
 Mark Warschauer, cited in Can ICT Reduce Social Exclusion? The Case of an Adults’ English Language LearningProgramme, Sue Webb Source: British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Jun., 2006), pp. 481-507 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of BERAStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30032679 .
 Beck, A. S. (2005). A place for critical literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(5), 392- 400
 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.
 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.
 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], 53.
 NORTON Pierce, B. (1995) Cited in Valencia Giraldo, S. (2006). Literacy practices, texts, and talk around texts: English language teaching developments in Colombia. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal.