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



Gloria Gutiérrez Arismendy.

I want to understand the Literacy power along the history. To read how human being have been writing and reading their realities; symbolizing them on important changes or transformation. Therefore I will talk about the beginning of cities but, when I try to name those human writings connected to the beginning of cities along the ages, I wonder: When did humans started to be interested in learning other languages at school? And why? From this question, appears new one appears: To what extent teaching languages is influenced by the use textbooks? Is it part of the control above words to teach people how they have to read and write their worlds?

Latter I will talk about an important fact of Critical Literacy, which is related to the power of the word, and how one as a teacher is writing and reading with students alternative realities during the process of teaching languages. As an English teacher, I think that the function of critical literacy at school is about teaching languages trying to show students the power of the words, teaching them to use that power to question themselves and their context in order to provoke life transformations. “Thus, the role of critical literacy education is to empower human beings as enabled agents to pursue humanization”. (Lee, 2011)

Writing this essay means to me to filter the process of learning about Critical Literacy through my own experience of reading and writing the world (Freire, 1987), which is based also on the knowledge of my guides who along my live have been teaching me the beautiful art of reading and writing stories. Therefore, “conceptualizing literacy as something one does as opposed to skill or ability one has, helps us understand the real-world ways in which real people actually engage with real texts, which ultimately could help educators make formal literacy instruction more meaningful and relevant for learners.” (Kristen H, 2012)


Reading the world along the history.

There are lot of ways to write and read the world, the most relevant writing exercise that human beings have made is the agriculture. Understanding Critical Literacy as “reading the word and the world (…) one reads to write and one writes to be read.” (Freire, 1987) Agriculture was a magnificent written made along the history, which transformed the form that humans being were reading their world. That act made cities spring up as a new act of writing, writing on the earth skin, modifying the evolution trace along the human being history (Serres, 1993). This transformation was done at the moment in which humans created communities, changing the nomadic life to become into societies.

Kalantzis & Bill talk about three historical moments: The first language, the development of writing and new cultures of meaning making.  Three moments also called the three globalizations. (Kalantzis, 2012) I connect the first globalization (the first language) to that moment before human beings created societies. Where “the word were used to connect people with believes, it means in the cosmology and epistemology manner.” (Kalantzis, 2012) People used the word to read and write a world based on the similitude between human being and gods, words connecting them to the gods, deities who indicated where they had to build a house or a temple according to the rituals meaning; therefore, “The resounding gift of the god marks the point where language begins.” (Foucault, 1998)

“Rather, somewhat before the invention of writing, a change had to occur to open the space which writing could flow and established itself, a change, symbolized for us in its most original figuration by Homer, that forms one of the most decisive ontological events of language: its mirrored reflection upon death and the construction, form this reflection, of a virtual space where speech discovers the endless resourcefulness of its own image, and where it can represent itself as already existing behind itself, already active beyond itself, to infinity. The possibility of a work of language finds its original fold in this duplication.” (Foucault, 1998)

Event is the name for those things which produce transformations. (Zourabichvili, 1994) Transformation on writing and reading the world is what I am trying to follow. The second globalization (develop of writing) (Kalantzis, 2012) appeared when “alphabetical and character-based symbols writing emerged in four different places: Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, later India. China and Central America. Those evens happened at the moment of urban settlement supported by farming. (Kalantzis, 2012)” To harvest and save the grains, was the first step to change the bartering for trading. Therefore, communities needed to create a systematic way to inventory their provisions. This transformation is done with the regions and political empowerment of the word to control, homogenise and generalise. (Kalantzis, 2012) Cartesian thinking, based on hope, on compassion through religion. And locating the earth in the centre of the universe by science. (Serres, 1993)

I deduces that during the second globalization human beings jumped from the interpretation to the representation. Along the time industrialization appears to represent the humanity power to control and create over the nature then, schools where created with the word infancy and its meaning there, “literacy languages also tend to standardise and homogenise meanings in other words, to expect or require that people use them in exactly the same way; hence the definition of words, the spelling or pronunciation rules, and the grammatical conventions which are taught in school.” (Kalantzis, 2012) Building a future full of progress conjugated in the control and uses of words to write a reality in which optimism and the idyllic to get the horizon determinates human immortality.

During this time the locomotive invention was one of the most important writings created by humans as a symbol of progress. During that ages, reading the world as a big book full of possibilities, where time and space are transformed due to shorter distances encourage people to travel and then, to learn languages because “according to the current new worlds, when the more capable you are the possibility that you can negotiate a better life for yourself.” (Kalantzis, 2012) Besides human beings have been learning and teaching languages form Greeks times, during 1850 – 1959, the grammar translation method was predominating in teaching. Through this method “grammar was taught as a set of rules practice was done through written exercises and the medium of instruction was the modern language.” (Lowe, 2003)

The uncertainty which is produced by the lack of awareness about other, who is not part of written book called reality, culture, and city.  Learning a language starting from the mother language, visiting other cultures form the native culture. Therefore, the identities are faded into multiple possibilities. (Delgado Ruiz, 2002) But, sometimes differences in writing and reading have produced wars and then, migration processes. “We have to say things in standard diced ways so strangers will understand what we mean. We use reading and writing to maintain fixed power hierarchies. Our anxieties about change are more notable than our capacities to deal with change in our lived realities.” (Kalantzis, 2012)

The transistor, another transcendental writing which changed the world’s reading and writing form, it made possible the beginning of a new technology language, creating smaller devices, saving energy and nowadays allowing the creation of computer components by printing them. In my opinion I think, that one of the main consequences of this change is related to the third globalization (new cultures of meaning making) as Kalantzis named it, which is based in how “writing has lost its special place as the most effective way to convey meanings across time and space, now that we have these other technologies to record and transmit oral, audio, visual and gestural meanings.” (Kristen H, 2012)

What does Critical Literacy mean in education?

Until here I tried to trace some characteristics about how humans have being writing and reading their reality. I did it to understand that literacy is something beyond the uses of a pen on paper to reproduce information or to translate into another language what I am thinking in my mother language. Therefore, literacy is not related just with reading and writing under literal meaning. It is a whole topic about “sociolinguistic conceptualizations of the way in which language instantiates culture, the relationship between language use and power, and the ethnography of communication (…) Culture is realized through language.” (Perry, 2012)

According to this, critical literacy is the action of change or transform features of my context, where under an analytical view I apply my knowledge to benefit myself and others, to transform and re-create my world, but also listening others to let them transform my awareness of the context. Critical literacy is also about discovering and reacting when something or somebody else disrupts into my micro-universe. Therefore, critical literacy is related not only with the meaning and implications of writing and reading, but it is also considered as a social practice. (Perry, 2012)

“If critical literacy is not merely an instructional strategy or a lesson plan, then what is it? Freire believes that critical literacy is to read both the word and the world critically, that is, to transform  the world through literacy education (Freire, 1987) For Freire, the world which we live is object not only to natural evolution, but to a historical revolution in which human beings have a guiding hand.” (Perry, 2012)

I consider that a language learning process has to develop in itself the possibility for teachers to be aware about socio-political features that learners bring with them to the classroom. As a consequence, it must be a place to form the consciousness about reality that we build together as a community; and culturally we called identity which is possible to re-create. A language teaching process has to promote a social transformation because learning a language means to wake up our view over other possible and potential ways to build that reality around the world through other cultures using the language possibilities. Teachers develop a style of teaching, trying to answer to the particular social demand according to the leaners context. Therefore, “The theory of literacy as social practice may not explain the process of how people learn to read and write, it can help to describe what types of knowledge are needed in order to effectively engage in literacy practices.” (Perry, 2012)

The uses of textbooks during the process of language teaching is an example about how “Literacy practices are patterned by social instructions and power relationships and some literacies become more dominant, visible and influential than others”. (Perry, 2012) Written books to teach languages under socio-political agreements about what people can read or write about the other. On the other hand, Multiliteracies (Perry, 2012) are related to the diversity in communications, taking into account technologies and cultural transformations which let re-emerges the potential of going beyond the text. “Understanding multiliteracies help us understand the varied ways in which people communicate and make meaning.” (Perry, 2012)

The uses of authentic material during the language teaching helps me to connect students to the target language context, I uses grammar books for class preparation, but I do not use them during the teaching practice because I believe that students “need to do more than superficially respond to stories; they need to understand how language works, question the cultural story being told. And decide how to action their new awareness.” (Harste & Peggy, 2013)  Through Didactics I can simulate those real situations to teach the language. Thus, I can say that didactics are related on how I apply the methods; like communicative competences and natural approaches (Theodore S, 2009) which are based in the uses of “(…) the authentic data [which] brings the content to life, and helps learners make connections between the classroom world, and the word beyond the classroom.” (Nunan, 1999). But authentic material is also about the uses of language by the teacher, who has to use it all the time to encourage students to use it to in a natural form and according to the context.

I consider that teaching grammar is very important, but not what matters the most. I have been learning that is possible to teach it according to those students’ needs that spring up during the process of interaction, which are connected to the real situation that I as a teacher present to them. Finally, “if literacy is understood as a global and social practice, this helps us understand why children need to communicate not only across different cultures, but also in relation to changing global communication”

The process of teaching a language has to be crossed by a constant reflection, in order to create real environments full of good material and contents, taking into account that “reflecting teaching is a holistic, approach that emphasizes creativity, artistry, and context sensitivity.” (Kumaravadivelu, 2003) Therefore, reflection is not only about how and what I have to teach, but it is also about the use of the language as a pretext to learn about culture and art. As a teacher is important to be aware about how I am developing my role in a specific context, in order to organize authentic material and promote a learning space, where students feel that they are not just learning about linguistics aspects of the language, but also using it to express their ideas and views in an unrestricted manner.



Critical literacy is related to those social constructions which let human beings name and create their reality through lot of forms of the language, connecting each other. Cities in themselves are the result of literacy; creations are made by reading, writing, re-reading and re-writing. There, the language takes the form of the city, the form of a community, or our own form. Understanding “new literacy studies” as a social practice (Street 1985). This entails the recognition of multiple literacies, varying according to time and space, but also contested in relations of power… and asking “whose literacies” are dominant and whose are marginalized or resistant”. (Perry, 2012)

If that multiple literacy varies according to time and space; therefore, the cities are like a virtual conjugation of the language uses in which is possible to transform the reality, as a product of social agreements, into multiple other realities by the uses of the power letting superimpose some realities (uses of languages) above others. And I said cities because there, time and space are conjugated in a single form, it depends of what city and citizens, or what urban and pedestrians inhabit it. There, the teacher role is vital to create with students multiple possibilities, creating awareness about the responsibility to read and write on the world.





Delgado Ruiz, M. (2002). Disolusiones Urbanas. Medellín: Universidad de Antioquia.

Foucault, M. (1998). Aesthetic Method and Epostemology. New York: Gailinard.

Freire, P. &. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World.

Guzman Arteaga, R. (n.d.). The Impact of Authentic Audiovisual Aids in EFL Students’ Listening Competence.

Harste, J. C., & Peggy, A. (2013). “I´m Riskin´ it” teachers tale the consumerism.

Kalantzis, M. &. (2012). Literacies. Cambridge.

Kristen H, P. (2012). What is Li

teracy? A critical overview af sociocultural perspectives. JOLLE UGA, 50-61.

Kumaravadivelu. (2003). BEYOND METHODS. New Haven and London. Yale, University Press.

Lee, C.-j. (2011). Myths about Critical Literacy: What teachers need to Unlearn. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 95-102.

Lowe, C. (2003). Integration nor Eclecticism: A brief History of Language Teaching; 1953 – 2003.

Nunan, D. (1999). From the Traditional to the Contemporany in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Florence: Heinle & Heinle.

Penny, U. (1991). A Course in Language Teaching. practice and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Perry, K. (2012). What is Literacy? A Critical Overview of Sociocultual Perpectives. JULLE UGA Journal of Language & Literacy Education, 50-72.

Serres, M. (1993). Les Origenes de la Géométrie. Paris: Flammarion.

Theodore S, R. (2009). The methodology of foreign language teaching: Method, approaches, principles. Berlin: KARLFRIER KNAPP & BARBARA SADLHOFE.

Zourabichvili, F. (1994). Deleuze Una Filosofía del Acontesimiento. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu edotores S.A.





  1. Dr Berry
    April 16, 2014

    Dear Gloria,

    Your article provides a historical perspective about why critical literacy must be ingrained in all of our school practices. Your historical view explains the need for critical frameworks and why schools need to infuse their curricula with critical literacy.

    One thing that I’d suggest is to move much faster along the historical overview and make the discussion on critical literacy the bulk of your paper. I think citing Kalantzis and Cope (2012 – by the way, please revise this citation in the paper. You miscited it and forgot to include Cope in all of your citations… which would be terrible considering I’ll ask Bill himself to look at the blog!) and focusing on the main points would leave more room for the discussion that you started about CL, one that is powerful and necessary (I’d argue that the field of ELT still needs convincing about the importance of critical literacy).

    Reading your paper, two issues caught my eye:
    1. How do you understand “authentic”? What do you mean by “authentic materials”? One thing is the traditional understanding that remains as backlash from the communicative approach (e.g. realia) and a very different one how one would approach it from critical literacy. Engage in a meta-reflexivity here and think what makes this blog “authentic”. Once you get that answer, your ideas about authentic expressed here will take a whole new dimension.
    2. You said, “I consider that teaching grammar is very important, but not what matters the most.” What do you mean exactly? More importantly, what is “grammar”? We discussed this in class, actually, and it’s important to give grammar a larger dimension, as Kalantzis and Cope (2009) argued in their article about the multimodality of grammar.

    Finally, a few editorial remarks:
    1. Again, revise the Kalantzis & Cope citation.
    2. Paragraph 6 in the second section of this text needs a smoother transition. That leap to language teaching was too abrupt. In fact, that transition should be a paragraph of its own.
    3. You have two moments where you used block quotes in the text: One by Foucault (1998) and another by Perry (2012). Dangling block quotes (i.e. by themselves with no explicit connection to the text) are not very proper in academic writing.
    4. You misquoted the Harste and Albers citation. Please look into that.
    5. Your citiation of Perry (2012) for multiliteracies is not the best one. I think we have better citations in our course material to add there.
    6. You need some citations to support that leap from critical literacy to cities to New Literacy Studies. Works by Gregory and Williams (2000) and Barton and colleagues (2000), and even Kinloch’s (2011) work on urban literacies would serve as a good segue into the introduction of NLS.

    Thanks for sharing these early thoughts on literacy.


    Dr Berry

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2014 by in Assignments.
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