A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
This paper work pretends to see a text-book used in EFL classes through the eyes of critical literacy. It important to enquire about the concept of critical literature itself first: critical literacy is a term that has been used to describe the processes of reading and writing beyond the acts of simply developing language skills . Critical literacy deals with how the conception of the world can be understood, analyzed and changed trough the acts of inquiring hidden messages in learning materials. (Janks, 2008)” cited : “In the field of literacy, it was Paulo Freire’s work that inspired the idea of critical literacy. His work in Brazil, shows how in the process of learning how to read both the word and the world critically, adult literacy learners regain sense of themselves as agents that can act to transform the social situations in which they find themselves.” p. 185 . (Luke, 2012)Stated that “the term literacy refers to the reading and writing of text. The term Critical Literacy refers to use of the technologies of print and other media of communication to analyze, critic and transform the norms, rule systems, and practices governing the social fields of everyday life.p.5
Given the characteristic of our current reality “reading the world” is a lot more than reading actual words. In this technological era reading the world, means reading blogs, messages, videos, and all kind of technological and media resources that intend to communicate something. (Luke, 2012) The focus of critical literacy is on ideology critique of the world portrayed in media, literature, textbooks and functional texts (Shor& Freire, 1987) The alternative is to begin from learners’ world views, in effect turning them into inventors of the curriculum, critics and creators of knowledge. p 7
In the reality of an EFL classroom in my context, I dare to say that even though we as teachers have all kind of resources at hand, and that they are there to be read critically, we do not reach the aim of critical literacy completely. Diverse factors such as time, programs, curriculum, institutional policies and methodological approaches used in the classroom may interfere with this aim. Also, most EFL teachers are focused in the developing communicative competences which are fundamental for critical literacy rather than in critical literacy itself. (Janks, 2008)”When Dell Hymes agued in 1974 that in addition to acquiring linguistic competence children also had to acquire communicative competence, he brought out a fundamental change in language education. He established that language use is a fundamentally social activity, and that communicative competence requires an ability to use language appropriately.” p. 184.
However, the sensitization towards Critical literacy is well done. Text books, as the one I am using right now as a guide for my ESL classes, provide plenty of opportunities to discover critical literacy work . To begin, the approach used to introduce structure is presented in context; most grammar forms are presented in short dialogues that guide students’ processes inductively by using leading questions that facilitate their comprehension, generalization and critical thinking. (Janks, 2008) , stated that “systemic functional linguistics (SFL) developed by Halliday (1985)blushed the foundation for understanding language as a ‘social semiotic’ and for mapping the relationship between, language, text ant context. This grammar has provided the tools for critical discourse analysis, generate theory and multimodal analysis of meaning and choice’ (Halliday, 1985,p. xiv), has provided the tools for critical discourse analysis, genre theory and multimodal analysis. It creates the opportunity to include the power-meaning potential when teaching linguistic structures. So, for example, Students learning grammar can simultaneously learn about the relationship between modality and authority, or about the connection between ‘us’ and ‘them’ pronouns and othering discourses.” This principle has also been applied to the teaching of writing.
On the other hand the book is also well provided with plenty of images and complementary videos that apart from being relevant tools to provoke discussion, also show culture from real sources and allow students interact with multimodal communication tools. Janks, 2008 cited “More recently, the changing communication landscape prompted theorist to re-think literacy and digital era. Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2001) work has focused attention to multimodal forms of communication which increasing use forms of semeiosis (image,gesture,sound) other than language”. p. 185. Furthermore, these images are in most of the cases contemporary and related to students reality and general knowledge (Lau, 2.012) “We followed a theme based approach for our CL program and shoes topics that were relevant to students’ concerns and interests . We included an explicit on one or two language structures or functions in the learning activities associated with each topic. All grammatical structures and functions were introduced in progressive spiral manner to support student’s acquisitions of English”p. 326
The vocabulary is well introduced usually to be linked with images, synonyms or definitions; there is also, enough exemplification and contextualization in reading an listening exercises and it is deeply connected with the general topic of each unit. Writing tasks follow logical order of difficulty and are provided with enough application assignment , the only flaw is that they are focused a lot more in form rather than in boosting students imagination or production skills. Something similar happens with reading activities; they are well integrated with the topics for each unit , are short and easy to understand , but the follow up exercises also intend to check students comprehension, more than generating discussion, students sense of controversy or critic.
The last text book section that I want to mention happens to be one of my favorites. I want to mention it in special because it provides students a space to put together everything they learnt during the unit in the solving of problematic tasks. (Rogers, Taylore-Knowles, & Taylore- knowles, 2010)This section is based in the notion that in today’s competitive world, students need to develop higher-order skills beside language skills. This section includes: critical thinking, organizational, problem solving skills, self –direction and learning skills and organization and planning skills. p. ix. Also, this space gives students the opportunity to analyze specific situations with their peers, generates plenty of discussion, collaboration and finally the finding of agreements and solutions.
In my opinion, this separate part of the text book is one if not the most suitable to be used for critical literacy given the amount of language exchange it generates. Students have the chance to analyze situations they may face in real life contexts, self evaluate their own and peers learning processes and opinions, share their ideas and finally generate changing plans and solutions.(Janks, 2008) “The teaching of language and power depends on understanding that language is not a neutral tool for communication but is everywhere implicated in the ways in which we read and write the world, the ways in which knowledge is produced and legitimated, and the ways in which human subject is constructed as a complex set of identities based on, among other things, race, class, gender, ability, age, nationality, sexual orientation. p 183.
Aside with the program, teachers and students are supposed to select a short story book to be worked as a “reading project” according to the level. The success of this project for critical literacy, depends on the approach of the questions and follow up activities. (Lau, 2.012) ELs are quite capable of complex language learning when they are given adequate support. p.326.
(Stojkovic & Zivkovic, 2012) To be trained in English language means being instructed to fit in the world of globalization, the knowledge of the language means access to education, employment and social prestige ,include but at the same time exclude those who do not speak it,. The selection of right teaching resources is decisive to facilitate the developing of competences and language skills. The role of the teacher plays especial relevance to favor the critical use of text books and materials. Plenty of activities and stuff appealing to be object of analysis for critical literacy are available everywhere. However, the best text book means nothing if it does not have the proper guidance. Both materials and proper orientation are necessary in the process of deconstruction, interpretation and re-construction of the world, the question is: which one do we lack of?
Janks, H. (2008). Teaching Language and Power. En S., & S. H. May, Encyclopedia of language and Education (págs. 183-192). Springer: Science+ Business Media LLC.
Lau, S. M. (2.012). Literacy Teaching in ESL Classrooms. Literacy and language Learners, 325-329.
Luke, A. (2012). Critical Literacy: fundational noted. Theory Into Practice, 51:4-11.
Rogers, M., Taylore-Knowles, & Taylore- knowles, S. (2010). Open Mind Teacher’s Edition 2. Pathumwan Thailand: Macmillan.
Stojkovic, N., & Zivkovic, S. (2012). Advocating the Need for Incorporating Critical Pedagogy and Critical literacy in Teaching English for Specific Purposes. Sino-Us English Teaching, 1215.