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

A Text book through the Eyes of Critical Literacy

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.








2 comments on “A Text book through the Eyes of Critical Literacy

  1. Adriana Teresa Rozo Carvajal
    April 2, 2014

    Dear Tatiana,
    I think you are really concerned about literacy. I am also glad you could find some features of critical literacy in one of the textbooks you use. You focused critical literacy analysis taking into account critical thinking based on problem solving, organization and planning skills. I think these features have a lot to do with English for specific purposes-ESP and Content and Language Integrated Learning- CLIL as they foster community involvement through creating oral and written text that benefit interaction. In general, ESP and CLIL (the umbrella term) textbooks and academic programs aim at producing a change in professionals’ practices. I think your theoretical framework is very complete.

    Kind regards,

    Adriana Teresa Rozo Carvajal

  2. Dr Berry
    April 16, 2014

    Dear Tatiana,

    Your analysis of the textbook was quite thorough. One can see you are paying attention to the features of the text (one that you seem to like, as was evident in your description) and how it contributes to the foundations of critical consciousness. You raised two important issues in your arguments:

    1. The worrisome assertion that our curriculum focuses more on the “communicative competences which are fundamental for critical literacy rather than in critical literacy itself.” That is a sad yet true assessment of ELT curricula, as it leaves the discussion about critical consciousness at an instrumental level, and not as an epistemological matter.

    2. Your chicken-and-the-egg dilemma that ended your essay, “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?” As a teacher educator, I’d probably place my efforts on the orientation side of things, as proper orientation might be catalyst to choose and design resources that enable that “deconstruction, interpretation and re-construction of the world.” That is, in fact, a much larger debate that the language learning and teaching community must engage in, as part of an effort to find long-term solutions to everyday problems.

    However, there was one thing that worried me in your analysis: There seemed to be a very thin line between the discussions about critical THINKING and critical LITERACY. I think the activities that you described leaned closer toward the former than the latter (but that’s just my a priori interpretation). It is important to point this out because it returns to what I mentioned in the first issue. I think those books offer a solid foundation, which as we explained in class is absolutely essential, to use critical thinking as an entry point to critical literacy. The way I see it, the book will help you introduce critical thinking in your class. As per the introduction of critical literacy, I think that is not the book’s task… but your own. You are the one who must now look at the book with a different lens and see what is missing to introduce true critical literacy frameworks. In other words, you have the tools to solve the two issues I pointed out. Now it’s time to get to work!

    Thanks for sharing,

    Dr Berry

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