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

Indigenous roots and beyond in the pursue of New Literacy Classrooms in Colombia

Indigenous roots and beyond in the pursue of New Literacy Classrooms in Colombia

New Literacies, new communicative practices at school where educators need to change themselves beyond the traditional literacies. New literacies may refer either to literacy practices that are associated with the digital technologies or practices associated with a rapidly changing social context (Lankshear, 2003) then: What will new literacy classrooms in Colombia look like in the near future? To answer this question, I would like to start defining multimodal approach as Kress made:

“In a multimodal approach it is modes rather than say: ‘languages’ – which are compared. Modes are the result of a social and historical shaping of materials chosen by a society for representations (…) Modes occupy different ‘terrains’ from one society to another. (…) We have being looking at the field of meaning as a whole and see how meaning is handled modally across the range of modes in different societies” (Kress, Multimodality A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication, 2010)

Taking into account that multimodal as an approach is based on the multiple and cultural forms in which we can communicate each other beyond the merely uses of the traditional understanding of literacy; it means 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)

Therefore, multimodality is more about the sign: It is through gestures and images how we potentiate our human strong feature: the language in itself. The minimal sign has a profound meaning in which rests an aesthetic of literacy, which is based on the principle of reality as a human agreement, this agreement permits communication occur and it differs one culture form another. According to the development of thinking, each culture develops different forms to communicate and acquire the knowledge; there aesthetic leaves to spring and gives life to the sing as a human memory totem.

“Social-semiotic theory is interested in meaning, in all its forms. Meaning arises in social environments and in social interactions. That makes the social into the source, the origin and the generator of meaning. (…) then differences between societies and cultures means differences in representation and meaning.” (Kress, Multimodality A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication, 2010)

In order to address the essay question I formulated a series of related questions that, in my opinion, lead to solve the main matter this fact means to me a serious reflection about a recent event that came to my head while exploring the topic; event that I will narrate through this written, as a way to answer the questions which sprang through some research experiences that I have read and are connected in some way with this event. Those questions underpin a potential answer to the initial question somehow:

• What does Identity means in our current context?
• To what extend Indigenous Literacy is part of our lost identity?
• How have indigenous been included to the current Literacy practices at the academic environment?

Those questions are inspired not only on how “Ideologies about language and literacy are deeply rooted in a history of colonization.” (Bartlett, Lopez, Mein, & Valdiviezo, 2011) but also on the research made by Robert Jimenez and Patrik Smith where they discuss about how “León Portilla (1961/1995) pointed out that Mesoamerican writing system is unique and possibly the only system of writing created anywhere in the world that do not owe their existence to the concept of writing developed even earlier by the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians.” (Jimenez & Smith, 2008)
Here, I will narrate my experience with the indigenous culture from La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta because I would like to explore part of my roots in this part of the world to propose a framework in which indigenous literacies from our country will be bound with our future literacy practices in the classrooms.


What does Identity means in our current context?
If language is the way in which human beings build identities then, what does Identity mean in our context? Consuelo Pabon talks about how American Identity is lost. First, because it has been talked about rescuing our ancestral roots to consolidate a cultural identity, but we found that this concept in itself is rare for our Ancestral American knowledge. Second, the idea of identity is part of the European culture principle and it is quiet recent; Therefore, the word identity cannot be understood and cannot be assimilated by other ancestral cultures who have been living faraway of European cultures. (Pabon, 1999)

One of our problems is the desire to find that ´identity’ which is lost, maybe it is necessary to ask ourselves about the reasons of this pursuit; I mean, why we as Americans are always located on that empty place, on that massive hole and think about where is the power behind this purpose to maintain us in this dilemma. As Americans we are far from our own cultural roots too, we have interpreted the indigenous from the missionaries’ perspective or from the modern anthropologic science. Therefore, the exercise to move closer to indigenous cultures along the history has been to change it rather than know them. (Pabon, 1999)

Taking into account the aesthetic view of Consuelo Pabon, I would like to point out that the process of literacy form the traditional perspective of teaching writing and reading pretended to integrate indigenous to the modern life and then, give them an identity as part of the same agenda; resulting from the colonization, this process has another perception along the history. What I want to point out is how Beyond the initial perspectives “the uses of literacy by indigenous to recreate their own way to name their world” (Collins & Blot, 2003) was also a form to transgress the power by, and they re-created their own words. As an example, the Santeria which was born in the Caribbean and which is the result of how natives transformed the catholic divinities into their own ones as a process of re-creating the literacy imposed by conquers.

This example permits us to reflect about the multimodal approach based in how indigenous re-created their world in which “signs are made in s specific environment according to the sign maker´s need at the moment of sign-making, shaped by the interest of the maker of the sign in that environment ” . This example is not far from our current uses of language. I think that nowadays multimodality is also about the process of returning to the gesture in all its forms but, in the case of technology, it is emphasised, it performances as a gesture-producer prosthesis then, multimodality focuses on modes of representation much broader than language by itself.

Everybody had to use white clothes that day; the day in which the “mamo” from La sierra Nevada de Santa Marta visited us at the institution to embody a ritual to clean ourselves in a spiritual form, I do not know much about Indigenous culture, but this institution has a closer relationship to the indigenous communities, my short knowledge is based on different experiences based in their believes. That day the “mamo” chose one place after going over all the school, then all employees went to the “montaña de nubes” (clods mountain); our solar observatory. Once there, we formed a circle and drunk basil tea to start.


To what extend Indigenous Literacy are part our lost identity?

What about the gestures which rest as an echo of our ancestral past?

Once we drunk the basil tea, the “mamo” gave each of us a little piece of cotton which we should to divide in different parts according to his instructions, while he was talking the group followed him to make the movements according to his movements towards each cardinal point in order to be blessed by the pacha mama. In the middle of the circle we put fruits, white flowers and candles organized also in circle. After being listening him about one hour, we sat down lighting the candles from the right to the left helping the person next to you. Then, we ate all the fruits, but following the same sequence that we made with candles; it means that we bite each fruit taking care to share it with everybody. Finally we share hugs keeping this dynamic, from right to the left. At the end of this ritual we have spent around 4 hours. The mamo keep the cottons and told us that in another ritual in his land with others mamos they would “read” the cottons, and in two more months we will see us again to share the message and complete the cycle. Those cottons are always used to weave the popular Indigenous bags which symbolize the woman´s belly.

I cannot bring more than my short experience near to the indigenous form La sierra Nevada de SantaMarta, and I really would like to bring that kind of academic support to talk about indigenous literacy, but if I will talk about the future of new literacy at school, then I choose to bring part of this experience because it is another way to read and write beyond the traditional form. To settle my position I say that I dream a school in which meaningful experiences are the bases of education and where our history is present beyond conquers view about our indigenous roots.

“More education programs are reflecting and promoting a sociocultural perspective in language and Literacy. Such a perspective is firmly rooted in an anthropological and sociological understanding of culture, a view of learning as socially constructed, and an understanding of how students from diverse segments of society experience schooling, due to differential access to literacy specifically and to education more broadly.” (Nieto, 2013)

The way in which indigenous read and write the world is beyond the merely uses of paper and pen, they read the world based in how we are connected as an unique and same energy, not only people, but also people with animals and the rest of the nature; therefore, we are brothers and sisters, and as close relatives, our mother is the earth and our father is the sun. They consider that we have to talk to them from our heart and listen them to. For example they call teachers like grandmother or grandfather because they are who teach us to live and keep that connection.
Some of their customs which symbolize that connection are: When somebody is born, the umbilical cord is buried and there they plant a tree, place which you will return when you die. Something similar happens with the placenta but in order to reactivate the baby connection to the nature; it is used to fertilize the land. It is important to highlight that the woman belly is the metaphor of the belly earth, it symbolize the pacha mama belly.

The way in which indigenous read and write are the root of their “conceptions of knowledge, identity and being. Literacy, in this sense is always contested, both its meanings and its practices, hence particular versions of it are always ideological; they are always rooted in a particular world view often accompanied by desire, conscious or unconscious, for that view of literacy to dominate and to marginalize others.” (Street, 2009)


How have indigenous been included to the current Literacy practices at the academic environment?
Lots of indigenous have migrated form their communities to study at the university, beyond the particular reasons behind of this fact, I would like to share the view in Abadio Green’s voice, he is an indigenous with a PHD in linguistic and he works at the Universidad de Antioquia as one of the founder of the master degree in education with emphasis in Madre Tierra pedagogies. Next I will share a series of interviews related to this process:

The academic environment is nowadays more conscious about the implication of literacy from other cultural views and needs “since writing is a constitutive element of personal and collective identity (Fabre, 1997) we find ourselves asking: how has writing been happening in these traditional communities at a particular moment in the history of these people?” (Marinho, 2013)

I dream a school where literacy practices will be near to our roots, not only teaching an indigenous language which is interesting, but also being nearby to their practices in order to read them form their own literacy. For example, in my English class I have a student form Australia, who wanted to live in Colombia for a year, in order to learn about their parents’ country and culture, in one of our conversations he shared with me that in its school in Austrialia they learn as a second language the natives´ language. This is just one of the things that I consider interesting to be closer to our roots, at the moment and as an English teacher I can build this future if I take into account:

“Semiotically, a graphic signs, then a mark on a solid surface made for the purpose of establishing a semiotic interaction. Consequently, a human interaction is a semiotic one if there is a community and a body of common knowledge according to which: (a) a person can produce a visible sign with the purpose of conveying a message (to somebody else or oneself); (b) a person perceives the visible sign and interprets it as a sign produced for the purpose of conveying a message; and (c) that person attributes a given meaning to the visible sign.” (Mignolo, 1994)

The semiotic interaction from indigenous cultures in Colombia have shown a respectful relationship with nature, this connection is full of values in which I consider teachers should base the teaching about our roots, teaching how indigenous interaction represent a semiotic form where their knowledge produce a beautiful message about how humans are connected to the nature. Here, those questions about our roots and how indigenous are being part of the academic life at the university but keeping and sharing their knowledge, make another sense, the sense to learn and teach values from different cultures.


How students into the high school re-create their own notion of identity in a multimodal form?
The language is the pretext to explore other cultures even our own. As an English teacher when I think in students my head does not stop to see the different forms in which them communicate to each other, they can establish as a group symbolical signs, and I wonder sometimes how I am far away to understand them. If as a teacher, I take into account the students context before to teach about our roots then, I would like to include a new question: how students into the high school re-create their own notion of identity in a multimodal form? I jump to this new question in order to land how dreaming about include our indigenous roots beyond conquers view, could be something anachronistic in the current youth context and interests.
Learning a language is something that allows you to explore another culture, opening a door to get into another way to name the world, using other sounds and gestures. When youth student recognize the power of the language, they use it to express themselves and re-create identities anchoring into a small community or group. Once there the language take another body, and their bodies in themselves too. According to those micro-worlds recreations “Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means to social, cultural and human development.” (Dunkerly-Bean, 2013)

Those symbolical signs that youth groups of students make are located around the school, those signs are about their desires and concerns, As an English teacher I wonder how to connect to their context such a topic as our indigenous roots, in a society in which identity is dissolved among of exacerbation of communication, where that desire to build identities is used by mass medias to sell us a new “something”, to tell you that you are not unique, to remind you that you are just a number, a pedestrian among a massive city, the place where that identity built with lot of effort disappear.

“But to the extent that identity is fluid and constructed socially, then identity, networks and practice become unbounded concepts that are in a state of constant negotiation and modification. Achieving a Critical stance on this would seem to be an important part of understanding how our lives do (and Might) relate to others.” (Burnett & Merchant, 2011)

The answer to: how to teach young students about our indigenous roots? is does not have an answer jet because of students context and interests, but negotiation and modification of teaching practices to encourage educators to break the objectification and alienation of learners because “the danger when critique institutionalised that [teaching about indigenous roots] it becomes the new orthodoxy, and then the radical work that critical pedagogy set out to achieve is likely to lose whatever power in held in the first place”. (Bartlett, Lopez, Mein, & Valdiviezo, 2011) Therefore, I purpose art as an alternative bridge to connect young students’ interests and context with their own indigenous roots in a broader way, it means that it is not only about their own roots, but also about the humanity and the history behind it.

There are not much schools where the opportunities to explore the new literacy are there and in which teachers and students can embody an education far form “ideas about functional literacy to situate literacy as it responds to the needs of a complex economic world [because] (…) functional literacy is reductionist in nature.” (Mora, 2009) Then, the task to include into our teaching practices our roots is a critical exercise in the way that we as teachers recognize the other face of our roots: the conquers´ face, but not necessarily their view.

Art as a bridge to connect roots with current youth expressions permits decentralize the students´ ego and provoke in them a broader observation around their environment, to explore it and jump into new micro-worlds which look far form their own, but at the end the bound is going to appear to remember them that root, that history in common. Talking to others to discover how for example, “To speak of youth in Latin America and the Caribbean is to speak of an extremely multilingual, multi-ethnic, and pluricultural group of young people with varying positions of vulnerability, inclusion and exclusion”. (Bartlett, Lopez, Mein, & Valdiviezo, 2011)

Teaching language is not only about communicative competences and grammar. It is also about human coexistence, where I as a teacher can be part and lead the learning process making social agreements favoring the respect and using the learning space to form critical views over our society, to make students reflect about themselves and other cultures, in order to create with them a critical behaviour because teachers must show example in read-write a better world, collaborating ads thinking critically. (Avarez Valencia, 2005)
The process to teach a language has to be crossed by a constant reflection, in order to create real environments full of good material and contents connected to students’ worlds and micro-worlds, 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 go beyond the fact of how “there are much attention to the form in teaching writing, than let youth express themselves, or meaning-making activities. There is also much attention to teach writing that teach reading.” (Bartlett, Lopez, Mein, & Valdiviezo, 2011)
Taking into account education evolution process in our country, the traditional methods are not enough to implement in teaching languages because we need a change in order to give to the education the quality it requires according to the new literacies. Some time ago, students were who must learn and follow the steps of teachers. Nowadays teachers must listen the way that students learn and try to follow their rhythm of their own steps. Therefore, it is vital to learning a language in a meaningful way, being aware about students’ interest and contexts in which they are immersed.
During this process, teachers have to adapt the students’ context according to their needs and their requirements; choosing and exploring methods and approaches, which permit to satisfy needs and requirements not forgetting their own professional search. We as a teachers need to continue studying, exploring and researching in our classroom, which is the way that we are learning to teach. It is vital to be presented in our practices that every student is a world, and they all have different kind of processes to learn.
Finally, I would like to point that beyond method (Kumaravadivelu, 2003) is a way to provoke teacher to transform themselves in an intellectuals, where reflective action promotes that learners and teachers have to develop a critical view, taking into account the cause-effect thinking. It provokes teacher transformation because they must be holistic, being aware to the meaning of be holistic, exploring an approach that emphasizes creativity, artistry and sensitivity context, it means a multimodal approach (Kress, 2010). Teachers with a socio-politically conscious, that let empower them to generate their own theories of practices, promoting the teacher autonomy. (Kumaravadivelu, 2003)
Particularity, practically and possibility, are the three dimensionally of pedagogy that the post method is based: (Kumaravadivelu, 2003)


-To facilitate the advancement of: context- sensitive, location- specific.
-True understanding of local linguistic, it means to take into account the social context of students.
-Teachers practices can be share and presented to other teachers to improve and enrich them.


-To rupture the refined role teachers who must theorize from their practice and to practice what they theorize.
-To evaluate the method and propose theories.


-To tap the socio political consciousness that participants bring with them to the classroom.
-Identity formation and social transformation

The post method proposes Macro-strategies and micro-strategies. Next, there are the Macro-strategies in order to mention them to reflect because in themselves there is the beyond the method sense:
• Maximize learning opportunities.
• Minimize perceptual mismatches.
• Facilitate negotiated interaction.
• Promote learner autonomy.
• Foster language awareness.
• Activate intuitive heuristics.
• Integrate language skills.
• Ensure social relevance.
• Raises cultural consciousness

To conclude, beyond method is also a provocation to reflect about our profession, in order to answer to the social and intellectual teaching needs. I consider that the school is the place where students are learning to live with others beyond getting a bunch of information, which is available in the internet, TV, among others according to the students’ context. Therefore, our role has to be transformed to a critical literacy, allowing us as teachers to create with the students, new possibilities and alternatives to interpret and transform the world.

Avarez Valencia. (2005). ELT Materials: Possibilities and Changes for the Classroom. ASOCOPI.
Bartlett, L., Lopez, D., Mein, E., & Valdiviezo, L. (2011). Review of Research in Education. Massachusetts: American Educational Research Association & SAGE.
Burnett, C., & Merchant, G. (2011). Is there a Space for Critical Loteracy in the Context of Scial Media? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 41-57.
Collins, J., & Blot, R. K. (2003). Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dunkerly-Bean, J. (2013). Reading the World in the word: The possibility of Literacy Instructions Framed within Human Rights Education. Language and Literacy, 40-56.
Jimenez, R. T., & Smith, P. H. (2008). Mesoamerican Literacies Indigenous Writing System and Contemporary Possibilities. International Reading Association, 28-46.
Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication.
Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication.
Kumaravadivelu. (2003). BEYOND METHOD. NEW HAVEN AND LONDON, By Yale Univesity.
Kumaravadivelu. (2003). BEYOND METHODS. New Haven and London. Yale, University Press.
Lankshear, C. &. (2003). New literacies: Changing knowledge in the classroom. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Marinho, M. (2013). LITERACY AND NUMERACY IN LATINAMERICA. Local Perspectives and Beyond. Sao Pablo: Judy Kalman and Brian Street.
Mignolo, W. (1994). Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. United States of America: Duke Universuty Press.
Mora, R. (2009). It’s Not How Literacy We Are, But How We Are Literate. ASOCOPI.
Nieto, S. (2013). Language, Literacy, and culture; Aha! Moments in personal and sociopolitical understanding. Language and Literacy Education, 8-20.
Pabon, C. (1999). America Cruel Una Aproximación alo Doble. Nova & Vetera Pensamiento y Vida, 6-17.
Perry, K. (2012). What is Literacy? A Critical Overview of Sociocultual Perpectives. JULLE UGA Journal of Language & Literacy Education, 50-72.
Street. (2009). Palagrave Advances in Linguistic. The future of literaciy studies. Mike Boynham and mastinpronsloo.
Theodore S, R. (2009). The methodology of foreign language teaching: Method, approaches, principles. Berlin: KARLFRIER KNAPP & BARBARA SADLHOFE.


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This entry was posted on April 28, 2014 by in Assignments and tagged .
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