A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
To see textbooks with a different perspective than the one I was taught is a new challenge for me as a teacher and as a reader, since I was never taught to go beyond the lines. This paper aims to analyze the use of some textbooks in the light of some concepts studied in Literacies in Second Language course at UPB University in Medellin, Colombia.
Critical literacy encourages readers to analyze texts in an active way and offer strategies for a better understanding of the written word as well as the world. I endorse the definition of “Critical literacy is the ability to read texts in an active, reflective manner in order to better understand power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships.” (Coffey, 2009)
All the changes that have emerged from the ongoing advances in the technology field have developed an array of texts not only printed but also electronic texts. Therefore, text is defined as “vehicle through which individuals communicate with one another using the codes and conventions of society”. (Robinson & Robinson, 2003). Critical literacy must allow students not only to read and write in the printed and digital form, but also develops a critical thinking about everything that is read or written.
According to one author critical literacy requires that “teachers encourage students to look at texts from other perspectives and re-create them from the standpoint of marginalized groups in order to analyze the power relations and social inequities promoted by the texts.” (Coffey, 2009) Accordingly, being critical means “to understand why the author wrote about a particular topic, wrote from a particular perspective, or those to include some ideas about a topic and exclude others” (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004)
Focusing efforts towards this goal in English classes, challenges for every single Colombian teacher, who invests efforts, resources, time and strategies for motivating and improving his or her students’ behavior and performance during class time. One of the most recurring English class resources is textbooks, which include additional helpful tools such as CD, software, and new classroom plans, all of these aims to achieve the most optimistic results for a group of students using diverse digital technologies.
English textbooks provide organized and stratified units of work. The first information that a teacher uses from an English guidebook, is the index, which indicates a logical topics sequence. The first look at a textbook can give an idea of a balanced, chronological class plan. Hence, textbooks are a detailed sequence of teaching procedures that tell one what to do and when to do it. The advantage for teachers is there are no surprises in the process because everything is carefully spelled out. This structure is also helpful for beginning teachers, because a textbook trains them in planning the lessons they need to cover in some or great detail.
Over the years, textbooks have been a useful tool in the English teaching process. On one hand, teachers save a great deal of time planning their classes, since textbooks are well designed and align with international standards. They also incorporate a complete program that is based on the latest research and teaching strategies. The topics and objectives are according to the course and textbooks propose diverse activities to perform in classes. Some textbooks even give direct links to internet web sites that teachers can enjoy through reading, researching and improving professional tasks as well as updating their knowledge about world phenomena.
On the other hand, English textbooks tend to follow some cultural patterns according to the country where they are based but put another culture on the other side. Also the prices are very high; therefore, most of the government schools are not allowed to request textbooks, since education must be free, thus, only students who have the possibility to buy a textbook can do it.
As noted before, the textbook is a resource for teachers, but it is not the only one. Using a textbook as a complement to other materials for developing the class is a great opportunity to achieve excellent academic benefits, because of its versatility. Further the binomial relationship between teacher-student is very important. To strength this pairing, good textbooks are excellent teaching tools. They are a resource for both teachers and students .The teacher is a reliable source of information, but textbooks can be used to provide more. This additional attribute is because teachers do not always mention everything, maybe due to the time limit of lessons.
Although the textbook can increase and foster motivation in classes, some teachers take advantage of the textbooks and forget to use their creativity in order to implement more appealing activities for the class that take into account students’ interest and needs, and at the same time foster students’ critical thinking and problem solving, about all of the issues that take place in their society and all around the world.
In my short experience as a teacher I could say, for one thing, that some textbooks used in Colombia have some disadvantages, because five years ago I had to work with a book that was focused only on American culture, all the images were related to famous American people, their customs, food, sports, likes and dislikes, the real interest of this book was to empower this foreign culture. Students learnt about this culture, but they did not have the opportunity to study others cultural contexts or their own context since all the stereotypes presented tended to show American culture as a happy place to live.
Moreover, another disadvantage was that I tended to pay more attention to the presentation of the book, as one scholar mentioned in his article, “I paid little or no attention to what lay behind the text – the hidden message. It was my belief that the images and the written texts that made part of the book aimed at a cultural contextualization of the language. (Cano, 2013). It is our debt to help students go beyond the lines as Freire states “reading does not consist merely of decoding the written word or language; rather, it is preceded by an intertwined with knowledge of the world. Language and reality are dynamically interconnected”. (Freire & Macedo, 1987)
Nowadays thanks to the inquiries of some English teachers, the adaptations of the English in the curriculum through the Colombia Bilingual program, the inclusion of ICTs in the classroom, and the effort of the government for helping students to identify the local and global diversity through the English knowledge, and the interaction with other cultures in which learning English plays a vital role in this globalized society. Students and teachers of ninth, tenth and eleventh grade of public schools have access to a textbook which are closed related to the Colombian students’ interests and needs.
These textbooks are a very useful tool for Colombian teachers designed taking into account students’ context and reality. The methodology is based on different approaches such as topic- based approach, noticing approach, project work, learner autonomy through self-assessment and reflection, etc.
The books are organized as follow: each level contains four modules .Each module is centered on a different topic that is related to their daily lives, such as the future is in your hands, global citizen, love and relationships and saving planet earth. Students will tackle these themes not only in a local way but also in a global way. The modules start with an introductory section that allows students to be able to explore the topics, language skills, and projects. After that, there are three units. The first two units explore different subtopics in more depth and provide students with activities in order to acquire the necessary language and skills. The third unit also gives students the opportunity to work on a project and present it, as well as to think back and assess their achievements with regard to the module’s expected language outcomes.
The layout of the book is appealing for students; the images are related to their social context and updated topics. Besides, in order to reinforce the topics seen in class students can have access to some links where they can see some videos to debate in the classes. The readings and speaking activities are well integrated with topics of each unit. Students can discuss in groups what they think about the topics and have the opportunity to express their points of views in a free way respecting others’ opinions, and make comparisons between their social context and the outside world in order to better understand some economical and political concepts. The four skills are developed during the unit; the vocabulary section helps students understand some key words, and teachers can use diverse strategies for introducing the new vocabulary such as flashcards, realia, games, crosswords and etc.
The last part of each module has two sections that I like the most. One section is related with a project work where students put into practice all the aspects learnt during the whole module. This project fosters teamwork and allows them to practice skills such as collaboration, negotiation and creativity. The other section is self assessment as part of their learning process. Students in a conscious way have the opportunity to assess their own learning, what they do at school and at home, this allows them to recognize their strengths and to empower the weak aspects.
I dare to say that these textbooks do not tend to prevail over any culture; but rather allow students to enrich their knowledge about their own culture and learn more about the ones that surround them. Also, to understand that through differences, human beings can grow. According to (Riley, 2014), creating a suitable environment inside the classroom for carrying out critical literacy practices not only helps students to enlarge their analysis and interpretation of an array of materials , but also helps them to think and act in new ways to improve their lives and the lives of other citizens. Literacy is a humanizing process. The aim of critical literacy, “is to create citizens who can face and question social inequality and become advocates against any forms of injustice, whether in classrooms or outside of them”. (Lankshear & McLaren, 1993)
To sum up, teachers have to promote a change inside and out of the classrooms. One first step is how through critical literacy teachers “started thinking beyond the textbooks and considering what resources would be better fit their students’ learning conditions, and what kind of society they promoted in their classrooms” (Mora, 2014). In our daily lives, we are in contact with diverse types of readings and writings, not only at schools but everywhere. All types of information surround us at all moments of our lives such as newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and websites, blogs, videos, among others.
What can we do with all the information that is spreading to us? How can we help students to be critical about all this information? Are we teaching them to be critical? These kinds of questions help us to incorporate critical literacy into our classrooms where it is relevant to discuss and debate events that are taking place in the world and the students’ lives. This teaching style is important so that students can take positions and actions for the betterment of themselves as well as the society. As this author says “Students need to understand the connections between the local and the global, between now and the future, and between “us” and our constructed others”. (Janks, 2014). Teachers have to heighten motivation not only in the students but also in their colleagues who sometimes are reluctant to change their traditional ways of teaching since the challenge is in their hands.
Cano, R. D. (8 de September de 2013). A Critical Analysis of a Textbook by Rubén Darío Cano B. Obtenido de ML2- Second Languages Literacies: https://ml2secondlanguageliteracies.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/a-critical-analysis-of-a-textbook-by-ruben-dario-cano-b/
Coffey, H. (2009). Critical Literacy. Retrieved from LEARN NC: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4437
Chappell, P., Gutiérrez, M. I., Langton, A., Hadland, T., Lane, A., Rincón, L., . . . Urueña, P. A. (2016). English, please! 3 Teacher’s Guide Fast Track. Bogota: Richmond.
Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. London: Routledge.
Janks, H. (2014, February). Critical Literacy’s Ongoing Importance for Education. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 349-356.
Lankshear, C., & McLaren, P. (1993). Critical Literacy . Politics, praxis and the postmodern. Albany: SUNY press.
McLaughlin, M., & DeVoogd, G. (September de 2004). Critical Literacy as Comprehension: Expanding Reader Response. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, págs. 52-62.
Mora, R. A. (2014, September). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 16-18.
Riley, K. (2014, December 22). Enacting Critical Literacy in English Classrooms. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 417-425. Retrieved from Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.
Robinson, E., & Robinson, S. (2003). What does it mean? Discourse,text,culture- an Introduction. Australia: McGraw-Hill.