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

The issue of use a text book in a government school through Critical Literacy perspective by Johana Rojas Sarmiento



“Well In my opinion textbooks should still be used in a classroom, there’s many reasons why though. Not all students have cell phones to use to search up all the information or carry along laptops. Also not every classroom has computers to search up information, or don’t have many computers to support the whole entire class. Although, the libraries have many computer but what if the teacher doesn’t want to take the student’s to the library? Textbooks should always be used in a classroom to support those who don’t have these technology devices in possession. Technology shouldn’t always be relied on, textbooks should still be continued to be used for notes, assignments, further more for important information, and usage”  Cristopher Trevino, Weslaco High School.


The following text is concerned with the suitability of using an English textbook in a government school taking into consideration the Critical Literacy (CL) perspective. On top of that, it is crucial to define, the concept of CL conceived by different authors. As well as, to explain some reasons about why is necessary to have text books in the classroom? What are their advantages and disadvantages? Consequently, I will describe an English textbook that for this analysis we called “EP 2” implemented for the first time in a government school, and with critical literacy lenses we are going to reveal what is the hidden message in it.


What is critical literacy?


The new understanding of what implies reading and writing in today’s world, that is one slightly vision of what is CL. The meaning of Critical literacy is variable according to different authors, for some of them it is the ability to actively read text that promotes a deeper understanding of socially concepts. It would be conceive as Mora says “literacy as the process of interpreting and creating text using multiple means and media, including technology, multiple languages, and diverse aesthetic forms of expression, in addition to the written and spoken Word” (Mora, 2010). Moreover, CL believes in power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships (Tomkings, 2010). Besides, this pedagogical approach is based on exploring personal, sociopolitical, economic and intellectual border identities. It dictates a policy of location where learners are positioned to operate as “border crossers” (Anderson & Irvine, 1993).


The development of critical literacy pushes students to question issues of social power; in essence, to become thoughtful, active citizens. Becoming critically literate means that students have developed and mastered the ability to read, analyze, critique, and question the messages inherently present within any form of text (Christensen, 1994). Therefore, Students can find this content presented and represented in the social world like family, school, friends, books, magazines, newspaper and websites.


Students and teachers could  use critical literacy to challenge themselves, and in doing so, they will develop a deeper understanding in order to join CL, students and teachers with their external worlds since the school practices. Critical literacy processes often involve identity work as students “reflexively consider how texts function within the context of that discourse- practice to construct value” (Myers & Eberfors, 2010). It is an attempt to build on illustrative accounts of the ways in which it is “characterized by an emphasis on students’ voices” (Beck, 2005, p. 394), and these students ‘voices also focused on minority students and the way critical literacy can help them become “change agents”(Lawrence, McNeal, & Yildiz, 2009).


Why is necessary to have textbooks?


Textbooks are a main component in many public and private schools all around the world. In some cases they are the basis for the majority of the language learners experience and the language practice that happen in the classroom. They offer the content of the lessons; the skills and that kind of language practice the student take part in. According to Jack C. Richards author of the book “Development in Language Teaching”, there are different advantages of using a textbook in class such as they provide structure and syllabus for a program, they help standardize instruction, they maintain quality, they provide a variety of learning sources, they are efficient, they can provide effective language model and input, they can train teachers and they are visually appealing. (Richards, 2001).


Taking into account the aspects mentioned before in contrast with what it means having a book in the context of government schools that was  something almost impossible long time ago. But, in my own experience having a textbook for the first time, it feels like “Alice in wonderland”, it is something new to explore.  I have been teaching for 15 years. It is very common in government schools to find old school English teachers that comeback to teach all over again the famous verb “To be” every year; following the “improvisation curriculum” it means to teach whatever topic that crosses  their mind and the teacher consider relevant to teach to all the groups that he/she is charged in. Besides,  taking for granted  that students in public schools do not know anything, do not have their own knowledge to offer and  could not be challenged with more advanced activities. Moreover, the classes often are focus on grammar and vocabulary memorization without a context. As consequence, many students are bored out of English classes and their performance in English class are low. (I am not assuring that all government schools presented this phenomena, I just want to say what I experienced in my context). That is why in public schools is relevant to have an appropriate textbook to triggers teachers imagination, to chanllege themselves as educadors and to reflect about how far they want to take their students in their leaning process.


On the other hand, it is important to mention the negative effects of using texts and remarking  in the common mistakes teacher make when choosing a supporting material for the class. Teachers generally determine on the content without compromise students and let the imposition of some text authors, who are usually disjoined from the sensibility of students’ lives, determine what students must read and what tasks they must do. Izadinia and Abednia (2010).This is our concern as English teachers to evaluate those resources, take the best from them  to suit the students needs.


Also, Professor Richards states some disadvantages of textbooks to take into consideration like: They may contain inauthentic language, they may distort content, they may not reflect students’ needs, they can deskill teachers, they do not use students´ context and they are expensive.( Richards, 2001). The one and the other,  the benefits and limitations of the use of textbooks needs to be considered, and if the textbooks that are being use in a school are judge to have some negative consequences, remedial action should be taken by adapting or supplementing with other materials, resources and overall by  implement critical literacy in the classroom.


Personally I do believe books should still be used in classrooms and in all schools around the world. I believe in this because I individually do not like to use technology all the time, and I rarely enjoy reading books online. I love to have hands on material it gives me a better learning experience and it is an easier way for me to learn and get my work done. I think we should still use textbooks in class because if we do not base our education just on technology. Since, in our society today our lives have become so dependent on technology and without it we would be lost. If we take away textbooks then might as well throw away the books in the library. There so much information in our textbooks that might not be in the internet or a click away from our iPhones. Therefore, our education should still consist of finding the answers on a book or searching for definitions. If we let people take away textbooks then, people can say we are lazy enough to not even want to look in a simple textbook. All in all, this world needs teacher to promote a society transformation, to promote critical insights about students’ reality. I do not mean that the book is the solution to all the second language teaching problems but it is one small step ahead in this field.


Analysis of  “EP 2” textbook.



The text analysis will be established answering the following questions: How is the content organized and presented? What is the English or Englishes used?  What kind of readings is it teaching? Will the activities engage the students’ interest? Are the topics contextualized with the student´s reality? Finally, is it promoting functional or critical literacy?


The EP2 is a book designed exclusively for government schools and for teenagers in tenth grade. This material was developed by the  Colombian Ministry of Education in agreement with a  British organization  in 2014.The aim of the text is to foster  communicative competences in  a second language in students through all the educative cycle, to turn students into citizen of the global world and be competent in  the local context. It is oriented to reach the levels A1-A2 according to the European Framework of References. The text is focus on communicative approach  and it is organized by macro topics ( Topic based syllabus) that  allows a cross curricular work, stressing on Education to Sexuality, Education for Human rights, Environmental Education and Citizenship Competences. This material covers the Basic Standards for Foreign Languages Competences (22 Guide) and the Cross curricular Stands of Citizenship Competences. The text adopts the Project Based Approach and the assessment through portfolio.


There are some positives and negatives aspects in the implementation of this book. Since having any material to work with students.  It is good due to finally the text is follow a path to achieve a target goal that is to stress more in communication than grammar and the text include the common European Framework of References, cross curricular activities and citizenship competences. Also working a project is a good attempt to involve students. Nevertheless, there is something missing in this book proposal and is the students’ interest and voices. What are the Colombian students’ interests? What are their main concerns? What motivates them toward learning a second language? Students are the main raw material in the classroom Why not involve students in the development of Colombian English textbooks?. It is an interesting proposal to be evaluated.


What is the English or Englishes used in the EP2 book? It is important to keeping in mind  what is the concept of   Standard English, it  is a native-speak – er model which may be unattainable for many second language learners. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to use a native-speaker model for language learners who, by definition, can “never become native-speakers without being reborn” (Cook 1999, 187).  Teaching Standard English may pro – mote discrimination. Some employers, for example, may discriminate against speakers of American English or Irish English by saying, “Oh! You don’t speak British English, which we prefer for this position.” Given that accent is often “an implicit code for race or ethnicity” (Tollefson 2002, 150), discrimination based on accent can even be considered a form of racism.


This text is supported by the British Organization and the use of it is  accepted in the book.  As  a evidence, in several activities,  the majority of listening exercises the people who explain the instructions and the person who reads the passage are the same through all book, students complaint about it because it is not  using real people from real conversations. Also the exercises focus on pronunciation and vocabulary use of words like patrol, football, trainers, mobile phone, memory stick and blusher  corresponding to the context of British English. Students express that in the listening activities those people speak weird and the accent sounds strange for them. Also, some words in the vocabulary part have never seen before by them.


So, the question arises, is it good or bad for students to focus on British English? Why not include  words like going to the farm, visit a relative, visit a little town, go to the ravine, and go to the park that are more appealing to students context ? If students express they are in touch with American English due to TV, internet and movies and the geographical position of their country, Why not include some varieties of accent and Englishes? Nevertheless, it is suggested that teachers can inform their practices about the different varieties of English that exist and consider a balanced approach to teaching English. The key to following a balanced approach is “to be culturally sensitive to the diversity of contexts in which English is taught and used” (McKay 2002, 128).


What kind of readings is it teaching? In fact, learning to read and comprehend a second language requires learning a secondary literacy: alternative cultural interpretations, cultural beliefs about language and discourse, and culture specific formal and content schemata. It is important to realize that learning to read effectively in a second language literally alters the learner’s cognitive structures and values orientations.( Mikulecky, 2008).Similar perceptions of cultural awareness, when students assimilate the process of becoming more aware of and increasing understanding of one’s own culture to increase international and cross-cultural understanding. That is why English language teaching aims to raise cultural awareness, it should start, from the learner’s point of view and takes their experiences as a starting point. (Byram & Grundy,2002)


Sunsequently, to look for signs  of   cultural awareness, I would like to stress on one of the lessons called “Becoming a Hero” in this reading is shown regular people, a couple of community heroes, one of them people from brazil, and the other one from Africa.Hence, where is the connection between the students experiences as a opening for the reading? This text has a good purpose on  focus learners attention towards a relevant topic like the one mentioned before. But, it should include reading about people from Colombia, even better to remark on people who are making really good thinks for the society and building a better community. Also, the kind of questions that the reading arises just seat on comprehension and it  is not implementing critical literacy questions towards students as “change agents”.


Will the activities engage the students’ interest? Are the topics contextualized with the student´s context?  One aspect to consider about student engagement in learning activities, it is to understand engagement with an activity as being represented by good behavior, positive feelings, and, above all, student thinking (Fredricks, 2014).


Every module proposed some activities that had called students attention one more than others. For example: the presentation about “urban tribes”, “you can become a hero”, “how things are made”  and “diversity is beautiful”; They are activities that motivates them, and students show willingness to participate in the classes .By the contrary there are other that shows the opposite, as an example: one of the activities the book suggests in which students  create a “camping trip advertisement” in groups of four  student .During the development of that activity, students express they had never had  the chance to go to a camping trip before because they  do not do that kind of activities in Colombia and they feel kind of  weird  and feel not like  with designing  the artifact in the class. It is evidenced that this exercise is not contextualized with the students’ world and interest. And the next question emerges, how this kid of activities affect our students’ identification? Is the book imitating   predetermine and unfamiliar beliefs?


Is EP2 text promoting functional or critical literacy? Functional Literacy comprises a set of abilities, in addition, as a minimum level of skill.(Collins, 2003). Make an attempt to being critical, improving communicative competences, including some new update topics. But the book does not go deeper in student critical literacy. it reveal  They book tries to focus more in  functional literacy because like linking words, gerunds as subjects, zero conditional  and prepositions  of time that make us thing that students should still learn more grammar.


In regard to what is CL, it is important to  recall  that Critical literacy practices encourage students to use language to question the everyday world, to examine  the relationship between language and power, to analyze popular culture and media, to realize how power exchange  are socially constructed, and to favor  actions that can be taken to promote social justice. (Lewison, Leland,& Harste, 2008). All things considered, this text is not fostering critical literacy in students.


In conclusion, to develop a text implementing critical literacy is necessary to think about society, politics, and economy. What is happening in Colombia? What is happening in the world?  How does the decision of world leaders affect us? It means to evolve the students as “critical readers” of the world, help them to be empowered and make them active voices in the society. Finally, as teachers is our responsibility to take into account the students, they have more words, more ideas to share, they have  more experiences with the language thanks to technology and they have a point of view of  English, they  stand  a critical point of view .That’s why critical literacy is important due to the students context, what are their abilities? What are they able to do?. CL offers a range of possibilities to students, to express themselves and go beyond this predetermine world.


3115 words


Bibliography And Webgraphy


Collins, J., III,& O’Brien,N. (2003).The Greenwood dictionary of education. Westport. Retrieved from


Farrell,T & Martin,S.(2009) To Teach Standard English or World Englishes? A Balanced Approach to Instruction. English Teaching Forum.Number 2. Retrieved from


Gail E. Tompkins, Literacy for the 21st Century, A Balanced Approach: 5th Edition(Boston: Pearson Education Inc, 2010) 11.


Izadinia, M & Abednia, A. (2010).  Dynamics of an EFL Reading Course with a Critical   Literacy Orientation. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 6(2), 53.


Lee, C. J. (2011). Myths about critical literacy: What teachers need to unlearn. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 7 (1), 95-102.


Lisa Patel Stevens, and Thomas W. Bean, Critical Literacy: context, research, and practice in the K-12 classroom. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc. 2007). Google Books. Ed. Google, 2010. Retrieved  Mar. 19th, 2016 from:


Mikulecky, B. “n.d.” Teaching Reading in a Second Languag.Person Longman. Retrieved from


Mora,R. A. (2014b). Critical literacy as policy and advocacy: Lessons from Colombia. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(1). 16-18. doi:10.1002/jaal.329.


Morales, G.(2015).Books in the digital era[picture].Retrieves from


Pino, N.( December 8th, 2014).Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities.Edutopia.Retrieved from


Richards, J. “n.d.” The role of textbooks in  a Language Program.Professorjackrichards. Retrieved from


Willis, A. I., Montavon, M., Hall, H.; Hunter, C., Burke, L., & Herrera, A. (2008). On critically conscious research: Approaches to language and literacy research. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.



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This entry was posted on March 22, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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