A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
ANALIZING TEXTBOOKS SINCE CRITICAL LITERACY
By: Laura Garcés Vanegas
The following article talks first about a brief definition and history about textbooks and some concepts about critical literacy. Then, a review how I have seen textbooks as a student and nowadays as a teacher considering some aspects of critical literacy. I also reflect on the new textbooks public school are using, and finally on some ideas (Mora, 2014) analyzed about previous students of the graduate seminar on literacies in Second Languages context at MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages about textbooks according to Critical Literacies.
Before to start: A brief definition and history of the textbooks, and conceptualizing Critical Literacy
History of textbooks
According to Cambridge dictionary, a textbook is a book that contains detailed information about a subject for people who are studying that subject. Merriam-Webster place its use especially in the school. Earlier textbooks were used to teach children reading and writing the Latin alphabet, syllables, and words. Some of them, in their literary origin where designed to help in literacy processes, one example was the one invented by Aelius Donatos in the fourth century A.D. designed in a catechism style, where the teacher asked some questions and the students recited the answer, both were written in a text. This style went through the medieval times and was evidenced in grammars of the nineteenth century. Changes in the educational theory, the rise of teachers’ education and the commercialization of textbooks changed the old style of memorization into an understanding one, make them more marketable, providing commodity. Until now, textbooks have evolved as the theories of teaching have also evolved, and they will move on with the new techniques of communication and information.
As textbooks were created initially to base literacy processes, is over the Critical Literacy they must be analyzed. Many authors address Critical Literacy concepts, most of them related on the role of language as a social practice and social transformation. “Critical Literacy education focuses specifically on the role of language as a social practice and examines the role played by text and discourse in maintaining or transforming these orders” (Janks, 2014). Going further (Comber, 2015) relates the concepts of Critical Literacy and Social Justice, her early conceptions involved pedagogical moves like: repositioning students as researchers of language, respecting student resistance and exploring minority culture constructions of literacy and problematizing classrooms and public textbooks. Furthermore, (Freire, 1987; Royster, 2000; Morrell, 2008) conceptualized it as a form of social transformation, instead of the practice of reading and writing skills (Riley, 2015).
My point of view as a student
I remember have had several textbooks during my school time. But, what I do not remember very well is what they were useful for. Schools and teachers used to ask us for textbooks, most of them actually very expensive, and I also remember doing some activities, but with a vague notion of the intentions teachers had about using them. I even did not know about goals or achievement goals while using them and what is worst, we never read or finish one of these textbooks completely. Now I realized how meaningless they were, we were obliged to make activities “more to be devoured than truly read or study, reading lessons in the old- fashioned sense, submitted to the students in the name of scientific training, and of which they have to give an account by means of reading summaries”(Freire & Macedo, 1987). And, at the end of the year we used to gift those textbooks to our neighbors or to the library, almost always as they were new because we were not allowed to write on them.
In my university time, teachers used several textbooks according to the subjects and their goals. All of them, as I remember, were implemented to develop the skills of the language they were designed for. That is why, we found texts distributed by sections like grammar, listening, reading and comprehension, phonetics, and so on. Despite most of them were made abroad, because there were not many produced in our country, teachers actually got what they pretended using them. As those textbooks were brought from other countries, and teachers used them very well, they did not consider our country issues, our realities and our culture. Very few were created here, and they almost maintained the structure, the contents and contexts of the foreign ones, but I did not remember develop any kind of critical consciousness of reading of the reality with them.
My analysis as an English teacher
I have always been an English teacher (since 1999) in places where students have not had English textbooks, first in one school of low social strata where the students did not have the possibility to access to them, and the second one, a public school where teachers were not permitted to ask directly students for a textbook. However, we could make suggestions to get the textbooks, because publishers gave teachers away free textbooks and even bilingual dictionaries, and also they provided other kind of benefits to school if we would suggest students to invest in their textbooks, but despite the efforts, few students purchased them. So, what did we do? Most of the times, we look for textbooks wherever we could, actually, the ones publishers gave us, sometimes we made students reproduce dialogues, texts and readings from those books, and sometimes we took photocopies according to what we need for the students. So, textbooks where just a materials to help us in many activities of our classes, but now I realized we did not pay attention to their essence, intentions, goals, and all that I could have taken advantage about them, because “ I paid little or no attention to what lay behind the text-the hidden message” (Cano, 2013).
Describing new materials in Colombian education
Nowadays having the opportunity to work according to the requirements of Ministry of Education in its quest for bilingualism, we have access to new materials. Our government has invested in the Project to Strengthen the Development of Foreign Language Skills, which looks for guarantee that our students develop better communicative competences in a foreign language along the educational cycle, to become citizens able to insert better in the globalized world in which we live, and to contribute to improve competitive conditions of our country. That is why it sets four axes to the improvement of quality of education: teachers’ training and accompaniment, pedagogical aspects, evaluation and monitoring, and institutional strengthening.Belonging to the pedagogical aspects, the government project aims to support teachers and students, didactical material and resources relevant to their school classrooms and contexts.The new textbook is a strategy to help to build a new way towards the consolidation of quality processes in the learning and teaching of English in Colombian official schools, which goal is to contribute so that our young achieve the English level Pre-intermediate (B1) in eleventh grade.
This material was designed according to Basic Standards of Competences in Foreign Language: English, and takes the reference methodological and pedagogical principles of the “Curriculum Suggested for English Proposal” developed in 2015, showing a series of texts which present the teachers a wide repertoire with options adaptable to de diverse national contexts, which look for contribute pedagogical practices, motivation in the classroom towards English learning and the integral formation through the interaction and communication about interest topics to 9th, 10th and 11th grades students. Its structure considers the fourth terms of the school year, with three units per term and a five hourly intensity, but with the possibility to be adapted to other intensities thanks to their “pacing guides”. Besides, its syllabus is Topic Based, centered in macro issues which allow and interdisciplinary work with subjects and cross projects related to health, sexual education, human rights, sustainability, environment, and democracy and peace. Additionally to the Topic Based Syllabus, and the alignment to national and international standards, these textbooks count on key principles founded in the approach and methodology of the modules and units, which are: learning outcomes based on language use and project work, learner autonomy through self-assessment and reflection, integration of transferable skills, a “noticing approach” to language development, integration of the four languages skills, development of learning strategies. Finally, this new series is composed by the student book, teacher’s guide including CD with audio activities, interactive digital version of the student book, pacing guides and the support of the web page: http://www.colombiaaprende.edu.co/colombiabilingue.
Analyzing what is coming
There are many aspects to highlight and to recognize the Ministry of Education about these new textbooks. First, there was an initial implementation of the texts last year to make the diagnosis. At the end of the year teachers from all over the country were met to evaluate and to propose about the implementation, the appropriation, the relevance, the design and the contents of the first series of these textbooks. Thanks to the considerations, recommendations, reflections, beliefs and feelings of teachers, Ministry of Education, by the first time, designed with English teachers and pedagogues, a proper textbook, the new series available to all the students of 9th, 10th and 11th grade that fits and considers the interests, needs and contexts of our students, and with the projection to expand them to all the grades.
What comes depends on teachers, we already have the material, the resources, and the Ministry of Education has already gave us an initial training about it. Now we do not have excuses to implement them.Now I have the consciousness about critical literacy and what I can do with these textbooks in order to motivate it, and to develop it with my students. Furthermore, I know that with them, I can teach my pupils to read and to write the world and the words, “decodifying or reading the situations pictured leads them to a critical perception of the meaning of culture by leading them to understand how human practice or work transforms the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987). Maybe many teachers see these textbooks “as a “safety blanket” that enable them a sense of control over their class” (Mora, 2014b), but I see them as the opportunity to start raising awareness about helping our “students get encouraged to become active readers and writers of cultural texts so that they can create their own meanings to shape and transform their social conditions” (Lankshear & McLaren, 1993; Shor, 1992, cited in Cano, 2013).
Cano, R. (2013). A Critical Analysis of a Textbook. ML2-Second Languages Literacies. Retrieved from:
Chappell, P., Gutiérrez, M.I., Hadland, T., Langton, A., Lane, A., Rincón, L., Rico, L.T., Urena, P.A. (2016). English, Please! 2. Ministerio de Educación. Richmond Colombia
Comber, B. (2015). Critical Literacy and Social Justice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, doi:10.1002/jaal.370
Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. London, UK: Routledge.
Janks, H. (2014). Critical literacy’s ongoing importance for education. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, doi:10.1002/jaal.260
Mora, R. (2014). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Lessons from Colombia. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, doi:10.1002/jaal.329
Riley, K. (2015). Enacting Critical Literacy in English Classrooms. How a Teacher Learning Community Supported Critical Inquiry. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, doi:10.1002/jaal.371
Textbooks definition. Retrieved from:http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/textbook and http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/textbook
Wakefield, J. F. (1998). A Brief History of Textbooks: Where Have We Been All These Years? Taken from: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=es&q=history+of+textbooks&btnG=&lr=