A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2)
English Language II
Eduardo Sennen López Betancur
Professor: Raúl Mora PHD
Our Textbooks through a Critical Literacy lens
This paper attempts to analyze and criticize the implementation of textbook at a preservice public institution in Colombia taking into consideration critical literacy as a lens, some concepts worked during the sessions of English Languages II, course of the Master Program in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages at “Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana” in Medellín, Colombia, the proposal readings, the participations and learning from webinars at global conversations in literacy research, and previous studies related to the topic. Finally, I will address some reflections about our teaching practices in relation to what we (as teachers) are doing in classes with the material proposed by some books and literacy.
I have been mostly an elementary school teacher for many years at a public Institution where the government has never implemented books (at least at my place) for working in English with children. Additionally, I only have English class with them once a week and the policies from the secretary of Education do not allow teachers, coordinators, and principals to ask learners´ parents for any kind of material that requires spending their money. This decision was based on a “decreto de gratuidad” from local government that promises to provide all the resources needed for students in elementary schools in the city. However, I worked for a very prestigious university in the country since 2012 to 2015 There, I could work with children, teenagers, and at some of the professional programs offered by the Institution. During this experience, the university applied in its curriculum the implementation of some recognized books according to the level and age. In this paper, I will focus on the analysis of a collection of books for children.
The first book of this collection was designed to engage children in learning and inspiring students to acquire English. It focuses on reaching adventures on themed islands developing the cognitive, emotional and social skills of the whole learner. The book indicates in its content, curricular connections and authentic texts to immerse students in English, additionally it expects to get in learners a guided communication, through motivating stories which make learning English more exciting than previous collections or books designed by the same publisher or different ones. This book contains funny characters, highlighted illustrations, diverse shapes, some repetitive songs and online activities, which challenge learners to continue a process. I always thought that their collection of books for children were outstanding, since they had a complete package including the student´s book, teacher´s book, compact disc rom, assessment book and online code for having a personal process in the web. However, based on the readings of this course, the experience in the forum and what I have learnt, I consider that I can see a deficiency nowadays in their first two books of their collection. And to be honest I feel a little bit uncomfortable since I took a lot of advantage of this material in the past and I did not find a way to improve my practices while using them, additionally, because I know, there was a strong group of professionals behind the sheets of the name of the book who worked strongly to publish it. However, if some day they read my words, perhaps, it could be a signal to improve their work. Critically, I do not see how the first two (2) books of the collection try to develop the building blocks for literacy – the abilities to speak, listen, understand, watch and draw. In their pages, there are pictures and objects, but they do not talk about them a lot, most of the times, they try to connect the sound with the object. It is not evident an identity of the book related with the content and there is not a reflexive message in their pages or activities to motivate students, not only to learn the second language, but to start being part of the social change that society requires.
Communication is an important element, which grows while you read and teach about the sounds. However, I do not see how the sounds of the book could be motivating for students since they do not seem to be very funny as a collective meaning but as an isolated sound. I think the book lacks of audiovisual material to empower more literacy with activities like talking, singing and reading and discussing. With these material, children will try to imitate the sounds and expressions. In the first two books, there is not a clear mode that shows literacy as a social and constructive activity.
Songs are presented in the book as an integration of learning. They are very motivating for students, I have experienced how learners enjoy singing, but now I think it is not only singing as a motivating part of our practices, it is to take advantage of that motivation to sing, to go deeper and to make children to understand how language is put together and to get students aware of sounds of the second language, which are not present in their mother tongue. In fact, I cannot say if those songs are good or bad, since they are trying to communicate something and they become an important aspect in learning when they intertwine the academic learning with students´ daily routines.
The first two books do not contain texts to read aloud with students. I am conscious that images and pictures can be read, but short stories could be included to try to interact with students with questions such as What do you think about it? What is going to happen next? Why did the main character act out like that? What would you do if you were that animal? Etcetera. Therefore, the lack of stories or texts affect reading as an important element in literacy since it gives enjoyable time not only because of the story, but the among variety of games found with words, the relation between the letters, the pictures and the sounds. Based on Freire´s approach (1970) the process of learning literally to read and write words was an integral part of learning to understand how the world operates socially and culturally in ways that produce opportunities for different group of people. In the first two books, there is a lack of the previous process, since participants do not seem to take an important action of the world in an attempt to change it
Their third book contains stories, texts and different activities that can be performed in order to engage students in the interacting process, additionally its online challenges look for a way of expression of children and they have activities that help them to be critical, to express their ideas about social issues, perceptions about possible solutions for behaviors and environmental problems and the content of the textbook start looking to direct students in their professions showing different actions and factors of each occupation. These kind of tasks are appealing for students since they get to have the opportunity of reading as a reflexive manner since they start making decisions and they start talking about what they want to be as a way to belong and contribute to a society beyond its social change and understanding of cultural concepts.
“Using critical literacy as a lens will enable us to profile language policies that really consider the cultural and linguistic diversity of a place like Colombia” (Mora, 2014b). Teachers must include the diversity in their lesson plans since most of the textbooks implemented in Colombia are created in a different context with different needs and conditions, therefore, teachers have the obligations of starting thinking about how to address the content of the book to include the local needs, and to create a process of social change by implementing literacy from the very beginning of education of the community (rural and urban)
Textbooks in our public Institutions appear as a positive impact, even though, they have to be spread in all the public institutions. There is always a possibility to improve a printed material, but as teachers, we have the obligation of taking advantage of the content and go beyond with our strategies. The implementations of books, based on Dyson (1999) that states that “teachers construct a shared world with their students, or, to rephrase, how they might enact a “permeable” curriculum that allows for interplay between teachers’ and children’s language and experiences”. In his lines, Dyson (1999) expressed a special message that invites teachers to activate an idea of updating their curriculum with literacy proposals, and not only from their specific knowledge, but as a way of working on collaboration with teachers from different subjects.” (Freire, 1972, p. 4). Critical literacy is present within the area of teaching English as a second language since the 1980s and has led to an array of pedagogic approaches deriving their essential principle from Freire’s belief that language teaching and learning is an act of political and cultural power with substantive material and social consequences and possibilities for learners and their communities (Freire, 1972, p. 156). Schultz (2002) states that teachers must take their experience to their classrooms as a sum of the knowledge of students´ interests and abilities, by doing this, students will come to schools with a purpose of getting knowledge while they are experiencing what they want. Teachers´ adaptations of the curriculum is an important element to involve students in learning while getting a significant social change using critical literacy as a necessary and powerful tool to discuss imperialism (Nic Craith, 2007). Giroux (2001) explained the purpose of critical literacy:
“Critical literacy would make clear the connection between knowledge and power. It would present knowledge as a social construction linked to norms and values, and it would demonstrate modes of critique that illuminate how, in some cases, knowledge serves very specific economic, political and social interests. Moreover, critical literacy would function as a theoretical tool to help students and others develop a critical relationship to their own knowledge. (p. 132)”
Critical literacy uses textbooks to analyze, describe and criticize, it means that it is based not only in the content of the books, but it is the responsibility of us as teachers to involve students in the process of critical literacy, which is the one in charge of opening an opportunity of change and transformation of reality. (Luke, 2004). “Practitioners need to include in their work issues on problematizing the world that represents and perpetuates, that is to make the ideological constructions of social relations problematic through dialogue. This relationship entails the change in the traditional authority and epistemic knowledge relations of students and teachers, as both present and explore their understanding of the circumstances they are in.”
Dyson, A. H. (1999). Coach Bombay’s Kids Learn to Write: “Children’s Appropriation of Media Material for School Literacy”. Research in the Teaching of English, 33(4), 367–402. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40171462
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury.
Giroux, H. (2001). Theory and resistance in education: Towards a pedagogy for the opposition. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Lankshear, c., & Knobel, M. (1997). Different worlds? Technology-mediated classroom learning and students’ social practices with new technologies in home and community settings. In C. Lankshear, Changing literacies (pp. 164-187). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Luke, A. (2004). On the material consequences of literacy. Language and Education, 18(4), 331-335.
Mora, R. A. (2014). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 16-18.
Nic Craith, M. (2007) Languages and power: Accommodation and resistance. In M. Nic Craith (Ed.), Language, Power and Identity Politics. (pp. 1 – 21). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Schultz, K. (2002). Looking across space and time: Reconceptualizing literacy learning in and out of school. Research in the Teaching of English.
Stojkovic´. , N. , & Živkovic´ , S. ( 2012 ). Advocating the need for incorporating critical pedagogy and critical literacy in teaching English for Specific Purposes. Sino- US English Teaching, 9 (6), 1213 – 1219