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

RETHINKING OUR CURRICULA FROM CRITICAL LITERACY PEDAGOGY “An opportunity to engage students to take an active part of the society change through reflexivity”

José Elkin Berrío Martínez

English Language II

Professor: PhD Raúl Mora

Semester II – 2016




“An opportunity to engage students to take an active part of the society change through reflexivity”


As artists of the educational process, mainly in the public sector, many English teachers at different levels have been more concerned for the consumption rather than the production. Regarding to this issue, in the last 17 years, both the National government through the Ministry of Education and the local ones through the secretaries of education have promoted a lot of educational policies with the aim to improve English learning and teaching processes. However, we have not been able to take the risk to land them to our local contexts to become the first policy makers from our daily work in our institutions and why not, to municipal levels. For that, what we call experience may be based on the repetition of the same recipe during the time we have as English teachers. It is time then to make the best use of the new and latest pedagogical trends for learning and teaching English and engage students and also their parents in this tripartite process, it is time to offer them a new and varied menu in which they participate actively rather than continue being passive consumers. It is the time to rethink our curricula and raise awareness on the need to develop a critical and creative English learning system from critical literacy as a way to understand words and the world (Mora, 2016).


The National Ministery of Education defines curriculum as: “conjunto de criterios, planes de estudio, programas, metodologías, y procesos que contribuyen a la formación integral y a la construcción de la identidad cultural nacional, regional y local incluyendo también, los recursos humanos, académicos y físicos para poner en práctica las políticas y llevar a cabo el Proyecto Educativo Institucional.”

In fact, most of the curricula in public institutions are then, the container of the amount of educational policies that for language learning and teaching MEN has promoted and changed during the last ten years. Policies such as Estándares Basicos de Competencias en Lenguas Extranjeras: Inglés (Guía 22) and Serie Lineamientos Curriculares: Idiomas Extranjeros and some standardized text books that after some trainings, sometimes suddenly interrupted, are sent to public institutions. As for curriculum, we try to organize the contents as most as possible related to those policies and as an example, the curriculum of I.E. El Bolillo – Calahorra has some items from Guía 22 but most of them related to grammar, there are not writing projects in which students can use English to show, rather than the domain of the language, their background, and some reading strategies that in general, are really far from what Critical Literacy Pedagogy means.

But, why critical literacy?

As it was discussed in a class session, regarding to Critical Literacy there is not enough literature in Colombia. However, the contributions of researchers, scholars from abroad and those from researchers and even undergraduate students of ML2 at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Medellín) are an interesting starting point to get a meaningful change in language learning and teaching, taking into account the contextualization of such a wave of ideas according to our own realities from well-structured curriculum.

It is almost clear then, that conversations about critical literacy in the curriculum are rather a recent matter but as English teachers and also leaders for the transformation of societies through our practice, we have the responsibility to be self – actualized individuals to become local policy makers in this new era when new challenges in the social and educational fields are about to come for the present and future generations in our country.


Some definitions about critical literacy


When we first think about literacy, our mind´s predisposition is focused on reading and writing. But going beyond, we must think about them as ideological matter, a call for teachers to ask questions about language learning. So, Anderson and Irvine, 1982 define it as “learning to read and write as part of the process of becoming conscious of one´s experience as historically constructed within specific power relations” this definition is related to  the idea that CL is a reaction toward history. (Burke, 1982).

On the other hand, having in mind that we are what we say and do, through words and other actions, critical literacy is an essential tool to transform a society in relation to the political and the personal, the public and the private, the global and the local, the economic and the pedagogical; in order to rethink lives and also for promoting justice in place on inequity. According to this view, literacy is a social action through language use that develops us as agents inside a large culture. (Mora, 2016). Even Anzaldùa define CL as a multicultural resistance invented on the borders of crossing identities.

As a result of the emphasis of critical literacy on reading both the word and the world (Freire & Macedo, 1987) classroom practices, as (Behrman, 2006) identified, include reading multimodal texts that explore social issues, reading texts on the same topic written from different perspectives, reading from positions other than the preferred one, authoring texts from different perspectives, researching social issues, and taking social actions.


And how does Critical Literacy work in curriculum redesign?


As I expressed above, the curriculum of the Institution I mention has some reading strategies and little or no writing production. So the challenge for teachers who work there is to rethink those skills and expand them in order that besides answering the questions related to each reading strategy, students can be able to write about their point of view about social issues taking into consideration some subskills such as grammar and punctuation. So, at this point, it takes great relevance another Freire´s view about CL when he said:  “literacy is a tool for getting some right”.  He also said that students have the right to speak in the way they can but also to be taught about the dominant syntax. Not as repetition of the dominance but as a tool to transform it. That is to say, the condition of oppression”. Another interesting idea is that as English teachers, we must advocate and strive for the use of English as a tool to validate, not reject, local values and traditions from the idea that Critical literacy is a necessary and powerful tool to discuss imperialism, and social justice. Therefore, it should be a key element of teacher preparation at all levels of higher education. (Mora, 2014).

Well, despite there is not as much literature related to CL as we could expect, there are some examples we can use to rethink and redesign our curricula but considering an important aspect: motivation. If we think of engagement as being directed related to motivation we can say that students will not be engaged with literacy curricula if they do not have confidence in their literacy ability and if they do not see the literacy curricula as relevant to their present or future life.

I came to see the teaching of popular culture as a strategy that could be used to motivate my students by making connections between literacy practices that were relevant to their lives and literacy practices around which students held a great deal of confidence.

In my early work on motivation and adolescent literacy I felt as if, with the teaching of popular culture, I had identified a starting point for a conversation between students´ interests, students’ cultural practices, and the ever-changing demands of the discipline of English. (Morrel, 2014)


Some powerful examples of how to relate curricula and Critical Literacy


With today´s technological advances, students can make and edit films using their cell phones and tablets. One example is to have students write their own script and make short films from these scripts. Through the process of writing and revising movie scripts young children are learning a new genre of production and they are developing identities as writers, which is so important to their ultimate academic development.

Rather than tell students that they have to write, we would do better to create authentic situations where they can become someone powerful through their writing.

As research is being increasingly encouraged as an academic skill, we have an opportunity to allow students to present their work via multiple modes such as reports, PowerPoint slides, speeches, and documentary films. Another great genre of production in the new media age is spoken word poetry. In many ways the digital age is inspiring a return to oral language development, as there is as much “talk” as there is print on many internet sites and that trend is certain to continue. (Morrel, 2014)


In my literature review there are some examples that can be contextualized to our particular characteristics to foster Critical Literacy from the classroom and at early age.

One first example was found in the research carried out by Michael Bitz and Obiajulu Emejulu which they titled: Creating Comic Books in Nigeria, International reflections on Literacy, creativity, and student engagement.

They highlight the challenge teachers around the world are facing about how to foster a love for reading and how to excite students to write, which are common questions worldwide despite the differences as for nations, schools, ages or backgrounds. The emphasis of their strategy was focused on writing, designing students’ original comic books. Not only referring to the art of putting images and text together but taking into account other subskills behind the activity: creativity, collaboration, and developing students’ interest for literacy building. Bitz then, defines a comic as” sequential artistic written narrative” which broadly includes comic books, graphic novels, and comic strips. They also mention planning and development as important elements for comics production.

They concluded that the experience in Nigeria was a reminder of three important issues for English teachers in any classroom but particularly in the realm of literacy: be flexible, build partnerships and listen. They also give some steps for implementation, which can have a positive effect in our curriculum design:

  1. Start a comic book club with some activities that foster creativity.
  2. Let the students write a manuscript as a comic book draft.
  3. Create the comic with some templates from internet or from the students’ ideas.
  4. Design the covers with a clear idea of what the comic is about, and finally,
  5. Do your best to publish the comics.

To my way of thinking, this is really an interesting strategy that we can implement in our institutions from our context and where despite de advantages it has, it would be possible to mention the integration of different school subjects, which will enrich the production of comics.

The second example was carried out By Ms Li, the teacher and Sunny Man Chu Lau, the researcher with students of English as a Second Language of 7 & 8 grades in Toronto. In planning the CL curriculum, they followed closely the provincial curriculum guidelines from Ministry of Education (as we do in Colombia) to ensure they had covered all required learning contents at this level. Their goal was to encourage extensive reading and writing habits. They combined some reading skills and critical literacy practices. For that, students were first taught some basic comprehension strategies such as prediction, summarizing, and determining meaning from the context, followed gradually by more complex CL strategies such as formulating opinions and supporting arguments with reasons.

At the end, they concluded that learners must be acculturated into skills and practices of critical inquiry as the normal way in which they read and engage with the variety of multimodal texts that characterize our social worlds.

To conclude, and as mentioned at the beginning, as English teachers is our responsibility to become policy makers from policies from the Ministry of Education adding to our curricula Critical literacy practices that let our students learn and enjoy learning trough  different ways. Finally, I found a lot of similarities as for curricula design between those examples and the cited curriculum. So what Teachers there have to do is include CL practices that encourage students to go beyond reading and writing through critical views of the society in which they are living now.

2030 words.









Bitz, Michael and Emejulu, Obiajulu. (2016). Creating Comic Books In Nigeria: International Reflections on Literacy, Creativity, and Engagement. Journal of Adolescent & Adult, pp. 432 – 440.

Chu, S. (2012). Reconceptualizing Critical Literacy Teaching in ESL Classrooms. The Reading Teacher, Vol. 65 No. 5, pp. 325 – 329.

Chun, C. (2009). Critical literacies and Graphic Novels for English – Language Learners: Teaching Maus. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 144 – 153.

David, S. L. (2010). Adolescent Literacy Policy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 295 – 298.

Huang, S. (2011). Reading “Further and Beyond the Text” Student Perspectives of Critical Literacy in EFL. Journal of Adolescent & Adul Literacy, pp. 145 – 154.

Mackie, A. (2003). Race and Desire. TESL Canada Journal. Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 23 – 37.

MORA, R. (2014). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult literacy, pp.16 – 18.

MORREL, E. (2014). Popular Culture 2.0: Teaching Critical Media Literacy in the Language Arts Classroom. The NERA Journal, pp. 5 – 8.

Stevens, Lisa & Stovall, David. (2010 ). Critical Literacy for Xenophobia: A Wake -up Call. Journal of Adolescent & Adult. Vol.54 No. 4, pp. 295 – 298.





3 comments on “RETHINKING OUR CURRICULA FROM CRITICAL LITERACY PEDAGOGY “An opportunity to engage students to take an active part of the society change through reflexivity”

  1. ML2
    August 13, 2016

    Jose: I really like the structure and the content of your essay. Additionally, I agree with you when you mention that we should try to provide our students with engaging resources that are relevant for them, such as popupar cilture, so that we can help them develop critical awareness of our social constranits and then empower learners to reflect on issues of power and inequity. Finally, I liked it when you connected your discourse with some powerful and convenient examples of critical literacy and how you relate them to our context.

  2. ML2
    August 14, 2016

    By Catalina Gómez.
    Jose: I really like the structure and the content of your essay. Additionally, I agree with you when you mention that we should try to provide our students with engaging resources that are relevant for them, such as popupar cilture, so that we can help them develop critical awareness of our social constranits and then empower learners to reflect on issues of power and inequity. Finally, I liked it when you connected your discourse with some powerful and convenient examples of critical literacy and how you relate them to our context

  3. ML2
    September 27, 2016

    By Robinson Córdoba

    I completely agree with Elkin when said that teachers in place to produce and to devise our own strategies and ideas that will help to improve the process of teaching of English, we have dedicated ourselves to expect that give us all in the hands, the strategies, thematic, and even the materials that we should use to develop our classes, Among them, suggested curriculum, Los estándares de competencias en lengua extranjera, (Guía 22) and even the common european framework, brought from places that are totally different to our reality, that is why we do not dare to contextualize and to adapt this process according to the requirements and needs of our schools.
    Finally, I think we have to become leaders teachers, changing schemes, and involving all those who are part of the educational process, parents, society and state, to make of teaching a processo of meaningful learning that are generated from the contextualization and adaptation of which our students want and need to learn to put it into practice in their daily lives

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