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
Professor: Phd. Raúl Mora
This essay pretends to give a personal view and critical analysis about the textbooks that I use in my classes in order to determine if these are meaningful tools which help me to broaden the vision that my students have about the world which surrounds them, and also to dive them in a critical environment where they are aware of the big changes and challenges which they will have to deal with as protagonists of the social, politic and why not economic transformations of their communities. From my point of view, I consider that it is very important in order to reach this purpose to join two relevant approaches as they are critical thinking and critical literacy, because there is no doubt that both critical thinking and critical literacy are closely related and both can work together in order to achieve big social changes.
There is an old and known proverb which says “the experience makes the master”, though everybody considers it as God’s word, I am no sure of this saying is of all true, because as it knows the experience is not sometimes enough; I as English teacher have to deal with new situations in my classroom everyday where my prior knowledge or experiences cannot help me to solve them, because these new challenges demand new strategies and answers to satisfy the current students’ needs, and even worse if a second language (English) is being taught. That is why that we English teachers have to support our pedagogical practice in a variety of resources (English platforms, blogs, digital courses, textbooks etc.) which let us to impact and break the paradigms of the traditional way of teaching, in this particular case English’s teaching.
With the aim to support my opinions about the textbooks use, it makes necessary to take into account the different points of view of some authors who have described the pros and contra of the textbooks used by teachers.
According to García and Granados (1999, pp. 174-175), quoted by Varón Paéz (2009) the textbooks are one of the most important teaching resources which the curriculum’s actors have, moreover they also consider them as an element which must be deeply related with the current curriculum model in the education system. On the other hand, Calvo Buezas (1989, p. 10) defines the textbooks as “creators of possible stereotypes” (positive or negative). Nevertheless, for authors like Cortazzi and Jin (1999, p. 96) also quoted by Varón Paéz (2009), consider textbooks not only “cultural mirrors”, but that for these authors, a textbook can also become certain circumstances a teacher, a map, a resource, an authority, an ideology and even an instrument that hinders the development of the own creative abilities of the teacher.
Locating me in the Colombian context, I must acknowledge that one of the biggest problems for the English teachers is the lack of authentic textbooks (which reflect our own idiosyncrasy), such as it is described in research study in which Alistair Pennycook (1994: 20) is quoted by Truscott de Mejía, Ordoñez and Fonseca (2006), and who emphasizes that a large proportion of textbooks in the world are published in English and designed for the domestic market of native speakers or for an international market. In both cases students around the world are dependent on Western knowledge forms which are of limited value and extremely irrelevant in our local context. Another important comment to highlight of the above research study is that the textbooks used for teaching English are characterized for having foreigners’ authors and non-locals, in addition to this Dendrinos (1992), quoted by Truscott de Mejía et al (2006) points out that this is because most of the local English teachers do not have the required native competence to produce authentic textbooks for teaching and learning of English. Therefore, monolingual characteristics of this material provide status and authority to these textbooks, even giving them privilege above the local English teachers. However, they do not take into account either the linguistic context of apprentices, and their needs and expectations and their local knowledge of culture. After all, this situation is changing a little bit now, because there are some local English teachers who are improving their proficiency levels and they have taken the risk to write English textbooks which are a little bit closer to our reality and context, though these are not still authentic at all, since these textbooks continue keeping some foreign roots which are evident in some of the topics, and whereby it can say that these textbooks only present a few adaptations to show our culture, and as I mentioned before a little bit of our idiosyncrasy, too.
With all this in mind, I have decided to analyze deeply the textbooks that I am currently using in my pedagogical practices, because during the last eight years, I have seen many book sellers promoting English textbooks, magazines, primers, among others in my institution and also people who go to offer the students English courses where provide them of all materials (textbooks) that they need in order to improve their skills on this target language; of course, all this happens with the principal’s approval, and it has been as in some editorials have had free way to fill us of textbooks and virtual textbooks which only represent a foreign culture with which students are not identified; it is at this point when I have noticed that there are many students who are active critics of their own learning process, since most of their queries have made me to reflect about the authenticity of the materials that I bring to class.
Three years ago, my principal got a new collection of textbooks which also came in digital format (CD-Rom), but when I knew about that it was too late because the purchase was already done, hence she asked me to use it.
When I started to analyze the collection, I could notice that textbooks were based on developing the four linguistic skills which were classified in two subgroups, for instance, speaking and writing as production skills, and reading and listening as receptive skills, however their contents were not closely related with the development of competences like Estandares Básicos de Competancias entail, whereby I asked myself how was possible that a new collection of textbooks were not updated according with the current normativity, in spite of I must acknowledge that the CDs – Rom bring dynamic activities to improve speaking, listening and reading skills, but the context which is presented in these activities do not focus in the personal interest of my students, and that is why that most of them lose motivation to develop the activities in a natural and comfortable way. Another characteristic of these textbooks is that they are divided in levels, beginner, lower intermedia, intermedia, and advanced. Taking into account that key point, and being honest, I remember that I have been developing the textbooks’ activities in the way of the author suggests in order to reach the goals proposed, but, in deed I had not considered whether those activities were really meaningful for my students; under those circumstance, I as an English teacher must be aware of the social conditions, needs, interest and also take into account the educational context of my students. It is at this point where I consider that the critical literacy can play an important role in order to humanize and contextualize the text that we English teacher use in our classes so that our students can discover by themselves that the different activities which we present them are closely related with their reality and context, because according to Shor (1999) we are what we say and do. The way we speak and are spoken to help shape us into the people we become. Through words and other actions, we build ourselves in a world that is building us. That world addresses us to produce the different identities we carry forward in life: men are addressed differently than are women, people of color differently than whites, elite students differently than those from working families. Yet, though language is fateful in teaching us what kind of people to become and what kind of society to make, discourse is not destiny. We can redefine ourselves and remake society, if we choose, through alternative rhetoric and dissident projects. This is where critical literacy begins, for questioning power relations, discourses, and identities in a world not yet finished, just, or humane. Furthermore, Shor also asserts that critical literacy thus challenges the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development.
Nowadays, we English teachers have to deal with big educational challenges in a world which is continually changing and one of our more important duty is to be updated with the educational laws because we must be involved throughout the critical thinking in order to be aware that everything which shines it is not always gold. On the other hand, we do not have to do what textbooks say, we can support on them but definitely we have the possibility to remake our own authentic material and resources, because we really know the context where our pedagogical practices are developed and obviously we cannot forget that it is also our ethical and moral duty to encourage our students to be critics of the setting surround them, but being critics with elaborated arguments which support their ideas and not critics for criticizing.
De Mejía, A. M., Ordoñez, C., & Fonseca, L. (2006). Lineamientos para la educación bilingüe en Colombia: hacia una política coherente. Informe de Investigación. Bogotá: Centro de Investigación y Formación en Educación. Universidad de los Andes.
Mora, R. A. (2014). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, pp. 16-18.
Shor, I. (1999). “What is critical literacy?” Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism & Practice.4,1. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Lesley College. Retrieved from.
Varón Páez, M. E. (2009). Cultural Component, Textbooks and Teaching of English as a Foreign Language. Forma y Función, 22(1), 95-124.