A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
By Hugo Mesa. ML2 at UPB
This paper aims at engaging in a discussion of the English curriculum at a private university in the city of Medellin by describing and highlighting some of the aspects of its curriculum and the ways the language teaching processes are conducted at this institution. Such exercise will be accompanied by own reflections and analysis from a Critical Literacy lens that will unveil some of my insights and constructions regarding Critical Literacy. This aim is in part encouraged by the well-grounded belief that in current times is (…) more urgent than ever to interrogate common and national curricula being instituted in many countries and states (Comber, 2015, p. 363) and rise the question brought upon by Comber (2015) of, What kinds of social justice might be needed to underpin our critical literacy curriculum design?
The idea of English as an instrumental tool (Usma, 2009) to access better working opportunities or simply to become more competitive in job markets cannot longer be favored in current times as the solely or strongest reason to engage in English language learning. In this regard, it is necessary to acknowledge that not only administrators and language educational stakeholders have a great responsibility on this generalized notion of English, but also teachers of the language have a vast influence on the perceptions learners have of the language and the purposes for learning it. It is on teachers to spread the idea of English as a possibility for engaging with others, to mobilize their thoughts, shrink barriers and boundaries and why not as an instrument to emancipate as learners can access current movements and become active participants of global transformations. Similarly, but in a whole wider framework, Lankshear & Knobel (2011) mention that Freire & Macedo’s concept of literacy of reading the word and the world deals with much more than simply the notion of decoding and encoding alphabet and assert they first stated, farm from being the sole objective of literacy education, learning how to encode and decode alphabetic print was integrated into an expansive pedagogy in which groups of learners collaboratively pursued critical consciousness of the world (Lankshear & Knobel 2011, p. 5). In this perspective, Critical Literacy also conceives literacy beyond its functional purpose (functional literacy) and is taken as a possibility to transform the world of learners through the words, again as a possibility to emancipate.
The purpose of opening up this paper with the aforementioned finds its reasoning on the fact that the English curriculum of the institution subject to this discussion conceives English as more than a tool for communication; and acknowledges the rich possibilities carried with its use that go beyond the possibility to access job marketing. This affirmation can be evidence by exploring the English course’s curriculums (Cartas Descriptivas as the original name, openly available at: cartas descriptivas), punctually the justification given to each of the English levels. However, this stance regarding English and its learning and teaching, portrayed on the curriculum of this institution, does not come as sudden on the expectations I had. It is just, from my perspective, a logical consequence that reflects the particularities of its setting and the qualification of the members that made up the curricular committee. This fact should not be surprising as the mentioned institution is a higher education institution where language and specifically English is not only a subject to be taken by students from all programs who pursue a diploma in different fields, but also plays a big role at the Faculty of Education where it is ascribed, since the English Teaching Program is offered by the faculty as one of the programs and perhaps its leading program.
The established curriculum at this institution aims at English classes that truly respond to the real needs of learners and their immediate context so English can be led in a direction where it is no longer seen as an abstract notion or intricate requirement. There a few facts that perhaps support this affirmation and serve as a way to reflect the commitment of the curricular committee; one of them is the fact that no textbooks are used as to dictate the design of the curriculum or the actual courses. This is supported by the idea that textbooks do not respond to the actual context of learners and therefore, do not respond to their needs beyond the linguistic. There is the notion that textbooks need to respond to academic process and promises as much as they need to respond to commercial endeavors and economic commitments done by its publishers; and therefore, they are not thought to serve the context and realities of particular populations, but are conceived as massive products to be used across nations without the particular considerations of the targeted public. From this perspective, it is also possible to perceive how textbooks portray a notion of what it is to be considered as an ideal state of society and often, neglecting the different realities that surround different learners and also ignoring the fact that through the images and texts provided on them, they are also promoting inequity, racism and injustice, since all educational acts are also political and textbooks as part of some classes are in a way factors of this reality.
A second aspect that can illustrate the commitment of the curriculum is the fact that the different levels of English are constructed around themes that serve as excuses to engage learners into the classes and in a wider pictures into their learning process. These themes in all cases recall for situations that are part of learners’ immediate context and their realities are constantly brought aboard in the classes. Because the idea of teaching and learning English evidenced in the curriculum is crafted bearing in mind that English goes beyond teaching words and expression, curriculum and course descriptions (Cartas Descriptivas) unveil a notion of language as a mean to bring cultures together, giving learners the possibility to access other cultures and access new forms of knowledge, which in a wider perspective leads to a transformation, given thanks to this broaden vision of the world. This global view of the world given by English is complemented with a better understanding of the particularities of each individual, (…) including their personal and local realities and allows learners to (1) participate of current changes and transformations and (2) enrich their views of the world while also contributing to the local development of their communities. (course description English IV)
Another aspect to highlight is the fact that there are not mandatory approaches or methods to be followed by teachers in their teaching process. Considering communication as a main aim in the English classroom, more than an imposition is a commitment and responsibility that all teachers should always bear in mind. So in this regard a communicative approached is preferred, where language is conceived as a mean for communication and a way of relating with other in social contexts. However, there is an encouragement to see realities beyond methods. As Kumaravadivelu (1994) proposes, we language teachers ought to see ourselves as responsible educators capable of creating conditions in which learners get involved in meaningful activities to solve problems and transform their realities, but this goes beyond the methods and comprises the ability of the teacher to read the context and make the most suitable decision for the teaching process based on learners’ realities.
Based on the Justification of the curriculum of one of the courses (Level IV) is possible to construct and affirm the idea that a person that has access to knowledge through the language is prepared to respond to the demands of the current globalizing world. The development of the linguistic competence allows learners to make comprehensive reading of different types of texts, but also comprehensive reading of different social and cultural contexts, which at the same time permits a more precise interpretation of the relations between learners and the context in which they are constructed, also allowing a more accurate respond from the perspective of their professional practices to the demands that are brought up by the new dynamics of the world. The justification of the course closes by stating that English courses at the institution aim at making all of these processes possible and also at promoting reflexive learning more than mechanical, which can lead to new ways of thinking the new social, affective, cognitive and political dynamics as integral parts of the construction of the being.
Same as Critical Literacy pedagogies are underpinned by theories of social justice (Comber, 2015), English teaching and learning processes ought to always have on its agenda its social responsibility. We cannot deny the power carry out by the language and its potential to mobilize cultures and knowledge and therefore, its potential to transform realities as they informed by the new dynamics, which at the same time are informed by the language in a symbiotic relation. Curriculum at the institution subject of this text agrees on this assertion as found in the justification of one of the courses, where it is stated that the learning of a second language, namely English, is one of the current performance indicators of society, aiming at interact with other cultures, markets and academic communities (course description English X). Consequently, wider and critical lenses should be used when designing and actually teaching our classes and specially given the global escalation of gaps between social classes teachers of English, but also educators everywhere need to put social issues on the agenda in policy and practice (Comber, 2015) and as stated by Fajardo (2015), teachers recently have become more aware of their responsibility toward a fairer education thanks to critical literacy, some English Language Teachers have reevaluated the impact of their pedagogical practices. At a great extent and according to way the process are carried out and what is established on the course descriptions, the English curriculum of the present institution agrees on the notions of critical literacy, whose ultimate aim is, through education, to develop the critical consciousness of the individual and the institution, and the community’s responsibility for social change (Giroux, 2007 as cited in Fajardo, 2015)
Comber, B. (2015). Critical Literacy and Social Justice . Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 58(5), 362-367.
Fajardo, M. F. (2015). A review of critical literacies beliefs and practices of English language learners and teachers. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, (10), 29-56.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The post-method condition: (E)merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 27–48.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2011). New literacies: everyday practices and social learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Usma, J. (2009). Education and Language Policy in Colombia: Exploring Processes of Inclusion, Exclusion, and Stratification in Times of Global Reform. PROFILE , (11), 123-141.
ML2 at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
ENGLISH LANGUAGE II:
LITERACIES IN SECOND LANGUAGES
Hugo Mesa Ortiz