A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
Critical Literacy A Call For ELL and EFL Teachers to Transform Their Learning And Teaching Practices
Isabel Cristina Zuleta Vásquez
English Language II
Professor: PhD Raúl Mora
Semester II – 2017
Today English is considered a must in all the levels of our educational system from elementary to higher education programmes. Students are now being more and more exposed to the language not only inside the walls of the classrooms but also in all the circles they move. Since the 1990s, English has become increasingly important for undergraduate students in the majority of Colombian universities, especially those which are keen to promote internationalization (González, 2010). English teachers are seen as the main responsible for generating the opportunities ELL need to become part of a globalized world, they have to foster students’ communicative competence (linguistic, discursive, pragmatic and functional) (MEN, 2006) and at the same time, they have to prepare them to fit and respond to the demands of an ever changing society. Likewise, students have the responsibility to swell the ranks of the labor part of this society.
Regarding to this, in the last 20 years there have been many different attempts to improve the teaching of English in Colombia by the Colombian Government, the last one of these initiatives is the (NPB) National Programme for Bilingualism whose aims to “have citizens qualified to communicate in English with standards comparable internationally so that they may be able to involve in the processes of international communication, global economy and cultural opening” (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2006a: 2). This kind of English language teaching policies in Colombia, perceive the English teachers as the only responsible elements to achieve the aforementioned goal and the students are seen as a homogenous group with the same abilities, social contexts and opportunities. Notwithstanding, to think on the achievement of this objective in our country means to consider a lot more than teachers and students skills, it also has to do with conditions of inequality, violence and poverty. Cárdenas (as cited in Gonzalez, 2010) argues that the actual conditions for teaching English in Colombia do not correspond to the aims of the policy because they are not realistic. These levels are unattainable for many schools located in underprivileged or conflicted areas where the major concern of the population is surviving, not becoming bilingual.
Adding to the already mentioned circumstances, the low budget the national government invests in education is evident in the lack of resources teachers and public institutions have to produce the expected results and if students do so is because they belong to a so called Bilingual school where resources are unlimited, students are exposed to English many more hours than those from public schools, they also have the possibility of traveling to English speaking countries and can access to technological resources easily and everywhere. This only means one thing, “depending on the socioeconomic status of the population proficiency in English may vary considerably” (González, 2010). Inequality and poverty have an impact on how students face their education process, and on how they struggle to succeed on it. Not only Colombia, but many other countries have to face economic and social realities where the designing of a curriculum that contemplates the creation of a just world sometimes seems a fallacy. Comber (2015) depicts a similar situation in Australia in her work Critical Literacy and social justice she states:
” However, we witness the daily complexity of their work as families grapple with effects of poverty. These manifest in the schoolyard and classrooms as high levels of illness, stress, tiredness, absences, and outbreaks of violence. It is hard work to enhance literacy learning in the face of such material challenge.”(p.364)
Furthermore, Colombian multiculturalism and multilinguistic contexts should be the first aspect English teachers must consider when reflecting about their classroom practices since, it is the starting point for those practices not to remain the same. Teachers are asked to change their practices, to move from instrumental classes into more consciousness practices. The change is imperative but as Professor Mora (2017) said in one of his Literacies classes: “There is no a magic trick to transform teaching practices, for teachers to reconceptualize their conceptions about literacy, they have to change their paradigms but, this is not about big changes at once it has to be done gradually.” It is clear then, that English language educators should not keep on repeating the same structures they have used for years to develop the four basic skills in English; following an instructional model does not allow students to go beyond texts and speeches on the contrary, they are still focusing on decoding the language basically, students are not taught to question the text and state their own position about the authors concept rather, they are being prepared to respond to the standardized tests which say nothing about what an English learner knows how to do with the language. This instructional model sees students as recipients of formulas, as passive consumers instead of that, they should be conceiving as possible generators of social changes with a critical consciousness of their individual reality and their context. Teachers and students need to formulate such change in a collaborative work to construct a sustainable and just scenario for them to live in.
The adoption of the CEFR needs to be analyzed under the glass of a more critical pedagogy since, the conditions for it to work in our context were not well considered. Our cultural, economic, social and educational contexts are widely different from the ones it was designed for in Europe. Regarding the framework Mora (2014) states that “ we must develop frameworks that remain respectful of local and indigenous languages” and he continues saying “we must advocate and strive for the use of English as a tool to validate, not reject, local values and traditions” (p.18). Besides the considerations about the kind of framework that should be adapted to our reality, is the fact of the adopted standards which put all the students at the same level, Guerrero (2008) challenges the fact that the writers of these standards ‘set up the goals of the PNB as a packed whole, implying that the proficiency level must be the same for everybody regardless of the needs, resources, context, socio-economic situation of students’ (pp. 40–1). The Ministry of Education sets the minimum levels of proficiency within the CEFR as follows: (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2006).
These level of proficiency are probably be achieved when students are in their 11th grade and perhaps could be reached only with a serious change of shift in teachers and students perceptions of their learning and teaching processes.
Having in mind the perceptions previously elicit about English teachers and students, it is necessary that both actors engage in the construction of social changes thus, embracing a pedagogy which trains them to think critically and then transform their thinking into some practical action to make a better society (Ko &Wang, 2009) is the way to install critical pedagogy in the curriculum to help us and them to think critically about life, identity and our own traditions. English teachers are called to go beyond the practice in the school, to build knowledge along with students providing them the opportunity to think and analyze social issues linked to their contexts and realities. By being aware that practices can be transformed we as teachers can learn how see the world critically in order to interrogate the world and encourage our students to develop a social conscience and according to Janks (2014) “it is why, in an age of
instant access to unrestricted information, students still need us”.
It is worthwhile to conclude by saying that, introducing critical literacy into English learning and teaching practices is a hard task, especially for teachers who need to deconstruct and reconstruct their concepts about literacy processes in the aim of leading them to question what is taught, and the purpose of what they are teaching. There is a big need to enhance language pedagogy to include critical literacy so students and teachers could develop a critical consciousness of themselves, the institutions and their realities to transform these orders and open up possibilities for social justice.
Number of words: 1592