A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
By: Johny Sánchez
The following paper is aimed to analyze a textbook used to teach/learn English in a language center of a private university in Antioquia. Throughout the paper, the ideas will be presented from a student´s and mainly from a teacher´s perspective, describing the different moments in my professional life and the way in which my position regarding the use of textbooks has changed through it. The analysis will be done from a Critical Literacy Perspective ad taking into account some of the ideas, authors and concepts used in the Literacies in Second Language Class of the Masters Program in L2.
When it comes to talk about teaching and/or learning a second language, -English for this case-, lots of aspects emerge regarding the best way to teach/learn it, the kind of material that should be used, the background of the teacher in charge, the importance of grammar, and of course, if it is better to use a textbook or not. This last aspect is the one it will be mentioned the most from now on. From my experience as an English teacher, I have used textbooks in every single place I have worked for. My first experience as a teacher was with elementary school students, and the textbook I used to work with was full of repetition activities, songs at the beginning of each unit, colorful drawings that always represented happy characters and perfect situations. The way in which we worked with that book was very simple: take the total of units, divide them by four terms, and work on them. Evidently, the textbook was the tool that “ruled” the syllabus of each grade, and important aspects such as the objectives and the goals were already set by the textbook. At that time I had no problems with this, in fact, I have to admit that I liked the idea of not having to create the objectives of the class.
A couple of years later while teaching high school students, and being more conscious of the teaching process and the importance of creating activities, material and objectives depending of the needs of each group, I started ta plan better my classes, still with the textbook as a reference, but being totally attached to it. Textbooks have an important role in English language classes since they are one of the key elements of second language teaching programs (Hamidi, Bagheri, Sarinavaee, & Seyyepour, 2016). Undoubtedly textbooks have been and will be part of the teaching praxis, but they must be used with some specific objectives. At that point of my profession, I started to remind the processes that teachers conducted by the time I was a student. Sadly the teaching methods and methodologies were not the best, the classes were focused on translation of paragraphs and memorizing dialogues without any apparent intention, just to repeat what we were read. According to Atkinson (1987), as cited by (Chan, 2015), “one disadvantage of the translation method is that it may cause students to forget that it is after all crucial for them to use English for many classroom activities. Above all, he emphatically states that “the mother tongue is not a suitable basis for a methodology” (p.85).
Currently I work for the language center of a private university, I am in charge of teaching English to the students of all the programs that offers the university who have to complete the second language courses as a graduation requirement. In this language center we use a textbook which belong to one of the top five material publisher regarding ESL. There are some aspects that are worth to mention from the textbook I am currently using:
The aspects above are normally the ones presented in any other book, there is not a huge difference between this book and the others. It is a topic based book, with a series of readings and audios from different topics which can be “zoomed” in order to analyze critically. It is well known that some teachers prefer using textbooks because they feel “safer” when teaching a class, books are a “safety blanket” that enable them a sense of control over their class (Mora, 2014). Being so attached to the text books may lead teacher not to develop any kind of awareness or consciousness regarding their teaching practices, a reading is just a reading and only the “visible” counts, there is not any capacity to enter inside that reading and dig a little bit more to find aspects that are worth to think about. When we get a deeper view of the evident, is when we critically aware of social or cultural aspects that need to be observed with a different lens.
The significance and value of Critical thinking skills, according to (Busaidi, 2017)
are thought about at present as being ones of social empowerment, enhanced communication, employability and networking. The most decisive point at issue, on the one hand, is that of stimulating and enhancing student capacity for critical thinking, nurturing and promoting critical thinking skills across disciplines and diverse socio-cultural and educational contexts. On the other, it is that of teachers’ ability to continually self-assess their own beliefs and methods in the classroom in order to enhance students’ critical thinking skills” (p.615)
Some other content of the book can also be analyzed, some of the pictures, for instance. One of the units of the book talks about family, and the pictures they used, are pics that represent the “perfect family”, parents, grandparents, siblings, everyone smiles, everything seems perfect. Our reality might be different, we have families with the absence of a father, families made by people of different races, by people of the same gender; in a way this could be taken as a marginalizing social aspect that tries to hide today´s reality. Those seem to be not important aspects, but if we give a second thought, we are not teaching our students in a contextualized way, in a way in which they can be prepared to face real world situations and be able to communicate them.
There is another unit of the textbook where they talk about leisure activities, and activities such as cricket or polo are mentioned. Probably, most of the students do not have a clue about these two sports, and for the ones who do, they probably know that these two sports belong to the royalty, that they are not played or witnessed by everyone, that these two sports are synonym of high social strata. Definitely this is another example that can express how social marginalization can be easily observed in textbooks, in a way they are using the language as a form to diminish our local costumes, values and traditions. We must advocate and strive for the use of English as a tool to validate, not reject, local values and traditions (Mora, 2014).
There are a couple of aspects that are to mention as well, one of them regarding the teacher’s role with the use of the textbook. Nowadays, publishers are offering a full “combo” of material which include in its components tools such as teacher´s book (planner), students’ the answer key and/or an exam view and the access to a digital platform. On one hand, these are attractive materials for teachers and coordinator because they are supposed to reduce the time a teacher needs to devote to his/her planning and the evaluation design, but on the other hand, and I want to be very emphatic at this point, probably this is leading the teachers to continue with their classes the same way, in an standardize form that inhibits the teachers to think, contextualize and recontextualize their classes in a way that what is being taught, reflects validity and appropriation from the student who, in the end, is the one who reflects the teaching and learning process.
The other aspect to mention, is the one related to the platform that makes part of the “combo” mentioned above. This platform includes basically the same textbook we use, but in a digital for and with the aid of some audios and videos. Out of those audios and videos, the platform proposes some comprehension activities in which the student only have the chance to find multiple choice questions that do not promote a real language production of the students. The use of platforms and other electronic devices also validate a critical construction, and makes part of a different and updated form of communication among people. According to (Morrell, 2014) “students can develop their critical faculties and their writing skills through the analysis of these cultural artifacts and they can also develop core literacies”
As a sum up, it can be said that textbooks vary from book to book, that they present and propose a series of activities, that it cannot be said if they are good or bad; they are useful tools that can guide teachers in their praxis. However, it is up to teachers to recognize and identify what are those needs and realities students have, and try to adapt those activities to a real context in such a way that the student is able to analyze critically what is beyond the evident.
Busaidi, A. (2017). SOCIAL SCIENCES & HUMANITIES Critical thinking in the Language Classroom : Teacher Beliefs and Methods, 25(2), 615–634.
Chan, L. T. H. (2015). Post-communicative pedagogies: Revisiting the translation method of teaching English in East Asia. Translation and Interpreting, 7(2), 75–90. https://doi.org/10.12807/ti.107202.2015.a06
Hamidi, H., Bagheri, M., Sarinavaee, M., & Seyyepour, A. (2016). Evaluation of Two General English Textbooks : New Interchange 2 vs . Four Corners 3. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 7(2), 345–351. https://doi.org/10.17507/jltr.0702.13
Mora, R. A. (2014). Critical literacy as policy and advocacy: Lessons from Colombia. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(1), 16–18. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.329
Morrell, E. (2014). Popular Culture 2.0: Teaching Critical Media Literacy in the Language Arts Classroom. New England Reading Association Journal, 50(1), 5–7,84. Retrieved from http://ts.isil.westga.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1640577933?accountid=15017%5Cnhttp://www.galileo.usg.edu/sfx_westga?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&genre=article&sid=ProQ:ProQ:education&atitle=Popular+Cult