Critical Literacy Methods

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Critical Literacy in English Language Teaching

‘Learning a language is learning ways to construct meanings; learning an additional language to one’s native language would be a way to make contact with and construct other meanings, to relate to foreign cultures, and thus to enlarge interpretive procedures. By learning languages critically, [...] we learn to exist in a dynamic process that enables the production of multiple understandings about what makes it possible to elaborate certain points of view and about their implications to our lives on the planet.’

(Jordão, C.M. 2008. Reading the World as Social Practice: Conceptual Questioning as a Tool for Enhancing Critical Literacies. English Quarterly 39 (2-3). Canadian Council of Teachers of English Language Arts: Winnipeg, Canada.)

Critical Literacy is inter-disciplinary. It has emerged from theories about globalisation, social movements and the relationship between languages, knowledge and power.

The main difference in relation to other educational approaches in Language Teaching is the way language is conceived.

Mainstream notion of language CL notion of language
Language translates or represents reality. Language and reality construct each other, i.e. one does not come before the other.
Language is a means of communication. Language constructs communication through negotiation. It does not simply communicate ideas and values. It creates ideas and values.
Language is transparent and neutral. Language is never neutral or transparent. It is always culturally ‘biased’.
Language is fixed and defined by social norms (e.g. grammars and dictionaries). Language is structured, but its structures are never fixed or stable. They change dynamically according to their contexts.

Such understanding of language represents a major shift in thinking about communication, culture, identities, knowledge and ethics with several pedagogical implications. These implications will vary depending on contexts and the aims of teaching English. Here are some possible implications:

AIMS OF EDUCATION

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
Focuses on language as social meaning-making practice. The educational objective is to extend the horizon of the learners beyond their linguistic communities and linguistic skills by enabling them to negotiate meaning in different contexts. Focuses on the use of language as a means of communication. It presupposes that ideas, which exist independent of language, can be communicated in a foreign language through the acquisition of communicative skills. The importance of the social context of communication is undervalued and the negotiation of meaning not acknowledged.

BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL FOCUS

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
Questions, issues and connections: interactions ‘in context’: What contexts? What participants? What languages? What cultures? What identities? Whose realities? What local/global connections? What assumptions? What implications? Units, categories and activities: grammar, language use, language function, development of listening, reading, writing or speaking.

SELECTION OF CONTENT

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
CL encourages learners to explore, create and negotiate meaning and to think for themselves. Therefore, the selection of content should include relevant (local/global) issues/situations that are significant to the students. Everyday situations of specific groups of people of the target culture using ‘standard’ language as a model.

RELATIONSHIPS

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
Questions, issues and connections: interactions ‘in context’: What contexts? What participants? What languages? What cultures? What identities? Whose realities? What local/global connections? What assumptions? What implications? Units, categories and activities: grammar, language use, language function, development of listening, reading, writing or speaking.

SELECTION OF CONTENT

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
Teachers have some knowledges, learners have other knowledges. Knowledge is not transmitted, but negotiated based on needs and relevant contexts. Teaching is the creation of spaces and contexts of learning. Teachers ‘know’, learners don’t know. Knowledge is transmitted from the teacher to the learners. What is taught has to be learned.

CULTURE & IDENTITY

CL notion of language Mainstream notion of language
Culture is a dynamic set of values and behaviours related to social contexts and social groups. Identity is multiple and varies according to social background, gender, age group, race and context. Culture is a fixed set of values, customs and information. Identity is fixed and is given in its relation to standard language forms and nationality.

Reading the Words and the Worlds

The table below illustrates, in general terms, the differences between traditional reading, critical reading and critical literacy in terms of assumptions and questions prompted (remember that reading refers to the word and the world, that is, not only to the printed word, but also to how we create meaning and interpret the world).

TRADITIONAL READING CRITICAL READING CRITICAL LITERACY
Does the text represent the truth ?

Is it fact or opinion?

Is it biased or neutral?

Is it well-written/clear?

What does the author say?

What level of authority does he /she have?

To whom is the text addressed?

What is the intention of the author?

What is the context?

How does the author manipulate the text?

What claims are not substantiated?

Why has the text been written in this way?

What are the assumptions and potential implications of the statements?

How is reality defined? Who defines it?

In whose name? For whose benefit?

What are the limitations or contradictions in this perspective ?

How could these statements (or words ) be interpreted in different contexts?

Strategy: decodification. Strategy: interpretation. Strategy: questioning
Focus: message/content and authority and legitimacy of the speaker and the text. Focus: context of writing, intentions and style of communication. Focus: assumptions, knowledge production, power representation and implications.
Aim: to develop an understanding of the content and/or to establish the truth-value of the text. Aim: to develop critical reflection (ability to perceive intentions and reasons). Aim: to develop reflexivity (ability to trace assumptions/implications).

Table copied from http://www.osdemethodology.org.uk/criticalliteracy.html, where you will also find more resources and examples

Adapted and expanded from: Gina CERVETTI, Michael J. PARDALES, James S. DAMICO, A Tale of Differences: Comparing the Traditions, Perspectives, and Educational Goals of Critical Reading and Critical Literacy, www.readingonline.com 2001. Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry (OSDE) initiative offers a set of principles, procedures and guidelines for the development of Critical Literacy and independent thinking in Global Citizenship education. You will find free online resources at:


If you want to develop your own Critical Literacy skills, you can use the professional development resource pack of the OSDE Methodology, available for download at:

http://www.osdemethodology.org.uk/keydocs/pdresourcepack.pdf


OCEM is a set of official documents elaborated by the Federal Ministry of Education in Brazil as guidelines to the teaching of different subjects. The guidelines for the teaching of foreign languages can be downloaded at:

http://portal.mec.gov.br/seb/arquivos/pdf/book_volume_01_internet.pdf

You can read and download the new ‘Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices Journal’ at: http://www.criticalliteracy.org.uk/journal/index.html

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