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Household expertise – an important resource for learning

“If you want to understand people, ask for their stories. Listen long enough, and you learn not only the events of their lives, but their sources of meaning, what they value, what they most want.” – Sarah van Gelder

During my teaching career I have witnessed how much students enjoy talking and writing about topics they choose or themes related to their own lives. Their writing becomes rich with testimonials of their own experiences and detailed narratives of their realities. Insightful teachers who are able to discern the hidden messages in their students’ work and decode the subtle richness of their content have a treasure in their hands. Bringing students’ realities to the classroom and taking advantage of the knowledge they acquire from their parents, from their streets and their neighborhoods, from real life situations and from adversities is always constructive. They are what Street (2005) calls “hidden areas of expertise”.

Teachers who are willing to deepen their awareness about students’ backgrounds and that dwelve into the relationship between students and parents, must be willing to invest time to get to know their environment, life style, upbringing, beliefs, values and experiences. This is denominated by Amanti, Gonzalez, Moll and Neff (2001) as Funds of Knowledge, and means “knowledge of the household”. The idea of getting to know the families must be seen not merely as an automated strategy to obtain data, but as a real opportunity to develop relationships and recognize the abundance of relevant knowledge available in those settings.

Students have innumerous stories to tell that may reveal surprising facts about them.  Household learning occurs through social relationships and it is the roles these students play in their environments that equip them with an entire range of skills that are not taught and developed in classrooms. This is the type of knowledge students learn actively. Classroom knowledge is in most cases absorbed passively.

Talking about people’s experiences and people’s lives in a classroom requires conscious and constant mediation from the teacher to guarantee that stereotypes will be re-evaluated and critically discussed as they arise. Every story should have more than one version taken under consideration, since it is told and retold by many people to other people, in various versions, with different emotional and psychological hues, conveying distinct messages with different meanings in varied settings. A single narrative shows people, places, and stories from one point of view, and repetition tends to make it become the only version.  It is necessary to ensure that more stories about the same subject are told.

Acknowledging not only students’ narratives of their own lives, but their families’ as well, different versions of the same story can be told. Bringing the richness of their knowledge into their own learning process allows them to comprehend the beauty of their experiences and fosters reflection about their household expertise. I believe that by incorporating students’ realities in the classroom a teacher not only values them as human beings, but also incorporates the necessary tools to foster conversations where every person will have a voice and every idea will be heard, allowing knowledge to be built and re-built, enriching all those involved through collective input.

There are riches in every story and some dose of novelty in every discourse. I hope I will be lucky enough to work in a place where I will not only be allowed to but also encouraged to establish such relationships with my students’ families. A place that will value not only the endless lesson planning and reports and tests and content, but that will also reserve some time for the human element of teaching – the time that we need to dig deeper into our students’ realities and bring this treasure into the classroom as an important resource for learning.

References:

Amanti, C.; Gonzalez, N. Moll, L; Neff, D. (2001), “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms”: http://www.sonoma.edu/users/f/filp/ed415/moll.pdf

Gelder, S. (2014), “How Stories Shape Our World”: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-power-of-story/how-stories-shape-our-world

Street (2005). “Funds of Knowledge at Work in the Writing Classroom”: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ759618.pdf

TED TALK (2009), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story”: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Learning as a result of intense interaction between teachers and students against a background of personal experiences

“Reading the word is reading the world”- Paulo Freire

Teaching and learning are usually associated with the stereotype of a classroom full of desks and students facing the board where an old-fashioned teacher stands and lectures the whole time, writing a few concepts on the board. Students are rarely given the chance to expose their ideas, ask questions, share experiences and exchange knowledge. I picture the school where this scene occurs: a traditional environment where classrooms are set in a way that students interact the least possible, and teachers stand on wooden platforms at the front of the room relying exclusively on expository methodology to transmit (or deposit?) knowledge. Students, the ones who are eventually paying some attention, take notes and copy from the board, just listening and taking for granted the content lectured. Some teachers even use microphones to   make sure pupils will hear, and not sleep during their peroration. When the class is over, the teacher picks up his/her material and leaves. Bell rings. Goodbye.

Although this might almost sound like a caricature of an outmoded teaching and learning setting, these classrooms still exist in many parts of the world (and one doesn’t have to go too far to find them). Paulo Freire, however, combats this conception and speaks of dialogical methods for teaching, where teachers serve as conductors of discussions and facilitators in order for knowledge to be shared and built. Consequently, they offer support for learning to take place. He states that teachers don’t detain all the information about a subject, and defends the idea that knowledge is built as a consequence of what the students already know and how far the instructor can help them dig deeper into this knowledge. Dialogical education, or liberatory education, as he calls, is, therefore, illumination and critical reflection that result from dialogue. Likewise, Pamela Jewett describes what she calls the Transactional Theory of Learning. She conceives teaching as a “transaction”, where teachers and students simultaneously shape each other.

Following this mainstream, constructive strategies for successful learning must begin with students’ realities and what they already know about a specific topic, or their standpoints. At the same time that teachers promote discussions, they must consider stimulating these conversations by adding relevant information, encouraging curiosity, generating provocative inquiries, posing critical problems, destabilizing viewpoints and stimulating participation. Although the ideal scenario includes as much participation as possible from the students, Freire is against forcing them to do so, as long as their attitudes do not impair their classmate’s learning process and contributions. Because knowledge is conceived through discussions, interactions and experiments, it becomes a collaborative process where each person is an active agent of his/her own learning process.

Within this framework, reading critically is central as it helps learners establish connections between what they read and their realities. In Freire’s conception, the act of reading should lead students to a much deeper level than just decoding words and understanding sentences. Reading should involve anticipating, extending, perceiving, interpreting and examining what he calls “knowledge of the world”.

Critical reading encompasses not only the ability to read a text, but most importantly, it circumscribes the skills that enable connections to the world. The ability to read critically brings on critical understanding, and that helps shape the reader’s perception of his/her own context. Consequently, it is an extremely dynamic and powerful process that implies change and transformation. Jewett calls this “knee-deep” reading and corroborating Freire’s beliefs, she considers that “each reader approaches a text bringing a unique reservoir of mental habits and traces of past encounters.” This means that the cultural background and the personal stories of readers influence how they do their reading and how they interpret what is read. Their lenses are shaped by their individual experiences. It is almost needless to say that in every classroom, especially in multicultural ones, there is a wide range of viewpoints and perceptions about the same text. Hence, the act of reading is not neutral – – it is deeply influenced by our backgrounds and personal experiences.

Critical teaching is especially challenging and those who dare to engage in the battle must be armed with more than simply passion. It requires a dose of responsibility, a great amount of directiveness, a lot of determination, a reasonable quantity of discipline and very clear objectives – – all these are profoundly bonded with the act of teaching and learning critically.

Education is meant to illuminate realities, not manipulate or obscure them!

References:

Freire, Paulo (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: letters to those who dare teach. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Freire (1981). The Importance of the Act of Reading. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/files/freire.pdf

Jewett, P. (2007). Reading Knee-Deep.

Miller-Pasquale and Lee (1997). In Guatemala: School is Where the Children Are. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr97/vol54/num07/-School-Is-Where-the-Children-Are.aspx

Shor & Freire (1987). What is the Dialogical Method of Teaching? http://www.acervo.paulofreire.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/7891/2577/FPF_OPF_03_007.pdf

Freirean approach and critical thinking in the classroom

Paulo Freire, the renowned Brazilian educator, thinker, and philosopher, instigates and foments teachers’ critical thinking towards their practices and invites them to engage in a reflexive and critical journey within the teaching world in his book entitled Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach.   He addresses students and teachers who are directly involved in the process, as well as administrators, parents, families, the community, and political parties. Freire emphasizes the responsibilities of each part involved reinforcing the importance of individual initiatives and collective moves towards the same goals.

Teaching and learning are certainly not easy tasks for the ones who are genuinely committed with the broad spectrum of responsibilities involved in this process. This is a journey that requires at the same time rigor and love; stimulation and curiosity; preparation and creativity; competence and flexibility. However, there is a clear discrepancy between Freire’s narrative of what is ideal and everyday practice. The instructors must be willing to abandon the domesticating role that they were prepared to exercise and detach their practice from the dominant ideology. Simultaneously, they must be aware that this may be an exhaustive battle against the interests of the oppressors in an authoritarian culture. Some teachers are not prepared (or not inclined) to involve themselves in such engaging behavior.

Freire’s writing is laden with his critical thinking viewpoint and his ideas of social change are directly associated with critical teaching (critical pedagogy). Changes are the result of critical reflection. But before there is change, there must be questioning, challenging and knowledge. It is a conscious process of learning the difference between what is inherited and what is acquired. In Freire’s words, “people become genetic-cultural beings”,  meaning that we are not only children of nature – we are also a product of culture, education and thinking. If knowledge is achieved by experience, then it is indeed teachers’ and parents’ role to expose children to the kind of experience that they want them to take lessons from. It is absolutely the teachers’ duty to develop students’ questioning skills, encouraging and supporting them to become critical members of their communities. It is by allowing and coaching students to make reflective considerations about their own realities and by promoting debates and discussion about possible reactions, solutions and outcomes that real critical pedagogy takes place. It is not a process of inducement – teachers’ should not tell their students what to think – they should teach them how to think.

By showing students that they do not need to conform to the authoritarian mainstream, we are teaching them to dare to question.  This can be one of the most powerful tools teachers can put into the hands of their students having in mind  the ultimate goal of true social change.

Reference:

Freire, Paulo (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: letters to those who dare teach. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Trying to break vicious circles that endorse invisible privileges in the classroom

We just have to go out on the streets, spend some minutes in a supermarket, enter a pharmacy or do any ordinary activity to perceive the cultural diversity that we have the chance to be exposed to on a daily basis. Classrooms are also potentially rich cultural environments, where people from various backgrounds share a common space and have access to the same instruction.

There are some considerations that must be taken into account regarding such an assumption. First, there has to be a reflection about how cultural diversity and other differences in a classroom might impact learning directly. Then, there must be a deepening of this perception and other facts need to be brought to bear, such as the existence of hidden hierarchies as well as the implicit power structure that characterizes teacher-student relations. As well as the “invisible privilege” that permeates society.

The term “invisible privilege” is self-explanatory, but just in case, here is a definition from the dictionary (Merriam-Webster Dictionary – online version):

 Invisible:

a :  incapable by nature of being seen

b :  inaccessible to view :  hidden

Privilege:

a : a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others

b : a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud

c : the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society

Invisible privilege permeates our society on many levels. Men over women, white over black, rich over poor, educated over uneducated – the list is long.

How do we, teachers, contribute to the perpetuation of such patterns in our classrooms and what are the possible actions that can be taken to break this vicious cycle? The fact that most privileged people do not even acknowledge that they are somehow favored is by itself a huge problem. Another major issue is that the “elite”, namely “the privileged”, do not want to take responsibility over this matter when they recognize it. The truth is that the subject is usually avoided or superficially discussed by the ones who erroneously ignore the power system, racism, or prejudice existent in their communities. Teachers have direct responsibility over this matter and must bring it to discussion. As role models, teachers must foster debate, encourage reflection, and promote actions for change. Peggy McIntosh (1989) advocates that “keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.”

Traditional classrooms reinforce the idea that teachers detain knowledge, and students are simply tabulas rasas (in English, “blank slates”). Teacher-centered environments help perpetuate this premise, attributing to the teacher-figure power over others. To change this common place notion teachers should engage students in collaborative, if not polemical, dynamics in order to diminish the veiled sovereignty that, in fact, is there.

We should not silence our students; on the contrary, we have the obligation to empower and support them with the ultimate goal of becoming, if not active change makers, at least less passive with regards to the realities that surround them.

I proposed myself some reflections as a teacher of multicultural classrooms:

  • am I indeed prepared to teach in multicultural classrooms? How can I strengthen my awareness and skills?
  • are all of our students taking advantage of the opportunities offered equally? I keep thinking about the relation between teacher-student and student-student.
  • how does diversity impact learning? How can I improve their learning by having them benefit from this reality? How can I diminish the negative influences?
  • is there any type of hidden hierarchy in my classroom? How can I reverse this?

And last, but not least, I challenged myself to find inspiration and enthusiasm to provoke and stimulate my own self-awareness and inner changes. Will other teachers join me?

References:

Why We Must Address Institutions of Oppression Inside and Outside Our Activist Spaces

http://organizingchange.org/tag/invisible-privilege/

White Privilege that White Men Don’t See

http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com/resources/09-Invisible-Privilege-What-White-Men-Dont-See.pdf

13 Resources for Teaching About White Privilege

http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2012/05/21/13-resources-for-teaching-about-white-privilege/

Ochoa & Pineda (2008)

“Deconstructing Power, Privilege and Silence in the Classroom”

Delpit, L. (1988)

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children

McIntosh, P. (1989)

“White Privilege”

Nile, L.N. & Straton, J.C. (2003)

“Beyond Guilt”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary – online version

http://www.merriam-webster.com

It is the role of parents and teachers to find a balance between Asian and Western education for the purpose of our children’s success

Asian parenting tends to be stricter and more demanding than Western parenting. This is a commonplace stereotype. However, before making such a generalization, we should take some time to reflect about this theme thoroughly, and consider the numerous variables that influence the fascinating, though tough, task of parenting and raising a child.

Battle Hymn of The Mother Tiger, by Amy Chua, presents the Chinese education style of a Chinese mother (the author). Although Amy refers to herself as a Chinese mother, she was born in the USA and is married to a white American. She is, though, the daughter of immigrant Chinese parents. Her narrative is an intense journey through her own parenting experience where she makes clear the difficulties in trying to adjust the Chinese parenting style to the up bringing of two American daughters in the US. Amy has been severely criticized because of this approach.

In her book, Amy generalizes about Asian parenting and Western parenting throughout her entire narrative. She compares both styles, usually inferring that the Asian methods are better and work more effectively. There is a simplistic and superficial tone in her narrative. There are numerous historical reasons that led education in Asia to be strict. Standards there are high and parents push their children into a frenzy where the ultimate goal is success and outstanding achievement. By the same token, one could argue that western education has, overtime, become unduly permissive, if not outright sloppy.

While Asian parents prioritize effort, performance and results, their western counterparts are more concerned about their children’s self-esteem, social skills and wellbeing. But the question that should be put is: is there a parenting style that can be considered better than the other? How can this possibly be measured? What is best for a child: social success or academic success? How to rate success? What works best: pushing children to their limits until they excel, or respecting their preferences and giving them the freedom of speech and choice?

Answers to these questions will vary. What is best for one might not be best for the other. The influence of the cultural background of a child’s upbringing is certainly the most important factor in his/her education.

Asian parents encourage their children to be high performers and straight A students, because success in this culture is generally related to academic accomplishments and outstanding performance. What about creativity, motivation, self-esteem, and happiness?

Western parents encourage their children to explore possibilities, learn to make choices, and value their social lives, for in this culture freedom and emotional skills are appreciated. What about effort and perseverance? What about focus and determination?

Again, one runs the risk of generalizing. Many Asian parents may not be so strict at the same time that many Western parents may not be so permissive. There seems to be a correlation between authoritarian governments and strict education and democratic ones where freedom of speech and tolerance prevail.  One could argue the idea that rigid political systems, be they monarchies, dictatorships, or hybrids thereof tend to generate educational systems that are inflexible and intolerant, whereas those that value freedom and stimulate diversity tend to be more liberal and centered on the individual.  It becomes almost an ideological and political issue – enlightenment, reason and tolerance on the one hand, and oppression, obscurantism and inflexibility on the other.

In our globalized and inter-connected world the West and the East are not so far apart as they used to be just some decades ago. We are witnessing, and taking active part in a new era, where values, beliefs, and many other aspects of culture are being juxtaposed and interchanged quickly and intensely. It is more than time to avoid generalizations that segregate people and nations. It is crucial to stop making judgments about others’ and start focusing on what matters in this scenario. If we want our children to belong to a world of tolerance and equality, it is time to teach them how to play both sides of the game, and this task demands much more than advocating for the eastern or western parenting style. It is probably a false dichotomy.

The priority should be to raise committed and responsible children, who are willing to explore their potential at the highest level and achieve the best possible results. Therefore, it is our (parents and teachers) task to be supportive at all levels and our duty to focus on the development of their best skills. It is our socio-educative function to encourage and guide them towards facing and overcoming difficulties. It is our responsibility to provide them with experiences that enhance and enrich their social and emotional skills. It is our duty to motivate them to accomplish tasks with maximum commitment. And finally, it is our task to be alongside these children when they fail and struggle, because what they need when they fail is not someone being sorry for them; they need strong role models who inspire them and who help them thrive.

The world needs balanced human beings and we have the opportunity to raise children that incorporate the best characteristic of western and eastern education. The world needs risk takers, people who are innovative, creative, responsible, committed, effortful, fair, tolerant, demanding, confident, reliable, and flexible.

Not a world of strict Asian principles, not a world of complete laissez-faire (or a total Summerhill?).

Can it be done?

References:

Chua, A. (2011). Battle Hymn of the Mother Tiger. New York, NY: Penguin Group

http://www.parentingscience.com/chinese-parenting.html (retrieved on October 17th, 2014)

http://morningsidereview.org/essay/an-examination-of-chinese-vs-western-parenting-through-battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-mother/ (retrieved on October 17th, 2014)

http://mcclellandinstitute.arizona.edu/sites/mcclellandinstitute.arizona.edu/files/ResearchLink_2.1_Russell_AsianFam.pdf (retrieved on October 17th, 2014)

Mother tongue and cultural DNA

October 9, 2014

Have you ever asked yourself why we call the first language acquired by a person MOTHER TONGUE? Other expressions used to refer to the language a person first hears and uses to communicate since an early age are: mother language, first language, native language, arterial language.

Merriam-Webster dictionary, in its online version, defines mother tongue as

1:  the language that a person learns to speak first / one’s native language

2:  a language from which another language derives

Although there are nuances that distinguish them, ultimately all of these refer to the mother tongue. It is so called because during all of human history the passing down, or teaching of, customs, traditions, and languages were the duties and responsibility of the mother. Today this responsibility is no longer exclusively of motherhood. Today grandparents, caretakers, schools, and most importantly, fathers, play an important and active role in helping raise a child. So the term (mother tongue) seems to lose relevance. Perhaps we should call it parent-tongue, or main-tongue, or simply: core-language.

Considering that we all live in a dynamic and multicultural world, being fluent only in the mother tongue might not be enough to meet the needs of communication. As a consequence of globalization, English has become the lingua franca. Migratory fluxes are accelerating, mobility patterns are changing, business must be conducted between different nations, politicians and statespersons must address universal issues and promote common efforts, and students and workers are increasingly mobile in search of better opportunities. In a world where English is almost unanimously accepted as the world language, and is increasingly being used by non-native speakers, one has to ask: what role do mother tongues still play in this scenario?

Language is the tool we have to communicate, express feelings, share ideas, negotiate meaning, relate to other people, advocate for causes, search for justice, debate important issues, and so many other purposes. The mother tongue is the first resource a human being has to do so. It is permeated by culture, values, customs, norms, habits, specific meanings, and emotion. From this perspective, what does a language learner lose when s/he learns a second, third or fourth language? How much does one lose by putting aside his/her own mother tongue on behalf of another language? Is it only the language itself that is being ignored and literally lost?

One may questions: if a person is led to adopt a language other than his/her mother tongue, for whatever reasons, and consequently ends up neglecting his/her own roots, how long will it be before this person modifies his/her culture? Values? Beliefs? Is it possible to keep the traditions, language and emotional bonds of the mother tongue and still be able to cope with the high input and impact of other languages and cultures?

I was born and raised in a very culturally mixed environment. I was born in Brazil, from a German mother and a Polish father. I consider my mother tongue Portuguese, and after I acquired it, I was formally and informally exposed to Polish, German, English and Italian. However, even having a German speaking mother and a Polish speaking father, and having learned a fourth language, I consider myself proficient and 100% fluent in Portuguese, which is not strictly speaking my mother tongue. I should call it my birth-imposed-tongue, or environment-tongue, or proficiency-tongue. Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language are embedded in my personality. Where did the German and the Polish affective bonds, cultural background, language, traditions go to?

I have to admit that most aspects of these two languages (that were supposed to be my mother tongue, with German, and father tongue, with Polish) were slowly and imperceptibly left behind on behalf of other languages that seemed more important, or more useful thus far in my life. I do not have a family connection to English or Italian but at some point in my life, they became a priority to be learned and overcame the need, or interest, or emotional bond that I had with the other two languages.

Rather than see these facts as a mistake I may have made (not maintaining fluency n Polish and German), or viewing them as incorrect options in favor of Portuguese, English and some Italian, I would prefer to think of the situation as a result of circumstances that at the moment did not seem important to me.

Who can measure or evaluate the cultural and linguistic losses caused by such circumstances?

References:

Merriam Webster Dictionary – On Line version

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mother%20tongue

A seed called Critical Pedagogy

October 2, 2014

In the last three chapters of his book entitled Critical ELT in action: foundations, promises, praxis, Crookes (2013) brings up the administrative dimension of Critical Pedagogy, its implications, its bond with the community and the ethical and professional attitudes towards politics. It is crucial to debate the role that school administrators play in this setting. The responsibilities of good critical administrators include discernment to go beyond the classroom and the material and act accordingly. The duties include a range of other factors that combine, amongst others, strong leadership skills and ethical criteria. Critical Pedagogy becomes feasible through critical thinking and critical actions. Therefore it is of utmost importance for individuals in leadership positions to involve the entire community (teachers, parents and students) with a goal in mind, which is to promote social change.

Under these circumstances, there is a wide range of possibilities as to where Critical Pedagogy can take place. Freire claims that the adult literacy sector tends to be more open to such reflections. However there is a broad field of other options. To mention some: private schools, for they are usually less controlled by the state; community schools, where there are services that go beyond the education being offered; adult education, frequently associated with labor or worker education; online education institutes, which have a low cost and represent fertile ground for international connections through Internet forums, blogs, websites, content generated by users, and others; language schools that are more profit-oriented and tend to give teachers more freedom.

Most concepts related to Critical Pedagogy and the different environments where they can possibly occur automatically lead one to reflect on how complex and politically subtle the idea can be. Critical Pedagogy administrators and specialists must be willing to apply critical thinking, take action and promote social change, face exhaustive journeys while advocating, fundraising, organizing, involving students and parents, mediating connections between households and the schools, networking, working on developing significant bonds between communities and teachers, practicing leadership in varied ways and supporting democratic changes. It may be a discouraging path to many!

Crookes (2013), talks in his book about imagination. We should all try to imagine a better world, given that ours is not a perfect one, and that is an important first step. As a teacher of the language that is currently considered the lingua franca (English) in a multilingual and extremely diverse world, one should put oneself in a position to be reflective about the practice. Although education is not neutral according to many thinkers, I agree with Crookes (p. 182), when he cites Edelsky and Johnson’s (2014, p.137) challenge to this idea. If on the one hand one may ask “Well, if there’s imposition at some level in education, than it is not critical pedagogy and it is not democratic”. Edelsky and Johnson (2014) state that “…critical whole language practice does not tell students what to think. But it does pose some new things to think about.”

Every ESL teacher should be stimulated to implement at least some of the principles of critical pedagogy and critical thinking in their practice. Even if in small ways and in slow steps. It is a seed that we must plant and must water, with the expectation of harvesting the fruit of our labor.

References:

Crookes, G (2013). Critical ELT in Action: foundations, promises, praxis. New York, NY: Routledge.

Edelsky, C. & Johnson, K. (2004). Critical whole language practice in time and place. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 1 (4), 121-141.

How Critical Pedagogy came to be

 September 26, 2014

Where does the concept of ‘critical pedagogy’ come from? Who and what inspired Paulo Freire, Freinet, Giroux? What elements helped shaped Critical Pedagogy as we know it today? To answer these questions and enable a better understanding of how Critical Pedagogy came to be, it is important to go back in history, contextualize facts, thoughts and people, and try to understand how these factors are related.

It is crucial to understand the role played by the French Revolution, and to highlight some of the main factors that impelled the ideas embedded in Critical Pedagogy derived from that event. During that time, ‘modern’ ideas arose, and people started talking about democracy and social change. There was a discussion about freer forms of education and of a different form of society. There was an idea of liberalism in the air, and that is where the mainstream of Critical Pedagogy has its roots. Critical Pedagogy is concerned with justice and social equality, emphasizing direct democracy and personal growth. It gained momentum in the beginning of the 21st century, when the state was not controlling or developing education and schools were started by people with radical and liberal ideas (Crookes, 2013, p.77). Education was now thought to be anti-individualist, de-centralized, and cooperative. In this revolutionary and investigative scenario, active learning took place with a scientific approach, where practice and theory were equally valued. Crookes (2013, p.77) defines Critical Pedagogy as teaching for social justice, in ways that support the development of active, engaged citizens who will, as circumstances permit, critically inquire into why their lives (…) are so materially (and spiritually) inadequate, be prepared to seek out solutions to the problems they define and encounter, and take action accordingly.

Between 1960 and 1980 school councils were implemented and many forms of participative democracy took place, sex education was added to the curriculum, learning contracts were formulated between teachers and students, and syllabi gained a participative form. In 1980, post-structural movements appeared in force: the feminist movement, the anti-racist movement, the sexual identity movement. There was a clear concern with regards to respect and equality, and Critical Pedagogy should be included in this movement as it is, by definition, sensitive to and a stimulant of diversity. It proposes reflexive thinking, speaking, reading, and writing. It encourages students to ‘read between the lines’, find solutions and be active members for social change.

Language is, therefore, one of the main instruments in Critical Pedagogy. Through language, teachers can bring to discussion important social and political issues. With dialogue, students can develop a critical perspective of their realities, and feel motivated to act accordingly. Language gives students the resources they need to become reflective thinkers and change-inducers. Crookes (2013, p. 87) states that language has power. He claims that “language can be used as a tool, or a weapon, sometimes used for social change, and sometimes used against the weak.” Discourse deserves special attention regarding this matter. Throughout history, language has taken an important part in reproducing the social order, and has the power to transform it at any time. Discourse is how language and social matters relate. It is permeated with ideologies and carries values. Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1990, p. 140) affirm that “ … human language is shaped by the social function it serves.” Therefore, Critical Pedagogy is only possible with human interaction and within environments where people learn from each other and do not think alone.

It is essential to remember that social changes are also a result of critical thinking, which in the academic environment is called Critical Pedagogy. But what is the main purpose of Critical Pedagogy? Paulo Freire’s central contribution was what he called conscientização, translated to English as critical consciousness, or critical awareness. He postulates that conscientização is the process of developing critical consciousness through reflection and action. It comes to be via dialogue, problem discussion, solution seeking and action (Freire calls it praxis). Schools are a perfect nest for these ideas. It is where teachers and students meet and engage in discussions regarding social matters. It is where they understand that they are part of a problem and are able to be part of the solution. It only depends on them.

Critical Pedagogy has roots in historical events that occured during the past three centuries and has been significantly influenced by social movements and the idea of transformation, of change, of evolution. It has undoubtedly altered all previous notions about formal education and has been an important element of debate in all sectors of academic life. It is still a fundamental and central idea to all those concerned with improving education in a free and democratic society.

References

Chouliaraki, L. & Fairclough, N. (1999). Discourse in Late Modernity: Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

Crookes, G (2013). Critical ELT in Action: foundations, promises, praxis. New York, NY: Routledge.

Teachers Role in Critical Pedagogy – Embracing the Philosophy and Applying Critical Thinking

September 19, 2014

Critical Pedagogy means Participatory Pedagogy. Paulo Freire’s ideas of critical pedagogy are dense and suggest profound changes in the teaching and learning process. One of the mainstreams is that “the educational process is never neutral”. What reflections can be made about the passive model of ‘teaching and learning’? Students can be passive recipients of knowledge or they can engage in a ‘problem-posing’ approach. However, how do we, teachers, effectively help our students become critical thinkers and active agents in their communities?

Critical Pedagogy is more than drilling content and inputting academic knowledge. It is in great part teaching for social justice, stimulating students to inquire and question, encouraging them to seek solutions, embolden them to be active citizens and provide them with resources to change the world.

What elements are embedded in Critical Pedagogy in second language acquisition? Crookes (2013) suggests that several different areas of the teaching process and environment compose it. They are:

  • Democratic classroom management (highly interactive classroom practices and activities, discussions of what is discipline, conversation about behavior issues, establishment of routine and agreements that are set democratically)
  • Critical stance by the teacher (teacher’s critical perspective, key values and beliefs)
  • Critical needs analysis (find out what students need to learn considering the target situation as a site of possible reform)
  • Negotiated Syllabus (teachers and students establish together what and why they will learn. Neither thematic or skills can be determined prior to meeting the students and spending some time getting to know them and understanding their needs and expectations is essential)
  • Codes (allow students to articulate their own thoughts, ideas and action – teachers do not totally control content)
  • Dialogue (promote discussions in class as many times as possible, let students determine classroom interaction, help students think critically)
  • Critical content in materials (content needs to have a perspective and a cultural orientation and should not be neutral)
  • Democratic, participatory, and critical assessment (problem-posing evaluation, ‘dialogic interactions’ (Crookes, 2013) where all the voices are validated – theory in action)
  • Action orientation (social projects and actions, empower students with the sense that they can make the difference and they can help change the world.

Critical Pedagogy is, therefore, a fertile field of education that can be designed for and implemented in second language acquisition programs/classes. It relies on how much teachers will embrace the philosophy of critical pedagogy and apply the critical thinking and change-making stance in their lessons and class environment.

References

Crookes, G (2013). Critical ELT in Action: foundations, promises, praxis. New York, NY: Routledge.

Theory and Practice: an important partnership in ESL/EFL

September 12, 2014

My journey into the TESOL world has begun. As an English teacher to speakers of other languages, this is certainly a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge and nurture my ideas about the ESL/EFL teaching practice.

Theories and ideas about second language acquisition are important to be understood and discussed, for they describe a students’ learning process much of students’ learning process. Krashen’s theories, referred to by Hong (2008), are an invitation for reflection upon the Teaching of a Second Language practice. How beneficial is it for students when teachers succeed in relating theory with practice, becoming aware of their needs and difficulties, as well as understanding the process which they go through in their learning. Teachers are able to empower and deepen class planning by working on student-centered lessons.

A good way for teachers of ESL to start being more critical and reflective about their practice is to be familiar with the PBA (Principles Based Approach) described in the White Paper (Tesol.org). This paper addresses important questions that directly and indirectly involve teaching ESL, such as subjects regarding policymaking, politics, economics and industry. Broadly speaking the variables involving ESL are as follows (according to the White Paper):

C   collaboration

R   relevance

E   evidence

A   alignment

T   transparency

E   empowerment

CREATE plays an essential role in language learning. Policymakers should take it under consideration and adapt policies depending on the different cultures, backgrounds and realities of the students. This is what the paper calls “language ecology” – all variables and interactive practices that compose second/additional language learning and teaching that need to be accounted for in an ESL environment. “PBA incorporates the notion of ‘language ecology’ in an education setting by taking into account the diverse sociopolitical settings ‘where the processes of language use create, reflect and challenge particular hierarchies and hegemonies’ ”(Creese & Martin, 2008).

If the ultimate goal is to help and facilitate the learning process of students of ESL, as well as to make it meaningful and in line with specific realities, then it is clear that the alignment of theory and practice is extremely important and beneficial in all contexts and learning scenarios.

References:

Hong (2008): “On Teaching Strategies in SLA”: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED502535.pdf

http://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/position-statements