Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Orientations to Critical Literacy for English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) Learners: A Case Study of Four Teachers of Senior English

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Orientations to Critical Literacy for English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) Learners: A Case Study of Four Teachers of Senior English

Article excerpt

Critical Literacy in senior English schooling

Proponents of critical literacy actively resist distilling it to a single, formulaic method (Collins & Blot, 2003; Comber, 2001; Janks, 2010, 2014; Luke, 2000, 2012; Morgan & Ramanathan, 2005). Instead, it is understood to be contingent on localised context and the material resources, including human, that exist in these contexts. While approaches taken to exploring literacy and language critically is open to interpretation, there is general commitment within the literature that defines critical literacy as focusing

on teaching and learning how texts work, understanding and re-mediating what texts attempt to do in the world and to people, and moving students toward active position-taking with texts to critique and reconstruct the social fields in which they live and work (Luke, 2000, p. 460).

Substantial literature, internationally, calls for the need for effective critical literacy practice with culturally and linguistically diverse school-age learners (Alford, 2001; Alford & Jetnikoff, 2011; Hammond & Macken-Horarik, 1999; Janks, 1991, 1999, 2010; Lau, 2013; Locke & Cleary, 2011; Luke, 1995; McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004a, 2004b; Sandretto, 2011). Much of the literature, though, centres on primary or junior high school curriculum and pedagogy which has greater porosity than senior schooling (Jewitt, 2008). There remains limited empirical research into how teachers and students construct and enact critical literacy within senior high school English and even less with EAL/D learners. (1) Of note, however, are two studies that call attention to the nature of the official curriculum and what teachers do with it in terms of critical literacy.

Stevens and Bean (2007) report on a critical literacy study with high school seniors in Nebraska, USA. The teacher, frustrated by constraining curriculum requirements based on genre approaches to literature, decided to trial a critical inquiry into a local issue with her students. They explored how and why family-based farming, as the local economic base, had shifted significantly over the past few generations. To investigate changes in the agriculture industry and their local effects, students interviewed farmers, community leaders and others 'using a critical lens to capture, describe and interpret the findings' (p. 87). The end product was a documentary created through a process of deconstructing the material effects of local social and economic events. In assembling the documentary, students had to decide which elements of the data and their interpretation and which design features would be included in their own representation of the issue in the documentary. In this way, they were asking critical literacy questions about representation during the reconstruction and authoring of their own text. Critical literacy questions that are often asked of commercially produced texts, for example, whose interests are being served?; who is foregrounded or marginalised?, were turned back on the students' own texts, to help them deploy the resources of textual constructedness exposed by critical literacy.

More recently and more locally, Locke and Cleary (2011) conducted a two-year study in New Zealand high schools on teaching literature in final year (Year 13) multicultural classrooms. They present four key findings about the critical literacy pedagogy employed: (a) that close critical reading of texts was multidimensional and involved teachers drawing on a range of approaches to literary and textual study including personal growth models; (b) that the cultural background of the students influenced the approaches they adopted. The teachers used both reader response and critical approaches to 'open up an avenue to the cultural orientation of the reader as a determinant of meaning' (p. 136); (c) that critical literacy concepts and associated complicated metalanguage are best taught by exposing students to a range of texts dealing with a similar topic; and (d) that, despite initial hesitancy to challenge the authority of texts, students were empowered by critical literacy to contest and resist invited readings. …

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