Academic journal article English Language Teaching

"I Love This Approach, but Find It Difficult to Jump in with Two Feet!" Teachers' Perceived Challenges of Employing Critical Literacy

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

"I Love This Approach, but Find It Difficult to Jump in with Two Feet!" Teachers' Perceived Challenges of Employing Critical Literacy

Article excerpt


Accompanying myriad definitions of critical literacy is an absence of pedagogical models for implementing critical literacy in teacher education contexts. This action research explores critical literacy with pre-service and in-service teachers in teacher education courses offered in the United States. The primary data sources include online weekly discussions on course readings in the TESOL methods courses I taught in Hawaii and Kansas. First, I propose the working definition of critical literacy in the study (Luke, 2012) and then present course participants' perceived challenges of employing critical literacy in their current and future classrooms. Findings reveal that despite the differences in the two instructional contexts, both groups recognized that the current standards-based, test-driven educational environment would be the major obstacle for enacting critical literacy in their classroom. In addition, the lack of understanding of critical literacy was addressed by both groups of teachers. I also discuss my struggle and dilemma as a critical teacher educator. Finally, this article concludes with suggestions for introducing critical literacy in teacher education contexts.

Keywords: critical literacy, action research, reflexivity, teacher education, narratives, TESOL

1. Motivation for the Study

The action research project that I describe in this article stems from my interest in employing critical literacy in my teacher education courses in the United States. As a former English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher in secondary schools in Korea, I have always been interested in taking a critical stance on the issues of English language teaching (ELT). I challenged the required textbook with my middle-school students by problematizing the inequity of race, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion, and class represented in it. I did not realize what I was doing back then indeed mirroreda pedagogy of critical literacy until I worked on my Ph.D. degree at an American university where I learned about critical literacy. Since then, I have investigated the pedagogical application of critical literacy in teacher education contexts. While experiencing success, I also encountered some degree of student resistance to critical literacy in my TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) methods courses. I spent a great amount of time trying to understand the resistance and skepticism toward critical literacy and to figure out how to handle them productively. Thus this action research stems from my own challenges of implementing critical literacy in TESOL teacher education contexts.

2. Conceptual Framework

2.1 Critical Literacy

Literacy has long been viewed as a purely cognitive and linguistic activity, divorced from sociocultural contexts where it is embedded. This skills-oriented approach to literacy considers literacy as a set of static, decontextualized, and discrete skills that can be applied anywhere once it is taught as a prepackaged set. Drawing on a psychological, cognitive framework, it assumes that the literacy taught in schools is the principal literacy that students require and utilize throughout their lives (Carrington & Luke, 1997). In this framework, basic skills, primarily encoding and decoding words, must be mastered first, before other content or skills can be learned. A 'skills' conception of learning literacy concurrently dominates governmental and policy discourses (Curry, 2003) and the assessment of literacy often makes links between perceived lack of educational achievement and low levels of literacy.

In hisseminal work on literacy as social practice, Street (1984) refers to this approach to literacy as an autonomous model which postulates that texts have independent meanings and thus can be abstracted from social contexts. The autonomous model of literacy argues that teaching literacy to 'illiterate' people, urban youth, and marginalized groups will lead to economic development (Street, 2003). …

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