Words & Actions: An EFL Teacher's Critical Literacy Goals & Their Enactment in a Reading Class in China

By Sun, Lina | Multicultural Education, Spring/Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Words & Actions: An EFL Teacher's Critical Literacy Goals & Their Enactment in a Reading Class in China


Sun, Lina, Multicultural Education


Introduction

The field of teaching English to speakers of other languages took a "critical turn" during the 1990s (Kumaravadivelu, 2006), and many scholars have called for the inclusion of a critical perspective in the teaching of English as a second language and English as a foreign language (EFL). However, critical perspectives are still not a major part of teaching and learning in most EFL classrooms. One possible reason may be the dearth of documentation of critical perspectives in language teaching practices.

For instance, Wallace (1999) noted that though numerous articles have been written about critical pedagogy, it tends to be conceptualized in highly abstract ways without concrete illustration. In addition, teachers and practitioners have not often made public any documentation of their work in classrooms (Albright, Church, Settle, & Vasquez, 1999). Most publications concerning critical perspectives have been largely theoretical in nature.

Although a few empirical studies have argued for the possibility of implementing critical pedagogy in EFL contexts in East Asian countries, they only focused on the role of the student in the instruction process, leaving the teacher's perspectives and concerns unexplored. Thus practitioners' voices need to be heard to further explore possibilities in practice.

It is significant to explore how a teacher responds to a critical literacy classroom in terms of his or her teaching goals, beliefs, and concerns, and the challenges that he or she may encounter when undertaking a critical literacy approach in an EFL classroom in Confucian-based pedagogical environments such as China. In short, these comments point to the general lack of writing from a practical rather than a theoretical point of view. A critical literacy approach to EFL teaching is still underexplored.

This critical empirical study documents what critical literacy pedagogy looks like in a high school EFL reading class in China. The article aims to address the extent to which critical literacy could function as a theoretical anchor for the teaching and learning of English in EFL settings. It is written from the perspective of an EFL researcher-practitioner, and critical literacy is understood through the lens of an EFL teacher seeking a critical foundation for everyday work in the classroom. The study is guided by the following questions:

How does a high school teacher teach critical literacy in a high school-level EFL reading classroom in China?

How does he or she conceptualize critical literacy and develop critical teaching?

What difficulties and challenges does he or she encounter in taking a critical literacy approach to EFL reading instruction?

Literature Review

Critical Literacy Studies in EFL Contexts

Critical literacy maintains that the use of language is never neutral. Critical literacy explores what it means to read and write involving an epistemological understanding of knowledge construction and language practices intertwined in relations of powers. From a critical literacy perspective, reading and writing are social processes that assist an individual in becoming conscious of one's experience as historically constructed within specific power relations (Shor, 1999).

Furthermore, critical literacy assumes that texts are written with particular purposes and serve particular aims. It guides students in thinking about the ideologies and consequences behind the choices to voice and to silence. It illuminates how texts are socially constructed, aiming to position their intended audiences in a particular way.

Therefore a language and literacy curriculum that draws from critical literacy goes beyond decoding and encoding the written symbols, answering comprehension questions, and summarizing paragraphs to engaging students in questioning the author's intensions and biases and in discussing the implications and consequences of the author's choices as well as the power relations involved in the voices both heard and unheard. …

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