A Case Study of an EFL Teacher's Critical Literacy Teaching in a Reading Class in Taiwan

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Language Teaching Research17(1) 91 108 The Author(s) 2013Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/1362168812457537ltr.sagepub.comLANGUAGETEACHINGRESEARCHA case study of an EFL teachers critical literacy teaching in a reading class in TaiwanMei-Yun KoNational Formosa University, TaiwanAbstractThis qualitative case study describes in detail a college teachers experience in teaching critical literacytoEnglishmajorstudentsinTaiwan.Aqualitativeanalysisofthedatacollectedfrom classroom observation, class discussion and interviews shows that the teacher struck a balance betweenlanguageskillsteachingandcriticalliteracyteaching.Byposingcriticalquestionsand having a critical dialogue with students, the teacher helped students to read beyond the text on its literal level and raised their awareness of the subtle workings of ideologies in it. The teacher himself also underwent a change in his professional development, moving from banking pedagogy to empowering pedagogy. However, in taking a critical literacy approach to reading instruction, heencounteredsomedifficultiessuchasatransmissionmodelofliteracy,studentslanguage learning beliefs, and teaching resources.KeywordsCritical literacy, EFL reading instruction, readingIIntroductionFor the past 30 years, the concept of literacy has moved beyond reading the words to readingtheworld(Freire,1970;Freire&Macedo,1987),thatis,fromfunctional literacy that focuses solely on developing students linguistic skills to critical literacy that aims to give students a language of critique to achieve equality and social justice or effect social transformation (Edelsky, 1999; Lankshear & McLaren, 1993; Shor & Freire,1985). Thisshiftfromfunctionalliteracytocriticalliteracystartedtoinflu-ence educators in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) Corresponding author:Mei-Yun Ko, Department of Applied Foreign Languages, National Formosa University, 64 Wenhua Rd, Huwei, Yunlin 632, Taiwan. Email: mko@nfu.edu.tw457537LTR17110.1177/1362168812457537Language Teaching ResearchKo2013Article92Language Teaching Research 17(1)in the 1980s (Luke & Dooley, 2011) and has since then sparked some discussions and research studies on the application of critical literacy in this field, as in the special-topic issue Critical Approaches to TESOL by TESOL Quarterly in 1999, Norton and Tooheys (2004) contributed volume Critical pedagogies and language learning, and Kubota and Lins collection Race, culture and identity in second language education (2009).However,mostofthesestudieswereconductedinESL(EnglishasaSecond Language) classrooms (e.g. Benesch, 2001; Morgan, 2004; Wallace, 2003); only a few were conducted in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) settings (e.g. Kuo, 2009; Shin &Crookes,2005b),andaccountsofcriticalpracticesarescarce(Shin&Crookes, 2005a). A critical literacy approach to EFL teaching is still under-explored. Also, critical literacy instruction has been considered uncongenial to Asian students with Confucian-basededucational/culturalbackgrounds.Forexample,theculturalappropriatenessof critical literacy pedagogy in EFL contexts in East Asian countries was questioned (e.g. Hu, 2002). Although there were a few empirical studies that argued for the possibility of implementing critical pedagogy in EFL context in East Asian countries (e.g. Kuo, 2009; Shin & Crookes, 2005b), they only focused on the part of the student in the instruction process, leaving the teachers perspectives and concerns unexplored. It is therefore sig-nificant to explore how a teacher responds to a critical literacy classroom in terms of his/her teaching beliefs, his/her concerns, and the challenges that s/he may encounter when doingthe critical inthe EFL classroom inConfucian-based pedagogical environments suchasTaiwan.Thisempiricalstudyattemptsaholisticdescriptionofhowateacher teaches a critical literacy oriented reading class in Taiwan, and is guided by the following research questions:1. How does a college teacher teach critical literacy in a university-level EFL reading classroom in Taiwan?2.How does he or she conceptualize critical literacy and develop critical teaching?3. What difficulties or challenges does he or she encounter in taking a critical literacy approach to EFL reading instruction?IILiterature review1Critical literacyDue to different theoretical bases, the term critical literacy has no single unified defini-tion (Green, 2001). However, it is generally contrasted with functional literacy, which views literacy as linguistic skills. Critical literacy views literacy as social practices (Gee, 1999). In Mannings (1999) Literacy-as Framework, he distinguished critical literacy from functional literacy by laying out their respective ideology purpose, literacy curricu-lum and instruction. The purpose behind functional literacy is to produce skilled workers forthemarketplace. Therefore,thecurriculumisprepackagedandrestrictive,andthe instructionisindividualisticandcompetitive.However,forcriticalliteracy,textsare inscribed with power and are not neutral but marked by vested interests and hidden agen-das. The curriculum is to use materials from the everyday world as text and analytic tools Ko93todeconstructthesetextstolaybaretheirideologicalworkingsandpowerrelations; therefore, the instruction is situated, interrogated and counter-hegemonic.Thetermcriticalliteracyisseenascriticalreadingformanyreadingeducators. However, this kind of critical practice that cultivates the higher level skills and focuses itselfonrationalquestioningprocedurescanbedetachedfromthevalue-ladenhuman world for its pure reasoning. As Luke (2000) contended:[S]uchapproachestendtosidestepasystematicanalysisoftherelationandfieldsofsocial, cultural, and economic power where people actually use texts They are the logical outcome ofdefinitionsofliteracyasindividualskillswithinhumansubjects,ratherthanassituated social practices in communities. (p. 451)Pennycook(2004)evencallsthiskindofcriticalpracticeliberalostrichism,which buries its head in the sand of objectivism (ostrichism) and fails to link its questioning to a broader social agenda (p. 329).Cervetti, Pardales, and Damico (2001) made a comparison between critical reading and critical literacy based on their distinct philosophical traditions. Critical reading is in the liberal-humanist tradition, while critical literacy combines three strands of tra-ditions:post-structuralism,criticalsocialtheoryandFreireancriticalpedagogy. As such, critical reading and critical literacy have distinct epistemological and ontologi-cal assumptions and commitments. Epistemologically, knowledge in critical literacy is never neutral or natural, but is constructed based on the discursive rules of a par-ticular community, and therefore ideological. Ontologically, there is no reality out there that is knowable and can serve as a referent for interpretation, but many situated, locally constructed realities.To sum up, critical literacy is viewed as a process of questioning the status quo and of challenging existing knowledge and the social order (Gee, 1999). Critical literacy to the reading of the text involves an understanding of how texts and discourses can be con-structed,deconstructedandreconstructedtorepresent,contestand,indeed,transform material, social and semiotic relations (Luke & Dooley, 2011, p. 856).2Critical literacy studies in EFL contextsAs mentioned earlier, there were only a few empirical studies on critical literacy prac-tices in the EFL context in East Asian countries. The following two studies (Kuo, 2009; Shin & Crookes, 2005b) explored critical practices in EFL contexts in Korea and Taiwan.Shin and Crookes (2005b) study explores the possibility of critical pedagogy in two Korean EFL high school classrooms. They made a small-scale intervention in an extra-curricular English class in junior high school (12 students) and a regular English Culture class in senior high school (28 students). They introduced critically-oriented materials, providingopportunitiesfortheselearnerstodevelopEnglishlanguageabilitieswhen they were engaged in critical discussion of topics. Findings of this study suggested that these EFL learners, in spite of their limited English proficiency, were not resistant to this kind of materials and were active participants in generating critical dialogues in English. In addition, the study also called into question the stereotype of East Asian students as 94Language Teaching Research 17(1)passiveandnon-autonomous,dispellingthemyththatEastAsianclassroomsare inherently rigidly hierarchical.Kuos (2009) study examined an English Conversation class of 26 non-English major students in Taiwan. The students were given a shortened version of two pic-ture books to read and were then asked to create team dialogues based on them. He analysedthedialoguesandstudentsreflectionpapersbasedonLewison,Leland, and Harstes (2008) critical instructional model, a three-tier concentric model that moves from personal and cultural resources to critical social practices and to critical stances.Thestudyfoundthatsocial-issuepicturebookscaneffectivelypromote EFLstudentsEnglishlearningandengagestudents,incriticalpractices.Hethen suggestedthatacriticalliteracycurriculumprogressfrompersonal/cultural resources to critical social practices and critical stances, but does not have to include all of them for critical instruction in EFL settings. Though Kuos (2009) study has explored to some extent critical learning of non-English major students in Taiwan, thestudylackedadetaileddescriptionofcriticalliteracyexperiencesofboththe students and the teacher. To fill up this gap, the present study focused on exploring an EFL teacher who attempted a critical literacy approach to reading instruction.3Critical literacy teaching methods/strategiesCritical literacy is a way of thinking, that is a reading practice that challenges texts orthetaken-for-grantedide