Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching

Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching Although set in a very specific context, Latin America, many of the reflections, teacher education and classroom practices discussed in this extremely interesting and thought-provoking book can be projected onto other contexts, particularly in a critical education and language pedagogy perspective (e.g. Kumaravadivelu 2003). A critical view of the role(s) that English—in its plurality and complexity—has developed today is here proposed in terms of decolonization, a viewpoint that could also represent a valuable lens through which to look at the pedagogical implications of Englishes. Detaching English from a ‘native speaker’ linguistic and cultural model, taking into account the way(s) in which it is experienced, and perceived, by learners, together with other linguistic experiences (either minority or primary socialization languages, also in migratory terms) could provide interesting insights into participatory, and critical, teaching practices in other contexts in the world too. The volume is organized into eight chapters. As we read in the Foreword, the book deals with matters of critical pedagogy in teaching English, questions of identities, power and, above all, effective education, that require repositioning ‘effectiveness’ ‘as a set of interactions that reject the curricular constriction of identities in favor of instructional relationships that create classroom spaces for the (re)construction of identities’ (p. xi) Chapter 1, ‘Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching (PELT)’, introduces the CEAR (critical-ethnographic-action-research) project, implemented in two urban schools in Oaxaca (Mexico) with children from an Indigenous background. The main aim of the project was ‘to challenge the apparent world phenomenon that associates English with “progress” and neoliberal practices—that regard the world as a global market where everything can be sold and purchased, including the English language with its alleged benefits’ (p. 1). In this part, some of the project ‘actors’ (a child from each school, a student teacher, and the project coordinator and book author) are presented, also through their ‘voices’, and the theoretical background is discussed. First of all it is argued how decolonizing primary English teaching involves moving away from ‘coloniality’ in construing the English language, challenging ‘the hegemonic discourses’ (p. 10) associated with English within a linguistically diverse (and translanguaging) framework. It is then shown how the ‘Praxicum’ construct, related both to Freire’s critical pedagogy (1970) and to Pennycook (2004), has informed the whole project, and how ‘student teachers are considered individuals who create theories before, while and after they teach (practice)’, playing different roles (p. 11); in this perspective, knowledge is co-constructed and shared by all participants—researchers, teachers, and children. In this framework a continuous and empowering (re)negotiation of identities, also through ‘identity texts’, is enacted in class (Cummins 2001, 2006), where translanguaging practices play a central role. The chapter also discusses the important role played by individual histories, and by narratives (including the story of the author), and closes with a thorough methodological overview including the development stages of the CEAR project. Chapter 2, ‘Indigenous Peoples and English in Mexico’, presents a detailed and critical overview of the history of Indigenous people’s education in Mexico, highlighting how it has been marked by discriminatory (linguistic) policies and practices over 500 years. The context of the study, Oaxaca, is then outlined from a sociocultural, linguistic and migratory point of view. The role that English plays in Mexico, ‘part and parcel of coloniality and colonial difference in relation to America’ (p. 49), is amply discussed, also in education, and specifically in the two schools in Oaxaca where the project was based. Chapter 3, ‘Los de la Banda (The Gang Members)’, presents the ten student teacher participants in the project as people with their stories, discussing their ‘given’ identities as learners and (incompetent) non-native speakers of English, and as students at a particular university in Oaxaca; these aspects and issues were brought to the fore during the teacher education course and the development of the project. The fact that ‘moving away from the “incompetent non-native teacher” imposition’ (p. 71) was a challenge for the student teachers resonates well with other lines of recent research; it is shown how the decolonization process included using and valuing all the languages in the participants’ repertoires, with the goal of ‘creat[ing] multilingual and intercultural affirming identities’ (p. 72) for the student teachers and for the children. The multilingual and multimodal identity texts that were created during the course were an integral part of this identity re-creation process, with the participants’ voices ‘reshaping’ ideologies and colonization. The socioeconomic and linguistic characteristics of ‘the children’ of the two schools where the praxicum was enacted are presented in Chapter 4. Both settings are introduced in a semi-narrative form, recounting a day the author spent in each school, which included attending classes. Spanish is the main language in both schools, which are located in the same urban area; in Horizon School more than 11 Indigenous languages are spoken (although not on public occasions), while Downtown school has a Spanish-only language policy. Migration stories, working children, and their complex, non-stereotypical families as emerging from the ethnographic research are then discussed, collocating them within the project’s decolonizing (and non-patronizing) stance: ‘[T]he challenge for us was how to make use of these ways of knowing and the children’s “shameful, unprofessional” occupations and turn them into something we could value and use in the classroom’ (p. 117). In Chapter 5, the ‘language practices and ideologies’ of the two schools are presented as ‘sociocultural constructions’: English and Spanish are considered ‘languages’, while Indigenous ones are seen as ‘dialects’ and are not only excluded from ‘official’ language practices, but downgraded and rejected by mestizo children, and connected with shame by Indigenous ones—and thus often confined to family and intimate situations, and to express love, anger and fun. As for English, it is perceived with ambivalent feelings due to its connectedness with the United States (el Norte), to globalization and modernity, but also to migration, frequent in Oaxaca and thus impacting also on the children’s lives and ‘complex’ families. English is at the same time collocated with los gringos, or the English-speaking tourists and foreigners the children have contact with, especially in working situations (e.g. selling goods at markets); in this sense learning English is seen positively as a possibility for improvement. Chapter 6, ‘Praxicum and Change’, illustrates how the CEAR project was implemented through the student teachers’ praxicum in the two schools. It is shown, and discussed, how multilingual practices were enacted in different (and pedagogically personal) ways, alongside critical and shared reflection. The ethnographic data effectively testifies as to how all the languages in the children’s repertoires, i.e. Indigenous languages, Spanish and English, were integrated in classroom practices through trust-building (moving away from shame) and cooperation among the children, who took on the role of teachers; the same can be said for the student teachers, who became learners in turn. Languaging was encouraged, together with language awareness and the development of ‘alphabetic literacy systems that made sense’ to the children for languages they did not know (p. 165), ‘transgressing the borders of coloniality and affirming the children’s identities’ (p. 170). Chapter 7, ‘Student Teachers and Children as Authors and Language Subjects’, deals with the ‘identity texts’ (Cummins 2006) that were created by the children. It should be noted that the materials of the CEAR project were not part of textbooks, but designed to suit the children’s lives that, as described in Chapter 4, are non-stereotypical. The identity texts that the children produced had different formats, from posters to big books, and all the translanguaging practices that were part of the praxicum lessons were deployed in these personal products where the children talked about themselves and their families. In turn, the meaningful and cooperative activities experienced in class led to a change in attitudes and perceptions (and thus ideologies) towards languages too, and knowledge of any language came to be seen as a valuable resource. Chapter 8, ‘Decolonizing PELT: Grounded Principles’, closes the volume with an outline of ten principles, meant as a dialogic interaction between theory and practice, of PELT decolonization: decolonizing PELT should be historically (1) and reflectively (2) grounded; it is ‘a collaborative endeavour in which all the actors produce knowledge and perform different roles’ (3), and should be dealt with in an interdisciplinary way (4); it ‘must acknowledge that Indigenous children’s language practices and the language ideologies held by Indigenous and mestizo children are rooted in coloniality’ (5). Decolonizing PELT ‘means having children’s lives and sociocultural contexts drive the curriculum’ (7), and ‘it should be about creating authors of identity texts, by which the ELT industry, which profits from people wanting to learn English, is challenged and teachers’ and children’s identities are negotiated’ (9); it is also about ‘challenging language ideologies rooted in coloniality and subjectifying languages; in other words, being open to two-way dialogue and sharing of experiences with Othered people’ (10) in that their language repertoires are valued. In decolonizing PELT, student teachers (as well as practising teachers and teacher educators) should reflect about how the discourses of coloniality and colonial difference impact their own lives; one should acknowledge that ‘the English language is connected to modernity discourses and children’s lives’ (6), and children ‘must be regarded as multilingual language teachers and alphabetic literacy developers’ (8). As mentioned at the beginning, despite the very specific context in which the CEAR project is set, its rationale and many of the above grounded principles resonate well with calls that have been made by researchers about the need to revisit ELT assumptions and practices, connecting them to the current complexity of English, including adopting a critical (transformative) perspective in teacher education as in pedagogic practices, taking into account the different roles (not least as experienced) of English, detaching it from a native-speaker perspective, and valuing learners’ (and users’) multilingual repertoires. This book represents a valuable, engaging and involving reading for researchers, students, teachers and teacher educators interested in knowing more about how such critical perspectives can be effectively enacted. Paola Vettorel is assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Verona. Her main research interests include ELF and its implications in ELT, and ELF and digital media. Her recent publications include: English as a Lingua Franca in Wider Networking. Blogging Practices. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter (2014); (ed.) New Frontiers in Teaching and Learning English. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars (2015); ‘WE- and ELF-informed classroom practices: proposals from a pre-service teacher education programme in Italy’.Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 5/1: 107–33 (2016); (with S. Corrizzato) ‘Fostering awareness of the pedagogical implications of World Englishes and ELF in teacher education in Italy’. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching 6/3: 487–511 (2016). References Cummins , J . 2001 . Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society ( Second edition ). Los Angeles : California Association for Bilingual Education . Cummins , J . 2006 . ‘ Identity texts: the imaginative construction of self through multiliteracies pedagogy ’ in O. García , T. Skutnabb-Kangas , and M. E. Torres-Guzmán (eds.). Imagining Multilingual Schools , 51 – 68 . Clevedon : Multilingual Matters . Freire P . 1970 . Pedagogy of the Oppressed . New York : Continuum . Kumaravadivelu B . 2003 . ‘ Forum—Critical Language Pedagogy. A postmethod perspective ’. World Englishes 22 / 4 : 539 – 50 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pennycook , A . 2004 . ‘ Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum ’ in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.). Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning , 327 – 46 . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ELT Journal Oxford University Press

Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching

ELT Journal , Volume Advance Article (2) – Feb 23, 2018

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
ISSN
0951-0893
eISSN
1477-4526
D.O.I.
10.1093/elt/ccx065
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Abstract

Although set in a very specific context, Latin America, many of the reflections, teacher education and classroom practices discussed in this extremely interesting and thought-provoking book can be projected onto other contexts, particularly in a critical education and language pedagogy perspective (e.g. Kumaravadivelu 2003). A critical view of the role(s) that English—in its plurality and complexity—has developed today is here proposed in terms of decolonization, a viewpoint that could also represent a valuable lens through which to look at the pedagogical implications of Englishes. Detaching English from a ‘native speaker’ linguistic and cultural model, taking into account the way(s) in which it is experienced, and perceived, by learners, together with other linguistic experiences (either minority or primary socialization languages, also in migratory terms) could provide interesting insights into participatory, and critical, teaching practices in other contexts in the world too. The volume is organized into eight chapters. As we read in the Foreword, the book deals with matters of critical pedagogy in teaching English, questions of identities, power and, above all, effective education, that require repositioning ‘effectiveness’ ‘as a set of interactions that reject the curricular constriction of identities in favor of instructional relationships that create classroom spaces for the (re)construction of identities’ (p. xi) Chapter 1, ‘Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching (PELT)’, introduces the CEAR (critical-ethnographic-action-research) project, implemented in two urban schools in Oaxaca (Mexico) with children from an Indigenous background. The main aim of the project was ‘to challenge the apparent world phenomenon that associates English with “progress” and neoliberal practices—that regard the world as a global market where everything can be sold and purchased, including the English language with its alleged benefits’ (p. 1). In this part, some of the project ‘actors’ (a child from each school, a student teacher, and the project coordinator and book author) are presented, also through their ‘voices’, and the theoretical background is discussed. First of all it is argued how decolonizing primary English teaching involves moving away from ‘coloniality’ in construing the English language, challenging ‘the hegemonic discourses’ (p. 10) associated with English within a linguistically diverse (and translanguaging) framework. It is then shown how the ‘Praxicum’ construct, related both to Freire’s critical pedagogy (1970) and to Pennycook (2004), has informed the whole project, and how ‘student teachers are considered individuals who create theories before, while and after they teach (practice)’, playing different roles (p. 11); in this perspective, knowledge is co-constructed and shared by all participants—researchers, teachers, and children. In this framework a continuous and empowering (re)negotiation of identities, also through ‘identity texts’, is enacted in class (Cummins 2001, 2006), where translanguaging practices play a central role. The chapter also discusses the important role played by individual histories, and by narratives (including the story of the author), and closes with a thorough methodological overview including the development stages of the CEAR project. Chapter 2, ‘Indigenous Peoples and English in Mexico’, presents a detailed and critical overview of the history of Indigenous people’s education in Mexico, highlighting how it has been marked by discriminatory (linguistic) policies and practices over 500 years. The context of the study, Oaxaca, is then outlined from a sociocultural, linguistic and migratory point of view. The role that English plays in Mexico, ‘part and parcel of coloniality and colonial difference in relation to America’ (p. 49), is amply discussed, also in education, and specifically in the two schools in Oaxaca where the project was based. Chapter 3, ‘Los de la Banda (The Gang Members)’, presents the ten student teacher participants in the project as people with their stories, discussing their ‘given’ identities as learners and (incompetent) non-native speakers of English, and as students at a particular university in Oaxaca; these aspects and issues were brought to the fore during the teacher education course and the development of the project. The fact that ‘moving away from the “incompetent non-native teacher” imposition’ (p. 71) was a challenge for the student teachers resonates well with other lines of recent research; it is shown how the decolonization process included using and valuing all the languages in the participants’ repertoires, with the goal of ‘creat[ing] multilingual and intercultural affirming identities’ (p. 72) for the student teachers and for the children. The multilingual and multimodal identity texts that were created during the course were an integral part of this identity re-creation process, with the participants’ voices ‘reshaping’ ideologies and colonization. The socioeconomic and linguistic characteristics of ‘the children’ of the two schools where the praxicum was enacted are presented in Chapter 4. Both settings are introduced in a semi-narrative form, recounting a day the author spent in each school, which included attending classes. Spanish is the main language in both schools, which are located in the same urban area; in Horizon School more than 11 Indigenous languages are spoken (although not on public occasions), while Downtown school has a Spanish-only language policy. Migration stories, working children, and their complex, non-stereotypical families as emerging from the ethnographic research are then discussed, collocating them within the project’s decolonizing (and non-patronizing) stance: ‘[T]he challenge for us was how to make use of these ways of knowing and the children’s “shameful, unprofessional” occupations and turn them into something we could value and use in the classroom’ (p. 117). In Chapter 5, the ‘language practices and ideologies’ of the two schools are presented as ‘sociocultural constructions’: English and Spanish are considered ‘languages’, while Indigenous ones are seen as ‘dialects’ and are not only excluded from ‘official’ language practices, but downgraded and rejected by mestizo children, and connected with shame by Indigenous ones—and thus often confined to family and intimate situations, and to express love, anger and fun. As for English, it is perceived with ambivalent feelings due to its connectedness with the United States (el Norte), to globalization and modernity, but also to migration, frequent in Oaxaca and thus impacting also on the children’s lives and ‘complex’ families. English is at the same time collocated with los gringos, or the English-speaking tourists and foreigners the children have contact with, especially in working situations (e.g. selling goods at markets); in this sense learning English is seen positively as a possibility for improvement. Chapter 6, ‘Praxicum and Change’, illustrates how the CEAR project was implemented through the student teachers’ praxicum in the two schools. It is shown, and discussed, how multilingual practices were enacted in different (and pedagogically personal) ways, alongside critical and shared reflection. The ethnographic data effectively testifies as to how all the languages in the children’s repertoires, i.e. Indigenous languages, Spanish and English, were integrated in classroom practices through trust-building (moving away from shame) and cooperation among the children, who took on the role of teachers; the same can be said for the student teachers, who became learners in turn. Languaging was encouraged, together with language awareness and the development of ‘alphabetic literacy systems that made sense’ to the children for languages they did not know (p. 165), ‘transgressing the borders of coloniality and affirming the children’s identities’ (p. 170). Chapter 7, ‘Student Teachers and Children as Authors and Language Subjects’, deals with the ‘identity texts’ (Cummins 2006) that were created by the children. It should be noted that the materials of the CEAR project were not part of textbooks, but designed to suit the children’s lives that, as described in Chapter 4, are non-stereotypical. The identity texts that the children produced had different formats, from posters to big books, and all the translanguaging practices that were part of the praxicum lessons were deployed in these personal products where the children talked about themselves and their families. In turn, the meaningful and cooperative activities experienced in class led to a change in attitudes and perceptions (and thus ideologies) towards languages too, and knowledge of any language came to be seen as a valuable resource. Chapter 8, ‘Decolonizing PELT: Grounded Principles’, closes the volume with an outline of ten principles, meant as a dialogic interaction between theory and practice, of PELT decolonization: decolonizing PELT should be historically (1) and reflectively (2) grounded; it is ‘a collaborative endeavour in which all the actors produce knowledge and perform different roles’ (3), and should be dealt with in an interdisciplinary way (4); it ‘must acknowledge that Indigenous children’s language practices and the language ideologies held by Indigenous and mestizo children are rooted in coloniality’ (5). Decolonizing PELT ‘means having children’s lives and sociocultural contexts drive the curriculum’ (7), and ‘it should be about creating authors of identity texts, by which the ELT industry, which profits from people wanting to learn English, is challenged and teachers’ and children’s identities are negotiated’ (9); it is also about ‘challenging language ideologies rooted in coloniality and subjectifying languages; in other words, being open to two-way dialogue and sharing of experiences with Othered people’ (10) in that their language repertoires are valued. In decolonizing PELT, student teachers (as well as practising teachers and teacher educators) should reflect about how the discourses of coloniality and colonial difference impact their own lives; one should acknowledge that ‘the English language is connected to modernity discourses and children’s lives’ (6), and children ‘must be regarded as multilingual language teachers and alphabetic literacy developers’ (8). As mentioned at the beginning, despite the very specific context in which the CEAR project is set, its rationale and many of the above grounded principles resonate well with calls that have been made by researchers about the need to revisit ELT assumptions and practices, connecting them to the current complexity of English, including adopting a critical (transformative) perspective in teacher education as in pedagogic practices, taking into account the different roles (not least as experienced) of English, detaching it from a native-speaker perspective, and valuing learners’ (and users’) multilingual repertoires. This book represents a valuable, engaging and involving reading for researchers, students, teachers and teacher educators interested in knowing more about how such critical perspectives can be effectively enacted. Paola Vettorel is assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Verona. Her main research interests include ELF and its implications in ELT, and ELF and digital media. Her recent publications include: English as a Lingua Franca in Wider Networking. Blogging Practices. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter (2014); (ed.) New Frontiers in Teaching and Learning English. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars (2015); ‘WE- and ELF-informed classroom practices: proposals from a pre-service teacher education programme in Italy’.Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 5/1: 107–33 (2016); (with S. Corrizzato) ‘Fostering awareness of the pedagogical implications of World Englishes and ELF in teacher education in Italy’. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching 6/3: 487–511 (2016). References Cummins , J . 2001 . Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society ( Second edition ). Los Angeles : California Association for Bilingual Education . Cummins , J . 2006 . ‘ Identity texts: the imaginative construction of self through multiliteracies pedagogy ’ in O. García , T. Skutnabb-Kangas , and M. E. Torres-Guzmán (eds.). Imagining Multilingual Schools , 51 – 68 . Clevedon : Multilingual Matters . Freire P . 1970 . Pedagogy of the Oppressed . New York : Continuum . Kumaravadivelu B . 2003 . ‘ Forum—Critical Language Pedagogy. A postmethod perspective ’. World Englishes 22 / 4 : 539 – 50 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pennycook , A . 2004 . ‘ Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum ’ in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.). Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning , 327 – 46 . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

ELT JournalOxford University Press

Published: Feb 23, 2018

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