on Critical Pedagogy
pedagogy is and is not
between a student (Sandra) and Ania Lian
Radical Pedagogy (1999) Anne Travers & Elaine Decker paper. 'Critical
pedagogy facilitates the development of a language of critical discourse.
If we use it as a social force we may be able to foster a generation of
techno literate skeptics, equipping our society to engage critically with
both the content and the consequences of new technologies. Support for
this critical engagement is an important contribution educators can make
to efforts to trouble boundaries between insiders and outsiders as society
shifts and changes.’”
in our lectures, critical pedagogy is a practice of teaching that does
not limit learners’ options regarding how to solve problems. As a result,
critical pedagogy does not seek to discover a path or a plan for solving
learners’ problems. Instead, it focuses its efforts on the kinds of conditions
that would help learners mobilise as rich a reference (knowledge) basis
as possible to resolve problems that they encounter. In this way, critical
pedagogy does not seek to give learners any specific language (kind as
Anne Travers & Elaine Decker seem to suggest) that would function as
a magic tool to be mobilised when necessary. Rather, the aim is to help
students develop practical skills that would help them deal with the unpredicted
and often unpredictable contexts of human interactions. The element of
unpredictability in human interactions makes the task of teachers more
complex. It is no longer sufficient for teachers to say that they give
students knowledge. More to the point, it would be required for teachers
to illustrate how they make it possible for students to manage the complexity
of human interactions that in turn give rise to problems that are unpredicted
and most often unpredictable.
In the view
of the above statements, the point behind critical pedagogy is not so much
to deliver logic for dealing with questions, which a language of critical
discourse may be accused to be. Rather, the aim is to develop a capacity
on the part of our students to resolve whatever problems that they encounter
in ways that reveal the complexity (richness) rather than simplicity of
the understandings applied.
In the context
of L2-teaching, the aim is to create conditions where our students no longer
study the linguistic structure for the sake of demonstrating to teachers
the logic in terms of which these structures have been constructed. To
know a language cannot be equated with the ability to reproduce a single
answer that works when applied to contrived and hence inauthentic sets
of situations. To know a language is to manage a diversity of logics depending
on the demands that the communicative context places on the interlocutor.
Hence for our students to know a language would be to be able to cope with
the conditions that communicative context places on them rather than to
cope with artificial conditions designed by teachers if only to reassure
themselves that they do their best.
critical pedagogy, the aim is for students to utilise the opportunities
provided (Macro-tasks and Support Structures) to develop an in-depth understanding
as to the kinds of communicative strategies that target language speakers
utilise. The deeper this understanding, the more able our students are
to act effectively in unpredictable target language contexts. On the other
hand, the more constrained our students are regarding the ways in which
they can resolve their communicative problems, the more reliant they become
on teachers’ point of view and less on their own laterality and creativity.
pedagogy, therefore, the aim is to empower students in ways that help them
utilise a diversity of links or connections that may prove of value to
them in communicative settings. A pedagogy that restricts their choices
in this regard, is a pedagogy where teachers take on upon themselves the
task of solving learners’ language problems. But in so doing, they not
only de-capacitate learners. They also believe that they have the knowledge
regarding the nature of communicative problems and the path for their resolving.
They present themselves as experts and automatically disempower learners
from the possibility of exploring their own potential and their own understandings.
language students to achieve the capacity to act in contexts that are unpredicted
and unpredictable, it is important that teaching environments do not protect
them form the complexity of the communicative conditions that apply in
authentic communicative contexts. Rather, the necessity arises for students
to be exposed to such interactions from day 1 in order for them to slowly
develop strategies that help them cope with the reality of communicative
contexts. The difference between critical and not critical teaching practices
is as follows.
teaching practices, teachers do not teach. Instead, they search for ways
that help learners regulate the kinds of questions and difficulties that
they encounter in a communicative context. In traditional (conservative)
teaching practices, teachers teach what they consider to be the knowledge
of language. Here they no longer search for ways that help learners find
ways to resolve their communicative problems. Instead, typically they search
for a condition of a “task” or activities (cf. Widdowson, 1990) that can
help them to teach this “knowledge” faster and hence more effectively.
of technology, the differences will be of the same kind. In critical teaching
practices, the relationship between the Macro-tasks and the support structures
that students explore is not direct. In other words, in critical teaching
practices, the activities that students undertake to learn more about language
and how it works depend on the difficulties that students experience in
the contexts of dealing with the Macro-task itself. Here it is the student
that selects what to do and why. Teacher’s help functions more to signal
to students that there can be other ways of approaching the problem at
in traditional or conservative learning environments, the notion of a macro-task
is non-existent. Macro-tasks are replaced with a notion of a language –task
i.e. a task designed specifically in order to teach students specific forms
of linguistic knowledge. In such a context, students do not learn in order
to communicate. Rather, they learn in order to fulfill the demands of the
task. Here it is the teacher that selects what to do and why. The shape
of the language problems and their solutions are already decided
by the teacher.
of references to student centered learning, a democratic learning environment,
the shared construction of knowledge and the changing of teaching practices
in these reviews of the positive presence of technology on campus persuades
us that technology and critical pedagogy have a promising relationship.
Still, the improvement of pedagogy is a good end in itself, and critical
pedagogy has a role larger than guiding learning online.'”
has a place in learning environments if only because technology can enhance
our capacities of managing and therefore dealing with information (text-relationships).
The technology of print has helped us in this aspect 500 years ago (or
so). So the answer regarding whether technology can be utilised to enhance
language teaching must be positive. The question that is controversial
is HOW. But the controversy as stated above comes from pedagogy not technology.
Once we have our principles in place, we can do anything. On the
other hand, when we have no principles, little creative can be achieved
since we may find ourselves locked in the logic of education that we know
from our own schooling which for most of us had belonged to the conservative,
understand this and other papers I think I need a correct understanding
of what critical pedagogy is. My original view was that it meant something
like 'well considered teaching'.
as teachers cannot consider it all. Therefore the solution that I suggest
is to create conditions (notice that I do not talk about classroom alone)
that allow students for whatever considerations that they should make or
make in any case.
“ I was
interested to read that the Principles of Learning established by the Government
of the Province of British Columbia are:
learning requires the active participation of the student
people learn in a variety of way and at different rates
learning is both an individual and a group process.
these be universal?”
is that although we all agree regarding the universals, we are not all
quite sure what implications this may have to language teaching or to teaching
of other subjects. But the premises are good.
at trying to answer what 'learner centred' and enhancing learning' is.
Are these examples of what learner centred means? ' in all
classrooms learning will be purposive, reflective, negotiated, critical,
[that word again] complex, situation driven, and engaged.' Or is it - from
Dede in the same paper 'analogical, case-based, learning-by-doing .. giving
learners constructivist experiences, facilitating comprehension and ability
to generalize ... structuring group dialogue and decision making, facilitating
class and in these discussion papers, I have attempted to narrow down the
definition of “centred” as beginning with learners and therefore with al
that which we cannot predict. This definition can be opposed to teaching
methods that begin with teachers’ or theoretical assumptions regarding
what teachers should teach.
by doing” in my view includes the kind of learning as exemplified in Macro-tasks.
Here learners do not study the items considered to constitute the knowledge
of language. As a result, their learning is directed by abstract speculations
regarding what language is. In ‘learning by doing’ it is the practical
difficulties that learners experience in the context of engaging in a macro-task
that direct their learning. These difficulties are not abstract. They are
real. It is very real to learners that they cannot understand TV ads and
yet they need to produce one. It is very real to them that they cannot
produce a local, village newspaper, and yet they have to produce one every
month or week. It is very real to learners that they need to find out how
to produce a radio broadcast since they have to engage in the production
learning' is to raise the learning to a higher degree to intensify the
experience. At first I was viewing this as adding to what is already known
but now I think it is definitely raising it to a higher level. You asked
about principles for money management - I've just gone through this process
on leaving the public service for greener fields. I got professional advice!
I'm still not overly comfortable with my decisions and have taken a conservative
investment portfolio with options to reassess regularly. Will I apply this
to my teaching? It would make sense but is conservative rather than spontaneous.”
learning’, in my view, is to create conditions that enable students regulate
the kinds of challenges that target language interactions present to them.
In terms of general learning we can say that ‘enhancing learning’ is to
create conditions that enable students to regulate the kinds of challenges
that human interactions present to them. We enhance learning by making
learning more meaningful to learners, by shifting from activities that
in our view provide shortcuts to students to activities that help learners
regulate what is a shortcut for them and what is not. Macro-tasks do this.
Also, at the level of support structures, technology comes here handy since
we can create computer-based activities where it is learners’ difficulties
that direct their learning selections rather than teachers (cf. http://education.canberra.edu.au/~andrewl/mlapl/shaolin/psupres2.htm)
a conservative attitude to money means not jumping because you can. The
same does apply to teaching, in my view. Just because there is a yet another
software or a yet another method invented, why take it on? In my view,
it is important first to understand what we want before we let others tell
us what is it that we need.
reread your 'Technology, pedagogy and prejudice. I think I understand your
points and see that you and others argue that there is no divine methodology,
all are flawed like all things from the human mind. Technology is only
a medium and needs to be used with discernment in a teaching environment.
If it is just more of the same it will be as unsuccessful as other methodologies.
some other comments "L2-teaching literature recommends teachers to be guided
by their intuition and experience". This doesn't help me because whilst
in many other areas of my life I can and do rely on my intuition and experience
I have no teaching experience. On reflection that is not correct - I have
been a communication manager, trainer and am a parent but think that in
a teaching environment I need more in my toolbox.
is one of those topics on which everyone has a view. I am interested in
us all attempting to systematise our beliefs if only so that we can tell
the difference between what we want and what others tell us that we need.
Most teaching theorists do believe that because we have no clear understanding
what happens in students’ heads, experience is what teachers should build
rather than critical approach. But what is experience other than what we
know. To enrich this experience we need to think. But how can we begin
to think critically (in order to act on an informed basis) when we are
told that unless we know what happens in students’ heads our hands are
What I claim
though is that we do not need to know what happens in students’ heads.
What we need to explore is how to enable our students to overcome the perceptual
biases with which they approach their target language interactions. Thus
be it their accent in pronunciation or in other aspects of communication,
the problem is not that students do not have the linguistic knowledge.
Rather, the problem is that students approach target language interactions
with a perceptual basis that looks for elements or solutions that are familiar
to them but are unfamiliar to the target language speakers.
ways in which we could help learners to overcome their individual biases,
least we would need is experience that tells us how deal with students.
More to the point, we need to overcome the bias that we bring with us as
teachers and which we have developed as a result of our schooling or as
a result of education programs that see teaching less as a developmental
opportunity and more as a curse that we have to handle.
that require from students to explore authentic resources with the aim
to act on a more informed basis in the context of macro-tasks have the
work on problems that derive from the necessity to engage in the reality
created by the macro-task. As a result, they do not work on abstract problems
that derive from artificial demands of a pedagogic task of linguistic exercise
produced for students with the hope that they will give them “the language”.
- In the
context if macro-tasks students build their own histories as participators
in the target language culture. As a result, the texts that they produce
are not neutral or artificial but are a product of reflection if what to
say and why in a given context. When they do not know how to act, they
engage in the process of exploration of the target conditions that they
do not understand as yet.
the help of teachers, through a multiplicity of ways (e.g. playing with
intonation patterns, walking to the beat of target sentences, comparing
different ways of saying similar things) they can become more sensitised
to the organisational patterns of the language through listening, reading
the help of technology, they can explore different ways of expressing themselves.
For example, they can have a radio broadcasting site on the internet where
students from different schools post their broadcasts. Students from different
schools can then listen and exchange follow-up ideas through bulletin boards
associated with that Internet site.
the help of technology, teachers can help learners to stop the flow of
the target language and they can create for them a diversity of means with
the help of which students can regulate the processing load that target
language texts place on them. For details regarding such means, check Andrew
Lian’s publications and among them http://education.canberra.edu.au/~andrewl/mlapl/shaolin/psupres2.htm.
support can also be as simple as a camera. Students when recording their
voices and themselves have a chance of looking at their language production
from without. Teachers can utilise these recordings in order to help students
overcome some of the difficulties that these recordings reveal.
learners know what they want? I'm not sure what I need but I know I want
to be a successful TESOL teacher.”
We do not
have to know too much about what is it that learners need or want to know.
What we do need though, is to enable students to identify how well they
can cope with whatever demands that they experience in the process of their
target language interactions. This is a very different focus from the one
that begins with an attempt to identify what is it that they want or should
be given. It is also methodology where, provided the environment is rich
enough, students can regulate their own learning process to a very large
But to achieve
such a learning process, we cannot limit our learning activities to classroom-based
activities. The advantage of macro-tasks is that the structure of the learning
activities can be diversified. Students, at times, can work in teacher-led
activities (e.g. listening comprehensions, working with texts, working
with problems relating to structuring or understanding target language
texts). At times, they can work in groups and other times alone trying
to resolve some of the problems that the tasks that they undertook as individuals
present to them. An example of an ideal learning environment is an
ILTC (a self-access area) where students can organise themselves or be
organised by the teacher in a diversity of working structures.
challenging us 'to seek understanding to extend our perspectives rather
than to limit them' [I hope by being a student I am doing just that] and
to create a 'learning environment ... rich in help structures of a kind
that stimulate exploration'. I suspect that this is one such environment,
my having a one to one email dialogue with you, isn't it? What other break
through do I need to make from this piece of writing?”
always more that we can do. We can always make our teaching environment
richer. We do this by continuously enlarging the support structures that
we create for our students. These support include well-organised resources
and the means provided for students to work with these resources (e.g.
various computer-based programs that help students to work with texts in
different ways). Once we have such resources, our students can engage in
projects such as macro-tasks with sufficient amount of support structures
to take them over the line.
that this very course on technology has support structures that we have
developed over the course of this semester. However, all students are most
welcome to review whatever resources have been accumulated over the years
and are available through WebCT. The point is to come up with some understandings
regarding what is it that we would like to see in a language course. And
to come up with such understandings, it will require from us a dialogue
with whatever texts that we can explore. We need a dialogue with experiences
that have been made by others in order to build on these experiences to
come up with our own ideas.
No one truly
can tell what is the right thing to do. But we all may agree on the things
that do not make sense. One such a thing that does not make sense is a
belief that teaching is about giving knowledge to students and hence giving
students the impression that teachers know and can tell students how things
are. But such a practice is misleading students because it gives them false
expectations not only in regard to language but also in regard to life.
No one knows how things are. We all work with our eyes half-closed hoping
that, in spite of this, we can achieve good things. To give learners a
false sense of security is not only misleading. It also is disabling.
step, as teachers, we need to remember that we do not only teach language.
We teach within socio-intellectual paradigms that reinforce visions of
life and work culture. When we teach in ways that project us as experts
giving knowledge to students, we disable learners from the possibility
of affecting their own learning process in ways that are not just meaningful
to them. More to the point, we disable them from participating in the process
of exploring their own capacities to understand and judge themselves and
others in the social contexts that they function.
students how things are, we prevent students from acting on the basis of
their confidence in themselves rather than on the basis on confidence that
they borrow from teachers. Thus giving knowledge to students is a two-edge
sword. It may give them some form of artificial comfort for a moment. However,
it also teaches them a dependency structure where there are always people
who are bigger and better and who know it and who should do things for
them. Let me finish this paper with a quote from my article: Technology,
pedagogy and prejudice:
In his critique
of the Western world, Saul raises the question of responsibility and obligation.
Why is it, he asks that increasingly we seek safety and legitimation in
numbers. He repeats after C. Jung: “Where the many are, there is security;
what the many believe must of course be true” (Saul, 1997 Unconscious Civilisation:
95). To Saul, the tendency to seek strength in numbers reflects another
phenomenon: that of individual abdicating his/her sense of responsibility
and delegating it to the expert. “Those who have the truth must have the
answer” (Flaubert in Saul, 1997: 95). Consequently, we live in the world
where to acquire knowledge means to buy it from the experts.
structure between non-experts and experts is thus put in place. The expert
not only is the only one with answers and hence with the monopoly on truth.
He or she is also the only one who invents a problem that only s/he can
solve it. In fact, surrounded by experts, non-experts can slip “back into
the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care” (cf. Saul,
1997: 95) where the responsibility for big things is delegated to big people.
Non-experts are powerful through their experts i.e. through those whose
feed them and whose language they repeat. The responsibility for the actions
of non-experts is on big people. Little people then go about spreading
the word of the big people as if knowledge were more like a political tool
rather than a means for challenging the status quo.
a context, knowledge is no longer constructed and reconstructed for the
purpose of revealing more. Instead, knowledge functions as a currency to
reinforce egos. It has lost the meaning for which Socrates has given his
life. Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who is considered to have
laid the foundations of Western civilisation. We may say Socrates had a
wrong knowledge and has been sentenced to death because of it. The death
of Socrates still weighs on us. To prevent it from reoccurring, the experts
divided knowledge into ever-narrower specialisations. The operating principle
is that we all can be right provided everyone stays within the boundaries
of their own specialisation. As a result, we no longer grow by learning
form one another. Instead, knowledge becomes compartmentalised and our
fields of expertise increasingly smaller. Experts continue revealing increasingly
more about increasingly less. They work in the hope that you can shrink
to greatness after all.