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Navigating Geographical and Cultural Terrain: A Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English Language Arts Dr. Karen Magro, Associate Professor The University of Winnipeg April 15, 2011, Adolescent Literacy Summit Victoria Inn, Winnipeg. Cultural Studies.

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Navigating Geographical and Cultural Terrain: A Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English Language ArtsDr. Karen Magro, Associate ProfessorThe University of WinnipegApril 15, 2011, Adolescent Literacy SummitVictoria Inn, Winnipeg

cultural studies
Cultural Studies
  • A cultural studies approach can lead teachers and students to compare traditional canonical authors with popular texts including the mass media. Cultural studies invites a wide variety of new and politically invigorating texts into teaching. Interviews, testimonials, surveys, films, and other texts can be integrated into the curriculum.
  • New age of immigration due to economic reasons, civil conflict, poverty, and political violence
  • Migration is recognized as one of the defining global issues of the twenty-first century
  • There are about 194 million people living outside their place of birth
  • Canada is in the forefront of this trend and is the destination for a growing number of international migrants, both forced and voluntary
  • The face of North America continues to change
  • For example, in Winnipeg alone, more than 100 languages are spoken across the province. Over 27% of immigrants speak Tagalog; after that German, Punjabi, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, Amharic, Ukrainian, and a number of other languages are spoken
educational directions in teaching
Educational Directions in Teaching
  • We have to build an “asset” model of education that recognizes the hidden strengths and tacit knowledge of learners
  • Literacy must be viewed as multi-dimensional and lifelong; family literacy must be emphasized.
  • Alternatives teaching and learning approaches are critical to examine
  • More resources are needed to build “better” literacy programs that meet the individual needs of learners.
  • A holistic model of literacy education is needed that integrates the social, psychological, and cultural dynamics of learning
  • What approaches would be most effective?
a cultural studies approach to teaching ela
A Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching ELA
  • Texts are used as opportunities to encourage:
  • Understanding between cultures

-Intercultural competence can be a transformative learning experience where individuals move beyond the boundaries and limit of understanding one cultural paradigm to understanding the complexities and strengths of different cultures..

-Classic works can be combined with contemporary themes.

Examples: The Role of Women in Society: Jane Eye ( Bronte), A Doll’s House ( Ibsen), and The Bluest Eye( Morrison), In Search of April Raintree, and Half Breed ( Campbell).

reading writing and rising up
Reading, Writing, and Rising Up
  • Linda Christensen:

“Some might say that the role of language arts teachers is to teach reading, writing, and language and that we should not be worrying about issues of injustice, racism, and discrimination. The reality is that any piece of literacy is political. Any piece of literature from cartoons to children’s books reflects a “social blueprint about what it means to be poor, wealthy, or what it means to be a man, woman, gay, or straight. That vision is political –whether it portrays the status quo or argues for a reorganization of society.” ( Linda Christensen, 1999)

a new audience
A new audience
  • We need to find ways for students to express their real concerns about the world. Students have written pamphlets for parents to “teach” them about how to use cartoons and videos carefully with their children, articles about anorexia and gang affiliation for middle school girls. Other students might write articles about prejudices and assumptions people make about people from different ethnic backgrounds. The audience should not be a “pretend someone” out there.
connecting with texts
Connecting with Texts
  • Teachers needs to be able to draw what Paulo Freire (1997) described as “ a critical dialogue about a text or a moment of society… reveal it, unveil it, see its reasons for being like it is, the political and historical context of the material” (Shor and Freire, 1987, p. 13). But beyond this, students need to use the tools of critical literacy to deconstruct the myths and realities of our society. They must use the tools of critical literacy to transform the injustice and intolerance they see around them.
connecting with texts11
Connecting with Texts
  • Basic Format for Unit Planning
  • 1. A question that provokes the examination of historical, literary, and social texts.
  • 2. The study and involvement of students’ lives.
  • 3. The reading of texts from first person narratives, to fiction, to movies, photographs speakers, role-plays, and field trips.
  • 4. A final project that opens the possibility for students to act on their knowledge.
background and context
Background and Context
  • To what extent are young adults given an opportunity to develop their talents and capacities?
  • External Assets:
  • Family support
  • Positive family communication
  • Caring neighborhoods
  • Caring school climates
  • Parental involvement
  • Commitment to learning: achievement motivation, school engagement, reading for pleasure; service learning opportunities.
using international texts
Using International Texts
  • Example: The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini ( Grades 10-12)
  • The Kite Runner treats growing up in a multiethnic family and community. It is narrated by a man who grew up in Afghanistan. Themes of secretiveness, oppression, bias, and negative peer influences are highlighted. The work challenges students to consider the complex process of immigration. Readers can probe personal ethics, culturally charged gender stances, social bias, and the influences of religion and political unrest on individuals and families.
using international texts to foster intercultural understanding
Using International Texts to Foster Intercultural Understanding
  • As teachers, one of our goals is to encourage students to see how and why individuals hold different beliefs and understand how those beliefs impact people’s lives. We could then explore politics, religion, and social justice as they relate to personal choices.
steps to creating a lesson using international texts
Steps to Creating a Lesson Using International Texts
  • Lesson Steps for “Who are the People of________?”
  • Create a small class library of resources about Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, etc.
  • Provide detailed maps ( e.g. See National Geographic’s Afghanistan: Land in Crisis Thematic Map)
  • KWL Charts; Quiz on Assumptions about ____
  • Give students twenty to thirty minutes to collect information to support their true-false answers about a particular country and culture.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their findings.
  • What information did the students find? How “accurate” are their findings.
  • Make predictions about the circumstances they expect to find in a particular text set in a different culture. ( Sheryl Finkle and Tamara Lilly (2008) Middle Ground, National Council of Teachers of English)
critical literacy
Critical Literacy
  • “The concept of critical literacy goes beyond simply interrogating texts; it applies to all literate practices and involves taking action. If students apply critical literacy in these ways, they will e involved not only in the communication aspects of literate practice but in transformation.
  • Students can be transformed in some way as they use knowledge, skills, strategies, and ideas in new ways or in next contexts.
  • By using critical literacy in all aspects of life, students can feel empowered to transform or influence in positive ways community, economic, or political life.” ( Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull, 2006: Teaching and Multiliteracies).
positive values and social justice
Positive Values and Social Justice
  • Caring
  • Equality and Social Justice
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Responsibility
  • Restraint
  • Social Competence
  • Intercultural competence
  • Resilience
  • Peaceful conflict resolution
  • Personal Empowerment
  • Sense of purpose
  • Positive view of the future ( How can ELA foster these values and competencies?)
psychological social and global issues
Psychological, Social, and Global Issues
  • Powerful themes can be the basis on interdisciplinary and multi-genre unit plans throughout the year:
  • Love and Belonging
  • Identity and the search for meaning in life
  • Family
  • Environmental Issues
  • War and conflict
  • Values
  • Materialism and consumerism: the need for alternative paths
  • Peace Building
  • Poverty
  • Challenges and the Future
  • Technology
international books
International Books
  • The Roar-by Emma Clayton
  • -abuse of power
  • -saving the environment
  • -moral courage
  • Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan
  • -women in contemporary Afghanistan
  • -building inner strength and confidence
international texts encourage voice and choice in the classroom
International Texts: Encourage Voice and Choice in the Classroom
  • Literature Circles can be based on articles, short stories, memoirs, autobiographies, biographies, novels, and other texts.
  • Examples of Outstanding Texts for Teens and Adults:
  • I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced (New York Times Best Seller) by Nujood Ali ( with Delphine Minoui)
international texts
International Texts
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales
  • The Ask and the Answer: Part 2
  • -Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness
  • -misuse of power
  • -moral courage
  • -making moral decisions
international texts22
International Texts

Red Scarf Girl Key Themes

-award winning memoir

-Explore China’s Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a young girl

-conflicting loyalties

-similarities to The Diary of Anne Frank

-persecution and fear

-inner courage and resilience

-peace education

international texts23
International Texts

Libertad Key

-based on a true story

-80,000 unaccompanied migrant children attempt to enter the U.S. -many children are deported or go missing; some die on the journey from countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatamala, and Mexico

-poverty and children

-social injustice

-fragmentation of families

-Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services


international texts24
International Texts

Blue Jasmine Key Themes-

-immigration and acculturation

-loss of homeland

-adjustment to a new culture

-When twelve-year-old Seema Trivedi learns that she and her family must move from their small Indian town to Iowa City, she realizes she'll have to say good-bye to the purple-jeweled mango trees and sweet-smelling jasmine, to the monsoon rains and the bustling market. More important, she must leave behind her best friend and cousin, Raju.

international texts25
International Texts

The Ask and The Answer: Key Themes

-science fiction

-civil war

-book can be compared to War of the Worlds and other books/graphic novels with “apocalyptic” themes

-encourages critical thinking about the world and the future

international texts26
International Texts

Wanting Mor Key Themes

-Wanting Mor is about a girl named Jameela, living in post Taliban Afghanistan, whose mother dies during the war. Her father gets remarried, but her stepmother doesn't want her so her father takes her to the marketplace and leaves her there.

-Based on a true story about a girl who ended up in one of the orphanages.

-Link to The Bread Winner Trilogy

-War and its impact on families

-social injustice and child poverty

-moral courage and resilience

international texts27
International Texts

Children of War Key Themes

-impact of war of daily life of children

-children coping with stress and crisis

-resilience and courage


-strong social justice component can be linked with local and global projects

-non-fiction can be a powerful way to connect students with current issues of war and peace building in today’s social context

-local projects ( “From Me to We”)

international texts28
International Texts

Slave by Mende Nazer:Key Themes ( Senior High)

-autobiographical account of Mende’s remarkable journey toward freedom

-modern day slavery

-oppression of girls and women

-set in South and North Sudan

-inner strength, perseverance, and resilience

-struggling in building a new life

international texts29
International Texts

Little Daughter Key Themes


-the strength of individuals and family within a violent political context

-war and resistance in Burma

-strong female narrator

-good book to use for Senior High Students and could be compared with Unbowed by Wangari Mathai or Slave by Mende Nazer

-There are increasing numbers of students coming from Burma and this book can provide valuable background knowledge for teachers working with students fleeing Burma/Myanmar.

international texts30
International Texts

Anne Frank: Key Themes

-graphic biography of Anne Frank

-powerful excerpts/photos

-hope and courage amid tragedy and social injustice

-family solidarity and loyalty

-universal appeal

-compare Anne Frank’s Diary with Hannah’s Suitcase and My Childhood Under Fire

-can be used with Anne Frank’s story “Fear” and Wiesel’s trilogy and S. Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower.

international texts31
International Texts

A Bed of Red Flowers:Key Themes (Senior High Level)

-war and displacement

-persecution and social injustice

-survival and change

-navigating a new life in Canada

-loss of culture, language, and homeland

-resilience and courage

-compare with Escape from Slavery and other texts charting the immigration experience

international texts32
International Texts

In the Convent of Little Flowers :Key Themes ( Senior High)

-set in India and the U.S.

-lives of girls and women

-arranged marriages

-gender and oppression


-child abandonment

-cultural and social shunning

-identity and role confusion

-the influence of culture and tradition on behavior

international texts33
International Texts
  • Broken Memory by Elisabeth Combres
  • -a fictional story of Tutsi girl
  • -horrors of contemporary wartime
  • -moral courage
  • Slave by Mende Nazar
  • -modern day child slavery
  • -inner strength and resilience
  • -war and conflict
  • Little Daughter by Zoya Phan
  • -memoir of survival in Burma and the West
  • -fragmentation of family life due to war
  • -moral courage and resilience
international texts34
International Texts

Children of War by Deborah Ellis

  • -nonfiction stories of Iraq Refugees
  • -Interviews
  • -Impact of war and conflict on families and individuals

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

-encourages creative thinking and writing

-poetry writing

-reflective quick writes

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures

-from the archives of Anne Frank House

-Photographic Biography

texts to encourage intercultural awareness
Texts to Encourage Intercultural Awareness

The Heaven Shop-by Deborah Ellis

-young adult fiction ( Grade 8-9)

-Moral courage and resilience

-Young teen dealing with family members who have AIDS

-Shunning and discrimination

*Teachers’ Guides available on line

Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse

-Setting ( 1942-seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The entire population was gathered up and evacuated to dense forests in Alaska’s Southeast).

-war and dislocation

-loss of traditional ways of life

-story told from the eyes of a young girl

-struggle to survive and keep community and heritage intact


important questions when exploring social justice issues
Important Questions when Exploring Social Justice Issues
  • How can ELA help students understand themselves and their world? How can learning be more “authentic”?
  • Intertextuality: How does our understanding of one text impact or deepen our understanding of texts with related themes?
    • “Intertextuality is the current and comprehensive literary term for the concept that each text exists in relation to others and is framed by other texts in many ways. Intertextuality is a broader concept than “allusion” or “quotation” which refer to specific references in one text that point to another text.” ( Fischer, 2006, p.27).
  • Cultural Studies: How can ELA texts be used to explore psychology, cultural values, world issues, and other contemporary issues?
  • Think of ways to use non-fiction texts creatively: National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, etc.
social justice and ela
Social Justice and ELA
  • “Empowering students to project their voices into the world, for real purposes and to real effect, is the ultimate goal of both language arts and social studies. It seems that teachers rarely reach for that goal directly, by guiding students to do what we hope they will do as adults: use writing to work for positive changes in real-life situations.” ( R. Bomer, ASCD: Educational Leadership, October 2004)
writer s notebook
Writer’s Notebook
  • Recording thoughts about what they observe---in school, in the news, at home, on the street—and look for issues that they believe people in the community should address.
  • Inquiry based projects help students observe, reflect, and think critically of ways that their community and the larger world can be improved ( “From me to we”)
  • Collaboration
  • Action plans
  • Advocacy
  • Media Matters
reading powerful narratives
Reading Powerful Narratives
  • Encourage students to think about local and global issues from first hand accounts.
  • “I have lived three lives. In my first life, I lived happily with my parents and brother---a conventional middle-class family. We owned a comfortable fourteenth-floor apartment in Sarajevo and a cottage in the countryside. I was a cheerful sixth grader….My country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was a part of Yugoslavia, located between Italy and Greece. The capital Sarajevo, was a beautiful, modern European city, ringed by breathtaking mountains. Everything changed on April 6, 1992. I was twelve… My mother said: It was the beginning of war and of my second life…. Day after day we breathed the damp, stale air, watching in terror as the explosions made the ceiling above us shake…..I am an adult now, living my third life in North America but my diary is still my most valuable possession. It tells a small part of the story of my city, which struggled to breathe despite the noose of tanks and weapons determined to strangle it.”
  • -My Childhood Under Fire by Nadja Halilbegovich (2006)
keeping the focus on writing
Keeping the Focus on writing
  • Social action projects may include:
  • Posters
  • Pamphlets
  • Web sites
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Letters to local MPs
  • Editorials
  • Letters requesting information from government sources
  • Opinion papers
  • Petitions
keeping the focus on writing41
Keeping the focus on writing
  • A student’s goal may be to convince peers that a particular topic ( e.g. cyberbullying) is serious and harmful. Students can make class and school presentations through forums, debates, and focus groups.
  • In writing for different audiences, students begin to realize that writing styles and tones are appropriate for different audiences.
  • By setting a climate for learning, the teacher provides an important foundation for social justice exploration,
  • By studying literature and history, and using terms such as freedom, equality, race, and labor, students come to understand terms that at first may seem too abstract.
current themes
Current Themes
  • Understanding the cultural and global context
  • Acknowledging Diversity
  • Differentiating Instruction
  • Creative Approaches
  • Building Emotional and Social Intelligence
  • Critical Media Literacy
  • Transformative Approaches to Teaching Language Arts
key themes in planning ela units
Key Themes in Planning ELA Units
  • Linking Literature to Life
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches
  • Quick Writes
  • The Values of Autobiographies and Biographies
  • Creative Ways to Teach Non-Fiction
  • The Rise of Graphic Novels
  • Pictures and Poetry: Integrating Arts and ELA
  • Literature Circles: Fostering Choice and Voice
  • Culturally Diverse Texts
  • Theme Based Unit Planning: Incorporating Multiple Genres
maximizing multiple intelligences and multiple literacies
Maximizing Multiple Intelligences and Multiple Literacies
  • Be sure to provide instructional strategies that tap into different learning styles and multiple intelligences:
  • Linguistic
  • Visual/Artistic
  • Mathematical/Logical
  • Kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Environmental
  • Existential
  • Musical ( Howard Gardner (2006: MultipleIntelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic Books)
literature circles creative ways to offer choice in culturally diverse classrooms
Literature Circles: Creative Ways to Offer Choice in Culturally Diverse Classrooms


The Connector: embodies what skillful readers most often do-they connect what they read to their own lives, their feelings, their experiences, to the day’s headlines, to other books and authors.

literature circles
Literature Circles
  • The Questioner Role
    • Wondering and analyzing: Where is this text going? Why do these characters act as they do? How did the author evoke this feeling? Is this a plausible outcome? Sometimes questioners seek to clarify or understand; at other times, they may challenge or critique.
literature circles47
Literature Circles
  • Literary Luminary/Passage Master Role

-find memorable, special, important sections of the text to re-read, reflect on, analyze, or share aloud.

“Parvana moved through her days as though she were moving through an awful nightmare---a nightmare from which there was no release in the morning.

Then, late one afternoon, Parvana came home from work to find two men gently helping her father up the steps to the apartment. He was alive. At least part of the nightmare was over.”

literature circles48
Literature Circles
  • Illustrator Role: reminds the group that

skillful reading requires visualizing, and it invites a graphic nonlinguistic response to a text.

Other RolesDiscussion Director


Vocabulary Enricher

Travel Tracer


Sources: Harvey Daniels Literature Circles; Faye Brownlie: Grand Conversations

strategies that can enhance literature circles
Strategies that can enhance literature circles
  • Applications to short stories and non-fiction
  • Posters advertising the book
  • TV movie critic-style reviews
  • Reader’s Theatre Performances
  • Performances of a “lost scene” in a book
  • A sequel or prequel to the story
  • A new ending for the book
  • A new cover for the book
  • Interview with the author or one of the characters
  • Background research on the setting or time frame
  • Diary of a character
culture and identity
Culture and Identity

“Culture affects the process of learning. Most life histories reflect intercultural dimensions…Today the intercultural dynamic is related more to migration and refugees, and the globalization of the work market. Many adults have to adapt to another culture, to a culture that they were not prepared to face, and this process of change becomes partly a process of education. Adults have to learn a new language, understand new rules, and adapt to a new set of cultural values.” ( Dominice, 2002, pp. 88-89)

emotional intelligence
Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, and influence. When trusted and respected, emotional intelligence provides a deeper, more fully formed understanding of oneself and those around us.” (Cooper, 2002).

inter and intrapersonal dimensions of emotional intelligence
Inter and Intrapersonal Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence



*Mood Management





*Ability to connect with and collaborate with others

*Ability to listen

sources of conflict in groups
Sources of Conflict in Groups
  • Perceptions-Do we really want to see and hear the truth?
  • Stereotypes, prejudices, and biases
  • Values and Beliefs
  • Power, authority, and control
  • Personality and behavioral style
  • Goals and personal needs
encouraging transformative learning
Encouraging Transformative Learning

*Interdisciplinary connections between English and content areas like Psychology, World Issues, Peace and Environmental Education,

and Human Rights

*Literature circles based on thematic topics

*Life History Writing

*Creative use of the biography and autobiography

*Quick writes ( L. Rief)

*Creative writing

*Experiential teaching and learning strategies that integrate reflective and practical approaches


*Position papers

*Creative ways to link art, film, and other texts

cultural awareness understanding experience through life history writing
Cultural Awareness: Understanding Experience Through Life History Writing
  • “I grew up in a small village and my job as a young Dinka boy was herding cattle. The war changed everything. I was lucky to escape into the forest. Some of us crossed the rive Gilo and made it to Kakuma, the largest refugee camp in Kenya. The older boys and elders at Kakuma became our parental figures. I always enjoyed sitting beside the elders and listening to their stories…Life in the refugee camp still affects you—regardless of your age and regardless of your ambition. The more you internalize the experience the more it affects you. I have seen many of my friends die. Looking at the large picture makes you feel sad even today. Some people walked 1,000 miles without their shoes. I lost friends who drowned crossing the river. Some were also shot or kidnapped. Both my parents died in the war. When you become a refugee, you are no longer a citizen. You have to depend on the UN to help you in the camp. I asked myself: ‘Why was life so hard? How could my country do this to me? If my country failed to protect me as an individual, how can I feel proud about being Sudanese?” ( Alem, University Student)
learner experiences
Learner Experiences
  • “As I see it, refugees come with a lot of burdens—they have the burden of dealing with the stress of the war they left and the family members that they are still trying to help; they are also dealing with the burden of paying back loans and making it in Canadian society. Some of us from the Sudan came with such high expectations and our expectations have not been met. They don’t talk about the difficult barriers that stand in the way. Then when you are walking on a -30 degree snowy day, you ask yourself--- ‘could this be Canada—the land of opportunity.’Some of the refugees I know don’t have hope. When they apply for a job and are told that they don’t have Canadian experience, they feel frustrated. The start lingering around and feel desperate. Some of the younger ones I know have joined gangs like the Mad Cowz. I try to encourage my friends and the younger people to value Canada. I tell them that they have two homes---the Sudan and Canada. Here in Canada, peace and freedom of speech are valued. If you work hard and study hard, I tell them that they can succeed.”
texts that highlight refugee experiences
Texts that Highlight Refugee Experiences

A long way gone- A. Beah

Escape from slavery-F. Bok

God grew tired of us: A memoir- J.B. Dau

They poured fire on us from the sky-B.Deng, A. Deng, & B.Ajak

What is the what-D. Eggers

Then they started shooting: Growing up in wartime Bosnia: Lynn Jones The swallows of Kabul-Y. Khadra

Slave: My true story- M. Nazer

Prisoner of Tehran: A memoir- M. Nemat

A bed of red flowers-N A. Pazira

Emma’s war-D. Scroggins

Chanda’s secret- A. Sratton

exploring literature as a way to encourage transformative learning
Exploring Literature as a way to encourage transformative learning

The idea of using literature and other texts to help students broaden their perspective of world issues and the plight of refugees can encourage transformative learning. Greenlaw (2005) writes that readers “can learn to probe their own emotional responses, gather information to help them interpret what they are reading, develop a vision of what a better world might be like, and critically examine injustices both in their own lives and the lives of others” (p. 46).

the social climate
The Social Climate

Despite anti-bullying programs and other initiatives designed to foster inclusion and maximize motivation, too many children and young adults are feeling increasingly alienated. “There is the growing isolation of children as they spend increasing periods of time in front of screens, learning the literacy of violence in video games, learning the literacy of insensitivity from TV “reality shows,” or learning the literacy of consumerism from an endless bombardment of

advertising” ( Gordon, 2005, p. 116- Roots of Empathy).

literacy and lifelong learning
Literacy and Lifelong Learning

“Literacy, broadly conceived as the basic knowledge and skills needed by all in a rapidly changing world, is a fundamental human right. In every society, literacy is a necessary skill in itself and one of the foundations of other life skills. There are millions, the majority of whom are women, who lack the opportunity to learn or who have insufficient skills to be able to assert this right. The challenge is to enable them to do so. This will often imply the creation of preconditions for learning through awareness raising and empowerment” ( UNESCO, 1997)

unesco declaration on the right to learn

The Right to Learn is:

*The right to read and write

*The right to question and analyze

*The right to imagine and create

*The right to read one’s world and to write history

*The right to have access to educational resources

*The right to develop individual and collective skills

paulo freire literacy and democracy
Paulo Freire:Literacy and Democracy

“Democracy and democratic education are founded on faith in individuals on the belief that they not only can but should discuss the problems of their country, their continent, their world, their work, the problems of democracy itself. Education is an act of love, and thus an act of courage. It cannot fear the analysis of reality.”

-P.Freire ( 1997)-Pedagogy of the oppressed

transformative learning
Transformative Learning

“Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race, and gender; our body awareness; our vision of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of the possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.”-E.O.Sullivan (2002), OISE, The University of Toronto, Centre for Transformative Learning

transformative learning64
Transformative Learning

From Mezirow’s (2000) perspective, transformative learning does not only include the addition of new information; rather the way we understand and interpret our world can be transformed through a process of critical reflection and action. Learning is understood “as the process of using prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action.” –Mezirow (2000) Learning as transformation.

three dimensions to transformative learning
Three Dimensions to Transformative Learning
  • Psychological changes in understanding of the self;
  • Convictional changes ( a revision of belief systems)
  • Behavioral Changes ( changes in lifestyle)
  • There are rational, creative, and intuitive dimensions to transformative learning, and the ideas can be applied on a personal, social, and global level.
dimensions to transformative learning
Dimensions to Transformative Learning

“We are living in a period of the earth’s history that is incredibly turbulent and in a epoch in which there are violent processes of change that challenge us at every level imaginable. The pathos of the human being today is that we are caught up in this incredible transformation and we have a significant responsibility for the direction it will take. What is terrifying is that we have it within our power to make life extinct on this planet. Because of the magnitude of this responsibility for the planet, all of our educational ventures must be judged within this order of magnitude.”

-E.O. Sullivan (2002) Expanding the boundaries of transformative learning.

factors influencing transformative learning
Factors Influencing Transformative Learning
  • The readiness of the learner
  • Personality traits and learning style preferences
  • Teaching Style and Philosophy of Teaching of the Educators
  • The educational climate
  • Beliefs, values, and attitudes
  • The Mission of the Institution
  • Content Area and Curriculum Choices
  • Methods of Assessment

“An act of learning can be called transformative only if it involves a fundamental questioning and reordering of how one thinks or acts.”-Stephen Brookfield (2002).

transformative vs technical
Transformative vs. Technical

“I’m not really sure what a transformative educator means. I think that if someone calls himself or herself a transformative educator, that’s a very demanding claim. I think that if you can help people a few steps along on their journey of learning, you’re doing well. I see transformation as having a lot to do with the student, and their own readiness, rather than being with the teacher. I am very wary of the educator as change agent. I have to ask myself: what kind of change? Certainly, I critically challenge the students to examine their ideas and the nature of society, but I do not think that I should be directive in suggesting that they should change either their lives or society. I am not a moral arbiter. It’s different if someone says, ‘I don’t like the way I am, and I’d like to change.” The initiative to change is not the responsibility of the educator….it’s not my role to start counselling people about major life changes.”

Teaching Roles

*Expert-transmits expertise


*Instructor-tells what to do

*Facilitator-responds to needs;encourages and supports

*Resource person-provides material

*Manager-keeps records, arranges, and manages

*Mentor-advises, guides, and supports

*Co-learner-learns and mutually plans with learners

*Reformer-challenges, stimulates, questions, and fosters transformative learning

*Researcher-makes observations, formulates hypotheses, develops a theory of practice

*Advocate-helps students connect with outside agencies/resources

*Cultural Guide-help learners understand and navigate a new culture

literature as a vehicle for tapping areas of the imagination
Literature as a vehicle for tapping areas of the imagination

“Literature provides shape and form to life’s questions. That’s what keeps people reading. I have a desire to make shape out of different facts. Unlike other kinds of teaching where the curriculum may be very set and specific, there is an element of discovery in teaching English. Freud studied literature as a way of understanding personality and motivation. There is something bigger than an academic discipline in studying literature. We all have a narrative to tell. At a basic level, literature exists to help people understand themselves and the world.”

-Craig, Community College English Teacher

creative writing as a vehicle for transformative learning
Creative Writing as a vehicle for transformative learning

“Writing is an act of seeing. I try to encourage my students to be good observers. Poetry allows my students to share their deepest fears. I think that the whole idea of teaching literature and creative writing is to inform, uplift, and serve as a useful psychological and spiritual guide. Part of my work involves demystifying the language of poetry to make it accessible to students from different backgrounds.”

-Rob, inner city senior high English teacher

literacy to empower
Literacy to Empower

“I teach in the center of pain and poverty….A lot of talented people grow up with poverty, prejudice, and a lack of hope. They don’t feel accepted…Lots of students have lost friends and relatives through suicide. I try to get them to explore their feelings and share with others by writing about it. I have seen many students overwhelmed by their alcohol and drug habits. Students who have grown up in parentless homes are now parents themselves. Everywhere I see the streets pulling at them.

Teaching is a humanitarian act and I try to transform lives. I try to help my students recognize how vital they are and how, in fact, the can move mountains if they are willing to realize that their negative experiences in childhood can be a resource of tremendous energy and insight. Your mission as an English teacher is to help individuals feel hopeful about themselves.”

-Rob, inner city senior high English teacher.

teaching language arts from a transformative perspective
Teaching Language Arts from a Transformative Perspective
  • Gee (2006) emphasizes that English teachers stand at the very heart of the most critical educational, cultural, and political issues of our time, and that while they can see themselves as “language teachers” with no connection to political and social issues, an alternative is that they can accept their role as persons who socialize learners into a world view that must be looked at critically, comparatively, and with a constant sense of the possibilities for change.”
a balance between self and social awareness
A balance between self and social awareness
  • Integrate emotional and social intelligence into teaching language arts ( self-awareness, empathy, motivation, mood management, and problem solving ability)
  • Autobiographical writing
  • Provide access to texts that reflect diversity in terms of culture, gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • Provide texts that help students understand timely social and global issues

“Readers can learn to probe their own emotional responses, gather information to help what they are reading, develop a vision of what a better world might be like, and critically examine injustices both in their own lives and the lives of others.”

-Greenlaw (2005)

perspectives of learning
Perspectives of Learning

“Learning is more than an accretion of facts. It’s changing the architecture around you. Major learning to me means a paradigm shift of sorts. The things that I’ve always valued have involved a recognition that now I see things working in a different way. I can see my students learning if they start challenging me and asking me questions. Sometimes I see it in their assignments where they are applying a skill or a strategy in a fresh or original way. They’re not just regurgitating information. They’re taking a different way of looking at poetry and then applying it to writing their own poem…..

I want students to read a range of authors—Manitoban, international, and so on and from different historical periods. However, I believe that it is vital for students to write their own literature and enter the literary process. I guide them through this journey.”

themes in transformative learning
Themes in Transformative Learning

Critical thinking


Personal and social empowerment


Democratic Participation

Divergent viewpoints

Balancing the rational, analytic, and intuitive/creative

paulo freire and transformative learning
Paulo Freire and Transformative Learning

“It is not enough to be able to help others read words; we must help others to read the world.”

-Freire uses the word “conscientization” to refer to the process of becoming critically aware of one’s life world through an in-depth interpretation of problems and through dialogue with others. Through “praxis” or the interplay between critical reflection and action, individuals are able to move from being “carried along in the wake of change” to empowered individuals who can create and intervene in situations. Ira Shor (1987) emphasized that the teacher’s conviction that she or he can learn from the student is a cornerstone in Freire’s problem-posing education.

areas of transformative learning
Areas of Transformative Learning
  • Literacy Education
  • Human Rights and Advocacy
  • Peace Education/Global Citizenship
  • Women’s Integration and Empowerment
  • Health
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Indigenous Education and Culture
  • Social and Emotional Literacies
  • Access to Information
  • Diversity and Equality: Providing educational opportunities for culturally diverse populations and for the ageing population
working toward transformative learning
Working toward transformative learning
  • Acknowledge learner interests through critical incidents,Learning style inventories, etc.
  • Balancing structure and creativity through applying multiple intelligence theory and differentiated instruction
  • Interdisciplinary approaches that link ELA to world issues, psychology, sociology, etc.
  • The teacher as co-learner, challenger, and guide
  • Dialogue and Collaboration
  • Experiential Learning Techniques
  • Life History Writing, Journals, Learning Logs
  • Encourage drama, popular/interactive theatre,poetry, and other creative forms of literature
transformative teaching
Transformative Teaching

“It is important to ground the learner in a sense of place, history, culture, and identity….Transformative teaching must examine how notions of self, personhood, place, history, culture, and belonginess to community are manifested in specific cultural contexts and values.”

-George S. Dei (2002) Expanding the boundaries of transformative learning.

tensions in teaching
Tensions in Teaching

“I work with students who live on the margins. The greatest barrier to learning is this complex thing called poverty—whether it’s not being able to buy a bus

pass or not eating properly or living in a house where everyone is up all night partying. We’re talking about food, shelter, safety, and feeling a sense of belonging and self-worth. I try to break down these feelings of isolation that my students experience….I am also not under any illusions about assessment. The transformative philosophy is what I strive for but the reality is that I have to be realistic and practical and help my students develop essential literacy skills. At some point, they will have to write a test or an entrance exam and I have to prepare them.”

technical vs transformative
Technical vs. Transformative

“We would be lost if we did not have an intellectual and spiritual conscience yet in many ways we are heading for that….

We have to fight to keep the word education in our programs. So many literacy programs today are becoming “training”. Our administration keeps asking for key productivity indicators and this is particularly frustrating when you are working with literacy learners who are at different levels. Many of our students have also bought into a myth that education guarantees a job. Maybe if enough people question how the economy works, major changes would take place. When my students come to class, I’m hoping that they will find some control over their lives in some other way besides the economic way….A real tension for me is that I feel that society thinks that my job as a literacy educator is trying to help people fit into the system. Am I teaching them to fit into a society that has contributed to their marginalization? I want to offer students new direction and opportunities. I’d rather have a society where everyone is welcomed and needed. We do not have this yet.”

-Barb, Community College English Instructor

learning as a process of construction
Learning as a process of construction
  • “Teaching is a process of construction---I see myself as an architect and a guide….the process of discovering new ideas is continuous….Learning is a process of discovery. You have to reach students at a level that they are familiar with and then build from there. I often make links between Poe, Conrad, and Twain with contemporary media and film if I’m introducing concepts like satire, tone, irony, and so on. We’re not living in the “great books society”anymore.
personal development and social awareness
Personal Development and Social Awareness

“I think of teaching English as tapping areas of the imagination. I want my students to trust their own judgments while also considering appreciating the opinions of others. I teach in a multi-cultural setting and what may be difficult is the language barrier or the content. I try to work around those barriers….In my view, educational programs should come from a need within the community and they should be engineered in a way that people can identify with their own realities. We are too work and grade focused. As a result people lose touch with their creative side. We have to emphasize personal development as well as academic mastery as equally valuable goals in education.”

-Ross, High School English Teacher