University of Ottawa (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 416-424
ISBN: 978-84-616-3847-5
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2013
Location: Seville, Spain
This session reports the findings of a qualitative study examining the viewpoints of eight veteran public school teachers in two large Canadian adult literacy and ESL programs. As these respondents demonstrate, this form of education can be productively linked to justice-orientated citizenship even at basic levels of English language proficiency. The participants in the study provide valuable insights for in-service teachers and teacher-trainers.

The research question guiding the overall study was “how does a sampling of veteran ESL and literacy teachers understand the purposes of ESL and literacy education”. The eight participants were recommended to me by the supervising managers of two large continuing education departments: one in Ontario and the other in British Columbia. The interviews were audio taped, transcribed and coded using NVivo Qualitative Research software. The University of Ottawa’s Ethical Review Board approved the ethical protocols for the study and informed consent was obtained from all eight participants.

As I shall detail in this session:

Half of the participants in this study endorsed justice-oriented versions of citizenship and critical orientations towards literacy. They also made strong links between the two.

Two respondents endorsed participatory notions of citizenship and adopted positions that went well beyond skill-based orientations towards literacy.
One respondent conceived of literacy as being more than a set of decoding skills; however, she did not did not emphasize participatory or justice-oriented forms of citizenship.

Another participant had a skill-based definition of literacy and a “fact-based” notion of citizenship. Nonetheless, this teacher conducted multimodal literacy activities and was involved in school participatory citizenship education projects.

Westheimer and Kahne (2005) have argued that education for citizenship should encourage students to become critical citizens who explore the causes of social problems in order to work for substantial societal change. Lankshear and Knobel (1997) argue that meaningful citizenship education can only take place within second language and literacy education when teachers deliberately adopt justice-oriented paradigms. This study’s findings indicate that the linkages Lankshear and Knobel recommended find resonance with veteran teachers. The majority of my respondents clearly saw the need to emphasize these links, but did so in the contexts of the needs of their learners. They emphasized the diversity of learners within their classrooms and saw the challenge they faced in terms of finding ways of building upon the private, everyday concerns of learners and using critical literacy to promote social justice orientations towards concrete issues within the broader community. As Papen (2005) noted and as my participants confirmed, one starts with what is personally meaningful for the students. Then, as Morgan and Ramanathan (2005) have stressed, critical teaching helps students make their own connections between the larger community and the need for societal change. In this way, “learning to read both the word and the world critically, adult literacy learners regain their sense of themselves as agents who can change the social situations in which they find themselves” (Janks, 2008, p. 185).
Justice-orientated citizenship, ESL, novice teachers, experienced teachers, critical literacy.