Linguistica Aplicada Critical Thinking

A critical approach to the teaching of English: pedagogical and identity engagement1


Uma abordagem crítica ao ensino de inglês: engajamento pedagógico e identitário



Rosane Rocha Pessoa*

Universidade Federal de Goiás (UFG) Goiânia – Goiás/Brasil




This paper is an attempt to show how our research group has been putting into practice a critical approach to the teaching of English. We started this work in 2005 and since then we have been reflecting collaboratively on it in order to better comprehend what we do and who we are as individuals and language teachers in this world of possibilities. Two aspects that stand out in the studies we have done are the teachers’ pedagogical and identity engagement. These two types of engagement will be shown here by means of a discussion on Andrade’s (2011) Letras (Licenciatura em Inglês) final paper, which focused on the theme race/racism.

Keywords: critical teaching; English teaching; race/racism; identity.


Este texto é uma tentativa de mostrar como o nosso grupo de pesquisa tem colocado em prática uma abordagem crítica no ensino de inglês. Começamos esse trabalho em 2005 e desde então temos refletido colaborativamente sobre ele, a fim de compreender melhor o que fazemos e quem somos como indivíduos e professoras/es de inglês neste mundo de possibilidades. Dois aspectos que se destacam nos estudos que temos feito são o engajamento pedagógico e o identitário das/os professoras/es envolvidas/os. Esses dois tipos de engajamento serão mostrados aqui por meio da discussão do Trabalho de Final de Curso (Letras – Licenciatura em Inglês) de Andrade (2011), que focalizou o tema raça/racismo.

Palavras-chave: ensino crítico; ensino de inglês; raça/racismo; identidade.



1. Introduction

First of all, it should be made clear that by approach I simply mean the way we do things, that is, the way our research group has been doing critical English teaching. We started it in 2005 and since then we have been reflecting collaboratively on it in order to better comprehend what we do and who we are as individuals and language teachers in this world of possibilities.

As problematization is a key word in Critical Applied Linguistics, I would like to start off by posing these questions: what is a man? What is a woman? What is class? What is race? What is emancipation? What is language? What is education? What is power? What is Critical Applied Linguistics? What is most important about these categories is that they should be seen as contingent, shifting and produced in the particular. That is why Critical Applied Linguistics is not intended to be a method, a canon of texts, a series of techniques but rather a shifting and critical way of thinking about questions to do with language (PENNYCOOK, 2001).

A critical perspective on language and language education is proposed by Makoni and Pennycook (2007, p. 28), in the book Disinventing and reconstituting languages, based on what the authors call "translingual language uses". They contend that, though language classification has been a construct to control variety and difference, language practices are always mixed or hybrid. They also affirm that "languages were, in the most literal sense, invented, particularly as part of the Christian/colonial and nationalistic projects in different parts of the globe" (p. 1), so we must observe closely the way in which people use language and base our pedagogical practices on that use. This conception is important here for two reasons. Firstly, I will make use of a translingual language practice, not only because my English is a mixture of different Englishes and different Portugueses, but also because I will quote texts in the language they were written: different uses of English and Portuguese.2 Secondly, it has inspired us to focus less on language as an object and to draw our attention to how we use language and how this use affects the world.

I will illustrate this view of language by quoting a classroom event taken from a final paper of the Letras course done by a student of mine. Estêvão (2011) did an action research in a 6th grade class of a public school in Goiânia, consisting of a set of six lessons focused on the theme identity. At the end of this set of lessons, she asked the students to write down all the things they considered to be part of their identity, such as name, age, nationality, race, their likes, dislikes, possessions, etc. While doing the activity, a black student called her and said:

Student A: Professora, eu quero falar sobre a minha raça, mas eu não sei qual é.

Teacher researcher: Bem, você tem a pele negra e o cabelo crespo, certo? Então, sua raça é a negra.

(Students B and C started laughing.)

Student B: Nossa, teacher! Para de xingar o cara!3 (Diary, 09/08/2011) (p. 28)

In her paper, Estêvão (2011) argued she had found curious the fact that the two boys (Students B and C) did not have white skin. Thus, being aware that acting in a critical way means problematizing "historically accepted discourses, leading students to rethink their values, beliefs and practices, as well as to understand how these categories contribute to the maintenance of prejudice and discrimination" (p. 15), she asked them if people’s skin color is a matter of laughing and making jokes. A bit embarrassed they answered "no". Then, Student A reacted "Eu também não vi graça, teacher. E vocês (talking to his colleagues) também têm que colocar que vocês são black aí no papel de vocês. Ou vocês acham que vocês são white? Vocês são black também, igual a mim"4 (Diary, 09/08/2011) (p. 28).

Saying that "black" is a "swear word" is a clear example that difference is not deemed neutral; on the contrary, it is, most of the time, a reason for reinforcing inequality. One could explain this event of prejudice in terms of individual behavior, but in Critical Applied Linguistics it is seen as representative of how certain racial groups are systematically oppressed and discriminated against in institutions and society. Language, in this sense, not only reflects hegemonic ideas but also produces it. However, it is important to understand that these ideas can be confronted and different meanings can also be created. This is what we believe that both the teacher and student A do, the first by means of her question and the latter by means of his reaction.

Problematizing hegemonic ideas and naturalized constructs is what our research group has been trying to do in our language lessons and in our teacher education work. Our research group is composed by teachers who take part in critical lessons as undergraduate students or attend my graduate course on critical teacher education, choosing to write their Letras course final papers, dissertations and theses on critical language teaching or on critical language teacher education. Critical language teaching is defined here as a political-cultural tool that treats seriously the notion of human differences, particularly those associated with race, class, and gender (KAMPOL, 1994), while critical language teacher education, in our view, aims at relating micro-relations of applied linguistics to macro-relations of social reality and tries to problematize not only the inequitable relationships of power and social reality but also language neutrality.

The contexts we have researched are public schools, language schools and universities. The implementation of this critical work varies according to the context: a) complete courses on social issues (60 hours), b) a set of lessons focusing on a social issue, c) activities about social issues inserted in regular curriculum, and d) critical events or moments.5 The issues usually focused on the lessons are identity, race/racism, sexuality, gender, and class. Up to now, 16 Letras course final papers, 7 dissertations and 2 theses have been written on this critical perspective, all of which are qualitative studies. As Denzin and Lincoln (2008a, p. viii) suggest, we have tried to perceive qualitative research as a "generative form of radical democratic practice" since, with Greenwood and Levin (2008), we believe scholars have a responsibility to do work that is socially meaningful and socially responsible. Denzin and Lincoln (2008b, p. 46) also point out that "the relationship between researchers, universities, and society must change" and that "politically informed action research, inquiry committed to praxis and social change, is the vehicle for accomplishing this transformation".

The main objective of this text is to discuss how a teacher has engaged in this critical work. The analysis of the 16 Letras course final papers, the 7 dissertations and the 2 theses have shown that they have engaged in this work both pedagogically and personally, that is, their engagement has been made in terms of lesson planning and their identities. By lesson planning, we mean the development of activities and materials focusing on social issues, which are devised by the teacher instead of being taken from textbooks; and identity is used here to describe "the way individuals and groups define themselves and are defined by others on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language, and culture" (DENG, 1995, p. 1). According to Hall (1996), identity is a process, it is split, it is an ambivalent point instead of a fixed one, and it is also the relationship of the Other to oneself. In this article, I will discuss a Letras course final paper (ANDRADE, 2011) to show what I mean by these two types of engagement, but before that a brief theoretical discussion will be made.


2. A social issue in language teaching: race/racism

The critical event described in the previous section shows that language and the classroom cannot be seen apart from people and society. Neither can they be seen apart from relations of power. That is why Pennycook (2001) asserts that Critical Applied Linguistics should find ways to relate aspects of Applied Linguistics (classroom utterances, translations, conversations, genres, second language acquisition, media texts) to broader social, cultural, and political domains (concepts of society, ideology, global capitalism, colonialism, education, gender, racism, sexuality, class). However, he argues this relation per se is not enough; it is necessary to engage with questions of power and inequality and, more important, to problematize how language perpetuates inequitable social relations.

It is not enough, for example, to present race statistics in Brazil, showing the preliminary results of the last IBGE census (2010), according to which the sum of blacks, mulattoes, yellows and indigenous (99.7 million) outnumbers the white population (91 million) in Brazil (UOL NOTÍCIAS, s./d.). Instead, we should ask questions such as: why do 70% of marriages happen between people of the same colour and why are black women (7% of the population) the ones who least get married (JORNAL DO COMÉRCIO, 2012)? Why in 2007, among the 1% richest population of Brazil, were only 12% blacks and mulattoes, while whites constituted 86.3% of the group? Or yet why among the 10% poorest were 73.9% blacks and mulattoes, and 25.5% whites (UOL NOTÍCIAS, 2008)? By asking questions like these, we can challenge not only the myth of the high degree of Brazilian miscegenation but also the fallacy of Brazilian racial democracy. These statistics explain why the boys in Estêvão’s (2011) research do not want to acknowledge they are black. The same attitude can be seen in a study carried out by Sheriff (2002, p. 223) in a primarily black shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. Aiming at exploring the inhabitants’ view of race and racism, she found out that the word "black" carries "negative moral qualities" and is used as "offensive", "a dirty word", "a word used to humiliate", "a word used to criticize", "a prejudiced word", and "a word used by racist people", besides being associated to "slavery".

Souza (2011) points out that inequality in Brazilian schools rests on a number of identity aspects, such as class, gender, ethnicity, regionality, sexuality, race, but it is more acute for people of African descent whose phenotypic features are a cause for prejudice and discrimination, not always expressed verbally, but reported in many educational studies. She quotes the data from the 2007 School Census, analysed by the IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research) in 2008, which indicate

a falta de equidade quando mostram que entre os jovens brancos de 15 a 17 anos, 70% haviam concluído o ensino fundamental, enquanto entre os negros, apenas 30%. No ensino médio, 62% de jovens brancos, de 15 a 17 anos, estavam na escola, enquanto o percentual de negros na mesma faixa etária era de 31%. Considerando-se o grupo de estudantes na faixa etária dos 19 anos, 55% de brancos concluem o ensino médio enquanto apenas 33% de negros conseguem o mesmo. Além disso, da população acima de 25 anos, 12,6% detêm diploma de curso de nível superior, enquanto dentre os negros a taxa é de 3,9%.6 (SOUZA, 2011, p. 44-45)

The author asserts there are many reasons why there is a great disparity in relation to years of schooling between blacks and whites in Brazil, some of which are: difference in treatment and affection distribution towards black and white children; shortage of pedagogic materials that address positively the Afro-Brazilian and African History and Culture; little importance given to conflicts that involve nicknames and jokes; and even the silencing or fear of the name black (negro ou preto), which is a drama in school life.

Together with the governmental measures that have been implemented in Brazil in order to transform the reality of black population, such as the Lei Federal n. 10.639 (BRASIL, 2003), which requires the inclusion of Afro-Brazilian and African History and Culture in the school curriculum, and the quotas for black students at federal universities, it is important to problematize the issue of multiculturalism in every classroom, but especially in language classrooms, since we should avoid excluding discourses and build alternative discourses that can lead to diversity and to multiplicity of human experience. Multiculturalism is not seen here as simple respect for cultural difference, appreciation of ethnic traditions and artifacts, or promotion of cultural sensitivity. These characteristics are referred to as "liberal multiculturalism" by Kubota (2004, p. 31), since it "endorses the idea that all individuals, regardless of their background, can socially and economically succeed as long as they work hard". She adds that "in this logic, racial and other types of differences often get blinded and erased" (p. 31). Being a professor of colour (Japanese) in the US, Kubota (2004) affirms she herself has already faced challenges in her interactions with white students and colleagues. However, she says that these challenges had never been understood as racism by her white women colleagues.

Kubota (2004) examines liberal multiculturalism in order to defend "critical multiculturalism", which "recognizes that social and economic inequality does exist and it critically examines how inequality and injustice are produced and perpetuated in relation to power and privilege" (p. 37). It also "examines how certain social racial and other groups are systematically oppressed and discriminated against in institutions and society" (p. 37), and "focuses on how certain groups of students are disadvantaged in educational decisions such as tracking, testing, funding, curriculum, pedagogical approaches, and language of instruction" (p. 37-38). So,

[c]ontrary to liberal multiculturalism, which tends to represent the culture of the Other as homogeneous, traditional, and static, critical multiculturalism views culture as diverse, dynamic, and socially, politically, and discursively constructed. (KUBOTA, 2004, p. 38)

Concerning multicultural education, Kubota (2004) argues that it is much more than including visual images and narratives of people with different skin colours in the curriculum or celebrating the Black History Month once a year. Instead, it should have an antiracist aim through exposing issues of race and racism as well as critically examining discursive constructions of our knowledge on culture and language. She highlights that "social transformation involves a two-way process; that is, not only should the people on the periphery generate insurgent voices, but the center should also attend to such voices" (p. 47). In other words, marginalized and mainstream students should be engaged in critical learning about cultural and linguistic diversity. Besides, we should call into question the limits of our own understandings of democracy, rights, and equality and the reasons why we are defending multiculturalism.

An education with an antiracist aim is what Ferreira (2006) proposes in her book Formação de professores: raça/etnia, in which she claims that the content "racial issues" be inserted in all subjects and in teacher education courses. She believes that the school is also responsible for the construction of citizenship, so a critical relationship should be drawn between the school system and racial and ethnic inequalities. The author uses the terms "race" and "ethnicity" interchangeably, even though she defines "race" as normally associated with phenotypic differences and "ethnicity" as referring to groups that share the same cultural identity, such as language, religion, and history. She argues that, if these terms are needed, it is because racism and racial inequality are very much present in our social relations.

In another article, in which Ferreira (2007) examines the way some English as a foreign language teachers understand and address the issue of cultural plurality as a cross-curricular theme and issues of race/ethnicity in a city in the South of Brazil, she uses the words "black" and "white" to describe her informants because there are racialized discourses of colour in Brazil. Nevertheless, Ferreira highlights that

[t]here is a potential problem with this because it constitutes a single black-white binary identification in a country in which people have self-identified 136 gradations of colour. The gradations of colour were identified by IBGE in the census used by Brazilians when they had to self-identify in 1976. (SCHWARCZ, 1998 cited in FERREIRA, 2007, p. 215)

According to Ferreira’s (2007, p. 228) findings, her nine informants (3 black teachers, 4 white teachers, and 2 mulattos) seem to believe that cultural plurality as a cross-curricular theme

is associated with learning about the cultural aspects of the "other" related to English as Foreign Language, the celebration of ‘diversity’ in Brazil, rather than challenging and deconstructing the racism that exists in Brazilian society.

She concludes by affirming that teachers should have an adequate understanding of issues specific to race/ethnicity so that they can be addressed in the classroom. This conclusion is expanded by Pennycook’s (2001) assertion that teachers should be careful about their pedagogical choices concerning curriculum development, content, materials, classroom processes, and language use, since they are inherently ideological in nature, with significant implications for learners’ socioeconomic roles. In fact, classrooms are sites where identities are produced and changed, but at the same time are sites of cultural struggles, in which different versions of the world are battled over. Canagarajah (1993 cited in PENNYCOOK, 2001) asserts that the cultural struggles are not reducible to only two ideologies, the dominant and the dominated, but rather encompasses a whole circulation of different ideas, cultural forms, ways of thinking, being, and speaking.

In the following section, I will discuss how Andrade (2011) makes her pedagogical choices and how they are related to her own identity, which suggests that what we do as researchers and in the classroom is about changing the worlds we live in but is also about changing ourselves. As Simon (1992, p. 42) puts it, Critical Applied Linguistics is "a continuous reflexive integration of thought, desire and action".


3. A sample of our critical approach to the teaching of English: pedagogical and identity engagement

Andrade (2011) started her action research aiming at making students more motivated and more autonomous by means of a social issue related to the students’ reality. Drawing on Pennycook (1999), she defines critical teaching as the approach of themes in which power relations and inequality are latent and as the problematization of naturalized notions in everyday life, such as the representation of women, the myth of racial democracy and gender roles. She quotes Moita Lopes (2003) to highlight three aspects in the Parâmetros Curriculares Nacionais de Língua Estrangeira (PCN-LE) which are relevant to build anti-hegemonic discourses in language lessons: the promotion of students’ discursive engagement, the development of students’ critical consciousness in relation to language, and the focus on transversal themes which cut across contemporary social life, such as ethics, work, cultural plurality, environment, sexuality, consumption and health.

The theme the teacher researcher chose to focus on was race/racism and she affirms that in the beginning it was chosen because she thought it would be easy to deal with it (ANDRADE, 2011). This statement shows that, before starting the research, she saw it simply as a social theme to be discussed in her language lessons. However, she added that during the research she found out that this choice was purely personal and a challenge for her. It seems that, as she began reading about race and racism, she started a process of assuming her identity as a black woman. In fact, this identity of hers is mentioned for the first time only in the second section of the theoretical background, entitled "Raça e Racismo". Her readings about race and racism (GUIMARÃES, 1999; SANTOS, 2005; FERREIRA, 2006; MUNANGA, 2003) must have been the trigger to understand that problematizing these issues was talking about one of her most important identities. More than that, she realized: "Eu como professora negra descobri ao longo desta pesquisa que muito há para se fazer a fim de estancar a perpetuação de discursos mantenedores de desigualdades sociais"7 (Final paper, p. 13).

In the end, she also realized that the choice of this social theme made all the difference for her work. Andrade’s process confirms one of Moita Lopes’s (2002) basic assumptions in the book Identidades fragmentadas: the relationship between reading and the construction of social identities. He argues that reading is a social practice, that is, when we engage in the reading practice we are acting in the social world, constructing ourselves and the others.

Andrade’s (2011) research was done in a 7th grade group of a private school in a small city in Goiás. The school is near the city centre and the students come from upper-middle class families. The group was composed of 18 students from 11 to 14 years of age. In the initial questionnaire, 14 students defined themselves as being white, mulatto or black, but 4 of them did not answer because they were in doubt if they were white or mulatto. Here is a chart with answers about how they declared themselves in terms of "race" (term used by IBGE):



The teacher researcher prepared a set of five lessons aimed at raising students’ awareness about racism. The first three lessons were developed with 20 pictures of people. Out of the 20 pictures, 10 were of men (5 black and 5 five white) and 10 were of women (5 black and 5 five white); all of them had fictitious names. The students worked in small groups, and in each of them there was at least one student who had a better command of the target language. Four activities were developed with the pictures. In the first one, the students had to choose, among the people in the pictures, two people for each superlative: the friendliest, the nicest, the most intelligent, and the most beautiful. The whole group had to agree with the choices. In the second activity, they had to choose, among the people in the pictures, the least intelligent, the ugliest, the dirtiest and the least honest. In the third, the students had to imagine a hypothetical situation of being the owners of a big company and having to choose, among the people in the pictures, the engineer, the doctor, the cleaner, and the cook of this company. In the fourth activity, they had to make couples with the people in the pictures. The fourth lesson was a discussion on the poem "I, Too" by Langston Hughes, and the fifth was the students’ production of a poster with pictures and sentences against racism. All the activities were carried out in the target language, but the students sometimes resort to Portuguese.

The first challenge the teacher researcher faced was that some students had never thought about their race and did not know what their race was. However, the biggest challenge took place at the very beginning of the activity with the 20 pictures:

A partir do início dessa atividade foi que percebi o quão desafiador seria trabalhar com essa temática em sala de aula. Julguei a princípio, pela minha inocência, ser um tema simples de ser discutido, porém, ao me deparar com a falsa democracia racial que autores como Santos (2005) e Guimarães (1999) discutem, minha reação foi de choque, fiquei aterrorizada.8 (Final paper, p. 22-23)9

This state of shock resulted from the students’ reaction to the pictures:

"Esse (rapaz negro) não pode ser o mais inteligente, ele é o assassino isso sim". "A professora não perguntou quem é o mais feio, mas com certeza é esse aqui (rapaz negro)".10 (Diário referente ao plano de aula do dia 31 de agosto de 2011). (Final paper, p. 23)

According to her, this "black guy" (Lucas), who had the most pronounced features of the black race or who was the most distant from the "white standard of quality" (SANTOS, 2005 cited in ANDRADE 2011) – thick lips, flat nose and kinky hair –, was the one that caused the most racist reactions, but the black women were also cause for jokes and racist comments. This reaction leads us back to the fact, discussed by Munanga (2003), that naturalists in the 18th and 19th century not only classified human groups according to their physical characteristics, but they hierarchized them, that is, they established a scale of values among the races by drawing an intrinsic relationship between biologic features (skin colour, morphologic traits) and psychological, moral, intellectual, and cultural qualities. As a result,

os indivíduos da raça "branca" foram decretados coletivamente superiores aos da raça "negra" e "amarela", em função de suas características físicas hereditárias, tais como a cor clara da pele, o formato do crânio (dolicocefalia), a forma dos lábios, do nariz, do queixo, etc. que segundo pensavam, os tornam mais bonitos, mais inteligentes, mais honestos, mais inventivos, etc. e conseqüentemente mais aptos para dirigir e dominar as outras raças, principalmente a negra mais escura de todas e conseqüentemente considerada como a mais estúpida, mais emocional, menos honesta, menos inteligente e portanto a mais sujeita à escravidão e a todas as formas de dominação.11 (MUNANGA, 2003, p. 5)

The teacher researcher had not planned to interrupt the students at that moment, so she just listened. However, she wrote in her diary:

Quando olhei aquelas crianças de 11, 14 anos dizendo que o Lucas era o assassino, o ladrão, quando eles começaram a brincar com as fotos me lembrei de minha infância, me lembrei que o racismo existe e que tudo que não se enquadra no ideal branco é discriminado. Cabelo crespo, lábios grossos, nariz achatado não é bonito neste mundo. Sei que não me viam como mulher negra, não me viam como Black teacher, me viam como teacher. Por alguns anos, longe da escola regular eu não percebia o quanto a democracia racial é falsa, as crianças negras na escola continuam a ser discriminadas como eu era na minha infância. (Diário referente à aula do dia 31 de agosto de 2011).12 (Final paper, p. 23)

In this first lesson, it is possible that the students saw the teacher researcher just as an English teacher proposing a grammatical activity to practice the superlative, that is, that her identity as a teacher was prevalent, but being black was the strongest reality for her though it seemed to have been dormant for some time. And it was her identity as a black woman that made an idea cross her mind: "on this day I cried, and sincerely thought of not returning to that classroom" (p. 24). However, as a black teacher who had the aim of proposing a critical discussion about race/racism and/or who had to finish the research, she decided to follow her plan of problematizing the students’ reactions, comments and answers.

Here, as in Estêvão’s (2011) class mentioned before, it is also obvious that classrooms are not neutral sites of pedagogical transactions and that they function "as a kind of microcosm of the broader social order" (AUERBACH, 1995, p. 9), that is, the political relations in the world outside are reproduced within the classroom. However, drawing on insights from poststructuralism, Pennycook (2001) argues that this context also operates in a more dynamic way than this: though structure may limit or produce (rather than absolutely determine) human agency, human agency may work in fairly complex oppositional ways (but never outside some domain of power). In a few words, "both macro and micro (and all the levels in between, for these labels are but convenient fictions) produce each other" (PENNYCOOK, 2001, p. 127). So, we should understand that the smallest words and actions, such as a classroom utterance, an activity, a picture, the arrangement of seats, or the configuration of groups, may have major implications for class participants.

According to Andrade (2011), the students’ questionnaires about the lessons show they did not realize what the aim of the four activities with pictures was, which confirms that teachers have an important role in critical teaching and should have an adequate understanding of issues of race/ethnicity so that they can be addressed in the classroom (FERREIRA, 2007). Andrade’s procedure was to show the results of the activities with pictures to all the students: white people won in positive characteristics (the friendliest, the nicest, the most intelligent, the most beautiful/handsome) and were chosen to occupy the most prestigious professional positions. An exception to this was that two black people (a woman and a man) were chosen to work as doctors. Andrade (2011) affirms that it was glaring the fact that three black women were chosen as cleaners. As to the couples, out of the 20 couples formed by the students (5 per group), 19 were formed by people of the same colour. This result is in keeping with the IBGE statistics shown previously and brings us back to the myth of the high degree of Brazilian miscegenation.

The teacher researcher chose to problematize the students’ answers by saying sentences which opposed theirs, such as "and if I say that Lucas is the most beautiful?" and "and if I say that this black man is married to this white woman?", but the students maintained their point of view, though not participating much. According to the researcher, their refusal to participate may have been because they did not like the pairs she told them to work with or because their attention was drawn to the fact that she was black: "Nesta aula eu era teacher, mulher negra, falando sobre racismo".13 Thus, we can say that in the same "social field"14 (BOURDIEU, 1993), that is, the school, Andrade’s identity may have been seen in different moments as an English teacher proposing a class activity and a black teacher problematizing racism. At the same time, the students’ racist remarks made the researcher see them not only as students, but as agents occupying a social position that reproduce the larger field of power and class relations.

In the following lesson, there was more participation on the part of the students, and they understood the theme racism was being focused on. Nevertheless, the teacher researcher had to deal with the fact that some students’ conceptions, expressed in their answers to the question "Why is there prejudice against black people?", were racist, since they said that it is because blacks are different from whites both physically and cognitively. The answers that made her understand that it is in the level of language that we express our racism were:

Pois as pessoas acham que os negros não vale nada, que não conseguem fazer coisa nenhuma e eles estão enganados, pois os negros em certas horas são mais inteligentes do que vários brancos. (Taylor, handout aplicado no dia 5 de outubro de 2011).15 (Final paper, p. 27, author’s emphasis)

Eu não sou racista, mas eu não me casaria com uma mulher negra.16 (Final paper, p. 27)

In the last lesson, the teacher researcher perceived that some students were showing a more critical view on the theme by complaining that they could not find black people in the magazines they had. On the other hand, others refused to stick pictures of people with more pronounced features of the black race in their posters. At this moment, the teacher researcher seems to be more comfortable with her role as a teacher who is willing to deal with a teaching approach that has to do with who we are, who the others are and who we should be in this world:

Notei que desconstruir esses discursos (racistas) dentro da sala de aula é um processo longo. Fiquei feliz em dar um pontapé inicial.17 (Diário, referente à aula do dia 5 de outubro de 2011) (Final paper, p. 28)

Sei que muitos alunos ainda voltaram para casa com seus preconceitos, contudo meu trabalho possibilitou uma reflexão (ainda que superficial) sobre como o Brasil lida com o racismo e como nosso racismo cordial se manifesta.18 (Final paper, p. 29)

At the end of the paper, she shows she understands the research was about preparing a set of lessons focusing a social theme, but it was also about herself and the world she lives in:

Este trabalho me fez crescer como indivíduo, me fez ver que ser professora é educar, é quebrar preconceitos, é trazer ressignificação para discursos mantenedores de poder naturalizados pela sociedade. Eu aprendi que eu posso. Eu posso fazer a diferença.19 (Final paper, p. 30)

In a few words, her paper involved both pedagogical and identity engagement. It was about learning how to address a theme critically and learning how to construct and negotiate her identity as a black teacher. In fact, we can say that the border between the pedagogical and the personal was erased in Andrade’s research.


4. Final reflections

Andrade’s (2011) research was chosen to illustrate the critical work our research group has been doing. The theme she focused on was race/racism, but it ended up not being just a class theme. We can summarize her research account into four moments: the disposition and the preparation to work with the theme, the shock of acknowledging racist remarks among the students, the confrontation with her identity as a black teacher and with racism in the classroom, and the understanding of the importance of this critical work in language education.

It seems that both reading the texts about race/racism and putting the activities she prepared into practice made her deal with her identity as a black teacher, which, in my opinion, was the strongest point in her research, though nothing related to her identity as a black woman is mentioned in the introduction or in her research questions. At the end, she discusses the importance of addressing such theme and problematizing how language perpetuates racism. Her research seemed to have been more than anything a (self)discovery process. She not only made use of critical reflection, but she became it, that is, she was constituted by it, definition which is attributed to the teacher as a "critical intellectual" by Contreras (2002).

We know what Andrade (2011) did in 5 lessons is far from Kubota’s (2004) idea of multiculturalism in education or Ferreira’s (2006) conception of an anti-racist education. Also, we can doubt if the way she problematized the theme was enough to make students’ aware of racism in our society. Nevertheless, contrary to Ferreira’s (2006) informants, her paper shows that she had the opportunity to reach some understanding of race/ethnicity issues both by reading about it in order to write her theoretical background and by observing the students’ reactions to the activities she had prepared. Besides, she was also able to see her classroom as a site of identity production and cultural struggle, in which at least two different versions of the world are battled over (PENNYCOOK, 2001): the white and the black.

As we could notice, it was not an easy process for the researcher and it may not have been easy for the students either. The teacher had moments of despair (wish to give up), of strength (facing the students’ positions) and of wisdom (understanding that the process is long). To Pennycook (2001, p. 138), "doing critical work is dangerous work" and "the effects of what we do may be profound". That’s why "we need to think very carefully where things may lead and whether we can justify ethically20 what we are engaged in" (p. 138). In some studies, challenges such as the ones faced by Andrade (2011) have made some teachers give up doing critical work (URZÊDA-FREITAS, 2013). It is a choice every teacher has, but

for those who say we are just language teachers or just applied linguists and should not involve ourselves with such concerns, I say we are already involved. We cannot bury our heads in the sand as liberal-ostrichist21 applied linguistics has done in the past. What we need is better ways of thinking about what we do. (PENNYCOOK, 2001, p. 138)

As a matter of fact, we cannot go on seeing education as an autonomous or neutral activity. We can choose to contribute to reproduce social relations, but we can also believe in alternatives for this "patriarchal, homophobic and racist world increasingly governed by the interests of multinational business" (PENNYCOOK, 2011, p. 127). The author continues saying that "we need to escape overdeterministic, overtotalizing critical analyses to be able to show how Critical Applied Linguistics may make a difference" (p. 27). This is what Simon (1992, p. 27) calls "a pedagogy of possibility".



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Recebido em: 08/04/2013.
Aprovado em: 08/11/2013



1 First, I would like to thank Profa. Nayara Cristina Rodrigues de Andrade and Profa. Tauana Maira Lino de Souza Estevão, who have kindly allowed me to use their Letras course final papers in this article. Second, I would like to thank Roger Price and all the participants of our research group Transição, but especially Profa. Ma. Charlene S. M. Meneses de Paula, Profa. Ma. Viviane Pires Viana Silvestre, Prof. Me. Marco Túlio de Urzêda Freitas, and Profa. Ma. Maria Eugênia Sebba Ferreira, who carefully proofread this text and made relevant suggestions to improve it. And, finally, I thank my colleague, Profa. Dra. Joana Plaza Pinto, and the participants of the study group Estudos Pós-Estruturalistas e Práticas Identitárias, who have contributed to broaden my thinking of what critical teaching can be.
2 The quotes in Portuguese are translated into English in the footnotes.
3Translation: "Student A: Teacher, I want to talk about my race, but I don’t know what it is. Teacher researcher: Well, you have black skin and curly hair, right? So, your race is black. (Students B and C started laughing.) Student B: Gosh, teacher, stop swearing at him!"
4Translation: "I didn’t find it funny either, teacher. And you (talking to his colleagues) have to write down that you are black, too. Or do you think you are white? You are also black like me."
5 Pennycook (2004, p. 330) defines a "critical moment" as "a point of significance, an instant when things change". He adds that these are moments "when we seize the chance to do something different, when we realize that some new understanding is coming about".
6Translation: "an unfair disparity between young blacks and young whites of the 15-17 year old age group in the school attendance tables. The statistics disclose that the young blacks appear clearly as underachievers in the school educational system with only 30% completing their basic education, while 70% of young whites completed their basic education. This is also reflected at secondary school (ensino médio), where 62% of young whites from the 15-17 year old age group attended school, compared to only 31% of young blacks from the same age group. Examining the figures related to 19 year olds, a disproportionate number of white students have finished secondary school opposed to black students finishing secondary school. The actual percentage of white students finishing is 55%, in comparison to only 33% of black students finishing secondary education. Regarding higher educational achievements in the adult Brazilian population, the statistics show only 3.9% of black adults hold university degrees compared to 12.5% of white adults."
7Translation: "As a black teacher, I’ve found out by doing the research that there’s a lot to be done in order to stop the perpetuation of discourses that maintain social inequalities".
8Translation: "At the beginning of the activity I noticed how challenging it would be to work with this theme in class. At first, I, in my innocence, judged that it would be a simple theme to be discussed, but, when I was faced with the false racial democracy discussed by Santos (2005) e Guimarães (1999), I was shocked, I was terrified".
9 Although most of our students write their Letras (Licenciatura em Inglês) final papers in English, Andrade decided to write hers in Portuguese due to the fact that she found it difficult to write academically. However, she had good communicative competence.
11Translation: "This one (black guy) can’t be the most intelligent, he is rather the murderer." "The teacher didn’t ask who the ugliest is, but it is certainly this one (black guy)". (Diary about the lesson of 31st August 2011)
12Translation: "‘White’ individuals were decreed collectively superior to ‘Black’ and ‘Yellow’ individuals due to their hereditary physical characteristics, such as their light skin colour, the shape of their skull (dolichocephaly), the shape of their lips, nose, chin, etc. It was believed that these characteristics made them more beautiful, intelligent, honest, inventive, etc. and, accordingly, more able to lead and dominate the other races, especially the darker one, considered the most stupid, the most emotional, the least honest, the least intelligent and, hence, more subject to slavery and to all forms of domination."
13Translation: "When I looked at those 11, 14 year-old children saying that Lucas was the murderer, the thief, when they started to play with the photos, I remembered my childhood, I remembered that racism exists and that everything that doesn’t fit the white ideal is discriminated against. Curly hair, thick lips, flat nose are not beautiful in this world. I know that they didn’t see me as a black woman, and they didn’t see me as a black teacher; they saw me as a teacher. Being far from regular school for some years, I did not notice how racial democracy is false; black children at school continue being discriminated against as it happened to me in my childhood. (Diary about the lesson of 31st August 2011)".
14Translation: "In this class, I was a black woman teacher talking about racism".
14 In Bourdieu’s work (1993), a field is a social arena in which people maneuver and struggle in pursuit of desirable resources. It is a system of social positions (for example, the classroom) structured internally in terms of power relationships (such as the power differential between teacher and students).
15Translation: "Because people think Blacks are worth nothing, and they can’t do anything, but they are mistaken because Blacks in certain moments are more intelligent than many Whites. (Taylor, students’ handout from 5th October 2011)".
16Translation: "I’m not racist, but I wouldn’t marry a black woman".
17Translation: "I have noticed that deconstructing these (racist) discourses in class is a long process. I was glad I had kicked it off. (Diary about the lesson of 5th October 2011)."
18Translation: "I know many students went back home holding prejudices, but my work made them reflect (even though this reflection was superficial) on how Brazil deals with racism and how our cordial racism is manifested".
19Translation: "This piece of work has made me grow as an individual and has made me see that being a teacher is educating, breaking down prejudices, resignifying discourses that maintain naturalized power in society. I have learnt that I can. I can make a difference".
20 According to Simon (1992), ethics should not be understood as part of a fixed moral code that guides the behavior of the individual but rather as part of a contingent way of thinking and acting that is always in relation to social, cultural, and political relations. Besides, it should privilege "diversity, compassionate justice, and securing of the conditions for the renewal of human life" (p. 30).
21 Pennycook (2001) discusses four positions on the relation of politics and knowledge which make a claim to have potential for Critical Applied Linguistics, which are: "liberal ostrichism, anarcho-autonomy, emancipatory modernism, and problematizing practice". According to the author, "liberal ostrichism", a "centrist-autonomous" position, is probably one of the most commonly held in Applied Linguistics and "takes knowledge production to be an autonomous realm that is not connected to more general political views" (p. 29).

Literatura y Lingüística N°18 ISSN 0716-5811 /pp. 233-251

Lingüística: artículos y monografías

Applied Linguistics/Learning to Read in ESL


María Loreto Bustos Beck*


This article Is a revision of researches and works done In Reading In English as a Second language by Kenneth Good man in the area of psycholinguistics and Francoise Grellet in the practical area of exercising reading comprehension. It also analyses the contributions made in the area of critical thinking, reading strategies, and interactive models of reading.

Key words: Applied Linguistics, Reading Comprehension, Comprehensive Reading, Learning strategies, Critical Thinking.


Este artículo hace una revisión de las investigaciones y trabajos realizados por Kenneth Goodman en el campo de la psicolingüística y Francoise Grellet en relación al área práctica del ejercicio de comprensión lectora en inglés como segunda lengua. También incorpora las contribuciones al tema hechas en el ámbito del pensamiento crítico, estrategias de lectura y modelos interactivos de lectura.

Palabras clave: Lingüística Aplicada, Comprensión lectora, Lectura comprensiva, Estrategias de aprendizaje, Pensamiento crítico.


"La lectura visual y la composición en privado fomentaron el pensamiento crítico individual, contribuyendo en última instancia al desarrollo del esceptisismo y la herejía intelectual...Así pues, en la Universidad de Lovaina, fundada en 1495, donde las existencias de libros de texto eran insuficientes y faltaban bibliotecas para el préstamo, los profesores organizaron sesiones especiales de dictado a fin de que los estudiantes pudieran asistir a clase con los libros necesarios (Saenger, P. en Leer en la Universidad, Cavallo &Chartier,1998 Historia de La Lectura en el Mundo Occidental)".

In the Field of Applied Linguistics

Though there are various opinions in relation to the topic, Allen, J. P. (1978) mentions that linguistics may be defined as the scientific study of language based on the assumption that 'scientific' is the systematic study of certain type of data, and that in language, data and theory stand in dialectical complementation which makes it not profitable to study one without the other. Nevertheless, due to the complexity of language, any study must take into account exhaustiveness and economy with thegrea-test degree of objectivity so that the study can be tested. He states that objectivity is what gives to a linguistic study the status of a science.

In Corders' terms, "Applied Linguistics is concerned with the identification and analysis of a certain class of problems which arise in the setting up and carrying out of language teaching programs, and with the provision of the answers or part of the answers to them". This, according to him, requires the application of theory toa practical task, which goes beyond the principles guiding a teacher's work which needs a different type of training and experience in the persons who take these decisions at the different levels of educational systems, and which involve political, economical and social aspects.

The starting point, in order to select the appropriate theoretical framework for the description of the language involved in the task and which leads to the application of linguistics, is what the specialist must teach. Secondly, he mentions three steps for a syllabus which defines a plan for teaching with the appropriate and systematic material, within which, techniques of applied linguistics have to do with the selection of language data and their organization and presentation in the form of teaching materials. These techniques are interrelated, for Applied Linguistics is a set of related activities mediating between the various theoretical accounts of human language and the practical activities of language teaching.

The description of the learner's mother tongue, the target language and any other language the learner already possesses are, according to Corder, the raw material for the process of establishing the content of the teaching syllabus. At this point, he considers important to mention that applied linguistics generally works with a restrictive aspect of the language, concentrated in the area which is going to be taught.

Error analysis, in his terms, is part of a Psycholinguistics research methodology, but also necessary and useful as a diagnostic activity, relevant not only to the study of a second language but as a technique which provides information that can lead the teacher to a more adequate way to teach determined aspects of language.

In order to achieve consistent and reliable results, he considers fundamental to check that our own knowledge has been properly applied, that we make the appropriate decisions which made the task relevant, and that this must be made through the entirely reliable instruments to measure specifically what is included in the syllabus.

Finally, he states that Applied Linguistics is an integrative activity which reconciles different approaches to the study of language in order to make the acquisition of knowledge and of a language a more efficient, useful and pleasant task.

At this point it can be mentioned that Applied Linguistics is the way in which theories that arise from the study of language are made concrete and effective through different programs elaborated to facilitate the students' learning of ESL.

Experience shows, and language teachers will agree, that the need of English as a second language involves other areas such as reading for studying purposes, and writing for business, among others. Teaching ESL must not be considered as a subject that can be left apart. English teachers must be concerned with the real needs of this language at university levels, and the fact that it is possible to incorporate different intellectual strategies through teaching ESL, specifically in the field of reading. ESL in Chile must be a way of improving students learning abilities and studying capacities. It is possible to develop a program making use of different aspects of a variety of theories and, together with our students' reality conform a whole that can give light to the task of facilitating and improving their second language use as a means of achieving higher intellectual tasks such as reading for academic purposes. Apparently, there is no awareness about this possibility and reading and writing have been left aside mainly due to the influence of the audiolingual method, also stated by Carrell (1990). However, the university students who participate in reading workshop are aware of their needs and lack of training to become independent students.

Reading Comprehension and Comprehensive Reading

At this stage, it is necessary to make the distinction between Reading Comprehension and Comprehensive Reading:

(a)  Reading Comprehension points at the student's capacities to understand the general idea of a text and in some determined cases to deepen into specific kinds of information within it.

(b) Comprehensive Reading is the one we expect our students to carry out each time they need to study a determined text, in order to learn and hopefully internalize, and apply contents related to different subjects. It is for this type of reading that the mere comprehension of global facts or events is not enough. Thus, it is extremely important to teach our students clear strategies in order to develop the intellectual skills that will enable them to face and assess the different texts according to predetermined requirements that they, themselves must be able to detect.

Being conscious that, on the one hand, reading is an active process, that students are able to make predictions, making use of their previous knowledge (Goodman in Carrel, 1990:3) and on the other hand, that there are a series of reading strategies that facilitate students' reading task and at the same time help them develop intellectual abilities that facilitate their studies. As Grellet states in relation to the level of difficulty of the different exercises present in her book:" The level of difficulty of the texts is unimportant here: the exercise-types suggested can be adapted for elementary, intermediate or advanced levels. What is important is the degree of complexity of the tasks the students are asked to perform in relation to the text." (Grellet, Developing Reading Skills, 1991:2).

In the introduction to the book Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading (Carrel et. Al, 1990) it is mentioned that the ability to read with good comprehension, at advanced proficiency levels in a second language, has been ackowledged to be as important as oral skills (Eskey 1979in Carrell 1990).

Formerly, theoretical models considered reading in a second language as a passive and not an active, interactive process, i.e reading was considered as a bottom - up process in which decoding was the first step to reconstruct the author's intention through printed letters and words. That is to say, reading started from the smallest unit 'bottom' (word) to larger units 'top' (phrases, clauses, and intersentential linkages), this mainly to the influence of the audiolingual method which priorized listening over reading and speaking over writing.

Later on the psycholinguistic models of reading stated that it was not necessary to use all the textual cues, that the reader was able to make predictions, according to which he/she reconstructs meaning from written language and may confirm it by relating his/her predictions to past experiences and knowledge of the language.

Carrell states that, "Although Goodman did not characterize his theory as top - down model, and continues to resist this characterization himself (Goodman 1981), several other reading experts (Anderson 1978; Cziko 1978) have recently characterized it basically as a concept-driven, top - down pattern in which 'higher level processes interact with, and direct theflow of information through, lower- level processes' (Stanovich 1980:34). In any event, the impact that Goodman's psycholinguistic theory had on both first or native language reading, and later on, on second or foreign language reading, was to make the reader an active participant in the reading process, making and confirming predictions, primarily from his or her background knowledge of the various linguistic levels (graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic) in the broadest sense of these terms (Carrell, 1990:3)".

The audiolingual method did not fulfil the need of a comprehensive type of reading, neither it produced automatically a reading competency which made it clear that reading could not be considered or used as an adjunct to the teaching of oral skills (Eskey 1973; Saville - Troike 1973 in Carrell, 1990).

Further research based on different models, focuses reading as an interactive process (Samuels and Kamil, Rumelhart, Anderson and Pearson, Grabe, 1988).

Goodman's model (1988:11-21) introduces the idea that reading is an active process within which language and thought interact (psycholinguists aspect) and that at the same time readers and writers interact in a social context (Sociolinguistic aspect). He defines reading asa receptive language process that starts with a linguistic surface representation encoded by the writer and ends with meaning which the reader constructs through the interaction of language and thought. Readers, he states, focus on constructing the meaning always seeking the most direct path to it, using strategies for reducing uncertainty, being selective about cues available and drawing deeply on prior conceptual and linguistic competence. The variability in the readers' proficiency will depend on their semantic background in relation to a given reading task.

Within the history of models of the reading process we can mention Emil Javal (1879) with his paper on eye movements. Then in 1886, James McKeen attempts to build a model of the reading process. But reality shows that it was not until the mid-1950s and the 1960s that attempts to conceptualize knowledge and theory about the reading process appeared as explicit models.

A model has certain characteristics: (a) it can summarize the past, (b) it can help us to understand the present, and (c) it can predict thefuture, (Samuels and Kamil 1990:26). It is this third characteristic the one which gives strength to a model for it enables us to formulate hypotheses which can be tested.

Mackay, Barkman, and Jordan (1979: V-X), and also Saville - Troike (1979:26-35), agree in that oral - aural proficiency is not followed by high levels of reading ability. At present, reading is understood as the reading -related tasks that educated native speakers find in their en vironmment, such as magazines, scientific texts, official documents, among others. In this sense, they consider fundamental the contribution made by Halliday and Hasan (Cohesion in English 1976) the starting point to make the distinction between grammatical cohesion and rethorical coherence which allowed applied linguists to develop new kinds of activities in order to facilitate second language reading instruction.

They also mention psycholinguistics as the second field which provides stimulus to the ESL reading scene, focusing the attention in the processes engaged in reading and the strategies used by readers in order to extract meaning from related texts.

Coady (1979:6-12) considers Goodman's model as one which involves the interaction of the reader's conceptual abilities, his background knowledge of the text being read and what he does when processing the text. He notices that fluent readers combine strategies in different orders and amounts depending on the nature of the text, due to the fact that there are different ways of approaching each different text.

Eskey (1979) establishes the fact that for advanced students of English in universities, reading is the most important skill to master and that despite this situation they are taught as if they were beginners, no matter what the students' level is and what their real needs are. He considers that we are still under the dogma that "Language is speech", andarguesthatforadvanced foreign students reading and writing must be considered as important as listening and speaking. In this sense he states that written materials for advanced students must not be limited or determined by the students' aural-oral abilities or needs due to the fact that at this stage the relation between writing and reading is much closer. He mentions French, V. (1973) who has noticed that a way of making a close relation reading/writing is "having students practice writing the kinds of English prose which they will need to read". He considers Goodmans' Psycholinguistic model convincing but lacking answers to funda mental questions such as how a skillful reader can draw on so many different kinds of skills at once and why some readers are so much better than others at guessing right.

Smith (1970) defines the "fluent reader" as "a person who can make optimal use of the redundancy in a piece of text". Kolers (1970) notes that the skilled reader can work with vestiges of an array, with only parts of words and phrases from the page, which he uses to build the message he is constructing in his own mind.

Smith (1971 in Eskey 1979) thinks that "What will make the difference is an understanding of the reading process". This involves the construction and incorporation of reading strategies in order to be skillful.

As we do not know how successful readers cope with the reading challenge Smith (1971) states that "within limits, the best reading prog ram at this particular time would be composed of instruction in the critical skills and plenty of practice in various kinds of reading".

In relation to the teaching and learning process, Eskey thinks we have understimated the learner's contribution to learning to read, based on the fact that the human mind must be programed innately, hence the job of the teacher is to activate the program. Wardhaugh (1969 in Eskey 1979) as well as Goodman (1990) coincide in that reading is not a passive process, that it is rather a process in which a stage of decoding precedes a stage of involvement with meaning.

According to Eskey the advanced student requires an "Advanced knowledge" which functionally means managing the ability to decode the syntactical and lexical signals of English and the ability (skill) to follow a given line of argument, which Goodman subdivides into cognitive styles, and any strategies the reader has learned to employ (culture - bound) i.e. He considers that an ideal reading program must include brief but regular work on increasing reading speed, for its own sake and asa means of demonstrating the students that they can read faster with acceptable comprehension. He includes in this ideal program a genuine reading lab, a collection of graded readers in order to teach those skills that contribute to good reading, which includes linguistic skills as well as several kinds of cultural determined techniques. The two are inseparable and may be emphasized, according to him, at particular times in a particular class. Also, he considers that every good reader must master a considerable number of English words, and adds that there is only one means of acquiring control of an adequate English vocabulary, and that is reading itself.

Another important point stated by this author is the fact that if the objective of reading is to understand, the reader must have at least access to the writer's assumptions about his subject and, the larger world to which that subject forms part. He mentions that the relevant concepts depend on the cultural background of the student and on their interests and needs.

Finally, he emphasizes the ability of reading critically, weighing and judging an author's work on the basis of its merits as opposed to preconceptions about the author himself or the infallibility of anything in print, which he thinks must be studied at some time since the ultimate goal of reading is understanding. Eskey (1979:66-78).

Within their theoretical premises, Clarke and Silberstein (1979) state that there is no psycholinguistic method for teaching reading, although this field gave lights concerning the reading process which was considered the act of decoding information. They mention the two main contributions of psycholinguistics: first that the reader is not able to use all the information on a page but select the cues that determine the author's message, and second that there is more information contributed by the reader than by the print on the page. They mention Goodman's (1970) workas a summary of the psycholinguistic perspective of reading: "Reading is a selective process. It involves partial use of available minimal language cues selected from perceptual input on the basis of the reader's expectation. As this partial information is processed, tentative decisions are made to be confirmed, rejected or refined as reading progresses". The authors infere that reading is an active process within which mistakes and false starts are important in the way to produce correct responses. That reading involves an interaction between language and thought i.e skill in reading depends on the efficient interaction between linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the world. Finally, they mention the importance of using semantically complete readings, due to the fact that it facilitates the process. (Clarke and Silberstein 1979:48-65).

Reading Comprehension

According to Krashen (1989) there is an evidence that positions pleasure reading as a powerful effect for language acquisition. For this sake it is necessary to provide beginning students with interesting and comprehensible texts i.e they need to capture students' attention. In this way, he states 'the necessary rules the student is ready to acquire will automatically be provided'. This due to the fact that generally texts attempt to teach new vocabulary and grammar ensuring low comprehensibility. It is necessary then, to take into account that training long-term memory interferes with comprehension (Smith, 1978 in Krashen, 1989: 20).

Also he mentions pedagogical materials are generally short and that good readers depend on subsequent text to check their comprehension.

Krashen (1989) mentions the hypothesis that reading exposure has a strong effect on the development of language abilities, and adds that it is a great help in language development, reading comprehension, writing style and more sophisticated vocabulary and grammar.

Sustained silent reading (SSR), as part of language arts programmes, proved to be effective in improving reading comprehension among fourth graders, when they discussed and shared books. In fact ten out of twelve studies proved that SSR is as good or better than regular programs for increasing language skills.

Nunan (1989) suggests to bear in mind that reading is notan invariant skill, that there are different types of reading skills which correspond to the many different purposes we have for reading.

Francoise Grellet (1981) states that reading comprehension means extracting the required information from a written text as efficiently as possible, rejecting irrelevant information and finding what we are looking for, quickly. She establishes that there are two main reasons for us to read: For pleasure and for information.

She explains that a given exercise uses a certain type of question, with a certain function to develop a particular reading skill. Thus, it is better, for the purposes of reading comprehension, to consider longer units such as paragraphs or the whole text. This due to the fact that working with a text as if it was a seriesof independent units would only lead students to feel the need of understanding every single sentence, which is not necessary in order to fulfill the purpose of understanding the text and to be reluctant to infer meanings of sentences from what comes before or after them.

As she suggests, 'reading is a constant process of guessing, and what one brings to the text is often more importa that it is important as well, to start with more global tasks related to the text and move towards detailed understanding.nt that what one finds in it. This is why from the very beginning, the students should be taught to use what they know to understand unknown elements, whether these are ideas or simple words. This is best achieved through a global approach of the text'.

Reading comprehension should not be separated from the other skills. On the contrary, according to the author, it is important to link the different skills through reading activities.

The author states that reading is an active skill because it involves guessing, predicting, checking and asking oneself questions. In relation to this she mentions that one should introduce exercises in which there is no straightforward answer in order to encourage students to make judgments and appreciations to lead to discussions and reflections of the text.

Grellet also establishes that it is important to consider reading as a communicative function. Exercises must therefore be meaningful and correspond as much as possible to what one is expected to do with the text.

Another point mentioned by her is the fact that exercises should be flexible and varied. The aim of the exercise, she says, must be clearly defined and a clear distinction must be made between teaching and testing. Testing, explains the author, involves accuracy-type exercises whereas teaching develop different skills.

She establishes that students must be taught how to approach and consider the text in order to become independent and efficient readers, considering that each reader brings his own meaning to the text he reads based in what he expects from the text and his previous knowledge.

In relation to reading comprehension in the classroom the author explains that there must be a variety of exercises in order to motivate students, especially if there are different skills to be covered.

It is important, she continues, to let the text suggest what exercises are more appropriate to itThe text must be the starting pointfor determining why one would normally read it, how it would be read, how it might relate to other information before thinking of a particular exercise.

She states that: "Many texts are meant to be read and enjoyed, that too many exercises might spoil the pleasure of reading. A balance should be struck between leaving the students without any help on the one hand and on the other hand 'squeezing the text dry'.

Silent reading does not mean that it can only be exercised individually. On the contrary, she states that it is particularly interesting to compare, interpret and share information about the text with other students. "All will lead to a discussion and probably a need to refer back to the text to check".

Concerning reading techniques, the author comments that most of the students know intuitively some of the techniques concerning sensitizing, but that it is necessary for them to be re-trained as it is more difficult for them to do the same in a second language.

Improving reading speed is basic, as the author explains, for students who read slowly, in order not to get discouraged. She explains they also tend to stumble on unfamiliar words and fail to grasp the general meaning of the passage.

Timing themselves is a good technique, or taking the length of the text and reading time, into account, keeping records of their results.

Reading, states Grellet, 'should also be followed by comprehension questions or activities, since reading speed should not be developed at the expense of comprehension', for there is no one type of reading

The author states that there is no one type of reading but several according to one's reasons for reading.

She points out that it is a waste of time to read all texts in the same way, due to the fact that in many of the cases, the students would be absorving irrelevant information (non-essential).

The exercises presented in this section are thought asa way of making students more confident and efficient readers.

The author defines predicting as 'thefaculty of predicting orguessing what comes next, making use of grammatical, logical and cultural clues. She states that this skill is at the core of thechniques such as anticipation and skimming. A good exercise, he points out, is giving students unfinished passages to complete.

Previewing involves using the table of contents, the appendix, the preface, the chapter and paragraph headings in order to find out where the required information is likely to be.

The exercises suggested here attempt to put students in situations they can apply this technique, naturally.

Being motivated means that we start reading the text ready prepared to find a number of things, expecting to answer some questions and specific information. These expectations are inherent to the process which is a permanent interrelationship between the reader and the text. When reading we make predictions which are to be confirmed or corrected, she argues i.e. we anticipate ourselves to what the text is going to give us.

Grellet suggests asking the students to choose the topics they wish to read, although when it is a large group of students it is not easy to come to an agreement in the subject and the teacher may also want to introduce new topics.

In order to work out a text, Grellet suggests the following steps:

fl) Function of the text

Comprehension of a passage is obvious if we know what its function is. Hence, students should find what the text aims at (convincing the reader, giving him information, among others).

(2) Organization of the text

Thefunction and certain information to be conveyed. There are many waysof presenting this information, says the author. The organization of a passage, she states, will not always be determined by its contents and the nature of the information that must be conveyed.

Once students recognize the pattern that is being used, 'they can apply their reading strategies to the text and predict what is likely to follow'.

Exercises should lead students to study the way ideas are organized in the text, in order to make them thinkof it. Using visual representations such as diagrams, tables, among others, encourage students to use such devices when taking notes on what they read.

The author points out that understanding the way in which the text is organized is understanding its contents (Thematization). Therefore is good after these types of exercises to make the students answer questions which are not easy, nor simple to answer.

The other exercises suggested by her, the Question-types, follow two different aims:

(a)  To make the students active in the reading process by presenting them with question-making activities (drawing a diagram, completing a table, etc.)

(b) To devise activities which are as natural as possible (answering a letter using the information given in a letter, completing a document, etc.)

Grellet states that throughout summary writing manydetailsmustbe rejected but, it is written in ones' own words, it does not imply outlining the structure of the passage, as note-taking usually does, it should be an accurate and objective account of the text, leaving out our reactions to it.

According to the author assessing the text is a vital aspect of reading comprehension and an ability, together with the possibility of assessing it. To do it one should be really aware of the writer's intention, his point of view and possible bias.

Reading as an Interactive process

According to Widdowson (1979 in Carrel, et al 1990 : 56), reading is a process by which we combine textual information with the reader's knowledge of the world, i.e. it is a kind of dialogue between the reader and the text. Goodman (1970,1976) and Smith (1982) states that we sample the text in order to confirm hypotheses and form new hypotheses.

In the case of ESL readers, Carrel states questions on how and to what degree literate second language readers employ lower-level processing strategies, and how these skills interact with higher-level (top-down) strategies.

Another problem is to what extent a model of the fluent reader adequately characterizes second language readers.

"The language ability of most children at age 6 is already developed. They have attained sophisticated control over their syntax, they possess a vocabulary of about 5000 words, and they have a phonological system that can adequately communicate their needs (Singer 1981 in Carrel, 1990:58). This cannot be assumed for students learning to read English. The issue, states Grabe, is not the relation of the reader to the text but the processing relations among various component skills in reading.

As van Dijkand Kintsch (notes, 1983) mention, "What is really wrong with poor readers is that they recognize isolated words innacurately and too slowly, and compensate for their lack in decoding skills with context-dependent guessing hypothesis testing..."

Basso, etal (1984:58) notes theimportanceofan identifiable organizational structure as well as of the activation of previous world knowledge for the comprehension and memory of narrative discourse. Thus, they state that "schema activating texts are powerful materials for the stimulation of linguistic creativity".

This idea coincides to some extent with the recent research done by Biber (1984,1985,1986 in press) and Grabe (1984,1986b) which indicates that 'the linguistic elements of texts combine interactively to help create the textuality i.e. what makes a text be a text as opposed to a collection of isolated sentences that must be processed by the reader.

Other researchers suggest that writers purposefully use and manipulate different combinations of linguistic variables in different text types and genres (textual interaction). This is called by Grabe as the interaction of linguistic forms to define the functions. Hence, the readers must be able to recognize these textual parameters as part of their comprehension abilities.

According to the author it would be reasonable that certain linguistic structures and vocabulary be taught in combination with what may co-occur in the text rather than teaching structures and vocabulary derived from the text.

He states that another important implication for ESL reading research is that the development of reading abilities may be profitable in terms of stages of skills development.

Importance of Critical Thinking

'Critical Thinking is simply the art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of under determined circumstances and given your present limited knowledge and skill' (Critical Thinking: Basic Theory & Instructional Structures, 1997: iv).

In relation to content, this study states that it is internalized by mind, becomes available to a mind, and becomes usable within a mind only through thinking. Therefore, when students think well while learning, they learn well. This can be well turned into reading i.e. when students think well while reading, they read well.

Another important idea established by this study is the fact that we, as teachers must help our students in the process of becoming a "critic" of their thinking in order to discover their thinking and to discover that, potentially, at least, they can make radical changes in their thinking, leaving aside their 'bad habits'. This way, our students will have more leverage on learning and a clearer perspective on what they should be striving to achieve.

Good thinking enables us to be more successful, to save time and energy, and experience more positive and fulfiling emotions. In other words, when we teach our students to thinkcriticallywegive them tools to transfer their classroom learning to the real world of their everyday lives (Critical Thinking: Basic Theory & and Instructional Structures, 1997: iv-vi).

Critical thinkers, it continues are inevitably critical readers, and critical readers approach a text with a view of entering a silent dialogue with the author. They are able to reconstruct the meaning of what they read; to question implications and pressupositions; to organize details around the main idea; to interpret and recognise interpretations, and to synthesize i.e they fit their new understanding into their existing frameworks of thought, familiarizing themselves with the different uses of language.

Rozakis has made a valuable contribution with her book 'Critical Thinking' (1991). She states that nowadays students will inherit a complex and changing world within which they will be expected to absorve ideas, examin and interpret information and be able to apply their knowledge in order to solve unconventional problems. To fulfill this purpose effectively it is necessary to 'develop systematic ways of thinking and reasoning. In other words, students need to think about their thought.

It is necessary to train students' minds to organize their way of thinking, and for this purpose it is necessary to start the other way round i.e. not using contents as something that must be learned, but as a tool to learn strategies in order to develop the abilities and skills that will be useful in all our student's future fields.

Learning Strategies

Strategies are optimal means for exploiting available information. They are used by individuals as a cognitive resource to achieve different tasks.

Psychological studies have contributed to place learning strategies within an information-processing theoretical model, which contains:

(a)  metacognitive strategies involving thinking about the learning process, planning for learning, monitoring comprehension or production; and

(b) cognitive strategies that are directly related to individual learning tasks. They entail direct manipulation or transformation of learning materials; and social - affective strategies consisting of cooperative learning i.e. peer interaction to achieve common goals in learning.

On the other hand, several research have given support to state that there are textual structures which underlie the sentence level and that such organizational structures provide the means for determining the purpose of the text and the main ideas (Martin 1989, Meyer 1987, Slater and Graves 1989).

It has also been demonstrated, that text awareness has strong impact in reading comprehension, due to thefact that features of the text structure, together, contribute to the coherence of the text i.e. the text, itself, organizes and signals information in ways that create and enhance text coherence, which consistently supports reading comprehension.

Therefore, any sort of systematic attention to clues that reveal how authors attempt to relate the ideas to one another, or any sort of systematic attempt to impose structure upon text, specially in some sort of visual re-representation of the relationship among key ideas, facilitates comprehension, as it is established by Pearson and Fielding (1991).

On the other hand, Mohan (1986, 1990) argues that all texts consistently make use of five basic patterns of organization: classification, evaluation, description, sequence, and choice. These, are combined in different ways. He states that once students are made aware of the fact that texts are composed under these patterns, they are able to locate the main ideas and distinguish them from supporting details and irrelevant infomation, for they also show the author's intention and the purpose of the text.

Other important concepts to define are tasks, which must be conceived as a concept that structures an experience. That is to say, metacog-nitive processes that allows to structure goals.

It is precisely, over the basis of a task that it is necessary to select the appropriate means to achieve this goal. It is through tasks, that it is possible to direct and control, in some way, what is going to happen. They must operate based upon three elements: (a)a goal, (b)conditions and (c) resources

Concerning materials it is necessary to mention Grellet (1981:8), who suggests it is better to useauthentic materials i.e nothing is changed from the text, also its presentation and layout is retained, whenever possible. It is then, when time comes to train primary students for specific purposes creating specially graded material through which they can develop the determined skills under constant training. Besides, this material must be attractive to them.

The learning process may be considered incidental for it is not only through language that students learn language.

It must be considered also, that learning a language is not systematic. What we do, in fact, is to systematize knowledge so as to take the best advantage from it during the process (Condemarin, etal 1995: 7-10)


There exists a direct relation with the premise that states reading as an active skill (Grellet, 1991:8) and as an active mental process (Goodman in Carrel, 1991:8) within which the reader is able to apply and develop different intellectual capacities such as, finding the main idea of a text, inferring, analyzing, drawing conclusions, distinguishing facts from non-facts, predicting, visualizing, among others.

The fundamental aspects to be considered in order to help students improve their reading and learning, exploiting and maximizing their intellectual capacities in within the task of Comprehensive Reading are: establishing the difference between reading comprehension and comprehensive reading, making use of their previous knowledge, respecting their intellectual styles, systematizing the incorporation of reading strategies, and applying then continuously.


Chilena. Licenciada en Lingüística, mención Lengua Inglesa Universidad de Chile. Magister en Letras mención Lingüística Aplicada PUC. Universidad Católica Silva Henríquez.


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