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Raúl A. Mora, Ph.D. Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellín Keynote - 14th National ELT Conference Bogotá, D.C. – Sept. 21, 2011


• Directly – Literacy processes (in ELT) – Lifelong learning – Teacher development

• Tangentially – Assessment – Current trends in pedagogy & research – Information technologies in ELT – EFL teacher as educator – Intercultural awareness


• What is literacy to you today? • What was literacy to you 5, 10, 15 years ago? • What ideas, people, places drive/have driven those definitions of literacy?

• In fact… have you ever asked yourself these questions? • Why are these questions important?


• Literacy – “A tough thing to ask, or a tough thing to answer” (Harley)

• Plenty of changes and discussions around this term – Multiple definitions from multiple users

• Changes over the years – Traditional, canonical views of reading and writing – Multiple forms of expression, technology, and alternative/multicultural text


• To understand literacy – It is not enough to theorize it. – We need to listen to those engaged in practices. – We best define it from voices in social context.

• Voices of English teachers and teacher educators – Important to rethink what literacy means in L1 and L2 – Find new ways to envision how we play with texts in today’s classrooms


• Data-driven discussion • Findings about literacy from a group of teachers and teacher educators (Mora Vélez, 2010) – Definitions – Changes – Influences

• Reflexivity (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Mora, 2010, 2011a, 2011b) – Challenges for literacy in ELT


1. What are the main concepts and influences in the way a group of teachers and teacher educators understand literacy? 2. What are the major changes the participants experienced regarding the connections between literacy, texts, and technology? 3. How are these ideas about literacy applicable and relevant to the current context of ELT in Colombia?


• We need to learn what scholars have said and written about literacy • Literacy – more interest in it in latter half of 20th Century (Kaestle, 1988) • Multiple positions and questions – One or many? – What kind of reading/writing?

• Five major paradigms


• Bloom (1994); Hirsch (1987, 2006) • “Skills required to survive in a literate society” (Garsett, 1983, p. 235) • Practices linked to the school curriculum • Prevalence of canonical (Bloom, 1994) texts • Traditional genres of writing • Goal: Person as a member of the community (nation-state?)


• UNESCO (1970) • Policies in Africa and Central/South America • Reading and writing for the work force • Traditional forms of writing • Simplified texts • Goal: Person as a better, more efficient worker


• Freire (1970); Freire & Macedo(1987); Shor (1999); Morrell (2008); Willis, et al. (2008) • “Reading the word and the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987) • “Focus on the cultural and ideological assumptions that undermine texts” (Morgan, 1997) • Goal: Person as an advocate against social inequality and injustice (McLaren & Lankshear, 1993; Beck, 2005)


• Street (1984, 1995, 2005); Pahl & Rowsell (2006); Gee (2008) • In and out of school (Schultz, 2002) practices • Autonomous vs. Ideological model (Street, 1984, 1995) • Learning about practice – through people (Street, 2001) • Goal: Literacy within and beyond the classroom


• New London Group (1996); Cope & Kalantzis (2000, 2007, 2009); Kress (2000) • Looking at literacy in light of changes in technology and society • Multiple forms and modes of representation (i.e. Multimodality [Kress, 1997; 2003]) • Acts of reading and writing – Broadly framed – Question motive and utility • Goal: Person as a citizen of the world


• In theory, the paradigms… – are easy to define

• In practice, the paradigms… – mesh with each other – antagonize – overlap

• Binary oppositions

– A traditional view of paradigms (Stone, 2003) – Difficulty to negotiate personal and institutional views – A forced it in one single paradigm


• Dyson (1993) – “Permeable curriculum” – A space of “interplay between […] language and experiences” (p. 1)

• “Permeable Literacy Continuum” – Interplay across paradigms – Recognition and celebration of overlaps – Awareness of the haziness of conceptual boundaries in practice – A way to make best decisions – A common agenda of human realization


• Qualitative study (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007; Creswell, 2003) • In-depth interviews (Fontana & Frey, 2008; Kvale, 2007; Seidman, 2006) – Teachers and teacher educators – Large US public university

• 3 Interviews per participant – Evolution of practice – Messages in English teacher education courses – Ideas about literacy in past 15 years


• More than just reading and writing – “Literacy is the ability to read and write, the capacity to express your thoughts into words, the ability to understand the information that comes towards you, to analyze and interpret it and to respond to it in a matter that is according to your own beliefs.” (Logan) – Engaging with text, connecting information to personal life, question the world (Indigo)


• A social activity – “To begin to acknowledge the impact of socio-economic status and class and race and culture on the capacity of one to express one’s thoughts… so that you’re not simply teaching students to decode and teacher’s expectations are not that students simply be able to cite and recite literature but one is able to become more critical of the world…” (Morgan)


• One or several, but think about why – “[Literacy] means once again from the basic phonemic awareness and decoding to kind of critical and analytical literacy. Then we throw things like digital in front of it, critical in front of it, as a way of kind of reading the text, reading the world.” (Dylan) – “So people talk about literacies without really thinking about what that means or why there might be such a thing as multiple literacies.”(Bailey)


• A road to critical thinking – “The whole purpose of whatever I have students do in the classroom and whatever I advocate for them to do with their students is about interpreting and making sense of a text within a full context, which would include understanding the political and the social and the cultural significance of whatever it is they’re reading.” (Bailey)


• Looking past the essay – “Deeper-thinking conversations about a text and what it means and making connections about the book and the real world” (Francis) – “If you can write well in multiple contexts, in multiple genres, and in multiple situations, you’re in pretty good shape” (Harley)


• From writing to composing – Multimodal text – Digital text – The role of technology in written text (Mora, 2011a)

• Sense of audience – “The things that they’re writing on those blogs are things that are read by real people and are responded to” (Dylan)


• Literature – Beyond “the book and the big anthology” (Armani) – “Literature is words that there are not only well-known in classics but deal with issues that are universal all around the world” (Logan) – Multiculturalism: “one of the really dynamically interesting things that you can, as a feature of classrooms today” (Harley)


• Race and gender – not as influential as one may think – Gender – almost a non-factor

• Education – a much larger issue – Advanced education – complicates the issue (Dylan, Emery, Morgan) – Academic background – shapes the conversation (Bailey, Harley, Kennedy)


• Life and Experiences – Teaching abroad (Bailey, Guadalupe, Kennedy) • Affecting views of literacy and English

• Our children – Meaning sons, daughters, and students


• What are we reading? – Canonical and multicultural texts? – Online and print texts? – Traditional and alternative genres? (Jacobs, 2007)

• Why are we reading? – – – – –

Decoding? Critical thinking? Agency? (García & Willis, 2001) Power? (A. Luke, 2003; Macedo, 1994) Our surroundings?


• What are we writing? – Digital vs print texts? (Damico & Riddle, 2006; Drouin & Davis, 2009; Leu, et al, 2007, 2009) – Genres and styles? – Multimodal texts?

• For whom are we writing? – – – –

The teacher? Ourselves? All around us? Audience and publication?


• What are we speaking about? – Role of orality? – Topics and issues? – Our and our students’ voices?

• What kind of literacy do we want for our students? – Productivity? – Citizenship? – Advocacy? (Morrell, 2008)


• What do we mean by “literacy” (in English and Spanish)? – Transcending school-sanctioned ideas – From alfabetización and lecto-escritura to literacidad (Mora, 2010, 2011) – What should multiple literacies mean for us? – Ideological model for Colombia? – Literacy and biliteracy in regards to official, dominant, and indigenous languages


• Literacy within policy – Predominant paradigm(s)? – Kinds of reading and writing? – Kinds of literacy practices? – In and out of school? (Hull & Schultz, 2001) – Biliteracy within bilingual policy proposals?


• What are dominant paradigms in the discourse and curriculum in – Schools? – Teacher education programs?

• What kind of messages do teacher educators send about literacy? – Binary? Continuum? – Overlaps? – Goals?


• What are we doing regarding literacy? – Conversations in methods and language courses? (Jones & Enriquez, 2009) – Practices? (Kist, 2000, 2007; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003) – Professional development? (C. Luke, 2003)

• What influences teachers and teacher educators? – Evolution? – Affecting factors? – Education?


• Literacy to me – A much broader concept now than 15 years ago – It continues evolving – A lot of questions remain

• The invitation – To continue the conversations we all started in this ELT Conference – To keep asking questions about literacy – To engage our colleagues and students in this conversation


Literacy can very well be an instrument of liberation as much as it has been an instrument of oppression. Ultimately, if we believe in empowerment, in a better education, in better human beings, we all need to take a stand about what we want “the word and the world� to look and be like for our children and our world.


RaĂşl A. Mora, Ph.D. raul.mora@upb.edu.co Reference list available online at http://bit.ly/omVrLm


Understanding what literacy is and where it comes from