Sunday, September 15, 2013

"American-style Teacher, What's my Score?"

The issue of assessment has already come up a couple of times this semester.  On my syllabus, I told learners that I would not be using any form of quantified grading.  I explained that I would not be attaching a number to anyone's writing.  Instead, I explained that I would be responding honestly to their work and giving them feedback based on my personal reaction to their writing.  At the end of this explanation I slipped in, "that means you will get an 'A' as long as you do all the work and turn it in on time."
I initially thought that the primary issue arising out of this would be the power that I was (perhaps) relinquishing.  It was my intention that this policy would lead students to take more risks, to write in a more personalized way, and to get beyond the need to conform to a set of technical norms.  Perhaps this will still happen, but if it does, it won't simply be because I have removed grades.... it will require a positive alternative that transforms this policy from 'the absence of grades' into 'the presence of... well... something else.'
A student visited me in my office yesterday.  He had a specific question about a lesson we had done on 'agency' in descriptive writing (I'll post on that shortly).  After clarifying the gist of the lesson, he proceeded to pull out the written assignment I had just returned to him.  He asked me, "where can I find the score for my assignment?"  I looked at his paper and saw a few of my own comments scrawled here and there around his short essay.  He went on, "when I was in high school, my teacher always commented on specific problems and gave me a score so I could improve my writing."  This struck me as a reasonable critique of what he may have perceived to be a haphazard response to his work.
After I explained my policy for assessment once again, he went on to say, "I think you are an American-style teacher."
At first I had the knee-jerk response of wanting to subvert this designation.  I told him that my high school writing experience hadn't been so different from his.  But if I'm being honest with myself, I'd also have to admit that it felt good that my teaching was 'recognizable' in some sense.  Even if reductive, it was something that might make sense to learners... a loose logic that might translate my odd decisions into a recognizable pedagogy.
But another statement by this student really stuck with me.  He said, "in the past, teachers would give me a score, tell me what I did wrong, and I could improve my writing."
This complicates things because it brings into focus the fact that he (along with many other learners) have probably developed a system for dealing with more standardized forms of assessment.  I have to wonder if my insistence that 'grades are bad' or 'numerical scores & rubrics must be avoided' in some way puts students in the position of not knowing how to respond to my comments... of not understanding exactly how or what it means to improve in our class, and of recognizing my goals only insofar as they conform to a reductive notion of an 'American-style.'
I have to recognize that the decisions I make might be chalked up to broad cultural references that only serve to obscure and oversimplify what I'm trying to accomplish.
So the challenge I see at the moment will be in finding an alternative to grading that is more than simply the negation of standardized/quantified rubrics.  Any attempts to provoke learners to think about writing within our classroom community in new ways will have to be fueled by feedback that speaks to this issue.
In a fantastic essay on the more general issue of rubrics, Alfie Kohn describes research in educational psychology that challenges the benefits of rubrics in writing classes.  Research states that, focusing too much on the quality of one's performance (how well one is doing on a particular assignment or task) leads to more superficial thinking, an excess of attention on being 'correct', and an inability to function in ambiguous learning environments.  Writing, in its most technical and sterilized sense, improves while the capacity to create original and relevant work for a particular audience is all but forgotten.
My unique challenge here is to grapple with the cultural (or perceived cultural) dichotomies that tend to reduce the complexity and the potential of alternative forms of assessment.  So... perhaps in my next class, I will present this problem briefly, and try to incite a conversation about how I can best help learners improve their writing.

This will begin with four written questions:

- Why do you believe that I choose not to use grades or rubrics to assess your writing?
- What do you think are the possible benefits of this method of assessment?
- What do you think are some weaknesses of this approach?
- What other kinds of feedback do you think would be more beneficial to you?

I'll post later on how this turns out....

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cross-cultural and multilingual Writing

The first week of classes is under my belt.  These two courses are pretty similar to other writing classes I've had in that 1) all students are multilingual writers, 2) there is a pretty wide range of English proficiencies, 3) students have a wide range of ideas as to what they need to do to improve their writing.  These classes are different from many of my past experiences in that 1) there is no shared L1 that everyone in the class has access to, and 2) students seem to be pretty strongly divided along national and linguistic lines.

To put it another way, I feel pretty comfortable with content issues and much more unsure about the social and cultural aspects of the course.  This will probably be an ongoing concern as the course goes on.

That said, there is a pretty clear divide between my initial concerns over the social dimensions of our writing experiences, and the needs expressed by students.  To put it simply, there has been a pretty strong call by students to emphasize technical issues in their writing... things like building vocabulary, varying sentence structure and length, addressing structural, organizational, and grammatical components.  Of course, this is no surprise.  It's perfectly understandable that learners would want to focus on objective goals, if for no other reason than the fact that creating then reading objective goals leads to a record of learning.  But as a teacher, I find myself in the familiar position of positing technical skills against socially meaningful engagement.

I started to make an effort to think beyond this tired dichotomy, and I stumbling on some work that is waaay out of my field may have given me an idea.  Neuroscientists have recently been excited about a model of learning that distinguishes between crystallized learning and fluid learning.  It strikes me as pretty similar to a lot of the models of learning that became popular in the mid to late 20th century.  "Knowing that" versus "knowing how" via Ryle, learning versus acquisition via Krashen, explicit knowledge versus habitus via Bourdieu... not to say that these theories are synonymous or even compatible.  But on some level these seem to be different ways of describing and understand pretty similar experiences.  Only now, the crystalized versus fluid model posed by neuroscientists seems to be trying to pin down exactly how these experiences are patterned into neural pathways.

To put it simply, crystalized knowledge would be those facts that we unequivocally 'know'.  I 'know' that Seoul is the capital of South Korea.  I 'know' that behaviorist learning theories preceded cognitive theories in the history or SLA.  I know my address.  This is knowledge that we possess, that we can reiterate, that we can pass down as fact.  Fluid knowledge addresses our working memory and speaks more closely to processes of adaptation and response to various challenges.  In other words, fluid knowledge touches on processes of learning how to solve problems that we have never faced and adapting to social settings that we have never encountered.  It is a continually evolving activity of learning how.

What I like about my (admittedly very reductive) version of this model is that it doesn't require me to reject or deny technical or adaptive aspects of learning.  These are not oppositional.  They are complimentary.  In terms of the writing course, technical knowledge based on the passing down of established norms in academic writing is not necessarily working against my efforts to invoke a more fluid and socially dynamic model of learning/acculturation that I believe to be at the heart of all writing practices.  This means that I have to concede that teaching various writing techniques and established strategies can act as a way into some of the more complex and interesting issues of audience, tone, positioning, and power in writing.

So that's my momentary compromise.  The only practical result of which has been a lesson on two kinds of meaning.

It went as follows:

Meaning can refer to referential meaning in a piece of writing, just as it can refer to the sense of a piece of writing.
For example, if I say something like, "I am the greatest writer in the world!" referentially this would mean something like:  the writer/speaker is making a claim that s/he is 'greater' than any other living being who claims to be a writer.
It is a fairly straightforward, even objective component in meaning.  But it is only a small part of what meaning can do.  If one were to focus on the sense of this statement, one would have to consider the impact, interpretation, or impression that this statement conveys.  In other words, if I were to make such a statement, there is a good chance that I'd be seen as arrogant, cocky, or delusional.  But with 'sense' there is an inherent contextual aspect.  If I were to say this to a colleague, s/he might interpret it as a challenge.  If I were to say this to my wife, she may understand that I am just trying to boost my confidence.  If I say it to a psychoanalyst, s/he may interpret it as overcompensation for a deeper insecurity.  None of these interpretations can be said to be objectively more correct than others.  Further, it needs to be understood that the original statement emerged in/from a specific context and therefore its sense can't be fully distinguished from the social setting in which it was stated.  In other words, it's complicated.  That's why most of the language tests we have devised tend to disproportionally favor referential meanings.

So, the exercise is this....
Take several sentences from learners' writings.  String them together into a short paragraph and have small groups interpret the sense/tone/feeling of the piece.  Question prompts may look something like this:
- What is your impression of the writer?  What kind of person is this?  In one or two words, what does the writer want you to remember about her/him?
- Which particular words  seem to reinforce this sense?
- How could this short paragraph be rewritten to convey a different sense of the writer?  What alternate words or phrases would you use if you wanted to convey a sense of "confidence" / "sheepishness" / "excitement" / "childishness" or "child-like naivety?"

The following clip might serve as an entry into the idea that grammatical rules and structural norms do not fully describe what's going on in a piece of writing.

I asked learners to read short self-introductions that they had prepared for class.  But while reading them out loud, they had to adopt a voice that was present in this clip.  This was meant to allow them to convey a tone or a sense of themselves that couldn't be limited to the technical aspects of their writing.  If nothing else, it was an attempt to place the 'meaning' of their writing in its expression to the class.  For homework, learners are asked to rewrite their self-introductions with a specific voice in mind and they are to select a unique font that they believe captures this voice/tone.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fresh Start

OK, so in the past, this blog has been a supplementary space for a grad course I teach called "Critical Pedagogies in TESOL".  It has more or less been a dumping ground for reading materials, reflections, and teaching resources for students who take the class each Spring.  That means that every June, when the course concludes, the blog goes into hibernation.  For a few reasons, I think I'm going to try to change that.  First, I have relocated and I am no longer in Korea.  Second, I've accepted a new job and I have been assigned a class called "Methods in TESOL" (or something along those lines).  So I find myself in the midst of new beginnings, but I also find myself challenged by a very familiar question....  how is it that social theory, the study of culture, and even educational philosophy can be useful to English language educators?  That's a question that's hounded my work in teacher education for several years, and it's a question that I believe can only be answered by example.


I'm going to try to use this blog as a space for examining classroom ideas, some of the results of these ideas, and as an opportunity to examine how my interests in critical theory, cultural studies, and educational philosophy actually matter to my decisions and my life as an educator.  I'll also give in to the urge to do a little theorizing from time to time and perhaps include the occasional rant on current events or happenings in our field. 

Over the past century teachers have been cast in a wide range of roles:  specialist, technician, organizer, facilitator, activist, deconstructor, reflective practitioner, intellectual, psychologist....  In some ways I think it's a shame that we use only one word to describe this job that we do.  The word "teacher" has a fascinating capacity to mean whatever an individual or a society needs it to mean.  Suggesting that there is only one 'job' (to teach) or one word that can encompass our individual and social roles leads to the misunderstanding that one can simply be a 'good teacher' or a 'bad teacher'.  Of course, there are some people who are better at explaining concepts, at facilitating discussions, at discerning students' interests, at planning activities... but the idea that one can simply be a 'good teacher' and that 'teaching' can be understood outside of a particular local context overlooks the complexity of our work.  

To put this another way, I view teaching as an intellectual, emotional, and social practice of adapting to and defining educational contexts.  The ability to change, to be challenged, to rethink one's work are crucial for anyone concerned with the social and cultural consequences of their work.  Such concerns require us to increase the range of possible learning outcomes rather than to define them beforehand--discovering pedagogical possibilities rather than applying mastered techniques.  But this goal is incredibly difficult in a time where concepts like efficiency, objectivity, and accountability discourage risk-taking and sustained reflection.  So I would like to dedicate a little time to exploring ways that creative, intellectual, and social components of teaching and learning can be fused with the more pressing demands of teaching activities and classroom methodologies.  So....  here's to a (sort of) a new beginning. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Some Closing thoughts and Materials

A friend of mine is teaching various lessons based on the Tao Te Ching.  You can see her blog here.
And esletc is a fantastic blog full of resources and commentary on critical English language teaching.  Here is a blog from Turkey that discusses lesson plans for language learners based on critical objectives.  And you might want to check out these as well:  Critical Pedagogy and the Arts, and Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom.

For academic materials you can a number of critically oriented education journals for free online:

The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies

English Teaching:  Practice and Critique

Journal of Asian Critical Education

Critical Education

Critical and Reflective Practice in Education

Critical Literacy:  Theories and Practices

Journal of Classroom Research in Literacy

Anyway, that's it for this time.  I'd like to thank everyone for participating, for being so patient with abstract reading materials, and for all your efforts to understand and situate the ideas we've been discussing.  If there is any single point I would like to stick with you, it's this:  Critical pedagogy does not have to be about peddling an ideology or a certain view of the world, of education, or of language.  There are many kinds of critical pedagogies, and the purpose of the course was to offer you a sort of 'tool box' of ideas that might allow you to think about your work as a teacher in new ways.  Above all, a critical pedagogy must be created (and constantly recreated) in specific learning sites, because each learning environment is unique- and contains a different set of personal and social tensions.

I've learned a lot through our experiences together, and I hope that you all are able to continue building a responsible, enjoyable, and meaningful teaching practice.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Computers grading writing?

Journals all over the world, Korea included, have been delving into the question of whether or not computers can or should be used to assess student writing.  Teachers and students continue to be opposed to the idea, even if it would make their jobs quite a bit easier.  The NCTE just released its statement on the matter.  Unsurprisingly, teachers, teacher advocates, and those associated with NCTE feel that writing is too nuanced, too complex, in short, too human an activity to be graded by machines.  Here is a great little article that gives some practical examples of how difficult it is to grade writing.
I'm personally opposed to the idea of computers assessing writing for a number of reasons... but I don't think it is helpful to play the "we're essentially human and computers can't get that" argument.  Mostly because if that argument still holds water, it probably won't for very long.  It's an argument that's bound to end up on the losing side of technological history.  

Let's face it, if a human activity is based on any sort of pattern or set of conventions, sooner or later there will be an algorithm that can anticipate and reproduce it.   Those who discuss the nuances of writing and the beautiful complexity of human thought that writing encompasses are playing a waiting game.  Technology is only getting better, and that argument is not only doomed to historical failure, it completely misses the real issue at hand here.  

Humans (and especially students) are masters at adapting to their environments.  Language use is no different.  It doesn't take very long for most students to work out what a teacher wants from them, what they have to do to gain approval, and what they can get away with.  In short, school writing, like any kind of language use, is a social activity that is always in a process of adaptation.  Users of language are always "adapting to others' adaptations".  I can remember plenty of times that I wrote to teachers or professors in order to project a certain image of myself, by referring to a random comment they may have made in passing, trying to establish a common point of interest, political perspective, or world-view...  In short, writing is about making a connection with a reader.

I'm sure this sounds like I'm slipping into the "but we're so wonderfully human" argument... I'm not.  

As we human-folk are always in a process of adapting to our environments, I'd like to consider what it would mean to ask students to write their school essays to a computer.  What kind of writing can we expect from a student who is (very wisely) adapting to the expectations of a machine that is judging her work?  Gone is the opportunity to 'impress' your reader, to coax the reader into or out of a particular way of thinking, of projecting an image to the reader, of surprising the reader....  I think that we might expect this student to write more efficiently, in a more standard format, to take fewer risks, and to generally do no more or no less than complete the required task. 
In a fabulous short essay called Why I won't be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students Writing, Maja Wilson  demonstrates how teachers have the capacity to become machine-like in their grading and how there is constant pressure for us to do so.  

One might suggest that the more standardized and quantified our responses to our students become, the more feasible it becomes that a computer could do our work.  The task is, then, not a matter of exposing the shortcomings of current technology but in addressing the ways that our jobs as teachers have already been reduced to work that could be done by a machine.  The issue has nothing to do with computers taking the place of humans but of questioning the context in which such a thing could even be conceived.

[an aside]
I remember co-teaching in a high school English class.  The full-time teacher and I decided to put together a lesson on juxtaposition.  We asked students to bring in a photograph and to select a song.  During the class, students swapped songs and pictures.  While listening to the songs, we asked them to write their thoughts- "what does this mean?" / "how does the song relate to the picture?" and so on.  Before we started, we got the obligatory "how long should it be?" / "what exactly do you want us to write?" / "is this for a grade?"  

What struck me, both before and during the activity, was that we were envisioning the students writing for the purpose of catharsis or expression.  We were hoping for students to communicate a message through the song/picture juxtaposition and for those listening to not only 'get' the message, but to produce a creative expression of how the juxtapositions impacted them.

What we got were short sentences that were obviously written only in order to complete the assignment.  

My point is not that the lesson flopped (though it clearly did).  My point is that writing... school writing, is something that we have been in a process of reducing to its lowest common denominator for years.  As we make writing into a 'school' activity, we subject our students' ideas, thoughts, and expressions to a numerical grid.  Now that computer programs are being written which are just as efficient, consistent, and accurate (perhaps) at quantifying written thoughts, teachers are calling on the "all too human" card.  We (not everyone mind you, but public education as an institution) have been acting as imperfect computers for years.  It strikes me as ironic that we are now in an uproar over the very natural progression to computers acting as imperfect humans.  

I hope that the fact that computers can (or soon will) be able to quantify writing as effectively as humans might serve as a wake-up call.  My hope is that this exposes not the imperfections of computers but the long evolving process of reducing human experience, activity, and expression to quantified measurements.  The current debate strikes me as little more than humans acting as imperfect computers complaining about computers acting as imperfect humans.  All the while, we are leaving unquestioned the dehumanizing effects of an education system that has given birth to the idea that the work of teachers could be reduced to the calculations of automated machines.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ideology, Queer Theory, and Classroom Practice(?)

Last week's discussion seemed to emphasize the point that we can read a text in any way we choose. In other words, if we wish to find sexism in a text, then we will find sexism. If we want to find class issues, colonialist perspectives, or racism we will certainly find those as well. In other words, we see what we look for.
I think this clip offers a great example of this point:

One could look at the woman who is positioned as subservient to the male customer. He calls her by her first name and she has to accept this because she is this unequal position.  One could argue that this commercial reiterates traditional and somewhat oppressive roles that a woman must take up, and that it suggests that the successful male is in a much different (and more powerful) social role than the successful female.  Her role has been reduced to accepting his mildly sexual advances and this is the acceptable way to respond to such men.

What kind of man is this? What is the significance of the alpha-male persona and what does this say about the successful modern man? It seems reasonable to suggest that this advertisement produces an image of material success and seeks to convince viewers that in order to be successful in our globalized world, one must be stylish, well-groomed, international, and wealthy enough to travel in business class.

Racism or Colonial Concerns? 
One might consider the relationship between the white male and the submissive non-white woman whose duty is to make this man's life comfortable.  Further, this advertisement (from a company based out of Hong Kong, I believe) seems to be tacitly drawing on a historical relationship between Britain and Hong Kong and reinstating a position of subservience to a past colonial power (symbolized by the White Englishman) and associating the former colony with servitude and femininity.


One of the primary goals of the course thus far has been to present a variety of lenses through which we can view various texts. We have been hoping to show that our 'common sense' or habitual way of 'reading' is only one of many, and that there are always other ways to understand and interpret the messages in a given text. But my concern is that in focusing on all these different 'lenses', we might be overlooking very simple and very important questions: “what do I think of this text?”  "How does this text speak to my experience?"  In other words, I worry that the structure of the syllabus might have led us to overlook the value of personal experience and reduced critique to little more than an intellectual exercise.

As I have said all along, the purpose of all this cultural theory we have worked in/through is NOT to simply understand theory.  The purpose has been to grasp new tools and to consider various ways of thinking and reading.  That said, is there a danger in viewing these political issues as mere 'tools'?  Would those impacted by sexism, racism, and other forms of institutional violence be comfortable with these issues being presented as 'lenses' or 'tools'?  In other words, is the approach to the syllabus one that could only have been constructed by a straight, White, middle-class, native English speaking, American, male?

I would like to stress that the capacity to view a text from multiple perspectives does not necessarily mean that these various readings (feminist, classist, postcolonial, racist) are not extremely important explanations.  Racism is real.  Sexism is real.  The effects of hundreds of years of colonialism are still with us.  I do not wish to make light of political and social struggle.  

Yet still.... I think it's always important to view these issues from a historical and context specific perspective.  Consider the following promotion picture from the group "The Bubble Sisters".  This is a dated photo and a long since forgotten band, and there has been a good degree of discussion on this already here, here, and here.  So I'll just say that given the historical significance of blackface, it seems more than fair to call out the racist nature of the photo.  Though given the fact that the history and the cultural references in Korea are much different, there is a question of whether or not cultural distance is an excuse.  Another example is in the Japanese commercial that depicts a talking monkey, who is dressed in a tie and speaking at a podium calling for "Change".  Is this a reference to Obama?  Are the advertisers racist?  Again, my immediate reaction is "YES, of course!"  Clearly the history and the cultural references are troubling.  But these are not the same in Japan... so again, the question that comes up is, "to what degree is this culture responsible for the possible meanings of its texts?"

I am not going to delve into a deeper reading of these problems.  But I will say that it seems clear that both history and context are equally important factors to consider.  For example, what are the implications of a White male calling Koreans 'racist' for producing these kinds of ads?  What kinds of power have enabled me to make these kinds of proclamations?  Is there a difference between me calling this image racist and a black woman who is living in Korea calling it racist?  It seems that the meaning(s) of a given text is never completely closed.  So while a text might project obvious and overt racism, there are always a variety of depths to which this can be read.  And if I dare say, there remains the potential for negotiation and exploration.

So this leads to the question of ideology.  In the work we have done so far, ideology acts as a primary explanation for our interpretations. We interpret things in a certain way because that's the 'normal' way of seeing things. If a woman is represented as 'serving' and 'pleasing' a male in a dominant position, that's because we view this as a normal and acceptable practice. And it isn't until we recognize the ideology of sexism that we begin to question the 'naturalness' of these kinds of representations.
Uncovering such ideologies is essentially what we've been trying to do with our focus on Received & Oppositional readings of texts. Received readings are meant to allow us to recognize the 'normal' or 'naturalized' way of understanding something.  What assumptions are made, how is the audience supposed to react?  Oppositional readings are geared towards provoking readings that see beyond these damaging ideologies. Concepts like feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, and institutional racism are meant to offer us more liberating (and more accurate) views of the world and how we are positioned with it.
In other words, by revealing the nature of ideology, we might get a glimpse of the 'true' nature of oppression and we are therefore empowered to begin envisioning a more just and equal world.   That means that ideological approaches to reading assume that a more just society and a freer self are lying dormant, waiting for us to lift the veil of ideology so we can begin creating a better world.  

In terms of feminism, these ideological shifts have often been described as follows:

> Liberal Feminism
(1st wave)
Opposed to men.  Women can do anything men can do.  We must remove traditional gender roles in order to benefit women and society as a whole.  Equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities, and legislation can lead to equality.

> Cultural Feminism
(2nd wave)
Opposed to masculinity.  Women have unique and essential qualities (namely, the capacity to give birth) that has produced a feminine sensibility and female ways of 'being in the world'.  Women are inherently more subjective, nurturing, and emotional.  Rather than seeking to join a masculine-dominated world, women would do well to create spaces free of masculinity and patriarchy.

> Poststructuralism
(3rd wave)
Opposed to essentialism.  There is no single quality that captures the essence of anyone.  All categories are social conventions and these social conventions are produced through relations of power.  The problem is not so much in the oppression of a specific group of people as much as it resides in the creation of categories.  Naming and categorizing are tendencies that must be challenged and the nature of the individual is always fragmented, partial, and unfinished.  "What is intolerable is no longer so much that which does not allow us to be what we are, as that which causes us to be what we are"    - Miguel Morey

Performativity & Queer Theory  
These are two concepts that grew out of the later work of Michel Foucault and are closely associated with Judith Butler.  Butler borrows from Austin's idea of Speech Acts, and applies it to subjectivity.  Put simply, Austin classifies two kinds of statements... constatives and performatives.  Constatives simply describe the nature of reality.  They are propositions that can be either true or false.  "The light is on" or "today is my birthday" would be examples.  Performatives are statements that themselves carry out an act.  "I do", "you pass" and so on.  In speaking, the speaker carries out some real world function.  These statements are not true or false, they simply carry out an act.
[incidentally, this is the means by which the right to 'free speech' does not give someone the right to yell "fire" in a public place.  In yelling "fire", one is not only 'speaking' but also performing an act.  Stanley Fish has also argued that this is the grounds for banning hate speech in places that guarantee free speech.  In spreading hate speech, one is actually performing an act of hatred and therefore not simply 'speaking', but also acting.  And of course, it would be absurd to make a law protecting one's right to free action because that would, by nature, make all other laws null-and-void.]

Anyway, Butler suggests that in saying "It's a girl" at the baby's birth is not a constative statement, but a performative one.  In saying "it's a girl", one ascribes a certain range of possible identities to this individual and creates the conditions into which this individual can be recognized.

Interestingly enough, modern medicine is now beginning to make similar claims that there are no objective grounds for determining sex in the ways that we conventionally do so.

These categories are actually on a continuum, meaning that individuals are not simply men or women in a simple sense, but actually fall within a combination of continua, the result of which is a somewhat arbitrary socially constructed category.

There is no objective foundation for an essential sexuality.  The issue for poststructuralists is in the 'naming', compartmentalizing, and categorizing of individuals.

This is a great documentary that goes into much more detail....

A quote by Ben Franklin shows the degree to which race is a historical and social construct:
"All Africa is black or tawney; Asia chiefly tawny; (native) America wholly so.  And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal body of white people on the fact of the earth."

> So what does this have to do with reading?  With classroom practices?

The 'hail' and the 'turn'

"Practical" instructor / "Theoretical" instructor / Native speaker / "Westerner"


A classroom application

Nancy Chunn's New York Times art project:

And just for kicks, a new video just went viral:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Some Resources and Readings

This is a short article by Scott Thornbury that includes an outline of basic tenets of critical pedagogy.

He lists the following principles:
Critical Pedagogy...

1. is transformative, and seeks social change 
2. foregrounds social inquiry and critique
3. challenges the status quo and problematizes ‘givens’
4. devolves agency to the learner
5. is participatory and collaborative 
6. is dialogic 
7. is locally-situated, and socially-mediated 
8. is non-essentialist, i.e. it doesn’t reduce learners to stereotypes, but rather legitimizes individual identities 
9. is self-reflexive

And here are two entries from his blog that touch on the idea of critical practice:
Critical Pedagogy
Linguistic Landscapes

There are also a number of blogs that offer resources, ideas, activities, and thoughts on critical practices in language learning.  One of the most well known is esletc.  Though a lot of the materials seem to be aimed at highly proficient learners, there is a lot of information there that might be useful to you.
The Freire Project is another site with information, resources, and links for critically minded educators.  And here is a blog aimed at sharing lessons and activities for English learners in Turkey (some of which seem to have a 'critical' edge to them).
I encourage you to have a look around the web for other resources, idea, and activities that you might be able to adapt to your own teaching and learning settings....

Here is a guide to reading images (adapted from resources at "The Critical Thinking Consortium") that you may be able to adapt to your practice:

Explaining Images
adapted from “The Critical Thinking Consortium”

                                                            Observations                                                               Inferences
Who is in this picture? (Gender, Social Class, Sexuality, Status)

What are these people doing? / What is happening?

When was the picture taken?

Where is this? (Region, Country, Culture...)

Why is the person doing this?

We can also combine this exercise with adaptions of the “critical questions” we discussed in class: 
1)  Who took this picture?  Whose perspective does this show?  What other perspectives can we imagine?

2) Who is the intended audience?  Who will see this picture?  What will they probably think about this picture? 

3) Who is represented?  Who or what do the figures, places, and objects represent?  What might be missing from this image?  

Friday, April 12, 2013


What is the story?

Who tells the story?

What names do we use?

The Dialectic
Oppressor  -- Oppressed 
Theory  --  Practice
Object  --  Subject

Banking Education

Received Readings and Oppositional Reading

Who is the ideal audience?
What is the intended message for the ideal audience?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some Guiding Thoughts/Questions on Freire

In response to a few people who mentioned they would like to focus more specifically on our readings, their meaning(s), and their relevance, I have attached a few thoughts/questions related to the first two chapters of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed".  You do not need to answer these for class, but they might bring some focus to your reading:

First, Freire is offering us a very clear example of dialectic thinking.  In dialectic thought, any idea or "thesis" is understood in relation to an opposing idea or "antithesis".  Knowledge is gained when one is able to move beyond what seem to be contradictions between the "thesis" and "antithesis" towards a "synthesis".  In Freire, we see repeated references to various dichotomies.  For example:

Oppressor - Oppressed
Object - Subject
Theory - Practice

In each of these examples, Freire seeks a synthesis that brings us to a new level of understanding.  When reading these two chapters, try to pay close attention to the ways Freire attempts to synthesize these various dichotomies.

Oppressor - Oppressed
What does Freire mean in saying that a dichotomy between Oppressor and Oppressed leads to the dehumanization of both?
What can be done to "synthesize" this dialectic?  Why is this "synthesis" so difficult? (hint, he discusses this for the first several pages of Chapter One)

Object - Subject
This dialectic is very closely related to the ways we name the world, and involves the relationship between our thoughts and our actions (see p. 56).  Freire denies the idea that we have access to a purely objective world, just as he denies the idea that our subjectivity can be separate from the world.  In short, the objective world and the self are in a dialectic relationship.
What does Freire's object-subject dialectic (p. 32) suggest about HOW we might transform the conditions of oppression?  What is "praxis" and how does it attempt to resolve a dichotomy between theory and practice?
Why/how does 'banking-education objectify the world?  How can problem-posing challenge this objectification?

Freire claims that "problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming-as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality"? (p. 65).  What do you think is the significance of understanding ourselves as incomplete or unfinished beings and how does this help us synthesize the oppressor - oppressed dialectic?

Some terms commonly associated with Freire:
Banking Education 53-57
Problem-posing 60,63
Dialog 47,49,
Praxis  33-35,47,60
Conscientization 48,49,60,63

"Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence....  to alienate humans beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects (p. 66)."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Critical Theory & The Frankfurt School

Why think about pop culture?
What are some of the effects of pop culture?
(How) Can we 'read' pop culture in a critical manner?
Should pop culture become a relevant part of our work as critically engaged language teachers?

(+)                                                                                           ( - )
Improving the Korean 'brand'                                                      Unrealistic depictions of beauty
Generating capital                                                                    Distraction
                                                                                               Pressure to be beautiful

Tools for Thought:
"The philosopher, pacing his Oriental rug, was in a dark mood"
(example by Paul Fry)

The Frankfurt School:  Europe in the mid 1920's

Industrialization, modernization, and the invention of "modern times"

What is "The Culture Industry"?

진달래 꽃”(김소월)

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
말없이 고이 보내 드리오리다.

영변에 약산진달래꽃
아름 따다 가실 길에 뿌리오리다.

가시는 걸음 걸음놓인 그 꽃을
사뿐이 즈려밟고 가시옵소서.

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
죽어도 이니 눈물 흘리오리다.

Azeleas” (역례 3)
If you go away
Through with me
I will quietly let you go.

I will gather azleas in armfuls
At Yaksan hill in Yongbyon
To scatter them on your path.
Tread with a tread,
Light and gentle,
On the flowers as you go.

If you go away
Through with me
Never will I weep though I perish.

Standardization, Passivity and Pseudo-individualism?

"The Aura" and Ritual

The destruction of the aura through traditional artistic display

Aesthetics in Politics vs  Politicizing Aesthetics

Reading an image:

Saturday, March 30, 2013

School Violence in Korea

I realize that I am, and in some respects will always be, an outsider in the Korean education system.  After all, I have yet to learn the language skills to communicate with teachers in Korean, to read the official policy, or to read reports and popular media in the original language.  That said, some things just strike me as very problematic and very very cold.  It's always a bit of a struggle for me to decide when to chime in with my opinion and when to keep my mouth shut.  In terms of electronic media, I usually just keep my mouth shut. This topic, however, really bothered me- as it is literally a matter of life and death.
A Korea Times piece published this week addressed the suicide of a 15 year old boy who left a note blaming his death on five boys who had been bullying him at school. The writer tied this to the bigger issue of school violence in Korea.

President Park was quoted saying "the essential change in school violence will come only when teachers show affection to students and interest in them."

A close and caring relationship between students and teachers is a noble goal.  Yet that last I heard, the average class size in Korea was still between 35 and 40.  Moreover, high stakes testing and further proposals for merit pay (based on students' test scores) position teachers in ways that make the warm and fuzzy emotional aspects of teaching and learning less of a priority than the more immediate need to dispense information and offer effective test taking strategies.  To my knowledge, there is nothing in standard teacher (or student) assessments that measure things like kindness, interest in students' lives, or an ability to mediate conflict.

I have worked with a lot of public school teachers throughout my career.  In that time, I have met teachers who may not involve themselves deeply in their students' lives.  I have even met a few who may not care all that much about their students.  But this is by far, NOT the norm.  Teachers in both the U.S. and in Korea (the two countries where I have worked in teacher education) care deeply about their students' well-being.  Many teachers I have met spend an incredible amount of time worrying about individual students.  These individuals not only go to extreme efforts to help students with their personal difficulties, but they are continually worried about how to address the needs of individual students without ignoring the needs of the other 35+ students.  My guess is that those who taught the 15 year old boy who killed himself are extremely traumatized over what happened.  To have government officials suggest that they are responsible for this seems downright cruel.

The only alternative offered in this article is to direct more funding towards the psychological well-being of students.  This would mean, presumably, the hiring of more guidance counselors and the implementation of more professional psychological assessments.  So the overall message in the article seems to be that the solution to the problem of teen suicides, bullying, and the larger culture of violence in Korean schools is in some debatable balance between greater teacher accountability and more funding.

I would like to suggest a different approach to the problem.  It seems to me that one of the principle reasons that public schooling breeds such violence among students is because our schools are not specifically designed NOT to do so.  The purpose of mass schooling in Korea and abroad is to differentiate between students- to place them on the educational and life path best suited to their individual ability.  The outcomes of our education system cannot be separated from this competitive function.  Students are placed in this system in order to compete with one another.  Those who do well in school go on to do well in life, and "doing well" is a matter of doing better than everyone else.

I remember working in a high school in Daejeon a number of years ago.  One day I noticed a piece of A4 paper taped to the wall, right at the front of the classroom.  The paper contained a list of every student in the class, ranked in order of their latest test scores.  The question that comes to mind is how can we expect our students to treat one another in a manner that is more respectful than the way we treat them?  We place our young people, both in the classroom and on the national level, in competition with one another.  It is a system in which students identify themselves according to how they compare, favorably or unfavorably, to their peers.  This is the institutional tool through which they come to know themselves.  Yet we remain shocked that students themselves invoke such hierarchies in their day to day school-lives.

Put simply, this is not an issue that will go away by pressuring teachers to "show affection" or insisting on widespread standardized psychological assessment.  I would suggest that the violence we see in schools will continue (and perhaps escalate) for as long as we implicitly teach that school is a place in which to compete and to prove yourself better than others.  This issue is rooted in the much larger function of schooling in general.  Asking teachers to fix this problem with their individual efforts is akin to asking the crew of the Titanic to start bailing water.  And throwing more psychologists at the problem is reminiscent of the practice of placing suicide nets outside the windows of sweatshops.  It may alleviate some immediate problems, but it is just a means of avoiding the root of the problem.  If we are serious about confronting the culture of violence in our schools, then we would do well to understand these problems as expressions of the system that we have created.

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 23: Thinking about Orientalism

"The Map is not the Territory"

"I believe that the problem does not consist in drawing the line between that in a discourse which falls under the category of scientificity or truth, and that which comes under some other category, but in seeing historically how effects of truth are produced within discourses which in themselves are neither true nor false"
- Michel Foucault

Language (in Japan) "is viewed less as a tool for self-expression than as a medium for expressing group solidarity and shared social purpose" (Tobin, Wu, & Davidson, 1989, p. 189).

"Language teaching encourages children to express what is socially shared rather than what is individual and personal.  Choral recitation and memorization are pedagogical techniques for accomplishing this" (Carson, 1992, p. 41).
[all cited in Kubota, 1999]

A brief and very clear explanation of Essentialism

You can also find brief explorations of the concept of "othering" here and here

Scott Thornbury gives a nice description of Othering as a scholarly and professional practice

Sports Illustrated sparked some discussion over photographs in their recent swimsuit issue.  Some argue that these photos propagate stereotypes and reduce "western" and "non-western" people to an essential dichotomy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Readings for March 23

Hello all-
I just want to drop a line about the readings for next week.  After re-reading the introduction to Orientalism, I realized that it probably isn't necessary to read the entire chapter.  Be sure to read up to page 14 or 15 -- after that, he goes into detail about his research methodology.  While there are some interesting points in there, I don't think they are necessary for a general discussion on Orientalism.  So please feel free to skim or to skip the second half of the introduction.  If that saves you a little time, then the Willinsky chapter is well worth a close reading.

See you all next week.... and be sure to create your blogs and post the links.

Friday, March 15, 2013

English in Korea

Phlogiston or Oxygen

Sokal Hoax

Questions for the Jo & Shin pieces
How do these pieces differ in the ways they examine the concept of "world" or "international" Englishes?

To what epistemological positions do these writers subscribe?  Can you find evidence in the articles to support your answer?

How would these two authors answer the question....
     - What is the purpose of teaching English in Korea?

Linguistic Landscapes might offer some ideas for using the concept of World Englishes as a practical classroom project.  Here and here are a couple of links that discuss this possibility.

What is English mania?

Some questions that might support a critical reading

Who is speaking? / Who is this person?
What is this person claiming?
Who is the audience for this talk?
Who is the speaking talking about?
From where does this person's knowledge come? / What are the foundations of this knowledge?
What other perspectives are there on this topic?  Who might hold these perspectives?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Information on your Blog Assignments

Your Blog Project

In order to set up your blog, please sign up for a Google (or a gmail) account.  Once you have your account, visit and sign in using your gmail account and password. 

Once you have signed in click on a link called “Create a blog”

You will be prompted to choose a title and a url address for your blog. 

During the next step you will have the opportunity to choose the background/ format. 

That should be it.  Nice and simple. 

The Project

Of course, I hope that you use your blog space in whatever way is most useful for you.  However, my purpose for assigning this is to give you a public space in which to respond to classroom readings and discussions.  Using this electronic format gives us a chance to see how each class participant is responding to our classroom material and should allow all of us to take discussion topics in new directions. 
In addition to simply responding to readings, you may use your blog in a number of other ways.  These include, but are not limited to, 1) keeping running reflections on a particular English class that you are teaching, 2) posting pictures, video clips, links to various web sources that address concerns we are discussing in our course, 3) sharing resources for teaching and learning English that implement critical perspectives.

I encourage you to use the blog in the way that best suits your interests, and I encourage you to be as creative as you wish—take risks.  

Week 2 Materials

"Modern Schooling" and the modern curriculum:

Scientific Management
Social Reconstructionist

Here is a link to a contemporary school in the social reconstructionist tradition

Friday, March 1, 2013

Welcome to the class!  Every Spring semester, I regularly post ideas, thoughts, reflections, and questions related to the Critical Pedagogies course.  I also post assignments and materials for students as well.  I hope this blog can serve as a means of supporting students' efforts to develop critical ELT practices and that it might be a means of promoting thoughtful discussions on English language education and our work as teachers.

Critical Pedagogies
Dankook University TESOL Graduate School
Spring 2013
Curtis Porter
Office #413 상경관 Sangkyungkwan Building
Office Hours:  Wednesday 11:00 – 1:00 / Friday 10:00 – 2:00 (or by appointment) 

As to those for whom to work in the midst of uncertainty and apprehension is tantamount to failure, all I can say is that clearly we are not from the same planet. - Michel Foucault

TESOL practitioners and researchers are increasingly focusing on the implications and consequences of the spread of English.  It is becoming clear that 21st century TESOL faces important questions of how to develop effective, responsible, and ethical teaching practices.  This course seeks to engage with these trends in our field by exploring the potential of critical approaches to English education in Korea. 
Critical pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that assumes all educational processes to be political in nature.  English education in Korea is certainly no exception.  We will take a broad approach to critical pedagogy and explore numerous social and educational theories which conceptualize the political nature of education in a variety of ways.  The course seeks to evoke questions of ideology, hegemony, and power with the ultimate goal of helping each of us develop teaching practices that confront such questions. 
While there will be extensive theoretical discussion, the course objectives are practical in nature.  The course will challenge participants to develop and implement lesson plans, reflect on teaching practices, critique teaching materials, and connect practical experiences in English education to larger political and social themes.  Classroom discussions, readings, and assignments will be designed to support critical inquiry and the development of critical practices. 

Course Activities
As the purpose of the course is to develop our own critical practices in English education, there is no summative project due at the end of the semester.  All assessment will be formative, meaning that I will assess your progress as we go through the course rather than rely on a single project at the end to determine your grade.  There are several activities that you will be responsible for completing:

Blog Project       (30)
I ask all class participants regularly post thoughts, reflections, and responses to a blog.  I will give explicit instructions for how to do so to anyone who chooses to remain enrolled in the course. 
I will also be keeping a blog that will contain resources and course materials as well as personal reflections on the course.

Lesson Plan       (10)
All participants will write at least one lesson plan which incorporates principles we discuss in our weekly readings.

Reflection on your Lesson Plan     (20)
In addition to writing a lesson plan, each class participant will be expected to teach their lesson (or a part of their lesson) in a real classroom setting and write a reflection on the lesson.  Your lessons and critiques will be presented to the class on the final day of the semester.  

Critique of an Educational Resource or Popular Media        (30)
Write a short critique of an English course book, learning material from the internet, or some popular media artifact.  You may do this on your blog. 

Regular Classroom Participation    (10)
Do the readings, come to class, participate in classroom activities and discussions, engage.... 

I will give you explicit directions and expectations for each project at the appropriate time.

Reading List
(This will probably change according to course needs/student interests/etc)

Rethinking the Curriculum
Week 2 -          Shannon- The Struggle to Continue (Intro)
                     Pennycook- The Concept of Method

English Education in a Global Context
Week 3-           Lee Seung-hwan- Continuity and Discontinuity
                     Willinsky- Where is Here?

Week 4 -          Jo- English Education and Teacher Education in South Korea
                      Shin- The Use of Freirian Pedagogy
Week 5 -          Shin & Crookes- Indigenous Critical Traditions for TEFL?
                     Shin & Crookes- Exploring the Possibilities for EFL Critical Pedagogy
                     Thornbury- Dogme: Nothing if Not Critical

Some Theoretical Foundations of Critical Practice
Week 6 -          Storey- “The Frankfurt School”
                     Willinsky- Of Critical Theory and Critical Literacy

Week 7 -          Freire- Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Chapters 1 & 2)

Week 8 -          Gee- The Literacy Myth
                     Wilson- Why I Won’t Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students’ Writing
Situating Theory
Week 9 -          Sadeghi- Critical Pedagogy in an EFL Teaching Context
                     Hanauer- Meaningful literacy:  Writing Poetry in the Language Classroom
                     Thornbury- Grammar, Power, and Bottled Water

Week 10-          Moffatt & Norton- Popular Culture and the Reading Teacher
                     Alcoff- Cultural Feminism versus Poststructuralism

Week 11-          Duncum- Toward a Playful Pedagogy

Discipline, Bodies & Emotion
Week 12-          Gore- Disciplining Bodies: On the Continuity of Power Relations in Pedagogy

Week 13-          Kenway & Youdell- Emotional Geographies of Education
                     Cole & Yang- Affective Literacy

Rethinking Postmodernism
Week 14-          Foucault- Excerpt from Discipline and Punish
                     Deleuze- Postscript on Societies of Control
                     Berry- A Remarkable Man

Week 15-          NO ASSIGNED READING [Share Lesson Plans / Closing Thoughts]

Inclusion Statement
There is a possibility that sensitive topics will arise in our readings and our class conversations.  Indeed, one of the purposes of critical educational practice is to confront political tensions.  I request that all class participants respect all students and refrain from statements which discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, faith, physical ability or appearance.  If at any time you feel that you have experienced discrimination in our class please inform me immediately and I will do everything I can to address the situation responsibly.