The five contexts

Queensland, Australia

Australia’s growing cultural and linguistic diversity is evident in the fact that almost 30% of the population is born overseas (ABS, 2019). In the year ending 30 June 2019, there was a net gain from overseas migration of 239,600 people, a slight increase from 2018. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are home to the bulk of the migrants. While migration from England continues, it is declining with China, India and the Philippines now representing the fasting growing countries of origin in Australia, along with Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Australia provides a useful case study of how critical literacy is constructed within English language education for learners from these widely varied backgrounds, and those of other migrants. In recent years, the national curriculum body, The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), has provided substantial guidance for teachers of EAL learners in mainstream primary and junior high school contexts2.

In terms of program delivery in schools, English language learners are taught within mainstream classrooms up to Year 12, the final year at high school (age 17-18). The regular classroom teacher may or may not have received specialist training for teaching English language learners. They may be supported by a specialist EAL teacher within these classrooms if a critical mass in the school or district warrants the appointment of a specialist teacher. In some schools, where numbers warrant, a separate senior English class may be arranged for EAL learners with a specialist EAL teacher using a separate syllabus (see QCAA 2019b), but this is not mandated. In metropolitan regions, high school age learners with very low levels of English proficiency can attend special Intensive English Centres (IEC) before entering the mainstream high school. The presence of these centres varies between and within states according to population demand. For example, there are 15 lECs in the Sydney, New South Wales area, nine in Melbourne, Victoria and eight in the Brisbane, Queensland area. However, much of the responsibility for teaching EAL learners falls to regular teachers in regular schools for which they need increased professional development.

Historically, the definition of literacy in Australia’s Language and Literacy Policy (Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1991) incorporated vague reference to a critical dimension and what that entailed was very much open to interpretation:

Literacy is the ability to read and use written information and to write appropriately, in a range of contexts. It is used to develop knowledge and understanding, to achieve personal growth and to function effectively in our society. Literacy also includes the recognition of numbers and basic mathematical signs and symbols within text. Literacy involves the integration of speaking, listening and critical thinking with reading and writing. Effective literacy is intrinsically purposeful, flexible and dynamic and continues to develop throughout an individual’s life time.

(p. 9, my emphasis)

More recent statements about what literacy is in senior secondary English curriculum articulate more explicitly a critical element within Literacy:

Literacy in English

Literacy is important in the development of the skills and strategies needed to express, interpret, and communicate complex information and ideas. In English, students apply, extend and refine their repertoire of literacy skills and practices by establishing and articulating their views through creative response and argument. They experiment with different modes, mediums and forms to create new texts and understand the power of language to represent ideas, events and people.

(QCAA, 2019a. p. 7, my emphasis)

As an international trailblazer for critical literacy being legitimised in English language education policy in the 1990s and 2000s (Alford & Jctnikoff, 2016; Luke, 2000), Australia provides a valuable case in point tor the ways in which critical literacy is now located in these same policies and guidelines, almost two decades on, in a more constricting education environment. Recent Australian scholarship on critical literacy in the curriculum for EAL learners in high schools argues consistently that critical literacy is, firstly, possible with English language learners given certain pedagogical conditions that account for learners’ culturally, linguistically and educationally diverse experiences, including their cognitive capacities. Second, it is necessary due to the propensity for these learners to be automatically bundled into deficit, at-risk categories that often get watered-down versions of learning input. Third, critical literacy is very useful for newcomers to an additional language because it attends to the structural and lexico-grammatical features of texts; their ideological contents, assumptions and discourses; and the ways in which they are culturally produced and used (Alford, 2014; Alford & Jctnikoff, 2016; Alford & Kettle, 2017; Alford & Woods, 2016; Luke, 2003; Luke & Dooley, 2011).


Characterised by growing ethno-linguistic diversity (Costley &: Leung, 2009), England is of particular interest given its recent populist opposition to such diversity culminating in the contentious and protracted decision in 2019 to exit the European Union. According to the Department for Education (DfE), over 1 million school-age students between 5 and 16 years old in English schools had a first language other than English (DfE, 2013). In 2016, 15.7% of state funded

Constructing critical literacy 29 secondary school students were identified as EAL (NALDIC, 2015b). Costley (2015) notes, however, that in England,

EAL exists, in many ways, in a state of policy contradictions. At the present time, for example, English as an additional language is not a tangible or recognised curriculum entity in England, even though for many teachers, multilingual classrooms are an everyday reality. Although the number of EAL learners is increasing, funds and resources previously ring-fenced for EAL are decreasing, (p. 288).

There is also no provision in England within initial teacher education regarding EAL pedagogy and underpinning theories (Leung, 2016), yet EAL learners are part of mainstream education and have been since the mid-late 1980s (Costley, 2014). Embedding EAL within National Curriculum subjects is a clear expectation (Bracken et al., 2017) and EAL learners therefore experience the mainstream curriculum without officially endorsed specialist EAL curriculum considerations. Over fifteen years ago, Leung (2001) identified that the explicit teaching of EAL was not recognised with ‘subject’ status within the curriculum in England and this is still the case, according to NALDIC, the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum3:

In England, the policy since the mid 1980s is that EAL learners, with all learners, should have equal access to the National Curriculum with no specific EAL curriculum. The focus has been on delivering National Curriculum English, which has been considered a good model for both first and additional language learning.

(NALDIC, 2015a)

NALDIC does, however, raise concerns about this, invoking Hornberger’s (2010) call for educators to “open up ideological and implementations! space for multilingualism and social justice” (p. 562-563) for speakers of multiple languages:

Minority languages are valued and celebrated as worthwhile. However, English is the preferred school language for all pupils and academic attainment is only achieved through the medium of English. This policy of pupils learning EAL in the mainstream classroom through the National Curriculum raise issues not only of language and pedagogy, but also of rights and entitlements, social integration and equality of access to education.

(NALDIC, 2015a, my emphasis)

This situation also raises issues about notions of “literacy” or “literacies” and the types of literacy practices that are offered to EAL learners within the mainstream curriculum in England. England presents as a note-worthy case in point in another respect as well. Against a backdrop of literature and language dominating conceptions of English teaching (Ball ct al, 1990, Goodwyn, 2011) asserts

“that English teachers (in England) have become anti- Literacy, especially when comparable teachers in the USA and Australia, for example, are very comfortable with the term” (p. 118). He lays the source of this anomaly squarely at the feet of how the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) and the Framework for English (FEW) were designed and implemented, leaving teachers in England, he argues, without a sense of identity as teachers of well-rounded literacy, let alone critical literacy. The general picture in England is that which Leung (2016) draws attention to: the systematic ‘elbowing out’ of critical approaches to literacy education. In a scathing attack on the under-researched nature of England’s reading policy, Dombey (2014) asserts that “The development of England’s children as text critics seems entirely outside governmental concerns”. She alludes here to the dominance of a poorly constructed focus on the “text decoder role” (Freebody & Luke, 1990 - see Chapter 1), with phonics being a key obsession, and a lack of the “text critic” role.

Ontario, Canada

Canada is of particular interest as it has had a robust immigration policy for decades leading to the foreign-born population being estimated by the National Household Survey, 2011, at 6,775,700, representing 20.6% of the total population, (Statistics Canada, 2013). Countries of origin today include China, Pakistan, and India. Cummins, Mirza & Stille (2012) noted a “lack of coherent policies in relation to the education of bilingual/ELL students across Canada” (p. 27). Education is administered separately by the 10 provinces, each having differing immigration patterns (Burnaby, 2008), through local school boards. Coherence amongst policies seems elusive. Indeed, it may not even be ideal to have coherence if responding to diversity is a priority.

As an urbanised province always attractive to immigrants (Boyd & Vickers, 2000), Ontario has developed a noteworthy approach to addressing the diverse needs of EAL learners recognising the role that first language literacy plays in learning literacy in an additional language. Following assessment of their language and literacy proficiency, ELLs in Ontario can be placed into 1 of 2 program categories - English as Second Language (ESL) programs for students whose first language is other than English and who have developed age-appropriate first-language literacy skills; and English Literacy Development (ELD) programs for those whose first language is other than English and who have had limited opportunity to develop age-appropriate first-language literacy skills, e.g., through disrupted schooling. As is the case in Australia, “All teachers are responsible for supporting academic success for all students - including English language learners” (Gov’t of Ontario, 2019, p. 31).

United States, and California, specifically.

Since the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts (2009), The United States has seen immense change to its English language education curriculum policies. 45 states plus the District of Colombia

Constructing critical literacy 31 have now adopted it and many states are wrestling with how to enact it in empowering ways for all learners, not just EAL learners. A steady stream of literature critiquing the CCSS has emerged since 2010 and will no doubt continue to do so as the outcomes of teaching the standards are documented from critically-informed perspectives. California, in particular, with its particular socio-political and historical context is instructive for exploring how critical literacy is rendered in policy. It has long had a high percentage of Latin American and other immigrant populations from China, for example, that has necessitated state response to the way English language education is delivered. Much research has been produced drawing on data from California EAL populations (Collier & Thomas, 1989; Hakuta, Butler & Witt, 2000) so it is generally a state of international interest when it comes to policy and instruction for EAL learners. Due to the high proportion of EAL learners in California, the state has developed a unique curriculum approach outlined in the Executive summary: English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework for California public schools K-12 (Slowik & Brynelson, 2015). The rationale for this, stated in the framework, is that

The state’s more than six and one quarter million public-school students in transitional kindergarten through grade twelve come from a range of ethnic backgrounds; speak a variety of home languages or dialects of English; live in different social and economic circumstances; are being raised in different geographic, community, and familial settings; have different cultural experiences and histories; and have different physical and cognitive abilities. Many are learning English as an additional language, (p. 1)

According to the executive summary of the framework,

The ELA/ELD Framework breaks new ground by providing a blueprint for the implementation of two sets of interrelated standards: the California Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy) and the California English Language Development Standards (CA ELD Standards)

(Slowik & Byrnelson, 2015, p. 4)

As such, California provides a significant case in point of how literacy and language teaching within the CCSS are being re-articulated by the state.

Scholarly literature is documenting how Californian teachers are experiencing significant constraints on their professional agency in the current era of accountability. For example, Buchanan’s (2015) study of nine teachers in three Californian schools demonstrates how “(t)hc policy paradigm of accountability with an emphasis on what can be standardized, measured, and compared, gives rise to particular professional practices that teachers and schools must engage in to remain legitimate” (p. 705). These practices, she found, often ran counter to the kinds of teachers they wanted to be.

Concomitantly, a growing body of literature is highlighting considerable concern about the demise of criticality in the US curriculum. Recently, and in a short period of time, a significant shift has occurred in terms of how learners are required to engage with critical cognitive work in the US curriculum. For example, Porter, McMakcn, Hwang and Yang (2011) have analysed, among other things, the differences between the cognitive demands laid out in Common Core English Language Arts and Reading (CC ELAR) and those of previous state standards in 24 US states in order to identify how much change has occurred and the nature of this change. Their analysis points to what I deem to be an obscured trend in relation to how the CC ELAR incorporates the types of cognitive demand typically involved in critical literacy work. Porter ct al note that the proportion of the cognitive demand “analyze” has risen from 16.47 in state standards to 33 - 35 in the CCSS, while the “evaluate” cognitive demand has decreased from 7.53 to 5.64. The sharp increase in “analyze” (1/3 of content) reflects the CCSS’s focus on textual analysis. In the CCSS ELAR, to “analyze or investigate” includes ability to: categorise information; distinguish fact from opinion; compare and contrast; identify with another’s point of view; make inferences and draw conclusions and predict consequences”. While certainly at the higher order end of the spectrum, these cognitive operations can be carried out without any consideration of power within and behind language use. Evaluation is widely considered the highest level of thinking, along with creativity, and is frequently called on in critical literacy classrooms. It involves students’ ability to: “determine relevance, coherence, internal consistency, logic; assess adequacy, appropriateness, credibility; test conclusions, hypotheses; synthesize content and ideas from several sources; generalize; (and) critique” (Porter, et al. 2011. p. 109). Thus, while the CC may represent a shift toward higher order thinking at the analysis level (double that offered by many previous state standards), it stops well short of the evaluation level which provides the opportunity for actual “critique”.

Spring (2014) argues that the content of literacy education broadly is increasingly determined by political and economic goals, and that this is well exemplified in the following CCSS statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

(Common Core State Standards, 2013, Spring’s emphasis)

The tenuous state of criticality in the CCSS and its fixation with teaching and testing traditional reading skills is well documented. Shelton and Altwerger (2015) argue that the CCSS has silenced critical literacy through the implementation of reading mandates and actively denies “decades of knowledge about the

Constructing critical literacy 33 transactional nature of reading” (p. 37), where students find meaning in the text and in themselves and their experiences, not just in the text alone or the teacher’s interpretation of it. Similarly, Moore, Zancanella and Avila (2014) vigorously argue that critical literacy as a term and concept is “being aggressively shaped and avoided” in the CCSS (p. 129), particularly through its assumption that increasing “text complexity” from K-12 will be the panacea for raising reading achievement levels, and that it will miraculously produce critical thinking as some kind of by-product. Text complexity is defined in the CCSS as “the inherent difficulty of reading and comprehending a text combined with the considerations of reader and task variables” (NGA &: CCSSO, 2010, p. 43). Fang (2016) points out that this definition spuriously conflates “complexity” and “difficulty”, the former being the formal properties of any text, and the latter the challenge a text provides to a particular reader. She maintains that “simply immersing students in complex texts is rarely sufficient in helping them develop the literate capacity to independently comprehend and critically evaluate texts of varying complexities” (Fang, 2016, p. 204).

As a result, the CCSS itself is in favour of narrow definitions of reading and literacy which, according to Shelton & Altwcrger (2015), continue to drive policy decisions. Fortunately for teachers in the US, scholars including Fang (2016), Rogers, Mosley and Folkes (2009), Rogers (2014), and Vasquez and Egawa (2002) provide in-roads for how to combine aspects of the CCSS to empower teachers to create responsive critical pedagogics and not just wheel out teaching as a painting-by-numbers exercise (see Taubman, 2009). For example, drawing on the popular “close reading” (Snow & O’Connor, 2013) technique, Fang (2016) presents a four phase pedagogic process - engaging with the text, zooming in on the text, playing with the text, and extending the text. The playing and extending phases ensures students have the opportunity to talk back to the text in the critical tradition, moving beyond simple extraction of meaning from the text that has dominated the wide-spread application of the “close reading” approach to date. Likewise, Beach, Thein and Webb (2015), in their substantial text Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards: A Critical Inquiry Approach for 6-12 Classrooms (2nd edition), offer teachers a more critical orientation to interpreting and enacting the CCSS. (See also Brass and Webb’s edited volume, 2015). Suffice to say from this brief literature survey that the CCSS is generating substantive critique of the way it is “handling” critical literacy, as well as eliciting creative pedagogic responses from among scholars and educators.


Along with other Nordic countries, Sweden is known for its commitment to social justice alongside excellence in education (Scott, 2014). The “growing influx of migrants and refugees which has transformed the (Scandinavian) countries into more complex multicultural and multilingual societies” (Wedin, Hermansson & Holm, 2017, p. 1), poses new challenges for the Swedish education system. English is a compulsory additional language in schools and there is vigorous interest in critical literacy among language and literacy scholars (Ekvall, 2013; Lundgren, 2013; Lyngfelt & Olin-Scheller, 2016; Olin-Scheller & Tengberg, 2017; Schmidt, 2013. In Sweden, English is characterised in language education policy as an ascendant Swedish language (Hult, 2012) making it a discursive space with various tensions around “ownership” of the language that will invariably impact on the ways teachers teach English. Teachers, however, in Sweden are struggling to make critical literacy a priority in classrooms with linguistically diverse learners (Svensson, 2013), in much the same way teachers are reported to be struggling in countries that have had a long history of critical literacy in official policy, such as Australia. For these reasons, Sweden is an interesting case in point and therefore warrants inclusion in this book.

Since critical literacy as a field of study is quite new in Sweden, research on critical literacy’s place in policy or curriculum as genres of governance is scant but two studies are relevant to the focus of this chapter. Ekvall’s (2013) analysis of the 2009 Swedish national test in Swedish as a first language and Swedish as a second language for grade 3 revealed that an awareness of critical literacy was not a feature of the tests. Rather, the discourses underpinning the tests were related to giving students access to prevailing narrative genres without problematizing their design, assumptions or status. This emphasis on Access is valuable especially for those learning Swedish as an additional language, but it also reveals the ubiquitous access paradox. The access paradox recognises that deconstructing texts without providing knowledge of how those texts arc constructed in the first place, excludes learners from powerful language varieties that manifest as linguistic capital. This, in turn, can limit learners’ life opportunities and confine them to marginalised language use in their own communities (Janks, 2010).

Within the teaching of English in Sweden, Hult (2012) presents an analysis of discourses about English in the Sprak/Languages syllabus (Skolverket, 2000) and the interpretations of these guiding documents made by pre-service English language teachers. In terms of the policy analysis, of interest to this chapter, Hult found that English is characterised in three ways: English is useful for international purposes; English is widely available in Sweden; students should develop English communicative competence not just with native speakers but with speakers of other languages who also use English as a lingua franca. Hult’s ultimate concern is about the tensions between English as a global and a local language and its position in the linguistic hierarchy in Sweden and how teachers negotiate this tension. The concern in this present chapter enlarges Hult’s investigation to question how the English curriculum envisages how English, as both global and a local language, should be taught through literacy approaches. As discussed in Chapter 1, one of the tenets of critical literacy is that the diversity learners’ possess - their home languages, personal literacies, experiences and histories - is integral to the literacy learning process (Janks, 2010; Lau, 2013).

How critical literacy is represented and positioned in English language curriculum as policy within each of these changing contexts, as they purport to respond to increasing cultural and linguistic diversity, is the point of interest in this chapter. Exploring different countries’ education policies can at times feel like comparing

Constructing critical literacy 35 apples and oranges. Each country organizes the management and implementation of their education system differently, although some share similar approaches. It is therefore important to keep in mind the broader systemic situation in each country when trying to make sense of this complex picture. The OECD’s Education Policy Outlook 2015 Making Reforms Happen report (OECD, 2015) provides useful contextual information about each of the chosen jurisdiction’s education systems and the key issues facing them. I have distilled from this report, the information relevant to this book, in Table 2.1, including report page numbers.

I now turn to a brief discussion of the analytical approach used in this chapter and the rest of the book.

Table 2.1 Notes on each country’s education system and key issues faced, as reported by the OECD, 2015



Issues and focus

Australia (pp. 192-195)

  • • Decentralised - shared national education system in agreement with states (although this is changing with the implementation of the national curriculum in all states and territories since 2014);
  • • Steered nationally through agreements with states and territories, focused on education priorities and funding;
  • • Schools and states share most decision-making in lower secondary education;
  • • Schools make most decisions regarding the organisation of instruction, however this is increasingly constrained by federal requirements due to the national curriculum.
  • • Since 2014, schools are entitled to additional funds that address identified student and school needs. These loadings are targeted at a range of disadvantaged students including those with limited English skills.
  • • Funding model is based on a public/private school division.

Reducing inequities by tackling system-level policies (e.g., funding allocation) hindering equity in education;

Increasing access to education and performance of disadvantaged students which includes some EAL learners and many Indigenous students.


• Decentralised

Raising student

(pp. 303-305)

  • • As one of four countries in the United Kingdom, it has responsibility' for its own education policies to provide an increasing role to schools and teachers.
  • • High definition curriculum

performance and decrease performance gaps between students of different socio- economic backgrounds.


Table 2.1 (Continued)

Country/Jurisdiction System

Issues and focus

Ontario, Canada (pp. 204-205)

California, United

States (pp. 307-309)

Sweden (pp. 295-297)

Decentralised. In each of the 13 jurisdictions, ministries or departments of education are responsible for organisation, delivery and assessment of its education system.

In several provinces, elementary/ secondary education are the responsibility of separate ministries or departments. Decision-making is entrusted to school boards or districts and the level of responsibility delegated is at the discretion of the provincial/ territorial government. In general, almost half of decisions are taken at the local level in lower secondary education

System of regional governance of the education system, where state, local and federal governments guide and hind the education system. Public school curricula, funding, teaching, employment and other policies are set through locally elected school boards with jurisdiction over school districts. Most decisions in lower secondary education are taken at the local level of government.

Common Core State Standards (2009) have been adopted by 43 states, the District of Columbia, tour territories and defence education. No Child Left Behind policy- binding for schools is based on reaching performance targets year???

Steered by the central government and local authorities.

Central government defines goals and learning outcomes and has overall responsibility for education.

Municipalities are responsible for providing and operating primary and secondary schools, and most decisions in lower secondary education are made by schools or local governments.

Improving the performance of minority-language and Aboriginal students

Providing access to a quality education to all students, regardless of where they live and their learning needs.

Aims to reduce achievement gaps by ensuring all students, particularly high needs students, have access to a quality education; and increase upper secondary school graduation rates, college enrolment and completion rates.

Providing all students with the opportunity to reach achievement targets and complete upper secondary school with improved skills, both for the labour market and further studies. Students who run the risk of not achieving the targets have the right to receive individual support.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >