Application of Common Core State Standards for English Language Learners

English Language Arts

The Common Core State Standards for English language arts (ELA) articulate rigorous grade-level expectations in the areas of speaking, listening, reading, and writing to prepare all students to be college and career ready, including English language learners. Second-language learners also will benefit from instruction about how to negotiate situations outside of those settings so they are able to participate on equal footing with native speakers in all aspects of social, economic, and civic endeavors.

ELLs bring with them many resources that enhance their education and can serve as resources for schools and society. Many ELLs have first language and literacy knowledge and skills that boost their acquisition of language and literacy in a second language; additionally, they bring an array of talents and cultural practices and perspectives that enrich our schools and society. Teachers must build on this enormous reservoir of talent and provide those students who need it with additional time and appropriate instructional support. This includes language proficiency standards that teachers can use in conjunction with the ELA standards to assist ELLs in becoming proficient and literate in English.

To help ELLs meet high academic standards in language arts it is essential that they have access to:

Teachers and personnel at the school and district levels who are well prepared and qualified to support ELLs while taking advantage of the many strengths and skills they bring to the classroom;

  • Literacy-rich school environments where students are immersed in a variety of language experiences;
  • • Instruction that develops foundational skills in English and enables ELLs to participate fully in grade-level coursework;
  • • Coursework that prepares ELLs for postsecondary education or the workplace yet is made comprehensible for students learning content in a second language (through specific pedagogical techniques and additional resources);
  • • Opportunities for classroom discourse and interaction that are well-designed to enable ELLs to develop communicative strengths in language arts;
  • • Ongoing assessment and feedback to guide learning; and
  • • Speakers of English who know the language well enough to provide ELLs with models and support.

The above guidelines indicate that what is “essential” (and therefore valued) in the CCSS is foundational (i.e., basic) skills provided through comprehensible input via a communicative approach. This is said to need to occur within nebulous “literacy-rich environments” where English learners are “immersed in a variety of language experiences”. What these mean is not specified. While comprehensible input is necessary for language learning, “foundational skills” and the ability to “communicate” is not sufficient for them to “meet high academic standards in language arts” or prepare English learners for the complex world of post-secondary education or the workplace. The Unites States Common Core Standards for ELA documents show a clear absence of engagement with critical literacy in any meaningful way. California, the specific state in focus in this book, presents a somewhat different story as is discussed in a subsequent section.

ii England

Critical literacy is also largely absent from England’s national curriculum Key stage 3 and Key stage 4 English programmes documents (DfE, 2014). The national curriculum for English Key Stage 4 establishes that the curriculum overarchingly aims for all pupils to:

  • • Read easily, fluently and with good understanding;
  • • develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information;
  • • acquire a wide vocabulary, an understanding of grammar and knowledge of linguistic conventions for reading, writing and spoken language;
  • • appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage;
  • • write clearly, accurately and coherently, adapting their language and style in and for a range of contexts, purposes and audiences;
  • • use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas;

• (be) competent in the arts of speaking and listening, making formal presentations, demonstrating to others and participating in debate (p. 3).

There is no mention of critical thinking, critical reading or critical literacy in the aims section. There is also no definition of “critical” in the accompanying glossary.

In adopting the phrase read critically, the directives about what students “should” be taught also lack criticality that engages with power. The policy defines for teachers the knowledge and skills it associates with reading critically, yet these behaviours barely involve critical thinking let along critique. Under the heading “Reading”, the Key Stage 3 document (for 11-14 year olds in Years 7, 8 and 9) states:

Pupils should be taught to read critically through:

  • • Knowing how language, including figurative language, vocabulary choice, grammar, text structure and organisational features, presents meaning
  • • Recognising a range of poetic conventions and understanding how these have been used
  • • Studying setting, plot, and characterisation, and the effects of these
  • • Understanding how the work of dramatists is communicated effectively through performance and how alternative staging allows for different interpretations of a play
  • • Making critical comparisons across texts
  • • Studying a range of authors, including at least two authors in depth each year. (DfE, 2013, p. 4, my emphasis)

The first dot point is simply the notion that language presents meaning and is not necessarily critical. The word “presents” signifies an assumption that language does not construct versions of reality with ideological loadings, but simply offers meaning innocently. Dot point three could lead to analysis of representations of groups and individuals, through characterisation for example, and subsequent analysis of constructions of versions of reality, but this is not stated. Dot point four is limited to how staging allows for interpretations, rather than how the play itself allows for interpretations. “Making critical comparisons across texts” provides no clue as to what the critical aspect of comparative work might entail and how it differs from regular comparison.

Under the heading Reading, The Key Stage 4 (for 14-16 year olds in Year 10 and 11) document includes the following statement:

Pupils should be taught to understand and critically evaluate texts through:

  • • Reading in different ways for different purposes, summarising and synthesising ideas and information, and evaluating their usefulness for particular purposes
  • • Drawing on knowledge of the purpose, audience for and context of the writing, including its social, historical and cultural context and the literary tradition to which it belongs, to inform evaluation
  • • Identifying and interpreting themes, ideas and information
  • • Exploring aspects of plot, characterisation, events and settings, the relationships between them and their effects
  • • Seeking evidence in the text to support a point of view, including justifying inferences with evidence
  • • Distinguishing between statements that are supported by evidence and those that are not, and identifying bias and misuse of evidence
  • • Analysing a writer’s choice of vocabulary, form, grammatical and structural features, and evaluating their effectiveness and impact
  • • Making critical comparisons, referring to the contexts, themes, characterisation, style and literary quality of texts, and drawing on knowledge and skills from wider reading. (DfE, 2014. p. 5, my emphasis)

To the lay person, the use of the term “critically evaluate” with no less than eight subsequent dot points fleshing this out would seem to indicate a critical orientation to the skill of reading. However, looking more closely, the version of criticality here does not significantly engage with power and does not significantly extend the criticality expected beyond what is the Key Stage 3 document aimed at younger learners. A sprinkling of words hinting at critical literacy exists - evaluation, interpreting, effects-but they are not explained. Identifying statements supported by evidence is a skill taught in “critical reading” courses and does not necessarily question the nature of the statement itself. Fairclough (2003) reminds us that statements of fact are never neutral, with or without evidence. They can be implicitly persuasive and evaluative, bearing assumed values. The second last dot point offers a way into critical literacy by evaluating the impact of writers’ choices but again this could be largely dealt with in a hypothetical or abstract way. Much of this list is geared towards understanding or comprehending, rather than critical evaluation. To mobilise critical literacy well with this list of dot points, the teacher would need to be independently knowledgeable about critical literacy and a skilled translator of policy.

2 Critical literacy implied

This second dimension of my framework, critical literacy implied, features policy from England again, Australia and California.

i England

While the Key Stage 3 and 4 documents analysed above showed little critical literacy focus, England’s National Literacy Strategy 2 painted a slightly different picture. Now officially defunct, the NLS is worth noting as it has contributed to the available discourses from which teachers may draw. Teachers’ professional and personal histories come to bear on their practical everyday enactment of curriculum, and when curricula change over time, teachers invariably take with them remnants of practice valued by previous versions. In the Framework of Secondary English: overview and learning objectives (DfE, 2008), the Reading strand suggested students will engage with a range of skills, a few of which opened possibilities for critical literacy, as shown below:

Understanding the author’s craft:

6.2 Analysing how writers’ use of linguistic and literary features shapes and influences meaning

Composition: shaping and constructing language for expression and effect:

8.1 Developing viewpoint, voice and ideas

Exploring and analysing language

10.1 Exploring language variation and development according to time, place, culture, society and technology.

In Year 11, they were asked to

“evaluate the ways in which ideas, viewpoints and themes in texts may be interpreted differently according to the perspective of the reader’’ (p. 14)

“make independent, informed judgements about a wide range of texts and writers, and articulate personal reading preferences and tastes” (p. 15).

“analyse the values and assumptions of writers by drawing out connections and comparisons between texts and their relationship to social, historical and cultural contexts" (p. 16)

“analyse how specific literary, rhetorical and grammatical features shape meaning in implicit and explicit ways to create impact, how techniques differ across a wide range of texts and writers, and evaluate the potential impact of these choices on different readers" (p. 17)

“understand how regional and global variations in spoken English reflect and reinforce cultural identity and diversity" (p. 31).

Each of the above statements provided what I call some fertile ground for engaging with critical literacy concepts in senior high school English classrooms in England where EAL students are fully mainstreamed. Criticality is implied in statements such as: analyse the values and assumptions, and relate texts to social, historical and cultural contexts. However, it would still take a skilled teacher well versed in the potential for such objectives to be interpreted through a critical lens, but at least there was some endorsement to move beyond the teaching of purely foundational, comprehension-based skills. The uptake of such objectives was stymied by a range of factors impacting teachers’ enactment of the strategy (See Goodwyn, 2011).

ii Australia

The Australian Curriculum (F-10): English is organised into three interrelated strands that support students’ growing understanding and use of Standard Australian English (English). Each strand interacts with and enriches the other strands in creative and flexible ways, the fabric of the curriculum being strengthened by the threads within each sub-strand. Together, the three strands form

Constructing critical literacy 49 an integrating framework of disciplinary knowledge and focus on developing students’ knowledge, understanding and skills in listening, reading, viewing, speaking and writing from Foundation to Year 10. The three strands are:

  • • Language: knowing about the English language
  • • Literature: understanding, appreciating, responding to, analysing and creating literary texts
  • • Literacy: expanding the repertoire of English usage.
  • (Source:

These strands also undergird syllabuses in senior English. Adolescent EAL learners aged 15-18 years are exposed to both the Year 10 level of the ACARA curriculum, and then the relevant state syllabus for Years all and 12.

Historically, Australia has enjoyed a clear critical literacy presence in its curriculum starting with English syllabuses in the late 1980s and 1990s, peaking in the 2000s (see, for example, QBSSSS, 2002). However, these documents were increasingly laden with complex metalanguage of critical literacy and were not accompanied by the professional development teachers needed to understand and interpret the metalanguage. Turning to present day curriculum documents, the situation is now quite different. The ACARA English Foundation to Year 10 document makes two overarching statements about its view of literacy:

i. Literacy is the capacity to interpret and use language features, forms, conventions and text structures in imaginative, informative and persuasive texts. It also refers to the ability to read, view, listen to, speak, write and create texts for learning and communicating in and out of school. Literacy learning is based on the development of language and communication skills, social and psychological growth, and critical and cultural knowledge.

(ACARA, 2017, my emphasis)

What is on offer here is a loosely arranged presentation of “the critical” backgrounded to more traditional view of literacy to do with skills in reading and writing. “Critical and cultural knowledge” in the above could be interpreted in a number of ways, that is, general knowledge critical to learning to communicate, or the ability to take a critical perspective on information.

ii. The Australian Curriculum: English draws from a range of approaches and emphases including:

“the skill and disposition needed to analyse and understand the philosophical, moral, political and aesthetic bases on which many texts are built”

(ACARA, 2017, my emphasis).

The political bases for texts again implies critical literacy’s focus on interrogating ideology but it is only implied and only then for the reader who is versed in critical literacy.

Drilling down further provides further evidence of how critical literacy is implied in the curriculum but not offered overtly.

Year 10 Level Description for English:

  • (Students) interpret, create, evaluate, discuss and perform a wide range of literary texts in which the primary purpose is aesthetic, as well as texts designed to inform and persuade. These include various types of media texts, including newspapers, film and digital texts, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dramatic performances and multimodal texts, with themes and issues involving levels of abstraction, higher order reasoning and intertex-tual references. Students develop critical understanding of the contemporary media and the differences between media texts.
  • (ACARA, nd, my emphasis.)

At this level, the curriculum is not providing clear critical considerations and makes only vague reference to the critical. At a more nuanced level, curriculum foci that indicate some possibility for engagement with critical literacy are suggested in the Year 10 Content Descriptions as shown in Table 2.4.

Table 2.4 Australian curriculum year 10 content descriptors that provide affordances for critical literacy




Language for interaction Understand how language use can have inclusive and exclusive social effects, and can empower or disempower people.

Understand that people’s evaluations of texts are influenced by their value systems, the context and the purpose and mode of communication.

Text structure and organization Understand how paragraphs and images can be arranged for different purposes, audiences, perspectives and stylistic effects.

Expressing and developing ideas Evaluate the impact on audiences of different choices in the representation of still and moving images.

Refine vocabulary choices to discriminate between shades of meaning, with deliberate attention to the effect on audiences.

Text in contexts

Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects and concepts are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices.

Interpreting, analyzing, evaluating

Identify and analyse implicit or explicit values, beliefs and assumptions in texts and how these are influenced by purposes and likely audiences.

Use comprehension strategies to compare and contrast information within and between texts, identifying and analysing embedded perspectives, and evaluating supporting evidence.

Literature and context

Compare and evaluate a range of representations of individuals and groups in different historical, social and cultural contexts.

Responding to literature

Evaluate the social, moral and ethical positions represented in texts.

Examining literature Identify, explain and discuss how narrative viewpoint, structure, characterisation and devices including analog}’ and satire shape different interpretations and responses to a text.

Within each strand (Language, Literacy and Literature), critical literacy is implied by the use of language such as: “how language use can have social effects to empower and disempower”; “analyse and evaluate representations”; “analyse explicit and implicit values, beliefs and assumptions”; and “evaluate positions”. These lexical items construct a text-based critical literacy approach commensurate with that outlined in Chapter 1 and with previous syllabuses (e.g., QBSSSS, 2002) where critical literacy was explicitly declared. Use of the mental processes “evaluate” and “analyse” position students as thinkers working at high cognition levels. However, these cognitions can easily be left as just that - rational thinking tools that do not lead to the transformative component of critical literacy in terms of redesigning texts or taking social action (Janks, 2010). This issue of critical literacy being a largely cognitive, rational exercise has been discussed by many (see Lau, 2015) and remains an ongoing issue for teachers in schools wanting to do more creative work with critical literacy.

I turn now to the senior school and the recently introduced (2019) Queensland senior syllabus for English as an Additional Language learners. In the glossary section, the syllabus defines critical as:

involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.; involving the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment; expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, or art; incorporating a detailed and scholarly analysis and commentary (of a text); rationally appraising for logical consistency and merit.

(QCAA, 2019b, p. 57)

Using Macknish’s continuum (Table 2.3), this statement would place critical work towards the left hand side of the table, more akin to critical reading for judging merit based on logic. However, when analysed alongside core objectives, key subject matter required by the syllabus, and reporting standards, critical literacy emerges more strongly.

Objectives relevant to critical literacy work, found across all four units of work in Grades 11 and 12, include:

  • 3. create and analyse perspectives and representations of concepts, identities, times and places. When students create perspectives and representations, they develop points of view and devise textual constructions of concepts, identities, times and places. When students analyse perspectives and representations, they examine in detail how meaning is constructed in texts',
  • 4. make use of and analyse the ways cultural assumptions, attitudes, values and beliefs underpin texts and invite audiences to take up positions. When students create texts that make use of cultural assumptions, attitudes, values and beliefs, they manipulate these to invite audiences to take up positions. When students analyse, they examine in detail the ways cultural assumptions, attitudes, values and beliefs underpin texts and explore how these invite audiences to take up positions.
  • (QCAA, 2019b, p. 6, my emphasis)

These objectives imply the kind of critical literacy work that engages with the power of the text author to shape meaning through language, and the power of the text reader/viewer to interpret texts and choose a positioning.

The syllabus subject matter also contains critical literacy aspects occurring across all units:

  • • Analyse how language reflects cultural constructions of groupings or ideas such as age, gender, race and identity
  • • Analyse perspectives and representations of concepts, identities and groups in a variety of texts, for example by exploring how representations of individuals are shaped and constructed in media texts
  • • Explore how texts invite readers/viewers to take up positions, for example by analysing how media texts use editing, music, visuals, juxtaposition, etc. to invite audiences to support the perspectives offered
  • • Explore how different cultural assumptions, values, attitudes and beliefs underpin texts. (QCAA, 2019b, p. 22)

Reporting standards in the syllabus also maintain that an “A standard” student would certainly demonstrate critical literacy knowledge and skills, as per the following:

The student, in responding to and creating texts, demonstrates discerning application of knowledge of the relationship between text, context, audience and purpose through: analysis and creation of perspectives and representations of concepts, identities, times and places in texts; analysis and use made of the ways cultural assumptions, attitudes, values and beliefs underpin texts and invite audiences to take up positions; and analysis and use made of aesthetic features and stylistic devices to achieve particular effects.

(QCAA, 2019b, p. 18, my emphasis)

The inconsistency between glossary and content aside, the syllabus implies critical literacy but falls short of calling it by its name, possibly to avoid local criticisms of syllabus metalanguage previously endured, and to avoid igniting broader ideological debates - known as the Literacy Wars in Australia - about the place of critical literacy in Australian curriculum.

The analysis above shows that across the Year 10 English national curriculum and the Year 11 and 12 Queensland English for Additional Language Learners syllabus, critical literacy is implied and is available to English language learners as an underpinning conceptualization within the study of English.

Hi Sweden

As I have argued with colleagues elsewhere, locating a consistent message about what it means to be critically literate in the curriculum in Sweden is difficult, but there are indicators (Alford, Schmidt & Lyngfelt, 2019). The Curriculum for the Compulsory School, Preschool class and the Leisure-time Centre (Skolverket,

2011) was introduced almost a decade ago as part of a range of curriculum reforms and provides the basis of education for children up to the age of 15. No direct references to critical literacy arc evident in the English curriculum section of the document. This is significant as it suggests what is of value within the teaching of English. However, in the Fundamental Values and Tasks of the Schools section the curriculum states: “It is also necessary that pupils develop their ability to critically examine facts and relationships and appreciate the consequences of different alternatives.” (Skolverket, 2011, p. 11, my emphasis). The Overall Goals section notes: “The school is responsible for ensuring that each pupil on completing compulsory school: ...can make use of critical thinking and independently formulate standpoints based on knowledge and ethical considerations....” (p. x).

English is a major language in Sweden and most students undertaking English in Sweden would also either be studying Swedish as mother tongue, or Swedish as a second language. As a result, it is important to look at these language syllabuses as well to see what the critical diet in language learning looks like for the majority of Swedish children. Olin-Scheller & Tengbcrg (2017) argue that the curriculum in Sweden generally provides a platform for critical literacy. They argue that in Sweden, the curriculum for almost every school subject includes the promotion of literacy practices that critically analyse and transform texts as part of the teaching goals. The curricula for biology and chemistry state that students should ‘develop critical thinking’ by ‘testing and evaluating arguments’ (Skolverket - The Swedish National Agency for Education 2011). Likewise, the curriculum for social studies stipulates that after finishing Grade 9 (the final of year of compulsory school), students should ‘be able to argue on the basis of fact, values and different perspectives’ (Skolverket, 2011). At the same time, the school subject Swedish is assigned specific responsibility for teaching this critical perspective, sometimes called ‘critical literacy’ in the syllabus.

This is an important observation as it allows policy makers and teachers to see the potential the curriculum has for the enactment of critical perspectives on learning and where it is lacking. In fact, the Swedish curriculum differs markedly from the US curriculum in this regard. Two English teachers at one senior secondary school in Gothenburg shared that they have the freedom to interpret the curriculum in ways they see fit for their learners. They routinely identify key ideas in the curriculum and then create units and lessons using the textbook, their linguistic and pedagogical knowledge and other materials available. The “looseness” of it has advantages, as long as they prepare their students for the required assessment. However, this also requires extensive knowledge and skill on the part of the teachers in order to understand the range of options for interpretation and practice, including forms of criticality in teaching. One teacher with only a few years’ experience and minimal professional development may interpret the critical aspect of the curriculum in a very different way than that of the highly experienced, passionate and well-supported teachers I spoke with.

Critical work with texts in languages curricula in Sweden relies heavily, though, on a view of criticality as critique of the reliability of sources. The following extracts show how this dominant view is assembled via the semantic relations in a thread of statements related to source reliability that occurs throughout stretches of these two syllabus documents:

Swedish language syllabus:

Teaching should also help pupils to develop their knowledge of how to search for and critically evaluate information from various sources, (p. 211)

  • • Criticism of sources, how the sender of a text influences content (p. 213)
  • • How to compare sources and examine their reliability from a critical standpoint, (p. 214)
  • • How to sift through a large amount of information and examine the reliability of sources from a critical perspective, (p. 216)

Swedish as a 2nd language syllabus:

  • • Teaching should also help pupils to develop their knowledge of how to search for and critically evaluate information from various sources. (227)
  • • Criticism of sources, how the sender of a text influences content, (p. 229)
  • • How to compare sources and examine their reliability from a critical standpoint, (p. 230)

How to shift through a large amount of information and examine the reliability of sources from a critical perspective, (p. 232).

Critically evaluating information from various sources sits squarely within critical literacy IF a teacher knows how to evaluate sources from a language and power perspective, not simply a reliable source perspective. Delving deeply into verb and noun group choices or image construction and associated connotations and meanings is not the same as finding out if the author of a text has the credentials to write about the topic. The two are obviously connected but critical literacy goes far beyond this latter type of analysis. The question begged is why has this type of “critical-lite” (Alford &: Kettle, 2017) engagement surfaced in the language curricula, while other more robust forms related to critical literacy have emerged in other subject areas?

Forms of criticality more closely aligned with critical literacy and its engagement with power and the material effects of textual choices can be found in other syllabuses such as Art, Civics and History syllabuses:


  • • Teaching should also give pupils the opportunities to discuss and critically examine different forms of visual communication and contribute to pupils developing knowledge of pictures and images in different cultures, both historically and in modern times, (a. p. 22)
  • • Mass media communications and impact, and how they can be interpreted and critically examined, (p. 24)


  • • Through teaching, pupils are given opportunities to develop knowledge on how societal questions and societal structures can be critically examined (a. p. 189)
  • • analyse and critically examine local, national and global societal issues from different perspectives (p. 189)
  • • Dissemination of information, advertising and shaping public opinion in different media. How sexuality and gender roles are represented in the media and popular culture, (p. 191)
  • • How to distinguish between messages, senders and purpose in different media with critical awareness of sources (p. 191)
  • • The role of the media in disseminating information, forming public opinion, as a source of entertainment and to scrutinise society’s power structures, (p. 192)

History also provides a range of possibilities for critical literacy, too many to mention here, for example:

Years 7-9 - Démocratisation in Sweden. The formation of political parties, new social movements, such as the women’s movement and the struggle for universal suffrage for women and men. Continuity and change in views on gender, equality and sexuality (p. 167).

Responsibility for critical work with texts, then, is spread across the syllabuses but it is not present in the compulsory schooling English syllabus at least not in the official syllabus document. There are a number of reasons for why this might be the case. First, it might be favoured to address critical literacy within the study of the dominant mother tongue of Sweden, that is Swedish, and through subjects taught in Swedish and hope that the skills transfer to English which all students learn. Second, junior high school English teacher capacity for critical literacy work might not be at a threshold level where critical literacy can be feasibly included in the junior high compulsory school syllabus aligned with assessable outcomes. There may also be assumptions about the need to teach English for accuracy first rather than through critical concepts.

In terms of the senior secondary school curriculum for English, the following references to critical literacy can be found, highlighted in italics:

English 5 (equivalent Grade 10):


Subject areas related to students’ education, and societal and working life; current issues; events and processes; thoughts, opinions, ideas, experiences and feelings; relationships and ethical issues.

Living conditions, attitudes, values and traditions, as well as social, political and cultural conditions in different contexts and parts of the world where English is used. The spread of English and its position in the world.

English 6 (equivalent Grade 11)


Living conditions, attitudes, values, traditions, social issues as well as cultural, historical, political and cultural conditions in different contexts and parts of the world where English is used.

Reception (receptive language):

Strategies for source-critical approaches when listening to and reading communications from different sources and in different media.

Strategies to search for relevant information in larger amounts of text or longer sequences of spoken language and to understand perspectives and implied meaning.

How structure and context are built up and how attitudes, perspectives and style are expressed in spoken and written language in various genres.

How language, picture and sound are used to express influence in such areas as political debate and advertising.

English 7 (equivalent Grade 12)


Theoretical and complex subject areas, also of a more scientific nature, related to students’ education, chosen specialisation area, societal issues and working life; thoughts, opinions, ideas, experiences and feelings; cultural expressions in modern times and historically, such as literary periods.

Societal issues, cultural, historical, political and social conditions, and also ethical and existential issues in different contexts and parts of the world where English is used.

The above syllabus statements imply critical literacy, in both text analytic and social justice traditions (see Chapter 1), but it is not stated overtly and relies heavily on individual teacher interpretation and translation as to how this would be achieved in practice.

In addition, to achieve an A standard in Year 10,11 or 12 in Sweden, “Students choose texts and spoken language from different media, and in a relevant, effective and critical way, use the selected material in their own production and interaction” (Skolverket, Senior English, 2011, p. 6). To achieve an E standard, which is the minimum passing grade (F being a Fail), no such critical feature is evident in the standard descriptor. There is, however, a recurring theme in all of the assessment level descriptors related to a source criticism tradition/critical reading evident in frequent statements throughout such as: Students need to show they can “assess the reliability of different sources” (Skolverket, 2011).

iv California

The California English Language Arts/English Language Development document (CDE, 2014) presents something more hopeful than the CCSS explored previously in this chapter. In a move to differentiate their state policy response from the CCSS, California has devised a unique joint English Language Arts

Constructing critical literacy 57 and English Language Development Curriculum called The ELA/ELD Framework for California Public Schools, К through 12 (2014). It offers this pertinent statement:

Meaning making is at the heart of ELA/literacy and ELD instruction. It is the central purpose for interacting with text, producing text, engaging in research, participating in discussion, and giving presentations. It is the reason for learning the foundational skills and for expanding language. Meaning making includes literal understanding but is not confined to it at any grade or with any student. Inference making and critical reading, writing, and listening are given substantial and explicit attention in every discipline.

(CDE (2014) p. 8, my emphasis)

The position offered here is that English learners are capable of critical work with texts and instruction should not be limited to literal comprehension tasks. In the section on Grades 11 and 12, the document expands on this, noting explicitly the critical aspects of what is involved in meaning making:

Making meaning with complex text often requires students to consider the text from different perspectives. Bean, Chappell, and Gillam (2014) suggest that students first listen to a text or read with its grain.....Similar to Elbow’s

believing and doubting game, students read with an open mind “looking at the world from the text’s perspective” (90). Subsequently, students read the text against the grain, viewing the text analytically and skeptically. Bean, Chappell, and Gillam also call this questioning the text. “Importantly, questioning does not necessarily mean fault-finding ... [or] dismissing the author’s ideas wholesale. Rather, it entails carefully interrogating a text’s claims and evidence and its subtle form of persuasion so that you can make sound judgments and offer thoughtful responses" (70).

(CDE, (2014) p. 769, my emphasis)

This is accompanied by an annotated example of student writing in which she analyses a McDonald’s advertisement, “to unpack the ad’s imagery and to contrast the ad’s implicit messages with the reality of the McDonald’s food empire” (p. 776). Providing teachers with such explicit examples of critical literacy work privileges this approach without actually naming it. Overall, there is a rigor in the document regarding expectations on English learners, whereby teachers are encouraged to provide high challenge, including critical work with texts, along with high support:

The CA ELD Standards also call for students to advance their language and thinking at these grade levels in preparation for college and careers. As ELs progress along the ELD continuum, they are expected to understand and use appropriate registers to express and defend nuanced opinions (ELD. PI.9-12.3), consider context in adapting language choices (ELD.PI.9-12.4), and address complex questions and show thoughtful consideration of ideas and arguments (ELD.PI.9-12.5). They also are asked to analyze the effects of language choices made by writers and speakers (ELD PI .9-12, Standards 7-8) and make connections and distinctions between ideas and texts based on evidence as they persuade others (ELD. PI.9-12.11).

(CDE (2104) p. 665, my emphasis).

The California Department of Education website provides a range of literacy resources to support the teaching of the CCSS for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. The site includes a link to the Literacy in Learning Exchange website hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a professional body widely supported and accessed by teachers, which has specific reference to current literature about critical literacy prominently placed on their website. This suggests that critical literacy approaches are endorsed by the California government for all learners including the many adolescent English learners in high schools there.

3 Critical literacy present

This third and final group consists only of Ontario, Canada as it presents the most robust of the representations of critical literacy amongst the five contexts explored. It provides a clear model for how curriculum as policy can include critical literacy concepts to prepare learners for democratic participation in the 21s' Century. Australian pioneers of critical literacy influenced Canada’s critical literacy forerunners in the 1980s and 1990s. The legacy has clearly remained and been extended.

i Ontario, Canada

In the goals section of Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 to 12: English as a Second Language and English Literacy Development, (2007) it states that the curriculum aims to help English language learners to “use critical literacy and critical thinking skills to interpret the world around them” (OME, 2007, p. 5, my emphasis). In drawing the distinction between critical literacy and critical thinking the policy acknowledges the two are different things, as Brass (2015), Cervetti, ct al (2001), and Macknish (2011) have noted.

From the very beginning of the school curriculum, the Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 foregrounds a strong critical literacy stance. I emphasise below a range of critical literacy aspects in the following quotes extracted from this document:

Successful language learners make meaningful connections between themselves, what they encounter in texts, and the world around them; think critically; understand that all texts advance a particular point of view that must be recognized, questioned, assessed, and evaluated; appreciate the cultural impact and aesthetic power of texts; use language to interact and connect with individuals and communities, for personal growth, and for active participation as world citizens. (OME, 2007, p. 4)

The language curriculum....emphasizes the use of higher-level thinking skills, including critical literacy skills, to enable students not only to understand, appreciate, and evaluate what they read and view at a deeper level, but also to help them become reflective, critical, and independent learners and, eventually, responsible citizens. (OME, 2007, p. 5)

An effective reader is one who not only grasps the ideas communicated in a text but is able to apply them in new contexts. To do this, the reader must be able to think clearly, creatively, and critically about the ideas and information encountered in texts in order to understand, analyse, and absorb them and to recognize their relevance in other contexts. (OME, 2007 p. 11)

Students’ repertoire of communication skills should include the ability to critically interpret the messages they receive through the various media and to use these media to communicate their own ideas effectively as well. (OME, 2007, p. 13).

Critical thinking skills include the ability to identify perspectives, values, and issues; detect bias; and read for implicit as well as explicit meaning. In the context of antidiscrimination, critical literacy involves asking questions and challenging the status quo, and leads students to look at issues of power and justice in society. (OME, 2007, p. 29)

The expectations (for Years 7 and 8) encourage students to explore issues related to personal identity and community concerns as they interact with increasingly complex and/or challenging texts; to critically analyse and evaluate perspectives in texts and the influence of media on their lives; and to write about and discuss topics of relevance that matter in their daily lives. (OME, 2007, p. 122)

A striking feature of the Ontario curriculum (Grades 9-12), setting it apart from the other policies in this chapter, is the robust way in which it defines Critical Literacy:

“Critical literacy. The capacity for a particular type of critical thinking that involves looking beyond the literal meaning of texts to observe what is present and what is missing, in order to analyse and evaluate the text’s complete meaning and the author’s intent. Critical literacy goes beyond conventional critical thinking in focusing on issues related to fairness, equity, and social justice. Critically literate students adopt a critical stance, asking what view of the world the text advances and whether they find this view acceptable”.

(OME, 2007, p. 178)

Again, it delineates critical literacy from critical thinking on the same page, showing a nuanced understanding that detecting bias and examining opinions (critical thinking) is not the same as critical literacy.

In a companion guidelines document, Reach Every Student - Energizing Ontario Education (OME, 2008), literacy is defined as

the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, view, represent, and think critically about ideas. It involves the capacity to access, manage, and evaluate information-, to think imaginatively and analytically, and to communicate thoughts and ideas effectively. Literacy includes critical thinking and reasoning to solve problems and make decisions related to issues of fairness, equity, and social justice. Literacy connects individuals and communities, and is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a cohesive, democratic society.

(OME, 2008, p. 2)

Foregrounding criticality in this way within the conceptualisation of literacy sets Ontario apart from the other contexts explored in this chapter. This definition brings to mind Janks’ 2010 Synthesis Model of Critical Literacy, in which gaining access to textual meanings, as well as exploring how texts dominate individuals and groups, and being creative about designing texts are all important aspects of being critically literate. Words such as “social justice” provide an action-oriented framing for the understanding of critical literacy; a departure from simply critiquing sources.

The guidelines document details various critical literacy skills for English learners, such as,

At later intermediate levels, ELLs should be using a variety of reading comprehension strategics to read critically with some confidence, (p. 55)


Teacher monitoring and feedback guides and supports students’ learning as ELLs build on prior knowledge, develop critical literacy skills, and set personal learning goals that are developmentally appropriate, (p. 62)

Combined, the above policy documents, suggest that Ontario presently values a robust view of critical literacy as a core part of language and literacy education for English learners.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >