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What a tangled web we should weave:
Teaching English, promoting critical awareness and using art in EFL classes
by Alexandre Dias Pinto
& Carlota Miranda Dias Pinto
- 2

According to the general aims defined in the EFL syllabus (those that go beyond learning the English language and are related to the personal development of the student), English classes should be a place where students are able to discover and explore aspects of their own character as well as of the world around them. In the introductory text to the Portuguese syllabus of English as Foreign Language it is stated that:

A language is a potential space of expression of the Self, a space that facilitates the relationship between people and the establishment of social interaction. As a determining factor of socialization and of personal self-esteem, a language gives one the means to develop the consciousness of oneself and of the others, to translate attitudes and values and to have access to knowledge and to demonstrate his skills and abilities. (Translated from Programas de Inglês, 1997: 5)

Still according to the same text, EFL teachers are expected to facilitate the achievement of pedagogical aims such as:

• to combine the language competence with the student's personal and social development;
• to make multidisciplinary approaches possible;
• to promote the understanding and the respect for socially and culturally differentiated universes;
• to emphasise the social and the cultural dimension of language. (…)
• to explore aspects of the Anglo-American culture, reflecting on the different patterns of life and social behaviour. (Translated from Programa de Inglês, 1997: 5-6)

No matter how much we believe that the task-based learning, which hinges on a communicative approach to language learning (the dominant method followed in EFL classes in Portugal), is an effective method to teach a foreign language, we must agree that on its own it does not provide a satisfactory answer to the aims and demands defined in the EFL syllabus in question because this approach has not been conceived to privilege the educational role that these classes may play. This means that the main aims and the priorities defined by this didactic approach are not directly orientated to contribute to the students' holistic education in order to make them citizens who play a constructive role in society - respecting other individuals and other cultures, promoting social justice, etc. - and who are able to think critically about the problems of that community.

Despite having already explained the main principles and goals of the approach that we are presenting, we feel that it would be useful to sum them up. Hence, the main aims of the approach that is being described are:
.to improve the student's ability to understand and use the English language, by mastering the four language skills and understanding how the language works;

• to contribute to the development of the students' character;
• to promote values such as tolerance, justice, solidarity and respect towards the Other;
• to develop the students' critical awareness concerning issues of the contemporary world (racism, social injustice, the parent-child relationship, etc.);
• to expand the students' knowledge of the cultures of the English-speaking world;
• to develop the students' creativity and their imagination;
• to promote the students' interest for art in its different forms of expression: literature, painting, sculpture, photography, music, etc. (see part III).

Apart from the first one, the other aims are mainly pedagogical and should not be dissociated from the central didactic goal of EFL classes, namely to teach students how to speak English. The approach that we advance here reveals several affinities with, and is influenced by, a pedagogical theory known as Critical Pedagogy (cf. Freire, 1982; Boyce, 1996; Pennycook, 1999). We acknowledge the importance of this educational theory in the emphasis that it places on the development of the students' critical awareness and social consciousness during the learning process. The only reason why our approach is not grounded on the principles of Critical Pedagogy is because we disagree with the overwhelming ideological weight that such a theory wants to bring to classrooms. We fear that, if the learning process is misdirected - because a given teacher is too eager to persuade his students about the righteousness of his ideological positions and values - the students will be mentally conditioned to accept certain assertive views of society without having the knowledge or the experience to question them. In other words, despite realising that there is always an ideological basis underneath any pedagogical theory, we think that education cannot run the risk of being intensely politicised - an example of a course programme in which ideology plays an overwhelming role can be seen in Donald Hones's article, "U.S. Justice? Critical Pedagogy and the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Hones, 1999).

Nevertheless, we recognise the important role played by pedagogues such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux and other "critical pedagogues" in stressing the need to reflect on and discuss social issues and the problems of the "oppressed" (the "powerless" and the "voiceless") in schools. Furthermore, we assume that one of the aims of the approach we are advancing here is to enhance the social consciousness of adolescents and young adults.
We know that teachers will agree that learning English as a Foreign Language can play an important role in the education of young people, but they are not taking advantage of the full potentialities of such classes. In fact, as we stated before, one of the reasons that led us to write this paper is that we feel that the educational role of EFL classes has been underestimated by teachers - at least by several Portuguese teachers. Another reason was that we would like to leave suggestions to all our colleagues (Portuguese or not) about ways of introducing and exploring cultural topics and of promoting the development of the students' critical awareness in English language classes.

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