Critical literacy with ESL students:
Language learning through
affirmation of linguistic &
Sunny Man Chu LAU
PhD candidate, Second Language Education
Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning/ OISE
Mei Lan MA
Teacher, Toronto District School Board
Master’s student, OISE
• Workshops/ conference presentations on CL
with ESL vague suggestions e.g. “Have it
But what may a CL program for beginning
ELLs look like?
• CL research with speakers of English
CL research with ELLs
CL research with beginning ELLS
Purpose of this presentation
– Shows how a space for CL was
negotiated in ESL curriculum
• how basic language skills & critical literacy
skills are step by step infused with each other
– Invite comments & discussion on how CL
program could be improved for ESL
Why critical literacy?
1. ESL functionalist/ assimilationist approach
• Language learning autonomous, asocial and
decontextualized cognitive process (Pennycook, 2001)
• minority Ss social & cultural vacuum
2. Build up ESL Ss academic literacy (BICS & CALP)
– Language proficiency:
a. surface conversational fluency
b. discrete language skills
c. academic language & critical literacy (Cummins, 2001)
3. Need to prepare Ss for global community
critical users of information and knowledge, acceptance of
diverse cultures, etc.
BICS & CALP
What is Critical Literacy?
• critical pedagogy Freire, Giroux, McLaren & Shor
(Burbules & Beck, 1999)
• Literacy :
– a psychological or developmental
– a social and cultural practice!
• Traditional view of literacy “cloaks literacy’s
connections to power, to social identity, and to
ideologies often in the service of privileging certain
types of literacies and certain people” (Gee, 1996,
Different Orientations of CL
Lankshear’s (1997) three takes on critical
literacy object(s) of critique
• A critical perspective on literacies
• A critical perspective on texts & ideologies
• A critical perspective on wider social
• concern how the ideas, cultures, languages and voices of students from the
minority ethnic and lower-class backgrounds are marginalized by the
dominant mainstream curricula and teaching practices.
• built on the notion of voice: “... the opening up of a space for the
marginalized to speak, write, or read... so that the voicing of their lives may
transform both their lives and the social system that excludes them.”
(Pennycook, 2001, p. 101).
Context: School and Student population
• Middle school in Scarborough, Grades 7 & 8
• approximately 480 students total
• 78% of students have primary language other than
• Students living in Canada for 5 years or less 18%
ESL students/ research participants
• 12 participants, all of Chinese descent, from mainland
China, HK, & Vietnam
• Stage 1 and 2 learners, majority have basic English
• length of stay in Canada less than 1 month to 3 years
The ESL Program
• ESL open withdrawal model
• Ss are withdrawn for 1-2 language
periods per day
• Stage 1 & 2 learners together
• integrated for other subject areas, e.g.
Math, Science, French, etc.
• delivery of services occurs outside of
the school building in a portable
Overview of curriculum plan
• Topics that address immigrant Ss’ lived
– Social & familial upheavals, identity crisis–
linguistic & cultural, adjustment, etc.
• Distinct language focus tied in with
progressive introduction of CL skills
• Aligned with curriculum requirements
Critical Literacy: An integrative approach
1. Integrative critical literacy instructional model (built on Ada
and Campoy’ s creative reading approach (1991, 2004)
2. Luke & Freebody’s (1999) concept of
a. Code breakers b. Meaning makers
c. Text users d. Text critics
• What was involved
• -introducing oneself/meeting people
• -basic classroom English
• -classroom vocabulary
• -days, weeks, months, seasons
• -establishing and developing rules
• -set up of class library and blog
• to provide ELLs with the language to
function in the ESL classroom as well as other
• to develop a community of learners, where
ELLs feel confident enough to take risks in
(Stage 1 vs. Stage 2 ELLs)
• -to set up firm expectations within the ESL
Picnicking in the woods,
going on the trip ,fishing
trees, singing birds, clear sky
Kite-flying, moon admiring
playing with lanterns.
Swimming, camping, shopping
Sunshine, beach, hotpot
Skiing, skating, sledding
1. Module on Me and My family
a. The Story of My Name
b. My Family
c. Who am I?
• Negotiating new identities
• What to retain, what to forgo?
• Family separation & shifting between homes
• Economic pressure
• Balancing new employment, culture, , etc.
• Language barrier
• Lack of housing/ health care
• Social isolation
Factors affecting acculturation
• Traumatic experiences of war,
imprisonment, persecution, etc.
• Voluntary vs. involuntary immigration
• Cultural backgrounds/ traditions
• Experience with western education
• Level of literacy in L1
• Grade level entered
Complex needs of ESL students
Ngo (2004; 2005)
Ngo (2004; 2005)
“Immigrant teenagers have to cope
with three traumas simultaneously:
– The crisis of adolescence
– The culture shock
– The problem of identity and status
(Epstein & Kheimets, 2000)
• Half of the class experienced multiple
transitions, splitting families:
• 1 came to live with sister/ brother-in-law
• 1 lived with grandparents for 5 years before
getting back with parents in Canada
• 4 lived with just 1 parent (either divorced/
staying in place of origin for work)
• Disman (1983)
immigrant experience ≈ bereavement
Unit 1: The Story of My Name
• The Name Jar:
– Explore cultural values attached to names
– discuss problems concerning names
encountered by story characters and Ss
themselves as immigrants
– Language focus: pronouns, vocab,
reading skills e.g. predictions, making
• Amidst class discussions, Ss disclosed
incidents of bully in their own classroom
Unit 1: The Story of My Name
1. My name is X. L.. My character is more
gentle, my name mean glitter filled
with sunshine . My parents chose the
name for me . l have no sister.
I have not any nickname. l like my
name , because my name is very
beautiful like the meteor.
2. My name is H.K.L.. I have 3 characters in my
name. The first character in my name is my
family name, second or third is first names. ...
H means health ,K means outstanding. And
my mam call me H.K. it is quite an
I have nicknames. My friend call my
“chicken”. I quite like my nickname
because it is short and easy to write it. I like
my name to because my name is my mam
and dad to it give me.
3. My name is T. L. I have 2 characters in my
name. L. is my last name. T. is my first name
in Chinese. “T” means child, It is my dad help
me chose. Why my dad chose this name for
me? Because he wants to tell people that
“T.L” is in our family. And he hopes I am help
every day, so he chose this name for me.
I have a nickname is: “xpy” which means a
little kid. They say that I’m a “little kid”
forever in their hearts. So I get this nickname.
I like my Chinese name, because it has
some special meaning for me .
Unit 2: My Family
• Photo story of my family sharing
information about family & life in home
• Language focus: present continuous
tense, vocab on family members, adj.
to describe appearance & personality,
• Ss’ response
Unit 3: Who am I?
• Share what they like/ dislike, what they
have, their abilities and roles
• Language focus:
– Present tense to show personal habits/
– I’m _______(adj)____________
– I’m a/an ____________ that/who__________
– I can _______(v-infinitive)________________
– I’m like a/ an _____(metaphor)______
Loves and Hates
1. I love going to school, because
in the school, I can see my friends.
I love shopping with my mother, because
she will buy many beautiful clothes for me.
I love caring for my friends, because
I love them.
I love sharing cakes with my sister, because
she likes cake.
I hate going to hospital, because
I will scared!
I hate running in rainy, because
I will fall down on earth!
I hate eating with my uncle, because
he can eat too much!
I hate shopping with my friends, because
they will use my money!
Love and Hate
I hate beans, corns and animals.
selfishness and jealousy;
summers hot and winters cold;
English food and books;
I love computers and Eureka Seven.
Jackies Chan and being home;
learning, playing, walking,
Pepsi and strawberry flavors;
green and black,
I hate doing homework
all day long
going to the library.
reading English book.
I like playing in the snow,
playing computer games,
swimming in the pool.
eating chocolate ice cream,
watching movies in the cinema ,
playing soccer and basket ball with my friend
I like comic Naruto ,One piece.
I hate homework, cats and gym;
Tests and jealousy;
winter and books;
Selfih people and time;
Friends and smoking;
I love school ,Canada;
Dogs and history,
Fishing and television;
Trombone and playing game;
music and food;
“I am” poems
I am a Chinese that can speak Mandarin very well.
I am a basketball fan that can shoot a basket very nicely.
I am a student that loves to learn.
I am a gymnast that loves to get strong.
I am a boy that can get any girl friends I like.
I am a good swimmer that wins championship.
I am a student who loves to learn.
I am a bird that loves to fly.
I am a cat that likes eating fish.
I am a boy that is healthy. (by Sam)
“I can” poems
I can do push-ups 40 times per minute.
I can play the race car games very fast.
I can read the books really loud.
I can use some words to make sentences.
I can speak Mandarin very well.
I can walk to school every day.
I can sing for a long time. (by Boah)
I can help my mother to wash dishes.
I can speak a lot Cantonese.
I can run on the Great Wall.
I can play computer games very well.
I can fold the clothes every day.
I can read a book every day.
I can finish my homework in one hour… (by Yorkie)
“I can” poems
I can play different kinds of baseball.
I can read Chinese books.
I can write in Chinese
I can ply pokemon games
I can speak a little English
I can read world map. (by Sam)
I can do my text very well when is open-book test.
I can make the house very clean.
I can finish my homework fast.
I can play a lot of instruments.
I can hand in my homework on time.
I can decorate my house very beautifully.
I can sing songs very loudly. (by Terri)
Bullying at School
“Are they dumb?" /“Are they stupid?”
“Why we have so many ESL students in our class?”
- physical or social exclusion
• Unit on Bullying Painted Words
– explore cultural differences & how they affect
– Explore issues around bullying
What, Who, Why & What we can do about it
Bullying at School
• Language focus:
– past tense, reading skills (bookmarking /
concepts of text-to-self, text-to-text, text-
– Identify points of view & whose voice is
(by B.C. Teachers Federation Program Against
1. Target 2. bystander
3. Intervener 4. perpetrator
• Mostly girls reported being bullied
• Refrain from taking any action:
-fear of not having the language to
-fear of revenge
• Bystanders (both male & female)
fear of revenge
• Ignorance/ insensitivity
• Teenage immaturity about socially
acceptable behaviour, even among
• Stereotyping images of certain social
groups (e.g. from media, family, &
society at large)
Second language Learning
1. Cognitive approaches
Input & output
2. Sociocultural approaches Community
building & identity construction affects the
learners’ investment in language learning(Norton,
Right to speak
Right to command full membership
Concerted effort of ESL teacher, and
the whole school in helping students to
feel they are legitimate members of a
• organized a Lunch & Learn PD session
for staff regarding ELLs and their
experiences at school
• Ss presented their stories Spoken
• discussed ways to stop bullying
better awareness ELLs’ social & cultural
Feedback from Teacher on Lunch & Learn PD
session on ESL experiences
1. Hi.. I thought it was awesome... and sad. It helped
me to remember the ESL students..and I've made
more of an effort to talk to Yoland and Melodie...
Yoland doesn't want to present her presentation to
her class which is really upsetting... I wish I could do
more. It's too bad that Sunny can't present these
findings to the whole staff... I think a lot of people
(on staff) don’t really have a clue what the students
are actually going through.. (or they turn a blind
eye like some of the students)...
2. After attending the lunch and learn last week
(about ESL students) I decided to take a different
approach to ESL and Science... I found some great
resources through Tippett for the science unit and
created an alternative assignment based on the
resources. 7D was given an earthquake project
recently that was language-based (although I did
give it to the ESL students so that they also had
access to what everyone else was working on). It
was their choice (the ESL students) if they wanted to
do the alternative assignment or work on the
I told the class that they'd be working on it in class,
during class time, with a partner. Today, Melodie
and Chicken showed up with the COMPLETED
EARTHQUAKE PROJECT.. totally typed and
everything answered. I was shocked ... basically
over the last couple of days, they had translated
everything on the sheet (must have taken forever!)
and wrote it out in their own words. I was so proud
of them that I showed the rest of 7D and everyone
clapped!!! I think it was really important for their
class to see that ESL students are capable of doing
everything (and in this case --- so much better!)
than English-speaking students. If only their class
would give them a chance... sigh.