Critical Literacy and Genre Pedagogy: Supporting Inclusion, Subverting Bias

Critical Literacy and Genre Pedagogy: Supporting Inclusion, Subverting Bias

Jennifer Duggan (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch014

Abstract

This chapter helps teachers use genre for effective language learning in the increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse 21st-century language classroom. The chapter provides an overview of the history of the term genre across various academic disciplines and explains why critical knowledge of genres is a key literacy in the 21st century. It discusses current trends of use of genre in the language classroom and gives tips on how to use genre responsibly with multicultural, multiliterate, multilingual students, focusing in particular on the usefulness of critical literacy in linguistically and culturally diverse language classrooms. The chapter also highlights ways in which teachers can use genres to empower minority students—including those belonging to a linguistic minority—and to counteract bias in their classrooms.
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Introduction

Critical literacy has been a central discussion topic in literacy studies throughout the early 21st century. To be critically literate means to be able to consider more than the surface-level meanings of texts, reflecting upon and questioning their ideological, political, and social implications both historically and in the moment of interpretation (e.g., Bishop, 2014; McLaren & Lankshear, 1993). This includes considering how language itself, as well as texts more broadly, can solidify regimes of power which may empower one group at the expense of others (Foucault, 1970, 1977, 1978, 1985). Critical literacy thus draws attention to how power structures are reified through texts, whose needs are being best served and whose not, and the local and global tensions that may be at play in texts. This means that fostering critical literacy has been valued in the late-20th and early 21st century classroom because of its assumed concomitant fostering of democracy, empowerment, and social justice.

At the same time as the term critical literacy has gained traction in approaches to language teaching, genre and its uses in language education have once again become popular topics (e.g., Cirocki, 2012; Cope & Kalantzis, 2009; Devitt, 2009). However, while genre has been used in various ways to teach language in 20th- and 21st-century education, its use is sometimes contested. Genre-based pedagogies have at times been accused of being too pedantic, too prescriptive, inflexible, and outdated (cf. Bhatia, 2002; Devitt, 2009). Nonetheless, understanding how genres structure the thoughts and expressions of the author and society more widely can make clear the part they play in upholding dominant perspectives. Moreover, developing an understanding of genres common to the target language can equip language learners with the knowledge of text-level grammar they need to successfully communicate across varied domains of language use and various registers (e.g., Bakhtin, 1986; Cope & Kalantzis, 2009; Halliday, 1985; Halliday & Hasan, 1976, 1985). Genre thus remains an important concept and a useful tool in the twenty-first century language classroom, and it can be used fruitfully to support students’ ability to communicate within the target language and across various social contexts.

This chapter will demonstrate how critical literacy and genre can usefully be employed together in the 21st-century language classroom not only to support students’ successful use of the target language but also to support diverse students’ understandings of themselves, each other, and their relationships with and situatedness in the wider world. It will first provide an overview of the terms critical literacy and genre. It will then review of current understandings of the term genre, including contradictions and disagreements in its conceptualization, and summarize key recent theories regarding the use of genre in the language classroom. Finally, it will provide some examples of how these two concepts can be employed in language teaching contexts, focusing in particular on uses of genre that are inclusive of students’ varied cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For this purpose, the chapter will outline how genre pedagogies can be inflected by a critical-pedagogical approach to teaching that champions democratic notions of inclusion despite difference through the identification and subversion of the exclusionary norms which may underpin common genres.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Counterstorytelling: Writing personal narratives which undermine the hegemonic status quo and emphasize minority experiences and perspectives.

Bending: Rewriting and transforming stories so that key characters are more gender, racially, ethnically, linguistically, sexually, or otherwise diverse.

Critical Pedagogy: A pedagogy, influenced by critical theory, which emphasizes power structures, how they students’ own contexts and lived experiences, and how the oppressed can resist dominant power structures.

Language Learning: The process of learning a language.

Multicultural Classroom: Classrooms in which students and teachers with diverse backgrounds gather, and hopefully in which those varied backgrounds are equally valued and celebrated.

Social Justice: The seeking of equitable and fair relationships, and the equitable distribution of opportunities and resources, between individuals and groups within society.

Critical Literacy: Interpreting and composing texts so as to transform our own or others’ lives, champion social justice issues, or advocate for political or social purposes.

Communicative Context: The context—made up of the institutional context, the space, the communicative aims, the interpersonal relationships between interlocuters, and so forth—in which a communication occurs.

Genre Pedagogy: Pedagogies which emphasize genres’ structures, contents, traits, and purposes.

Multiliteracies: An approach to pedagogy which emphasizes various types of literacy, linguistic and cultural diversity, and communicative ability across a spectrum of modes.

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