Monday, January 3, 2011

Introduction: Critical approaches to TESOL


Pennycook, A. (1999). Introduction: Critical approaches to TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 329-348.

Abstract: This introductory article aims to pull together the unifying concerns in the varied articles, reports, and discussions in this special issue. I focus on three main themes that may be said to constitute critical approaches to TESOL: (a) the domain or area of interest (To what extent do particular domains define a critical approach?), transformative pedagogy (How does the particular approach to education hope to change things?), and a self-reflexive stance on critical theory (To what extent does the work constantly question common assumptions, including its own?). Whether in terms of the domain in which they operate, the pedagogies they use, or the theories they engage, I argue here for the importance of seeing critical approaches to TESOL not as a static body of knowledge and practices but rather as always being in flux, always questioning, restively problematizing the given, being aware of the limits of their own knowing, and bringing into being new schemas of politicisation. The critical approaches to TESOL developed here can both help us as TESOL professionals understand in much more complex ways the contexts in which TESOL occurs and offer the prospect of change. Given the cultural politics of English teaching in the world, critical approaches to TESOL may help us deal with some of the most significant issues of our time.

According to Pennycook the main characteristics of critical approaches to TESOL are,

1. the domain or area of interest: To what extent do particular domains define a critical approach?
2. a transformative pedagogy: How does the particular approach to education hope to change things?
3. a self-reflexive stance on critical theory: To what extent does the work constantly question common assumptions, including its own? (p. 331)


What emerge, then, from a consideration of critical practice in TESOL are several important pedagogical points:
  1. Critical approaches to TESOL need a transformative dimension as well as a critcally analytic one.
  2. The notion of a critical approach to TESOL is in no way reducible to teaching techniques, methods, or approaches as they are commonly understood within TESOL
  3. To reiterate a point raised in the previous section, critical approaches to TESOL should not be conflated with notions such as critical thinking…Critical thinking is generally an apolitical approach to developing a sort of questioning attitude in students; critical approaches to TESOL have to do with a political understanding of the location of pedagogy and the development of a way of teaching aimed at transformation.
  4. Neither should critical approaches to TESOL be assumed to be critical pedagogy applied to TESOL. As Johnston point out, there are many problems with ciritical pedagogy as commonly defined, and these problems need to be subjected to as much critical scrutiny as anything else.
  5. If critical approaches are to engage with questions of power and difference, they need both theoretical and pedagogical means of doing so: What beliefs about the effects of voice or of powerful texts may remain as unexamined subtexts to teachers’ own pedagogies?
  6. Given the complexity of social, cultural, and pedagogical relations, a critical approach to TESOL needs to work at multiple levels, including an understanding of a critical domain, an approach to pedagogy that aims at transformation, a way of shifting pedagogical relations to give students more curricular control, and ways of engaging with difference not merely in terms of inclusivity and issues but also at the level of desire. (p. 341) 

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