"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Role of Teacher in Group Dialogue

Wow! Reading the Fiore and, later the Wallerstein articles really left an impression.  I'll be honest and say that as an ESL teacher, I started out wanting to create the dynamics detailed in the curriculum used in the Bahamas as well as advance in how Freire approaches the classroom.  In reading, I saw a glimpse of want my intention is in my classroom, but I do not know that I'm achieving that initial goal; and I'm actually questioning myself whether not achieving it is intentional or not. Focusing predominately on grammar, syntax, tenses, vocabulary, and spelling debilitates the goal of becoming "critically conscious of the connection between their own lives and their larger society" (Fiore, p. 116)
I take solace in what Freire wrote in the Pedagogy in Process," the best way to accomplish those things that are impossible today is to do today whatever is possible" (p. 64).
The readings have allowed me to take a step back and look through the process of what and how I'm doing what I'm doing and to, sincerely, consider making a willful effort to get back to my initial intention of allowing students the opportunity to take charge of their learning.


  1. Carol, your thoughtful reflection about examining theory through your own lens of practice is really insightful. I am not an educator by profession, so I am really struggling with a lot of the theory we're examining right now. Being able to try to see it through your lens, ("do today whatever is possible,") really helps me frame the discussion in a way that clarifies the concepts for me. Thanks.

  2. Carol, this heartfelt post is, as Caitlin says, insightful. Last year, Susan Watson, another ESOL teacher and creator of this blog, responded to these readings in a similar way. The thing is, you are undoubtedly providing your students with a sense of dignity and self worth, so don't ever undervalue that. Critical pedagogy is as challenging as it gets. In our new doctoral track (Curriculum, Culture and Change) we struggle with this a lot. My 2 cents: try something small to start with. We'll be kicking this around all semester. Thank you, for making this 'local' for us, and doing so from a position of genuine caring. :)

  3. I saw my name and thought I'd butt-in if that's OK.

    Hi Carol! I know exactly how you feel! Last fall I taught an ESoL class that challenged my teaching skills in every way possible. Learners' language skills and needs were were all over the map. Throughout the semester, I tried hard--too hard--to introduce authentic themes around which the class would rally and learn. Nothing seemed to spark an interest. "Teacher we want to learn grammar, teacher we want to write" is what learners kept telling me. So, we persevered with the grammar, syntax, tenses, vocabulary, and spelling as you described. It's so true what Bill says about trying something small. I hear those words in my head, and they were screaming at me during this class. However, just as important as trying something small, I learned I had to be prepared to recognize and act when the generative theme arose. In the case of the difficult class, success happened very unexpectedly at the end of the semester. One night, a quiet student named Armondo shared his story of being pulled over by the police. The car was searched, his brother was arrested, Armondo had to testify in court; it was a long, detailed story. In a matter of minutes the class was consumed with this powerful story. They had questions and expressed anger. Right before my eyes this powerful, authentic theme had emerged. This is what I had been waiting for all semester! My only disappointment was that the semester ended before we could more thoroughly explore the topic and possibly generate more ideas.

    My huge take-away is this: it IS those small things we do--pose questions and listen-- to create the environment that empowers learners to share their stories and generate authentic themes like Armondo did. It's the way we approach our practice and ultimately create the kind of environment where authentic material is valued and used for learning. All the grammar and spelling, etc that we teach in between these big moments is helping learners develop the skills so they can communicate and share in English. I think it's all a necessary part of teaching adult ESL. I am slowly learning that there is no prescriptive pedagogy for this kind of teaching. What makes it happen is more about how we see the situation.and treat the learners. It's about who is in charge and whose knowledge and experience is valued. This is all the great stuff explored in ADLT 650! We can ask ourselves if we are the kind of teacher who would have thanked Armondo for sharing his story and moved on--back to the grammar and syntax etc.--or are we the kind of teacher who values what students bring to the class and builds instruction around their authentic themes. Sheesh I sound preach-y, but this stuff gets me fired up. I'm facilitating a workshop next week on 'authentic approach to instruction' where authentic means 'generated by and grounded in learners' lives' (Purcell-Gates et al) and I'm weaving this experience into the presentation. Thx for letting me butt-in to your class and share. Susan


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.