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The philosopher's teahouse : implementing critical pedagogy in multicultural ESL academic preparation classes Royal, Wendy Ann


This study investigates how students understand and experience critical pedagogy in four culturally diverse ESL classes in Northwest University, located in a multicultural metropolis in Canada. I conducted the study in my own classes, simultaneously examining my practice and its impact on my students since teachers’ and students’ identities are entwined. Through dialogue and negotiations among teacher and students, critical language pedagogy provides an innovative approach to teaching English language skills that enables students to challenge inequality, since language is a powerful tool, often used to control, persuade or exclude. I chose a critical ethnographic case study as the most appropriate methodology for uncovering the multiple ways ESL students make meaning of a pedagogical process that has to date received little practical guidance. My study, which took place over one academic year, offers an introspective and detailed portrait of the pitfalls, practicalities and possibilities of such an approach, from the perspectives of the students and pedagogue themselves. An analysis of the classroom interactions, assignments and private interviews, reveals that students considered the pedagogy meaningful because it not only taught them practical language skills, but also connected their lives to the sociopolitical, alerted them to their rights and prepared them to become active, engaged and equal participants in their new society. My research contradicts the stereotype of the submissive, uncritical ESL student through numerous examples which illustrate how students exhibited multifaceted, agentive subjectivities, both within and outside the classroom. My findings show that a critical pedagogy enabled some of the students to identify and challenge unfair situations in their everyday lives in Canada. In addition, they reflected on and sometimes rejected their own internalized hegemonic cultural practices, and even encouraged others to consider different perspectives, thereby claiming and asserting redefined self-determined identities. One student articulated her dream of establishing a teahouse in China that reflected our critical classroom. And so I chose the Philosopher’s Teahouse as a metaphor for my classroom – a place where students discuss among equals the controversial issues of the day, learn new multicultural perspectives and in the process provoke changes in themselves.

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