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Critical ESL Education in Canada  

Sunny Man Chu Lau

Critical approaches to English as a second language (ESL) education in Canada broadly fall under two intersecting orientations—inclusivity-focused and issue-focused. Inclusivity-focused education refers to critical approaches to ESL that valorize minoritized and/or Indigenous students’ voices, languages, and other semiotic resources in learning (in) English. This inclusive orientation aims to challenge systemic marginalization of multicultural voices and identities, destabilize static notions of languages and other modes of communication, and importantly, decolonize inequitable power structures inherent in academic and broader social setting. An issue-focused approach adopts an explicit critical agenda, using eco-social issues as the foci of curricular content to engage students in critical interrogation of social assumptions and participation in related class-based action research to simultaneously learn the language and enact change in broader communities. Recent trends in critical issue-focused inquiries also draw on posthumanist, socio-materialist, and Indigenous perspectives to offer more complex, interconnected, and distributed views of language learning and social change. These perspectives not only urge for alternative ways (cognitive, bodily, multi-sensory, affective, and spatial) of critical engagement but also a more human decentering perspective to understand the ethical interdependence of the human/non-human world.