The Art of Possible: Experiences of Critical Pedagogy at a Higher Education Institution in the Sultanate of Oman
Chirciu, Alina Rebecca
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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Reason for embargo
I wish to publish research papers which rely heavily on the content of the thesis.
The purpose of this research study was to explore the possibilities of critical pedagogy and critical literacy in an English language course at a higher education institution in the Sultanate of Oman. Its aim was to propose an alternative curriculum for an English language pathway module by introducing socially-contextualized generative themes, position questioning and post-methodological teaching and learning strategies which would lead to an increased engagement with multiple perspectives hence an increased level of critical awareness. Moreover, the study sought to provide a platform for students’ voice where their views and choices were not only taken into consideration but had a direct impact on the direction of the critical intervention. The present study did not try to advocate for a new pedagogical framework that is prescriptive in nature but rather emphasize the ephemeral and hence dynamic nature classroom methodology. The study took place at a private higher education institution in the capital city of the Sultanate of Oman. The site of the intervention was a lower level English language vocabulary and reading focused module that served as support for English language majors. The participants were two teachers who had taught the module in the past as well as a group of students who had enrolled in the module at the time of the intervention. The group of student participants was entirely composed of females who possessed various levels of English language proficiency and originated from various parts of Oman. Data were collected during three intervention stages, following an action research design, through multiple methods: interviews, focus-groups, tests, questionnaires, observations. The research diary kept during the intervention represented another data source and an important instrument of recording instances of reflection on action. Participant confidentiality and anonymity was maintained throughout the data collection and analysis. The collected data was analysed following the principles of thematic analysis but also keeping in mind the democratic character of action research. Thus, a comparison of the researchers’ interpretations of the analysis with the experiences of the participants as well as the opinions of the external observers was undertaken. Several major themes emerged from the data at the different stages of the intervention: students’ needs and abilities, the need for a reformed curriculum, assessment of the students’ level of critical literacy, positioning and identifying multiple perspectives, students’ views on the critical intervention and their development of critical awareness as well as challenges and caveats at the intervention stage, students’ resistance versus emotional attachment to the module. In terms of readiness for a critical intervention, students and teacher participants held different views, as teachers associated readiness with a high level of critical thinking and language proficiency whereas students associated it with interest and emotional attachment. The majority of student experiences during the critical intervention were clustered around a shift in perspective which did not only evidence their increased sense of awareness of the world and its various social issues but also an increased display of empathy and compassion. Students also avowed an increased improvement in all four language skills as a result of this experience. Student silence had an impact on the reshaping of the intervention hence proved an opportunity for reflection and change. The key findings of the study suggest that, although considered a high-risk endeavour, critical pedagogy offers ample opportunities for English language education as students’ attitudes to it were generally positive. Students wish to take an active role in authoring the course of their learning and will make apparent their choices even through opposition, resistance and silence. Furthermore, critical pedagogy needs to be understood in the context of possibility as it is not a prescripitive set of rules or strategies nor automatically democratic and free from imposition. It is constantly informed and transformed by its authors’ and its participants’ contributions. The study has thus brought an overall understanding of the possibilities of critical pedagogical endeavours as well as the possibilities of critical action research to illuminate the phenomena of critical literacy and participant voice.
EdD in TESOL