How can discourse analysis influence teaching and help in text selection?

Discourse analysis (DA) stresses the importance of context –historical, social, ideological, and cultural—in understanding any kind of communication, from texts to movies, from speeches to advertising. Critical discourse analysis (CDA), a branch of discourse analysis, narrows the focus down to just one type of context: ideological. In “Critical Discourse Analysis: A Primer,” home economist Sue L.T. McGregor privileges the ideological to the exclusion of other contexts, emphasizing the power differential between the powerful and the oppressed, the government and the masses, the wealthy and the poor. She focuses on the potential of CDA to effect change by “mak[ing] clear the connections between the use of language and the exercise of power.” McGregor wants everyone to use discourse for “resistance and critique” instead of for “assertion of power and knowledge.” CDA has an inherently political and ideological purpose.

The second article is on “Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers” — and focuses on understanding context in its broadest sense, and does not focus on ideological issues or power inequities. This article, a digest of other research, discusses how ESL classroom teachers can use DA technique of Record-View-Transcribe-Analyze (RVTA) to understand the linguistic interactions and development of their students as English Language Learners and themselves as teachers.

Frankly, I cannot imagine myself ever using such a time-consuming technique as RVTA; I just don’t see the benefit when compared to the investment of time and energy. As for CDA, I don’t see much use for it either. I already emphasize the importance of context –social, historical, cultural—in understanding texts, film, images, etc. I do not feel the need to turn every lesson into a pitched battle on ideology. When I select materials to use in my classroom, I am mindful of the context in which the materials were created, as well as of the context in which they will be used; I am also cognizant of the diverse contexts in which I teach, and try to select both materials and instructional techniques that will be appropriate.

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