Introduction: Taiwan’s curriculum reform is a product of collective effort from the entire society and embodies the essence of critical pedagogy. However, even in the 12-Year Basic Education Curriculum, the ability of teachers to fully embrace the ideals of a democratic plan as advanced by critical pedagogy is hindered. The researchers observed that in the field of Mandarin instruction, teachers tend to rely on textbook content as the main focus of their teaching and assessment. Although they may have a definite understanding of knowledge arrangements, they often lack critical thinking skills. As a result, teachers find it difficult to move beyond closed answers, even when faced with questioning or alternative approaches to teaching. The distance between the conventional “subject-based teaching” approach and the modern “students as knowledge builders” approach is vast and even further from the ideal objective of “teachers as the transformative intellectuals.” This research explored curriculum reflections and the practices of three Mandarin teachers in a professional learning community (PLC). This study was conducted through dialogues centered around a lesson study and from the perspective of critical pedagogy. We discussed ways in which critical consciousness is fostered by classroom observation and pedagogical conversations facilitated by the PLC. We explored the interplay between PLC dialogue and curriculum practice and how it informs the teaching practices of Mandarin teachers. Literature Review: Freire (1968/2019) argued that critical thinking arises from the awakening of consciousness and dialogic thinking. Freire defined dialogue as “the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world,” which involves a dialectical process of moving from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. He also used the term “praxis” instead of dialogue, referring to reflection and action on the world. Freire considered dialogue as the teaching and learning process, in which learning occurs through discussion and debate between teachers and students about social and political realities. According to Giroux (2010), most practical studies promoting critical pedagogy tend to focus on instrumental methodology, with a limited number of studies having a broader perspective or critical understanding of education. Ellsworth (1989) expressed the concern that the concept of education advocated by critical pedagogy is too abstract, overly theoretical, and disconnected from classroom practice, leaving teachers feeling as though it does not align with their work. hooks (1994) described how her marginal status as a black woman led her to practice critical pedagogy in conjunction with antiracism in the classroom. She found that in her practice, conversations in the classroom tended to not go smoothly when teachers questioned students condescendingly, a phenomenon that resulted in students being partially excluded from the mainstream curriculum. She also claimed that the classroom becomes a radical space when she challenges the monolithic/mainstream cultural perspective and willingly adds her voice, thereby enabling education to flourish. Mao (2004) suggested that in curriculum practice, teachers must allow themselves to become the “subject of questioning” to understand the limitations of their subject and to awaken and bring about change. In the past, when teachers were studied from the perspective of critical pedagogy, the complexity of practice limited the awakening of individual teachers; however, the lesson studies in a PLC often stimulate pedagogical awareness among individual teachers (Fernandez, 2002; Lewis, 2009; Nelson & Slavit, 2007), and this topic is worth exploring. Whether the research involves dialogue among PLC members or between teachers and students, the current research focuses on the operational steps and learning outcomes of dialogue teaching and classroom study. Exploring the potential for teaching consciousness to activate critical consciousness among teachers and enhance teaching practices is warranted. Research Method: for 2 years, we examined the pedagogy of three Mandarin teachers who were a part of a PLC in a middle school. Data collection methods included classroom and PLC observations, retrospective interviews, and analysis of the relevant curriculum and teaching documents. Findings and Discussion: We found that the PLC functions as a platform that fosters dialogue and encourages reflection among individual teachers, thereby assisting teachers to recognize the limitations of the Mandarin curriculum and empowering them to take bold pedagogical actions within institutional limits. Through the interaction between the case teachers and other members of the PLC, the participants were able to create open-ended learning sheets that combine Mandarin and civil society issues. These learning sheets were an essential tool for understanding the learning environment of students and for developing effective teaching strategies. The content of the learning sheets was not limited to that provided in the corresponding textbook, and students were not confined to the conventional one-way indoctrination writing style of the past. At times, the responses from students reminded the teachers of their own ignorance or narrow-mindedness. The three teachers engaged in a reflective exchange of knowledge between themselves and with their students. The three teachers had a comprehensive understanding of the context in which their students were learning, encouraged introspective learning, and collaborated with their students to develop their critical knowledge as a part of their curriculum practice. The conscientization process of curriculum practice and the teacher-student relationship could disrupt the rigid definition of Mandarin teachers, thereby leading to their empowerment. In the context of the classroom, although dialogue between teachers and students gradually creates opportunities for collaborative knowledge-building and reflection, external factors, such as campus-related factors and societal norms, may at times limit the scope of discourse. To truly experience the otherworldly in our daily lives, we must not limit ourselves to the classroom setting as the sole platform for dialogue between teachers and students. Therefore, for teachers aspiring to practice critical pedagogy, these challenges must be acknowledged and overcome. Conclusions: In the dialogue of the PLC, these teachers are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their students and discover the intersection between the implementation and framework of the Mandarin curriculum. The collision of curriculum practices and systems within the liberal arts presents both opportunities for growth and challenges to be overcome. Through the transformative perspective of critical pedagogy, we found a reflective PLC in which teachers engaged in dialogue to gain insights into their students and the underlying challenges within the teaching field. The dialogues and discussions in the PLC can bring together ideas to solve the problems of classroom teaching. As the previously imperceptible becomes perceptible, teachers strive to change their teaching through collaborative dialogue and support, developing transformative knowledge. The emergence of a prototype for a transformative intellectual is becoming apparent. Unlike the individual transformative intellectuals of critical pedagogy, a PLC provides a safe and trusting environment where teachers have opportunities for reflection, have partners to help them disentangle the curriculum, and engage in dialogue to create a critical pedagogical practice that enables them to reconnect with the curriculum. Thus, the thought-provoking discussions and activities initiated by the PLC bring critical pedagogy closer to the field of teaching practice, presenting an opportunity to move toward a vision of a democratic plan.
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