Using our textbooks interculturally? Moving on possible

Written by: Valentina I. Georgieva, “N.Y.Vaptsarov” Naval Academy – Varna

This paper is aimed at presenting the goals, ideas, structure and the processing of the workshop run during the Bulgarian English Teachers Association (BETA) conference in Varna on 15-16 May 2004. Some comments and responses from and about the participants in the workshop are also included.

The overall aim of the workshop was to raise awareness of the issues of intercultural education as addressed in Bulgarian textbooks in general and in the “Moving On In a World of English” textbook for the 9th grade students of English Language Schools in particular.

The expected result of the activities during the workshop was to start building a shared awareness of intercultural education (ICE) by getting the participants involved in the process of looking for, discovering, and exploring the intercultural potential of a given textbook by applying the Evaluation Model of the Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials. In addition, it was hoped that some initial skills for recognizing the potential for reaching ICE objectives could be trained. This workshop was one in the series of seminars, presentations and workshops from the Helpdesk members aimed at publicizing the Helpdesk work and accomplishments so far in the Bulgarian educational context.

At the very beginning it was necessary to relate the topic of the workshop as presented in the conference Programme and the accompanying abstract to the context that had evoked the workshop itself. That is why there was a brief explanation about the Helpdesk’s goals and work, i.e. that the Helpdesk is an NGO, founded a year ago, which deals with various aspects of ICE, but its mains goals are evaluating learning materials from an intercultural point of view, identifying problematic areas in which instances of discriminatory attitudes and practices can be detected and training educational practitioners on how they can effectively build upon the intercultural potential of the existing resources. (see for detailed information about the Helpdesk)

The topic of the workshop was Using our textbooks interculturally? Moving on possible and theBETA participants were invited to participate in the workshop in case they can answer positively to the following questions: “Are you interested in the problems of intercultural education? Have you tried to diversify your textbook using its potential to explore intercultural issues? Then this workshop is for you, as it will give you some ideas and practical suggestions on how to spot and use the textbook potential interculturally. We will look closer at Moving on textbook together and will apply the Helpdesk MODEL for evaluating teaching materials – a Model, which can help you evaluate professionally any textbook you teach with.”

The 60-minute workshop was planned to unfold and develop in a few stages, structured logically on the principle to learn by doing and sharing. The participants were not passive listeners, just the opposite: though planned beforehand, the workshop was actually ‘in the hands’ of the participants as they set up the course of the ‘moves’.

The warm-up activity succeeded in gradually breaking the ice. The participant were shown four pictures from the Moving on textbook (pp. 34, 37, 171, 246) and asked to relate the associations, provoked by them, to their understanding of intercultural education. After brainstorming their own personal and/or professional understandings of intercultural education and the first spontaneous responses they were asked in groups to write their associations – key words – on paper and to share them to the rest. Some key intercultural concepts came to light: “otherness”, “diversity”, “different but similar”, “understanding”, ”sharing”, “bright ideas”, “ups and downs”, “spirit”, “behaviour”, “respect”, “wider perspective”, “appreciation”, “trust”, “consideration”, “tolerance”, “equality”, “awareness”, “openness and curiosity”.

Next, having discussed them for some time, the participants were distributed copies from 9th grade Geography and Psychology textbooks Introductions, so that they could see another perspective on the ICE problems: that of the textbook authors. The aim of this part of the workshop was to compare the author’s understanding of intercultural education to the participant’s own insights. Searching for some more key words helped them formulate more coherently ideas concerned with the aims of ICE. Some instances that contain potential for achieving the goals of ICE were spotted. Moreover, it became clear that the problems of ICE can be approached from various angles and view points, all of which have their reason, value and importance for achieving the aims of the educational process as a whole.

Nevertheless, as the participants were English, and not subject teachers, the main part of the workshop was focused on discussing the intercultural potential of some example pages from the Moving on textbook. I justified the choice of this particular textbook for the workshop by pointing out to the following reasons:

1) my guess was that most of the participants had worked or at least seen this textbook, as it had been taught for quite some years at English Language schools;

2) as a member of the Helpdesk I am interested in discussing and revealing the potential for ICE of Bulgarian textbooks, not English or American ones;

3) Moving on is for the 9th grade students and the students at this age have already developed the skills to analyze and compare, to discuss and comprehend, as well are interested in exploring different aspects of socio-cultural situations.

The participants were given a couple of pages from different units of the textbook: pp. 35, 36, 199, 200, 261, 262. At first glance it seemed that these were pages supposed to practice the four language skills. Actually the reason for choosing them was different: I believed they were indicative and could successfully exemplify the ways of 1) looking for the ICE potential of any learning material, including the material that has not been specifically developed for the purposes of ICE; 2) adapting the material when aware of the way of doing that, so that the teacher can work on achieving the purposes of ICE with any learning material.

The participants were asked to express their feelings about what they saw on the pages, i.e. what was their opinion about the potential of those pages for ICE, and to share from their personal teaching experience whether they had done any changes when teaching the material. At this point the discussion became livelier and the predominant note was critical. But after the remark of one of the participants that she would not choose this textbook, the discussion turned into expressing opinions about the factors that influence the teacher’s choice of a textbook. I used this discussion to relate the answer about the criteria for choosing a textbook to focus the participants’ attention to the Helpdesk’s Evaluation Model (see the Appendix), which can help teachers evaluate the IC potential of any textbook.

As seen from the Model, the evaluation of a learning material is placed within the Bulgarian social and educational context. The first box includes the objectives of ICE, which are of special interest and importance when evaluating the potential of teaching and learning experience. Some of the objectives discussed during the workshop were: challenging stereotyping, providing multiple perspectives on the subject matter and promoting respect for otherness. The arrows between the grouped objectives show the interrelatedness between all the ten general objectives of ICE.

The box below represents the students’ total experience in class and the four zones of focus regarding the evaluated resources: content, activities, language and visuals. When evaluating the potential of a given learning material (educational document, textbook, reader, workbook, teacher’s book, etc) a teacher can help him/herself evaluate the material by answering the questions in the inner boxes and relating them to the objectives, e.g. Does the content of the textbook support the objective of challenging stereotyping? Do the visual and other non-linguistic aspects of the teaching material support promoting respect for otherness? Do the activities suggested in the teaching material encourage the learners to think, feel and behave interculturally? etc.

The right-hand box in the Model represents the template for preparing the written review of an evaluation, a template, which is followed by the Helpdesk evaluators when suggesting some recommendations for enhancing interculturally the learning process on the basis of the evaluated material’s potential for ICE.

After familiarizing the participants with the Model, we started discussing some of the activities, questions and visuals on the chosen pages from Moving on. The participants formulated easily the aspect of ICE these pages dealt with, i.e. the problem of stereotyping, both national and gender stereotypic presentations. Guided by questions, they suggested some additional tasks. I asked them to refer to the questions in the Model when discussing the activities and visuals. For example, the participants made their suggestions for reformulation and extension of some of the tasks in the textbook by referring to the question from the Model “Do the activities suggested challenge national stereotyping?”

When discussing visuals on the pages, we were again consulting the Model for guiding our discussion in the stream of the intercultural problems. There was a funny moment, though: when discussing the pictures on p.35, which are supposed to depict a typical American, German, English and French, I asked an American guy, a Peace Corps teacher, to identify himself with one on the pictures. He admitted he did his choice after eliminating one by one the impossible choices, though he wasn’t sure to what extent the visual representation of a suppositious “typical” American fitted with him…

The important part of the workshop during this stage was referring all the time to the Model while discussing the content, activities, visuals and language of the sample pages and suggesting ideas for more interculturally-oriented tasks. This gave an idea to the participants how they can apply the Helpdesk Evaluation Model in their everyday practice.

At the end the participants were asked to fill in a feedback form. Eleven participants did that and their answers can be summarized as follows:

There were five representatives of Language Centers (presumably teachers), two Americans from the Peace Corps, two teachers from a private school, and two teachers from state high schools.

Some of the answers to the first question: “Did the workshop meet your expectations? Which of them?” are the following:

  • Yes, to share experience in teaching topics to do with cross-cultural peculiarities.
  • Yes. A different approach to textbooks. Becoming aware of the need to teach English interculturally.
  • I liked the Evaluation Model which can be used as a checklist when choosing a SB
  • Yes. It gave some more ideas which are not quite clear or implicit in the textbook.
  • To some extent. I think the Evaluation Model is something one can put into practice.
  • To a certain extent. It is quite modern to think and talk about cultural diversity, mutual respect in Europe striving for unity.
  • Yes. The workshop was informative and beneficial on how to approach textbooks which don’t provide proper structure about IC learning and this is an obstacle that I’ve encountered.
  • Yes, it gave a framework for which we can as teachers judge the “culturness” of a textbook. As well, we had an opportunity for discussion.
  • It really provokes some useful ideas of how to use different kinds of textbooks interculturally in an interesting discussion.

The second question was: What else did you expect to do during this workshop?

  • It met my expectations is all respect.
  • More on discussing different activities.
  • Discussion is OK to start with. I expected to hear more practical advice as to how to deal with students’ unawareness of the need to learn about other cultures.
  • Maybe share ideas for varying the lesson in the student’s book, but the discussion switched us away.
  • I expected to see and hear some additional and supplementary materials or information which is not sufficient in the textbook concerning the topic.
  • Activities or approaches to cross-cultural issues in the classroom.
  • More opinions. More about different colleagues’ experience.
  • More ideas about adapting cross-cultural ideas into curriculum would have been helpful.
  • Talk about specific IC teaching theories/models that can be used in the classroom.
  • To comment on some IC problems, to comment on globalization problems.

The third question was: What else would you like to know about the Helpdesk and ICE?

  • Know more about other projects.
  • I believe that the right way to teach anything is through raising Ss’ awareness about IC similarities, diversities, etc.
  • More examples of differences, habits, customs.
  • More info about the following events connected to the topic.
  • “I know that I know nothing”, said the philosopher. So anything will be of interest
  • First of all, where I can read about your work, which is totally new to me.
  • Is there a website? How does your organization deliver its findings? Are they public?
  • How to find more info concerning ICE materials?

And the last question was: How do you see your future contribution to the IC orientation of teaching materials and the teaching/learning process?

  • By trying to adapt the information students can find in the TB to their particular needs.
  • The pity is I know so little I can’t think of any contribution for the present moment. I could devote more time and effort on including more info about cultural differences between us and the British, about the customs, traditions, etc in my lessons
  • I could devote more time and effort on including more info about cultural differences between us and the British, about the customs, traditions, etc In my lessons
  • I’m going to keep in touch. Internet is a good opportunity
  • I can’t judge yet
  • More on a personal basis – more comfortable, aware in looking at culture as a judge for a possible textbook choice
  • I’m interested in it.

As seen from the answers, the workshop achieved its aims: all of the participants learnt more about the intercultural education and its application in Bulgarian context, opened their eyes to new perspectives, got some initial skills for recognizing and using the intercultural potential of textbooks in the classroom. The answers were especially helpful for the future activities of the Helpdesk because we as a team of practitioners would like to address intercultural problems to as many of our colleagues as possible and to organize some more seminars and teacher trainings about IC issues and evaluating learning materials.

The participants in the workshop followed the main steps that the Helpdesk Evaluators’ team had gone through for a year. The focus of the workshop was not to discuss academically theoretical and methodological problems but to apply the theoretical knowledge to the teachers’ everyday practice. And since the focus was on evaluating teaching materials, hopefully the teachers enriched their understanding of how they could conduct such an evaluation themselves, how to look for the intercultural potential of a given textbook and how to apply the Helpdesk Model in order to update and make a textbook more interculturally oriented.

In addition, at the end of the workshop the participants got a copy of the Helpdesk Portfolio. It contains some of the Helpdesk materials and documents, which present our views and objectives, as well as reviews of different 9th grade textbooks, Moving on Review included. I asked them to share this Portfolio with their colleagues – subject specialists, as the Model they had been acquainted with could be applied when evaluating the intercultural potential of any subject textbook.

To sum up: the workshop succeeded not only in publicizing some of the accomplishments of the Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials and presenting its Model, but also helped to find new supporters and allies with shared awareness of intercultural education.

Grozdanova L., Georgieva M, Nedkova M. (1998) Moving On In a World of English (1&2), Lettera, Plovdiv


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