8th Grade Mastermind Coursebook Analysis in Terms of Environmental Issues

Posted On 2/7/2019 6:57:00 PM, 4Comments

The coursebook I analyzed was the one that was used by 8th Grade students throughout the Turkey. First of all, the book is the newest version that was published by the Ministry of Education for the English course. The reason I’ve chosen this grade and the book is that I wondered if the students are aware of the dangers and other kinds of issues that are related to the environment by only just studying this book for an entire year by themselves in the English courses. Also, the activities that are related to the social justice and environmental issues mostly based on reading activities where students are asked to read a certain passage that raises an awareness to question the environment they are in.

(Picture 1.1) 

Let’s take the last Unit called ‘’Natural Forces’’ into consideration. Firstly, the unit is centered on the natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, erosions and so on. Secondly, the unit contains several structures like modal verbs to enable the students to talk about the issues that stem from nature. The reason why these are important is that the book acts like a guide for the students to both criticize these issues and practice the language simultaneously. However, coursebooks mostly contain traditional activities to be practiced in the classroom. In this unit, there is an activity at the last part of the unit (Picture 1.1). In this activity, the students are expected to read a brochure that is provided in the activity and come up with different mottos for the issue stated in it. The first thing we see in this activity is the motto ‘’Save water before it’s too late’’. Now, this activity can be a perfect milestone for social justice education in our classrooms. The single flower’s place in soil that suffer from drought gives a huge recognition of how the issue becomes serious. The important thing to realize is that even if the activities are centered on grammar or other kinds of language skills to teach English, the students are given an opportunity to create their own motto about the water shortage particularly. This can provide an insight for the students to look into the matter more seriously. Most students can see coursebooks as the ‘’lessons’’ but when the facts and important issues are embedded in these coursebooks, both the teachers and the students can come to a conclusion to cover these issues in the lesson. This activity is a guide for teachers to cover ‘’social justice’’ in their lesson hours. Also, it is an activity which can be applied easily since it does not require some materials to be gathered together. In addition, stating NASA’s data on the subject contributes a lot in terms of verification and reliability. The message given in the activity is that we have concrete examples and evidences to look into the environmental issues deeply and seriously.


(Picture 1.2) 

In the same unit, there is another activity that is centered on global warming (Picture 1.2). This reading activity focuses on Earth’s heating up to death. The humans are identified as the number one cause of this problem due to the release of heat-trapping gases. So, even this unit’s main area is to study the natural disasters, it is also important to look at the issues that humans brought to the environment. In this reading text, the humans are to blame. In addition, the pictures of a polar bear and an earth at the edge of dying are quite appealing and attractive to read the text in a detailed and interpretive manner. The question of the activity invokes a discussion and brainstorming among the students. However, it would be better if the question is turned into a kind of discussion that emerges empathy towards the polar bears that see the evidences of climate change. For example, a question like ‘’Imagine that you’re a polar bear. What would you do if you see a block of ice (which is your home) breaking apart in front of your eyes?’’ would provide an insight to both discuss and feel the issue in-depth.


(Picture 2.1) 

In the unit ‘’Chores’’, there is a reading activity that emphasizes the importance of being clean all the time (Picture 2.1). In this reading passage, it is said that the things that these Japanese students do is a kind of tradition. This is a statement that can have an impact on our own context. We can also apply these things in our schools to keep the schools’ environment clean. When there is a common understanding of these ideas, there can be a clean environment and there can be much more responsible students to take action for these kinds of environmental issues. The question that is asked for this activity is a good question for promoting awareness for environmental issues in students because the answer is students. They clean their classrooms and care for the environment. If the message is given appropriately, I believe that our own students would also want to take action and arrange the environment by taking the first step as Japanese students do. This reading passage can be key to achieve local success in these kinds of basic environmental issues.



(Picture 3.1)

So far, the activities that promote environmental education and awareness in the coursebook are examined and analyzed. However, this is not always the case. For the 8th grade coursebook, the units ‘’Friendship’’ and ‘’On the Phone’’ are the ones that do not constitute as good examples for environmental education. The reason I have a perspective like this stems from the fact that these units only deal with dialogues and activities which are centered on teaching the grammatical side of the language. The content and language objectives are taken as the main focus to be taught and achieved. Although there are other units such as ‘’Tourism’’ that do not directly have some activities for social justice issues, the activities in this unit might be adjusted for environmental education as stated in our first webinar. For example, additional activity in this unit represents a question for world-heritages in Turkey (Picture 3.1). In that activity, the students are expected to state their opinion about the structures and make comparisons. Although it is a question that is conducted to assess the students’ content knowledge, it can be converted into an activity or a question that students would study to enhance their awareness of environmental issues. By looking at the heritages in Turkey, the students may write a short paragraph or a few sentences to defend a particular idea or a statement; That is, protecting these heritages from harm. This is a most basic activity that a teacher can do to initiate the first step of providing awareness since heritages like these are important elements that contain the history, architecture, and environment in themselves.

If you have any further more ideas and thoughts about the topic and the issues in these coursebooks, please take your time to express your feelings in the comment section below, I'd be honored.

Disclaimer: All the pictures represented here are taken from the Mastermind Coursebook for 8th Grade English Courses. All copyrights belong to the Ministry of National Education. The materials used in here are only to inform, not a single profit is intended to be made. 

Comments (4) -

Deniz Ortactepe
2/14/2019 10:49:23 AM #

Excellent blog post Necati! I loved the activity in the first unit that asks students to write their own mottos! Creative, authentic and absolutely a good awareness raising activity on environmental education. The problem, however, with such activities is that the next steps are almost never taken. Maybe a school project using these mottos can be carried out so that these mottos or posters won’t be limited to a classroom activity but reach a wider audience.
I like your suggestion for the second picture/activity within this unit. Activating their affective schemata, not just their cognitive schemata (knowledge about the world) but also their beliefs, emotions, and values will make these issues more relevant to their lives while also enabling them to become even more sensitive towards these issues.
I think you’re right that the third activity you shared should be the first step that we need to implement in all schools regardless of our subject area.
I liked the last analysis as well – very to the point that sometimes the sole emphasis on teaching structures rather than facilitating discussions on and awareness of content. Great blog post overall Necati! Thanks for your efforts!

2/15/2019 12:47:19 PM #

Thank you so much for providing feedback on the post, Professor Ortaçtepe!
While I was analyzing the coursebook, I realized that there were plenty of activities for us to adapt, conduct or even reorganize to establish awareness about the environmental issues in our classrooms. As you said for the first activity, it is not sufficient on its own. Writing a motto and skipping that activity would give nothing to the students. So, the rest is up to our own imagination to adjust the activities to make the best out of them. Also, I sincerely believe that we should focus more on the affective side of teaching. This is why the teachers must not ''always'' think about the contents or grammatical side of the language. Instead, the teachers should often focus on activating the students' schemata as you pointed out for the second activity. It would probably help a lot to establish the awareness that we pursue a lot. Also, as said in our first webinar, we must move step by step towards the global success. That's why the third activity seemed interesting to me because it was about a local accomplishment. If all the schools do the same, then there would be an accomplishment throughout our nation. Then it would spread out over other countries. I believe that with such activities and with the teachers who would devote their time in adjusting and thinking about these activities, we would create better educational environments and provide a better life for the future generations.

Bill Snyder
2/25/2019 6:49:30 AM #

Hi Necati,

You've done a really nice job of analyzing your textbook for lessons that could support more discussion of environmental issues. I also appreciate all the text samples that you put up here to illustrate what you wrote. Seeing them helped me get a better sense of what you were saying.

The section about students in Japan cleaning their own school is a well-known part of the educational culture here. You can find some videos online that show it, which might even help make it more real for students. Like this one, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv4oNvxCY5k

You're right that not every unit is going to lend itself to discussion of every issue. But that lets you raise different issues at different times, and to return to an issue after some time and help students recall what they've learned and build on it.

I will offer a couple suggestions for finding an environmental issue in the unit on phones. You could look at cell relay towers, the beacons that relay signals from between phones. Some people have concerns about living close to such towers, fearing that the signals may be harmful to their health. Students could research this and possibly debate about the effects of phones on health. Another possibility would be to look at the relay towers as a form of visual pollution, disrupting the environment. In different places, great effort is put into disguising the towers as trees or rock formations so that people are more accepting of them. This could be the basis for talking about different forms of visual pollution and how they can be minimized or avoided.

I enjoyed reading this, and I'm looking forward to learning more from you as you blog.

Necati Sönmez
3/2/2019 12:46:32 PM #

Thank you for providing feedback on the post, sir. At first, I was actually impressed by this Japanese tradition. I knew they were a smart and a proud nation, I always had an affection for their hard work and culture. I thought that this kind of a tradition seemed like a thing that can be accomplished in the other parts of the world. I mean, as teachers, we can integrate this understanding by first raising our students' awareness. The initial and the best way to provide such a thing would result from our behaviors and thoughts because the students would start to think about what we do for the environment. Being a role model will be the initial step, I would say. Using recycle bins at schools in front of our students will most likely to have an impact on them. As I always point out, we should consider the ''step-by-step'' understanding in social justice issues since taking immediate actions would result in disadvantageous situations. We must adapt, think over and over again, discuss and finally come up with a solution that will result in taking an action. As a community, we must work hard to create an environment where we will take action to solve these kinds of issues in detail.

Actually, I didn't think about the relay signals when I posted my analysis. A few years ago, these beacons were at the core of health discussions, I clearly remember the news. These kind of signals are both harmful for our body and for the environment since they tend to reveal too much radiation in time. For example, although the radiation is absorbed by our body, a few years later one might end up having a painful disorder/illness. Same can be said for the environment, of course.

Thank you for all the suggestions, Mr. Snyder. I'll investigate more on these issues and be that teacher who will care for social justice in his classrooms.

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