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GLOBAL ISSUES IN LANGUAGE
EDUCATION NEWSLETTER
Autumn 1998 - Issue No. #32 (p.19)

FEATURED BOOK REVIEW:

Open Minds: Exploring Global Issues through Reading and Discussion

by Steven Widdows & Peter Voller (1996)

University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI     (ISBN 0-472-08358-9 pp. xxiv+179)

Open Minds: Exploring Global Issues through Reading and Discussion is a speaking and reading skills text for intermediate adult and young adult ESL and EFL students. It draws upon a wide variety of authentic English-language sources, but does not pander to any particular culture or market. The topics chosen are universal in nature and treated with sensitivity, but some might be more sensitive in certain teaching situations than others. I feel this text would be appropriate for college or university EFL learners in reading, critical thinking or global issues classes.

The text consists of ten units which, though apparently disconnected and discrete, fall into three general categories. The first category we might term Issues of Identity. This includes Unit 1 The Remains of the Day on aging and attitudes towards the elderly, Unit 4 Glad to be Gay? , Unit 7 Pride and Prejudice on feelings towards visible minorities, and Unit 10 Guys 'n' Dolls on evolving notions and definitions of masculinity and femininity.

The second general category could be dubbed Environmental Issues. This encompasses Unit 2 Our Daily Bread on organic farming, the agrochemical industry and fast food; Unit 3 For Whose Benefit? about grassroot-level banks in Bangladesh and guano in Peru; and Unit 6 Biosphere Blues on Californians' addiction to cars and their contribution to global warming, and on the 1988 murder of Brazilian rainforest activist and rubbertapper, Chico Mendes.

The third general category, Economic Issues in the New World Order (my label), includes Unit 5 The Dream Sellers featuring Vance Packard's 1957 tract on the influence of advertising "The Hidden Persuaders", Unit 8 Out of Our Minds on legal and illegal drug use in developed nations (contrasting Britain's and other European powers' 19th century opium sales in China with their present ambivalence in the 1990s about weaning underdeveloped countries off lucrative cash crops such as coca), and Unit 9 Dead End Street which juxtaposes poverty in Bogota, Colombia with youth unemployment and nihilistic boredom in northern England.

Each unit requires about two hours of class time for reading tasks, and one hour for fluency activities, so you'd need a 40-60 hour course to finish the whole book. Happily, the text does triple duty as a student workbook and as a teacher's guide. Work can be assigned to students as independent self-study, with easy recourse to an answer key.

Reading tasks include pre-reading, involving prediction or learners' existing knowledge of the topic, global reading to determine the writer's intentions, intensive reading for specific information, vocabulary identification and strategies, and a response section, which prepares learners to move on to the fluency activities. The authors recommend that the reading tasks be done by students individually, or in twos or threes. Fluency activities such as special projects, surveys, debates (or Unit 3's Trading Game) ought to be carried out in larger combinations of students The teacher's role is to be a manager and observer, steering well clear of aggressive error correction.

For instance, in Unit 1, on aging and the aged, the pre-reading activity is a list of statements about older people, e.g. "They can't keep up with modern changes." Learners are asked to check off whether they agree, disagree or don't know, before comparing notes. Next, there is a 150-word intermediate-level article about older workers returning to the workplace after retirement, followed by seven tasks: choosing a title for the passage, true-false questions, vocabulary identification, writing questions for answers, a word jumble, cloze and information gaps, and a listing task

A similar set of tasks follows a second more difficult 200-word reading on a young woman's three year experience disguising herself as an elderly woman in the streets of New York City. Her feelings of disorientation, humiliation, anger and eventual empathy could be compared and contrasted with John Griffin's 1950s classic, Black Like Me, which is still taught in schools in North America.

Seven fluency activities follow. To be honest, I really don't think dthe prescribed hour of class time for these is realistic. It might be better to choose the most relevant or practical ones for each school's specific setting. For my money, the best activities are the ones which tear students away from the text, and inspire them to take it outside; in this unit, they could interview an older person, work on a project to clarify media depictions of young and old, or debate the proposition that "Older people are a burden on society." Incidentally, the authors cite an interesting debate technique created by David Gregory.

Seven fluency activities follow. To be honest, I really don't think the prescribed hour of class time for these is realistic. It might be better to choose the most relevant or practical ones for each school's specific setting. For my money, the best activities are the ones which tear students away from the text, and inspire them to take it outside; in thisunit, they could interview an older person, work on a project to clarify media depictions of young and old, or debate the proposition that "Older people are a burden on society." Incidentally, the authors cite an interesting debate technique created by David Gregory.

Open Minds has a wealth of fascinating, practical hints in the same vein. It consistently acknowledges the needs of a mixed-level, mixed-motivations, mixed-values class, acquitting itself very well, with a minimum of preachiness. It's well worth consideration as a primary or supplementary material. I might suggest adding audio or video supports to the book. As Yasuyo Fukunaga of Ferris University pointed out in the March 1998 issue of this newsletter, there are more than a few such resources available. One she mentioned, the 1994 Raul Julia movie The Burning Season, would be an ideal match for Unit 6 about the life and death of Chico Mendes and the fate of the Amazon rainforest


Reviewed by Timothy Allan, Kwassui University, Japan

*****

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