Metaphors in a Selection of Course Books

07/07/2017 14:54

Metaphors in a Selection of Course Books


To improve teacher-student approaches towards their course book selection, students can be asked to participate in a survey with a questionnaire to be completed, and a focus group selected to take part in an in-depth probe into understanding the relations between students` metaphors and the course books they study, which could mean teacher-student interviews. Such a survey could centre upon a single main question, `A course book is like a library because ... ` (Dündar and Şimşek, p. 591) The students would then be asked to write as much as they can using their own choice of metaphor to effect `stem-completion` (Marchant, G. 1992) of the imagery that suggests itself to them. After analysis by the teacher-researcher, a number of students could then be asked to participate in an investigative focus group, where it is hoped that more will be discovered on the subject of student metaphors and how they `may express the meaning more concisely` (Cortazi and Jin, p. 161) to impact and have an influence upon how teachers choose coursebooks: `What metaphorical images do students have of their course books? Do these metaphors have an influence/impact on their attitudes to learning; and, if so, how?



 Literature reviews reveal the main findings in this area, which as Dündar and Şimşek succinctly observe, relate to `content, design and learner expectations` (p. 586). In his article, `Teachers’ And Learners’ Images For Coursebooks` (2006), Ian McGrath examines teachers` and students` metaphors and similes in relation to the choosing of course books, and recommends that teachers should develop professionally from a comparison of learners` attitudes through metaphor with the teachers` own metaphors. Gregory Marchant`s survey of 102 undergraduate students and 104 experienced teachers (p. 34), on a teacher preparation program at an unnamed Midwestern University in the United States of America, discovered that similes for teachers were `animal trainers`, and for students, `wild animals`, while classrooms were `jungles`. Scott Thornbury suggests that such ‘persistent and persuasive metaphors’ with a ‘degenerate effect on conceptualizing, inhibiting the development of fresh insights’ (p. 195) should be `surfaced and examined` to prevent their `influence`.


 Ian McGrath`s study, which involved a survey of 75 mainly secondary school teachers in Hong Kong, China, and several hundred schoolchildren, subdivided metaphors into four kinds, roughly indicative of a separation between teachers` perception of course books and students`; support, guidance, constraint and resource (Dündar and Şimşek`s `library` metaphor; for example). Apart from the quaintness of the culturally-specific, for example; the need for a `sauce to make chickens’ feet more palatable` (guidance), and the use of `bamboo in scaffolding` (support) as metaphors for the desirability of course book improvement (p. 178), McGrath`s study makes it evident that there`s room for an analysis of the metaphors used by users for textbook designers too.


 Esin Dündar and Meliha R. Şimşek`s study of 119 seventh graders in Mersin, Turkey, elicited the students` metaphorical opinion of the Sunshine 7 course book used there since 2014-15, and the negative response to it (52%) suggests that the optimistic title constellated an adverse reaction in the learners commensurate with their perception that, if it`s titled Sunshine 7, it should`ve been much better in terms of accessibility and knowledge affording. S73, for example, `drew a parallel between the dimness of the light radiating from a bulb and the poor performance of the local coursebook in managing the guiding process.` (Dündar and Şimşek, p. 591) A more neutral metaphor for the title, Sunshine 7, might have helped the course book designers` objective in avoiding such negative reactions, although the study of metaphors revealed a language content in Sunshine 7 beyond the learners` proficiency, which reduced the teacher to the role of `curriculum explainer` (p. 593), while demonstrating the use and efficacy of metaphor based research.


Aynur Kesen`s article, `Turkish EFL Learners’ Metaphors With Respect To English Language Coursebooks` (2010), found that, amongst 150 EFL learners studying at Cyprus International University, `language coursebooks are perceived as a planet, foreign country, secret garden, and space`, which is indicative of the `... uncertainty and enigma experienced by the learners.` (p. 108) Her survey was taken within an educational framework in which English language learning is compulsory and where an aim of such research is to ameliorate the burden upon those students for whom second language acquisition isn`t a major ambition, so that they can learn something while others develop a more serious approach to the subject material. Understanding the metaphors students use can be a step towards providing a teaching program that affords an education to everyone participating.


 An open worded questionnaire, with a main open question aimed at getting students to use metaphor to describe coursebooks, affords an economical opportunity for the researcher to analyse the imagery in a way fit for the purpose of gleaning information useful to textbook designers while, as Ian McGrath suggests (p. 171), it would allow for `easy comparison of responses too`. A good questionnaire obtains personal details, i.e., age, background, gender, etc., before eliciting a response to the main question, that is, `A coursebook is like a library because ...` Prior to the students` completion of the questionnaire, the concept `metaphor` should be be explained to them. They should be asked to give examples of metaphor from their own understanding of the concept, so as to check comprehension before the survey commences. Concept checking questions could be, after Dündar and Şimşek`s purposed rubric, `My mother is like a flower, because ..,` or `My teacher is like an angel, because ..,` etc. (p. 589), to establish conceptualization. Focus groups of students should explore their metaphors in more depth to gauge their feelings, and probe how these influence/impact on learning. Yıldırım and Şimşek (2011) recommend that qualitative data be quantified so reliability of interpretation will increase.


 A content analysis method should be applied to the metaphors uncovered by the teacher-researcher, and a three-step approach after the model of Esin Dündar and Meliha R. Şimşek in their article, `Metaphorical Representations Of A Locally-Produced English Coursebook: Uncovering Learner Beliefs` (2015), is recommendable. 1) All metaphors should be considered (Dündar and Şimşek, p. 590), but those which do not fit into an easily identified category, or are self-evident, should be excluded. 2) Metaphors should be categorized according to McGrath`s four categories; support, guidance, constraint, and resource. 3) Does gender influence metaphor use? Differences in age/nationality/gender should be analysed and compared. In this way a basis for coursebook selection/design is establishable.




Cortazzi, M. and L. Jin ‘Bridges to learning: Metaphors of Teaching, Learning and Language’ in L. Cameron and G. Low (eds.) Researching and Applying Metaphor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 149–76.

Dündar, Esin and Meliha R. Şimşek `Metaphorical Representations Of A Locally-Produced English Coursebook: Uncovering Learner Beliefs` The Journal of International Social Research, Vol. 8, # 40, October 2015, pp. 586-94.

Keysen, Aynur `Turkish EFL Learners’ Metaphors With Respect To English Language Coursebooks` Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 4 (1), 2010, pp. 108-118.

Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Marchant, G. J., ‘A teacher is like a . . . Using simile lists to explore personal metaphors’ Language and Education 6/1, 1992, pp. 33–45.

McGrath, Ian `Teachers’ And Learners’ Images For Coursebooks` ELT Journal Volume 60 (2), April 2006, pp. 171-80.

Thornbury, S. ‘Metaphors we work by’. ELT Journal, 45/3, 1991, pp. 193–200.

Yildirim, Ali and Hasan Şimşek, Sosyal Bilimlerde Nitel Araştırma Yöntemleri, Ankara: Seçkin Yayıncılık, 2011.