by Zeynep Erdil Moody
ONCE A METU’LU ALWAYS A METU’LU
A journey from being a student to returning as a researcher to my alma mater.
June 1999, I left the METU campus with a BA in FLE, many unforgettable memories with lifelong friends-to-be, and my books… my precious books… that I carried with me wherever I went. Rolling my suitcase probably as heavy as I was out of the campus into the real world, there was only one thing in my mind: I will come back to you! I did not know how or when, but my ‘inner voice’ kept telling me I would be back ‘home’ again one day.
The smarty pants I was thought I should start from the bottom and make my way up in the grade level scale of an educational setting to really comprehend what teaching entailed apart from the foundation I had established in educational psychology, sociology, L2 pedagogy, and so forth, at METU. Having worked in K-12 settings for more than half a decade, that same inner voice once again was screaming inside my head a reminder that it was time to move forward with a more academic career, so I started working at TOBB ETU. Only two years later did I catch the opportunity to go back home, but this time as an instructor.
In 2007, I fulfilled that promise I had made to myself in 1999 when I returned home as a teacher. It was a very important year for me, like a turning point! After a tremendous change in my personal life, I needed a fresh start, so putting everything I had out there, I left my near future path in the skillful hands of the universe to unfold for me, hoping for the best. I first was given the honor of teaching at MLD, and several months later I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue my higher education in TESOL in the U.S. While I had been praying for one dream to come true, two of them actually came to fruition in the same year! As a foreign language teacher with no native-speaking country experience, I had always wanted to gain that first-hand experience in the culture of the language that I had been teaching. It was 2007 when “two roads diverged…and sorry I could not travel both… I took the one less travelled,” and that has made all the difference! After trying everything possible to maintain my instructor position at MLD while pursuing my MA in TESOL in California only to be back ‘home’ again to continue teaching with my enhanced L2 pedagogy, I was asked to resign. This was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to face. Life itself is an ongoing learning process; each time we think we are punished for no reason, we later come to the realization that the previous door was closed only for a better one to open! Having no ‘home’ to go back to work after my MA, I decided to pursue a PhD in SLA and IT, which led me to the love of my life eventually in 2012, all the way across the country in Florida. METU, my home, had given me what turned out to be the best gift – another bitter-sweet life lesson I got to learn after much spiritual training.
2015 is the year – although only for a short period of time as a guest – I was given another chance to go back ‘home’ again! While one administration closed the doors to give me more opportunities in life, another administration opened the doors to let me share all I had accumulated during my growth adventure in the U.S. I was back at METU as a researcher to conduct my dissertation study, collect data from fellow METU educators and students, to pay it forward! I could not be prouder and happier.
Spring 2015 was when I had a blast in the midst of three METU identities that I had: a student, teacher, and researcher. METU students are really special in that they construct a 21st century digital learner identity with its skills and critical perspective in diversified mindsets while maintaining traditional student values such as respect and appreciation (which I occasionally see while teaching undergraduates in the U.S). METU instructors are unique in that their professionalism and adept teaching skills are enriched with their discipline, work ethics, and acknowledgement for diversity embracing critical pedagogy. Working with these two unique participant groups in this understudied EFL context, strengthening the place of Turkey as a profound EFL setting with its competent teachers and students in the field of Applied Linguistics research, and sharing the findings of my study, were indeed a great honor. For this, I thank the MLD administration, instructors, staff, and students. Currently, I am working on two manuscripts to be published in peer-reviewed AL journals; I am excited to share these with the MLD family as soon as they are completed. Truth to be told, I could never have reached this stage without the support of the department chairperson Figen Iyidogan and the two assistant chairpersons, Yeliz Akel and Canan Ucar, the ‘never-tired, always enthusiastic’ experimental and control group instructors (Hale Kizilcik-Eren, Elif Sesen, Filiz Basaran, Nilgun Demirok and Seyhan Gocmen), to whom I will be forever grateful.
As songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen reminds us, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” We shall always try to get the most out of every opportunity life offers, not only for our own good but also for others. As ABBA continuously rings the bell with “I Have a Dream”, we should always follow our dreams no matter how many obstacles are in the way!
by Selin Alperer Tatlı
German: 63%, French: 23%, Italian: 8% and Romansh: less than 1% … These are the four official languages spoken in Switzerland, and yes, an average Swiss speaks at least two of these languages, plus a third or fourth unofficial language most of the time. Besides its reputation for being the land of cheese, chocolate, breathtaking landscapes, and cows, Switzerland takes pride in its multilingual nature. But what about English? Where does it stand and how do its people react to it?
Having spent almost 10 years living in Geneva, I wanted to share with you some of my experiences concerning learning a new language in an international setting, and also refer to the use of English in a Francophone city. I was more than surprised when I first arrived here in the summer of 2007, went to the local market to shop for some groceries on my second day in a brand new city and realized they didn’t speak a word of English! Quelle horreur! Obviously, grocery shopping doesn’t require that much of an interaction, but reality hit me hard that day – if I were to survive in this city, I needed more than my basic university course French! (special thanks to Prof. Dr. Ali Kas, by the way). And so my adventure began ….
Like most expats who have relocated to Geneva (and mind you, that is like 20% of the population!), I signed up for intensive French classes at a local language school. That took about 6 months and I completed 4 levels, being awarded a certificate in the end proving I qualified for B2 level of French (based on CEF). But what did that mean? Could I speak French? Not really. The instruction at the school was quite traditional. Teachers made extensive use of conventional grammar drills, handouts were printed, typical role-play activities were carried out in class, and homework … oh yes, we had loads and loads of it! I must admit, it was great fun being a student again, but once you’re a teacher and you have been on that side of the classroom before, I guess you can’t help but adopt a more critical stance. I don’t mean in a negative sense, after all, once it was all about “communicative teaching”, and hey look, we’re doing mechanical grammar drills, filling in blanks on worksheets, and it’s working! I must admit, this experience as a language learner after so many years also brought new insights into my teaching beliefs. Sometimes, we tend to focus so much on the “how” that we forget the “why”. Why am I learning this language? What do I need this new information for?
Speaking of teaching, in all this hustle and bustle, in the meantime, I was desperately looking for a job. You would think finding a position as an English teacher would be quite easy in any part of the world, at least compared to some other jobs, but the reality here was quite different. Language schools are in abundance here too, but I longed for a more academic position, preferably at the state university in Geneva. However, the only English programs they had were in literature or translation, neither of which I am qualified to teach, and since the language of instruction is French at the university, there is no equivalent of our department. I felt redundant, lost, even hopeless at times and quickly started to lose my motivation in the job hunting process thinking I would never find what I was looking for. And I didn’t. But what I did do was change my beliefs and adjust my expectations. And so I got my first job here at a language school, teaching adult learners intensive English classes three hours every day.
This experience also proved to be quite rewarding in its own way. My students were mostly Swiss or at least French native speakers and they needed better English skills to compete in the job market. I was free to design the content of the course, so based on the students’ needs, the focus was more on communication skills and more business-related course content. This was my first encounter with true locals in this city and I too learned a lot from them in the few months we spent together. It’s interesting how in an international city like Geneva where 20% of the population is made up of expats, the role of English still stands vague. I was finding it difficult to grasp how such a multilingual culture would not integrate English in their educational programs or in their social lives. The reasons that lie behind this, I’ve learned later, are mostly historical and connected to the Swiss sense of cultural identity.
Language is a topic of endless fascination to the Swiss. Most speak a minimum of three languages and the Swiss primary school system introduces formal instruction in the second official language other than that of the canton you are residing in as early as age 8. So, by the time they graduate from primary school, students are already proficient in their resident canton language, plus a second language. Now, what about English? What is the place of English in the Swiss education system, if any?
There is still ongoing debate as to whether English should be taught as the primary second language at school or not. Some opponents fear that “the introduction of English at the expense of a national language undermines the cohesion between Switzerland’s language regions and threatens cultural diversity” (www.swissinfo.ch). ‘Fear’, I would say, that English would become the dominating language and that it would not only influence the school curriculum, but social and cultural life too, which in turn would disrupt the perfect balance between different linguistic regions of the country. In Switzerland, all legal documents, public notices, package instructions, etc. are, by law, labeled in the three official languages – French, German and Italian. When I buy an over-the-counter medicine from the pharmacy, I need to know one of these languages to read the prescription. The tobacco industry warns you against the dangers of smoking on their cigarette packs in multiple languages In Switzerland.
While authorities seem reluctant to accept English into the Swiss system, it is inevitably the official working language in many businesses. Geneva is the heart of NGO’s and is host to numerous international companies and organizations. When a Swiss worker from the German-speaking part of Switzerland is making a business call to his/her Swiss colleague in the French-speaking region, they communicate, … well, in English! All doctors speak fluent English, besides a number of other languages too, of course. In the field of scientific research, in banking, in corporate life, English is the dominant language being used. However, if I go to our local farmer’s market, I need to ask for “pommes et poires”, not “apples and pears”. At my kids’ school meetings, I need to communicate in French. The plumber who comes to fix our kitchen sink is fluent in four different languages, but English is not one of them. Now you know how I improved my French over the years! It is true that if English was around more, I wouldn’t be able to make progress at this pace.
So, is English inevitably destined to become the principal lingua franca between the different linguistic regions of Switzerland in the near future? I think it already has. The Swiss Cantonal Ministers of Education has already released a detailed report in 2004 concerning the coordination of language teaching in Switzerland and has made adjustments to introduce English as early as grade 5. While most undergraduate programs are taught in one of the three official languages, some leading Swiss universities like Université de Lausanne and ETH Zurich offer more master’s and doctoral programs fully in English. While “Switzerland is flexible and pragmatic in its approach, times are changing: migration and globalization pose new challenges” (www.swissinfo.ch) to a country who views multilingualism as an asset and resource rather than a problem. Today, there are more resident speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and even Turkish than there are of Romansh, for example. The Swiss education policy also addresses the needs of non-native speakers and offers support for the promotion of students’ language of origin/migration through various language courses.
English or not, coordinating language teaching and adapting it to changing needs is a constant challenge in any country as it is in Switzerland. The balance between preserving multiculturalism and cultural heritage on one hand, and the need for harmonization and integration with the demands of changing times is delicate. And I am positive that the Swiss will successfully maintain this equilibrium. “Linguistic diversity offers real potential, but it also calls for commitment” (EDK Report, 2012). As far as I am concerned, I am fully committed to improving my spoken French in the near future. And maybe, just maybe, the Swiss can learn a thing or two from me when it comes to English … Before bidding adieu to all, let me just say a huge thank you to my dear friend Elif Sesen for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences and ideas with you here. I miss you all greatly and wish everyone, as the French say, tout le meilleur (all the best) …
DECEMBER 2016 -JANUARY 2017
by Funda Pehlivanoglu Noyes
(School of Teaching ESL, Seattle, Washington)
After spending four years studying ELT at METU, 2 years doing an MA in English Lit. and teaching at the Turco-American Association, I decided that I desperately needed to get a TESL certificate. My intentions weren’t completely pure, though. Rather, I had fallen in love with a tall American man and desperately needed more training in the USA… so I could be with him. My poor parents had to accept my pleas, mainly, I suspect, because my father wasn’t willing to bring up the boy and preferred to pretend that my passion for self-development was taking me to the other side of the world. So off I went to learn how to teach English for the second time.
Looking back, 15 years later, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I’m now married to that man and we have two kids together. And I’m now teaching at that very institution in Seattle that I used as my excuse to come to the US. That certificate proved to be a turning point in my teaching.
Surprisingly, the program didn’t feel redundant and meaningless. It allowed me to look at teaching from different angles and helped develop and solidify my teaching beliefs. The final project for the initial certification was to create a unit plan that incorporated everything else that was covered in class. I realized through that project that that was the one weakness of my BA, the one missing link that connected everything.
I feel like I received a good education at METU. I graduated with a strong foundation of educational philosophy, sociology, linguistics, psychology, literature and pedagogy. I was taught good teaching practices and effective classroom techniques. I could write a well scaffolded lesson plan with a solid beginning and end that incorporated different skills, interaction patterns and learning styles. But the gap between the classroom procedure
and the theoretical framework that it rested on was not completely bridged. I had never been asked to create a unit plan before. It’s the unit plan that forces you to determine how you will build your students’ knowledge base and create some continuity for their learning. It’s when you go beyond the one lesson that you need to truly understand your own teaching philosophy. Sure, it makes sense to teach vocabulary or do a writing task on a given day. But once you go beyond just that one day, you find yourself asking, ‘So why am I teaching this?’, ‘What will become of his knowledge?’, ‘What will I do to internalize this so they don’t forget the vocabulary by next week?’.
When I did move back to Turkey after finishing the program (dragging back a fiancée with me), I didn’t need to create any units again in the different institutions I worked at. The syllabus or textbook is more often than not provided for you. But what was clear was that I was able to see my teaching in a more holistic and comprehensive way. I knew what my starting and ending point were and how everything in the middle connected to that.
It was also in Seattle that I discovered Krashen for the first time. I have no memory of him being mentioned at any point in my BA and this was shocking since he was so fundamental to my certification program. His theories today aren’t earth shattering today and many have developed and expanded upon them but he, like the unit plan, offers a global look at learning and a meaningful framework on which to base your teaching on.
Before Krashen I don’t think it ever occurred to me how important it is to incorporate opportunities for acquisition into the classroom. It’s so easy, especially when teaching academic skills, to deprive students of exposure to natural language and approach English as an academic study. And conversely, it’s so hard to actually bring in comprehensible input into our classrooms in a truly meaningful way.
Today, when teaching Krashen to teacher candidates, I always use my old METU students as examples of over-monitors of English. So many of my former students were perfectionists, waiting to become completely proficient in English before using it. The fear of making mistakes became a barrier to improvement. Acknowledging this and helping students work through this is fundamental. Mistakes are a necessary part of learning and it’s the teacher’s job to create a classroom environment in which students are able to feel comfortable with the limitations of their English.
Looking back at those six months spent in Seattle so many years ago, it’s striking how much of a role they played in my development as a teacher. It took a radical trans-Atlantic move on my part to fully appreciate how being a teacher and a learner are so often synonymous.
The power of belief: Fostering the growth mindset to pave the way to success
by Eylem Bütüner Mengi
As a teacher of English, I have always been eager and determined to learn more about my profession so that I could teach better. I have taken numerous courses, read various articles and participated in conferences about topics such as material development, curriculum development, linguistics, and cognitive science. I have tried whenever possible to integrate what I learnt into my teaching and have seen the positive (and not so positive!) impacts on student learning. However, as time passed and I gained more experience, I realized that what was maybe most important and had more of an impact on learning and hence achievement is actually belief.
The effect that belief has is simply amazing. In the sector of medicine, for example, what a doctor says and what a patient believes will probably have a larger impact on a patient’s health than the physical intervention of the doctor. Dedicated religious belief has been found to strongly correlate with long life and therefore believed to contribute to longevity. The messages that parents, and teachers alike send, whether in the form of an action or words, also ‘tell’ children how to think about themselves. According to Carol Dweck, a researcher of motivation and professor of psychology at Stanford University, after years of study and research on what success is and how people learn to deal with failure, she came to the conclusion that it is the view one adopts for themselves that has a profound effect on how people pave their lives (Dweck, 2006, p. 6). As a result of her studies, Dweck has identified two sets of belief that effect success: The fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
What I hope to be able to do in this short writing is to introduce the two mindsets, and briefly show the importance of fostering the growth mindset. I strongly urge everyone to read her books as this short summary only barely shines light on this importance of a growth mindset and the detrimental effects of a fixed mindset.
What is the fixed and growth mindset?
Let me try to explain the two mindsets similar to how Carol Dweck does so in her book “Mindset: How can you fulfil your potential”. She gives a situation and asks her readers to think about the reaction they would give. I am going to change the situation a bit to make it more relevant to the teaching context. I would like you to read and imagine the following situation as vividly as possible and make a note about: (1) What it would have made you think; (2) How it would have made you feel; and (3) What would you have done. Ready? Here we go:
You are walking to class, and you are really excited. You have spent a couple of hours on preparing some new material and you know that the students will really enjoy it. You enter class full of enthusiasm. After an hour or so, you feel disappointed and frustrated. The students did not respond to the material as you thought they would. They huffed and puffed through all the material and their final product is nowhere near the level you expected. You are walking back to your office feeling down. You want to talk to your office mate about it, but she/he doesn’t seem very interested. You decide to go home, but get stopped by the traffic police and have to pay a penalty for not having a first aid kit in your car.
Have you made a note of your answers?
In Dweck’s research, people with a fixed mindset gave the following responses (to a very similar situation): “I’d feel like a reject.” “I’m a total failure.” Somebody upstairs doesn’t like me.” “I’m the most unlucky person on this earth.” When asked what they would to cope with the situation, these are some of the responses given by the fixed mindset people: “I wouldn’t bother to put so much time and effort into doing well in anything.” “Eat chocolate.” “Cry.” “What is there to do?” (as cited in Dweck, 2006, p. 8-9)
People with a growth mindset, however, could have reacted to the above situation in the following ways: “Maybe the students had an exam they were worrying about. Maybe I should have considered the timing better.” “I could have observed my students’ reactions to the material to understand why they did not enjoy it. I can ask them how I could improve the material.” “I need to make sure that I am meeting the needs of my students’ better and using my time more wisely, call my friend later to see if she/he was having a bad day, and buy a first aid kit as soon as possible.”
People from both mindsets are upset with what has happened. But it is the way people decide to react to the situation which determines the mindset people have. People with a fixed mindset will tend to judge themselves harshly, label themselves, and throw their hands up in distress and surrender in difficult circumstances. A growth mindset, on the other hand, despite the same feeling of distress, will evaluate the situation, confront the difficulties, take risks, and put in the necessary effort to make things better. A fixed mindset focuses more on the product, whereas a growth mindset knows that it is the effort in the process that will help to achieve a successful result; and if the result reached is not successful, then something can be done differently the next time it is done.
So, looking at your notes, did you adopt a fixed or a growth mindset for the situation above? Don’t fret if you lean more towards the fixed mind-set. There will be situations when all of us will display more fixed mindset behaviors than growth mindset ones. The good news is that the growth mindset can be learned. That’s of course if you think it is a valuable mindset to adopt. Let me explain why I think we need to adopt a growth mindset for ourselves and foster it in the environments we participate in, especially in the classroom. .
Why do we need to foster a growth mindset in the classroom?
Though this is a difficult question, I think it can best be answered with another question: Is success about learning-or proving that you are smart?
Dweck (2006) states that in the fixed mindset, traits and intelligence are believed to be fixed. Success is equivalent to showing how smart you are and can be gauged according to a person’s number of achievements. It is about validating your smartness with your achievements. Hence, failure is seen as a sign of lack of smartness, and not as an opportunity to learn. As “failure” is so threatening (e.g. I will seen as an idiot for not being able to do this), fixed mindset people will often try to avoid it. In order to avoid failure, one has to avoid actually attempting or doing the task. This is why many gifted children may actually avoid challenging tasks even though they are highly capable of doing them. In the world of the fixed mindset, effort is also as bad as failure. Similar to failure, it means that the person is not smart enough to learn without effort. People with a mindset like this tend to avoid challenges that require effort and result in failure. This means that they are throwing away the chance to specialize and develop themselves.
We need to foster a growth mindset because it embraces the idea that success is about learning, and failure is a part of learning. Failure is not a setback, but an opportunity to analyze what went wrong and to make amendments. Failures are informative. It lets people know that they could do something better or need to learn something else to become better and get the results that they need. A growth mindset also embraces the idea that intelligence is not a fixed trait, as neuroscience studies seem to be indicating. For example, Gilbert Gottlieb purports that intelligence is a result of cooperation between genes and the environment and that genes require input from the environment to function properly(as cited in Dweck, p. 2006). Intelligence is fluid and can be developed. People with the growth mindset see success as doing their best, and learning and improving. These people enjoy the process as much as the results they are getting. They also are in control and take responsibility of the processes that will bring success. For example, a student with a fixed mindset may blame his lack of success at an exam due to the noise outside the classroom, and as s/he believes that this situation is not under his/her control, will use this as an excuse to keep on failing (The lack of success is not his/her smartness, but because of the noise). A growth mindset student may similarly relate his lack of success to the noise, but would then make a plan and take action to deal with noise in exams (e.g. he may buy ear plugs, learn to filter out background noise).
It seems as if the growth mindset promises a lot. But can it really uphold to all these claims? Well, Carol Dweck has actually based all of her claims about the growth mindset on her observations and with the numerous research studies she has conducted with her colleagues.
The research on growth mindsets vs. fixed mindsets
Some people believe that intelligence is a fixed quality; that is, that intelligence is a result of nature and therefore cannot be changed. Saying that “I have no talent in playing the piano” or “I am not naturally good at math” are a reflection of the underlying belief that intelligence cannot change and is a characteristic of the fixed mindset. Research has indicated that this view has many repercussions for students. Firstly, students who believe that intelligence is fixed can worry about how much of this intelligence they actually possess. This can make them focus in looking and feeling as if they have sufficient intelligence, and to avoid looking unintelligent at all costs (Bandura & Dweck, 1985 as cited in Dweck, 2000). According to Dweck and Bempechat, in order to continue feeling smart, the fixed mindset students will look for easy, and low-effort successes in order to outperform other students. If these students have to perform any activity which requires effort, encounter setbacks or higher performing peers, this will make them question their intelligence. Even the students who have high confidence in their intelligence but have a belief that intelligence is fixed are likely to question their intelligence in front of setbacks (1993 as cited in Dweck, 2000).
Dweck (2000) also reports that students who believe that intelligence is a fixed entity will pass up valuable learning opportunities if these opportunities have the risk of showing students’ inadequacies or mistakes. Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of some of those really intelligent kids you have encountered and who you know can do really well, but instead do not study and just seem to try their best to fail? Could it be because they are trying to avoid the embarrassment of failure and looking dumb? According to Dweck, the answer seems to be yes.
Believing that intelligence is not actually fixed, but rather fluid and malleable is the other definition people can have related to intelligence. This is a characteristic of the growth mindset; that intelligence can grow, develop. Intelligence can be cultivated through learning and effort. Unlike the fixed mind entity, believing that intelligence is malleable (in other words, having a growth mindset) has several positive repercussions on students. Clark (2000) reports several studies, some conducted by herself with colleagues, which show that believing that intelligence can be developed encourages students to learn. If intelligence can be developed, then these students seek opportunities to develop their intelligence and sometimes by sacrificing opportunities to look smart. The following quote from Haben Girma is an example of how a growth mindset has helped the first deaf and blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School and to take on new challenges. She is talking here about learning to surf:
One of the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities are negative attitudes. … But anything is possible. …Success comes about through lots of failure. And I’m not afraid to fall. I’m not afraid to get in the water and look silly for a little bit. Because I know, in the end we’re gonna learn something and develop skills in the process.
Dweck (2000) maintains that students with a growth mindset even in combination with low confidence also thrive on challenge and immerse themselves with full heart into challenging activities. They also show persistence in these challenging activities. Unlike the fixed mindset, those who believe that intelligence is cultivated view success not simply and only as final achievements, but view success as engaging fully with new tasks, putting in effort to learn new tasks, expanding on their skills, and putting their skills into use such as helping other students (Bempechat & Dweck, 1983 as cited in Dweck, 2000).
It seems as if the growth mindset has many positive impacts on student success and we know that the growth mindset can be cultivated. One of the ways that teachers can promote a growth mindset is through the constructive oral and written feedback given to students.
The messages teachers (and parents) send to students: The danger of praise
I am sure that many teachers do not aim to undermine their students’ efforts; however, they may do so with the words they choose and the nonverbal messages they send. According to Dweck (p. 173), every word or action of the teacher sends a message to the students. It tells them what they should think of themselves. The message could be a fixed mindset message that says: “Your skills, knowledge and intelligence are fixed, and I am judging them”. Or it could be a growth mindset message that says: “I am aware that you are developing your skills and I am interested in this development”. Below are some statements that I have heard said to students in Turkey. What could be the message in each of these statements:
“This is not your capacity! This grade does not reflect your potential”
“Not everyone has to be good at math. Maybe your talent is elsewhere”
“That picture is amazing! You draw just as good as your sister, even better!”
“You must be smart to get such a high grade with such little study”
Though the statements above probably all have good intention behind them, the messages that children hear may not be as well intentioned as imagined. We need to read (or listen) in between the lines for the secret messages:
All people have a fixed capacity for learning. It cannot be increased with effort. People with a “low capacity” do not need to bother with effort as they have a capacity which cannot be surpassed.
Maths is a talent. You either have it or not. It cannot be improved with effort. Hence, I can stop studying it.
I shouldn’t try to draw anything better in case they see that I am not as good as my sister.
Studying a little and getting high grades is a sign of smartness, so I’d better not study or people will think that I am not smart.
But why would students perceive these comments so negatively? The last two comments are examples of praise. Shouldn’t praise be motivating and encourage the students to do more? Shouldn’t the praise show teachers’ appreciation of the student and therefore have positive repercussions? The answer is that the comments above are a reflection of a fixed mindset that state that intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed and that to look smart is more important than to work hard. The praise above given to the students all focus on the end result and do not focus on the effort that the student has given. Yes, students love praise. It gives them a boost. It makes them feel great, but this feeling is temporary. As soon as students encounter a difficulty, this feeling of success turns into a feeling of insecurity. The difficulty for them is seen as an indication that they are not smart, but rather a failure. At this point, I’d like you to think of the oral and written praise you give to your students and/or children. Do you give praise that focuses on the end result only? What kind of hidden messages do you think your students/children are receiving from these words of praise?
Does this mean that we should not give any praise? According to Dweck (2006), the answer is no. We can give praise, but we need to make sure that we are giving a certain type of praise. We need to give praise on students’ growth-oriented processes. In other words, praise should focus on what students have accomplished through practice, hard work, persistence and good strategy. Teachers can ask questions to students that indicate their admiration and appreciation of effort and choices. Praise must not include judgments about intelligence or talent, or imply that teachers are proud of them for their intelligence rather than the hard work they have put into the task at hand. It is very important to note here, that praise also needs to reflect the truth to be constructive. The same goes for criticism. If the student has not put in any effort, then do not say that you appreciate the effort. Students know when a teacher is lying. The feedback needs to be constructive. That is, the feedback needs to help the student to do a better job. Imagine the following situation as vividly as possible and imagine how you would respond to the situation. What would you say? What would be a constructive way to respond?:
You have assigned your students to complete a reading and some comprehension questions for the next class. It is important for them to do so this as the rest of your lesson plan follows up on this reading. You come into class and find out that one of your students rushed through their homework, skipped several questions and answered questions much shorter than expected.
How did you respond? What did you say? Did you response question the student’s intelligence and character(e.g. That was inconsiderate of you!)? Did you imply that the defects were permanent (e.g. You never manage to finish your work on time!). What would have been a constructive way to have responded? Why don’t you write your suggestions in the comments boxes below? And here I am going to make an unconventional ending and not give you some of the possible answers to the last question hoping that this will tickle your curiosity and urge you to read Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential” (Tip: The answers are on page 183). Her book also has a chapter on how to promote the growth mindset in the classroom.
Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. New York, Ny: Taylor & Francis Group
Dweck, C. S. Dr. (2006). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. Britain: Robinson
by Nükte Durhan
I was of course very proud when I learned about my son’s success at Cambridge A level exams. He received the highest mark in English Literature in the whole of Cyprus and we, as parents, had a presidential permission (for the first time in eight years) to cross the border to the South to attend the ceremony where he was given the Cambridge Outstanding Learner Award. Although it is such a joyful event, my own memories of success came back with a lot of intensity and I couldn’t help feeling bitter about them: best grade in Literature and Philosophy in French Baccalaureate administered in Ankara. I was 17 just like my son. Even later, in my early 20s, when I was a test writer at Bilkent University, the Cambridge ESOL examinations (note the coincidence in the two cases related to the same examination board!) consultant who was training us said to me: “You are a shining star”. But then it all ended. Although I kept working in the area of education and didn’t even change my specific field of interest, I haven’t achieved anything noticeable for decades. What went wrong? From a very promising student and young professional, how could I turn into an unproductive and mediocre person?
Although I would put the starting point of this decline to the time when I changed my workplace, I have to admit now that the signs of weakness were there long ago. I have always had this difficulty in balancing work related tasks and the more practical necessities of life. For example, for even such an important event as buying a new (a newer second hand) car, and despite being very excited about it, I couldn’t take time from work (just a couple of hours) to see the car and go to notary to sign the papers. I asked mom to do it and thus she owned the car. My weakness in managing the time became obvious when I got married. Although there wasn’t a sudden increase in my work load, I remember asking my husband many times to drive us to my office after the Saturday and/or Sunday supermarket shopping so that I could do some more work. Quickly, it became clear that this kind of everyday work and life pattern was not sustainable. But certainly, I was a disciplined, determined and ambitious person. Time management skills could be improved and these alone could not explain the continuous lagging behind, the increasing feeling of insufficiency.
My life experience of half a century shows that the most important factors contributing to achievement in any area are physical endurance and energy. I don’t know the technical terms that can be given to levels of energy, but I have always felt that the energy needed to perform for long periods of time is different from general (or apparent ) health. Moreover, energy is not even related to the ability to fight a disease or strong immune system. I have known several people who had chemotherapy because of a serious case of cancer but, still, regained their fast paced life style as soon as they entered a recovery period. In other words, they were much more active and energetic than I normally am, even if they suffered from a serious disease. And when we really come to the most influential aspect of physical endurance, I strongly believe that it is the ability to work in a focused way without needing sleep. What I have observed in colleagues, friends, relatives and acquaintances for decades is that those who can cope with limited sleep time – in a systematic way – are in a better position to become leaders in their field (especially in today’s competitive world).This is a much more powerful trait than having high level of intelligence and being creative. Imagine practicing a skill for about 100 hours in a year and imagine the difference when you increase it to1000 hours. I recently asked a successful friend of mine about how she can fit into a week all the tasks and activities she carries out because they mathematically exceed the number of hours available. She said that she occasionally has white nights where she finishes off the remaining work and continues with her daily routine in the morning. Lack of physical endurance and frequent disruptions due to poor health have been main hurdles to reaching the targets I have set for myself. I don’t want to sound like a proponent of biological determinism but now I am wise enough to know that no matter how determined and ambitious you are, you cannot transcend physical limitations. The exceptional cases do not change the general rule. No matter how many times I have tried I could never behave as if I was not having a migraine attack and I could never function with a few hours’ sleep.
The institutional cultures people find themselves in too play a role in their success. This proposition may seem to contradict what I have just emphasized, but I will give a neurological explanation for this one as well. Different people are affected differently by the same environment. In the institution that I worked much earlier in my career there was a strong culture of accountability. People were really held responsible for the work they did, they had to answer to their superiors for what they accomplished or failed to accomplish. Failure was risky in terms of keeping your position and even your job. I agree that this kind of atmosphere increased employees’ stress level, but at the same time it makes you focused and target-oriented. As a slow worker, the natural result for me of functioning in such a workplace was to avoid any idle talk and even relaxed chat during working hours. It also became increasingly difficult to have lunch breaks, so gradually I forgot (or maybe never learned) what it was like to chat in the work environment. And in time this got into a habit. But then, when I changed my workplace after many years, I found myself in a different culture. There was a lot of sharing and socializing, long house meetings with everybody voicing their opinions and long lunch breaks…Gradually, over the years, I forgot about my old habits and made new ones, which aren’t so beneficial. I started to talk too much; I got distracted and wasted emotional energy by being caught in conflicts. With this attitude came a decline in productivity – at least this is how I evaluate it now. I have recently read scientific articles about how the brain is wired for habits. Researchers note that habits are notoriously difficult to make and to break, and why they are so is still a mystery. I have carried the bad habits with me wherever I went and they were reinforced with similar institutional cultures. Today, I have come to the other end of the spectrum where I almost need a device to count the trivial talk I engage in, in order to control them, just like you would count calories.
Where does all this lead me? It all looks pretty hopeless, but let me end on a positive note. Science tells us that with focused effort and hard work it is possible to rewire the brain, so there is hope – there has to be. But as I have kept emphasizing in this essay, I believe that the features we are born with mostly determine our physical and mental weaknesses and strengths. So I have to be realistic. On the other hand, I secretly hope (well, it is no longer a secret!) that now that I’m over fifty, and with a bit of luck, the changes in the chemistry of my body and mind will be of a more favorable kind.
by Zeynep Güleç
It was the Fall semester of 1972-73 academic year when I came from my hometown İstanbul for a year or two to teach at the Department of Humanities, METU upon the advice of a friend. After a written exam, an oral exam and a demo lesson, I was accepted to the department known today as the Department of Modern Languages. Believe it or not, I was the 27th on the seniority list as the newest instructor! Then, after getting married in Ankara, this short-term teaching career plan became a major part of my life which lasted 29 years… When I was asked to share my memories from the past, I was happy to have been given this chance, but I guess I can only share with you only a summary of what happened throughout…
I started teaching ENG101 and ENG102 which were mainly reading and grammar courses. We used to focus on grammar points a lot in those courses. Then, in later years, we started offering ENG103 and ENG104-the reputable(!) Report Writing Course. Some names from the department, then, included Hüseyin Batuhan (the Chair), Cem Alptekin, Nevin İnal, Meral Karadeniz, Sheila O’Callahan, Joshua Bear, Ayten Bear, Nail Bezel, Tayyar Önder and Faruk İrfaner. More and more colleagues came aboard each academic year including a lot of names you must be familiar with, but it is really difficult to mention all the names here…
Those were hectic times at METU. For instance, when Hasan Tan became the rector in February 1977, he was boycotted out of political reasons. There were a lot of clashes among students. He was protested by the faculty and administrators as well. Upon those clashes and protests, the whole school closed down for 9 months! Only some students were left at the dormitories, but there were no classes. We instructors were also under great danger. When we walked out of our building alone, there was the risk of being attacked by militants! A lot of people got hurt, some of them even murdered… After Tan quitted, the classes began… I still remember the day our students returned to the campus; almost all of us cried…
Years passed, and METU have always preserved its being a free thought platform, luckily…
Going back to our department, I worked with a lot of administrators: Hüseyin Batuhan, Belma Ötüş, Seyyare Silivrili (Çolpan), Ahmet Edip Uysal and Joshua Bear (as most of you may know, in 1982, the department was separated into two which coincides with the unpleasent post-1980 coup d’etat period. Some colleagues including Joshua Hoca established the Foreign Languages Education Department then.) Some other administrators included: Ayşe Bener- with whom I worked as the Assistant Chair for almost 5 years, Cesur Öztürk and Yeşim Çöteli. With Yeşim Çöteli, we-with two more colleagues: Şahika Tarhan and Nil Zelal Akar-modified and developed the ENG311 Advanced Communication Skills course.
One last piece of memory I’d like to mention here is that I, luckily, found the chance to work with my darling daughter Yaprak Güleç-Öğütcü for 2 years before I retired in 2001… That still makes me feel so proud and lucky; and now that she has taken over, I am set at ease.
Anyways, long story short, teaching at METU was always a privilege for me, with all the colleagues and my dear “çocuks”-which was the way I addressed my students
I would like to take this opportunity to thank dear Elif and my dear daughter Yaprak for giving me the chance to remember the past and share it with you, the fellow instructors at the Department of Modern Languages-though this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg!!
I’d like to finish my words by mentioning an anonymous quote which highlights the motivation behind being a teacher:
“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions…”
I wish you all a fruitful semester and hard working students-happy teaching!!
by Duygu Özge
Adjusting spoken instructions for young learners with limited executive function abilities
Marie Curie Fellow,
Middle East Technical University & Harvard University
My career as a language teacher at various universities has been accompanied, from the start, by my research in cognitive science. I have always been interested in the mechanisms of how human beings represent, process and learn languages. The best way to address these questions is to work with children acquiring their mother tongue, individuals learning a second/foreign language, and with individuals with brain damage in areas that affect language processing. I have been lucky enough to work with all these groups. Being a language teacher, my curiosity about how humans learn and process language has always been informed by a meta-level questioning about how one could teach languages and how findings within the domain of cognitive sciences could be of any use to language instruction to different groups. Among different populations I have worked with, my research on real-time comprehension abilities of preschool children with no literacy abilities has been the most fruitful area that got me into thinking about these precious links among the disciplines of developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics and language teaching. There is very little work on language instruction to young learners. The collected papers in a special issue of the ELT Journal entitled Teaching English to Young Learners edited by Copland and Garton (2014) was one of the first attempts to bring together research in this area. They underline that there had been only 8 hits with the key-word young learners in the ELT Journal between 2000 and 2014. Given the widespread belief that young learners prior to age 11 learn languages more effectively than adolescents, the tiny amount of empirical research in this area is somewhat puzzling. Some of the issues raised in this special issue are teacher education for young learners, motivation and identity formation in young learners, using songs and games to enhance learning, and using authentic materials to engage young learners with English outside classroom. These are very valuable contributions informed by several disciplines such as teacher education, sociology, language therapy and language education. Empirical findings in the domain of developmental cognitive science could also inform us in various areas in language teaching to young children. The influence of executive function abilities on spoken language processing is especially crucial as learning is mostly based on auditory modality at preschool ages.
Frontal regions especially in the left side of the human brain develop late in cerebral maturation so these areas remain fragile until late in childhood in terms of synaptic connections, rate of myelination, and speed of neurotransmission (Huttenlocher & Dabholkar, 1997). Different lines of research agree that these areas are closely associated with higher order cognitive skills. Limited executive function abilities in young children, for instance, have been attributed to the late maturation of the frontal regions (Novic, Trueswell, & Thomson-Schill, 2005). Executive function abilities involve set of cognitive abilities that enable one to store and manipulate information (i.e., working memory), select among multiple competing alternatives (i.e., cognitive flexibility), eliminate irrelevant information (i.e., inhibition) and revise initially selected wrong options and make corrections (i.e., revision and error correction). These abilities are often employed when one is engaged in multiple competing tasks that require holding small details in memory, manipulating available information in line with the changing aspects of the input, and focusing on the relevant information while inhibiting the irrelevant aspects.
Executive function skills are crucial in language processing, especially in spoken language interpretation. Spoken language unfolds in time and each linguistic cue is integrated into interpretation as it becomes available. In other words, language interpretation is incremental, so one does not wait until the end of an utterance to begin interpreting it. This very process involves many of the executive function abilities from working memory and cognitive flexibility to inhibition and revision. As each linguistic input is produced during spoken utterance, the listener is actively engaged in making sense of the available material, which involves (i) activating possible different interpretations of an ambiguous material (e.g., the bank by the river is either…), (ii) eliminating and suppressing the irrelevant interpretation of an ambiguous word in line with the arising disambiguating information (e.g., the bank by the river is either in great financial trouble…), (iii) storing the parts that will link to the upcoming parts of the utterance (e.g., storing either to link it to its dependent part or that will appear somewhere in the upcoming structure; e.g., the bank by the river is either in great financial trouble or it is cheating its customers.), and the like. Take the following famous example that leads many native speakers to global misinterpretation: The horse raced past the barn fell. Initially, as the first noun phrase the horse appears, one is likely to take this noun as the subject of a matrix sentence and interpret the incoming verb raced as the main verb. This interpretation is fine until one hears the final verb fell, which requires the revision and inhibition of the initial interpretation and reanalysis of the sentence as the horse [that] raced past the barn fell. A similar sentence that has been used in many experimental studies is the following: Put the frog on the napkin in the box. Studies have demonstrated that adults initially misinterpret on the napkin as the prepositional phrase of the verb put so they assign a destination interpretation to this part of the utterance and interpret it as put the frog on the napkin. Upon hearing the rest of the utterance, namely in the box, they realize their initial interpretation is wrong and they reanalyze on the napkin as a reduced relative clause (i.e., put the frog [that is] on the napkin in the box). This reanalysis requires storing the initial part of the sentence in memory, manipulating it in line with the incoming information, and suppressing the interpretation that is normally plausible but currently unavailable. Children around the age of 5 show robust signs of failure in their revision abilities during real-time interpretation of such utterances (Trueswell, Sekerina, Hill, & Logrip, 1999). Given two toy frogs, one of which is on the napkin, an empty napkin, and an empty box, they take the frog and put it on the empty napkin as they hear this spoken instruction (Put the frog on the napkin…) and they fail to inhibit/revise their initial interpretation in line with the rest of the utterance (in the box). This finding has been replicated in many languages from English to Korean and it indicates that children rely on early appearing cues in a spoken utterance and ignore the late coming cues even if those cues require them to reanalyze their initial hypothesis. This has been attributed to children’s limited executive function abilities, especially to their failure to select among multiple competing interpretive choices and to their failure to inhibit their first choice.
What might this suggest about teaching English to young learners? Learning is mostly based on spoken language conversation in a preschool language classroom. Auditory processing of complex utterances might be difficult for children. Young learners have limited processing span so they cannot store multi-clause sentences in memory, they focus on the early part of the utterance, and ignore the late coming ones. Instructions, for instance, should be simpler for young children than they are for adolescents or adults. If an instruction were composed of multiple parts, the ideal way to convey this complex message would be to break up its parts into smaller chunks, allocate enough processing time between sentences, and to regularly check whether each component is understood correctly. Not every instruction can be staged. For those cases, reframing the message in such a way to reveal the most crucial aspect of the instruction as the first utterance might be one way to ensure correct interpretation. Let us take the following example, where the crucial message appears in the second clause: Listen to the following script very carefully and decide whether it describes this picture correctly. This instruction might be straightforward enough for adult learners of English; yet, for a child with limited executive function abilities, this would be far too complex a sentence to interpret. First of all, due to her limited span, the child would focus mostly on the first part of the message, which is not clarifying the aim of the task but rather clarifying how to accomplish it (i.e., Listen to the script very carefully). The child who is likely to fixate in this early part might end up listening to the script in an aimless manner. In those cases, presenting the crucial task first might be helpful to prevent the child from missing the important message (e.g., You will spot errors in this game.). Then the details about how to accomplish the task could be presented following a question that attracts attention to the upcoming utterances (e.g., How are you going to do that? [-wait time-] You will look at this picture. You will listen to the script very carefully.). Another issue is that the child would not find any motivation to listen to a script to detect errors without any concrete reason to do so. For adult learners, error correction while listening might be a useful task to increase their listening abilities for details. However, far from having this meta-cognitive awareness, the child needs a real reason to complete the task. To address that issue, one could provide more information about the speaker and why there might be errors in the script (e.g., In the script, there will be a girl speaking. Her name is Dora. Dora will describe this picture. But she is not always careful. She sometimes makes mistakes.). This could be followed by a link to the aim of the activity once more via a question (e.g., So what is your task in this game?). If there is no response from the child after enough processing time, the teacher could rephrase the core of the instruction to reorient the child to the task requirement (e.g., Look at this picture. And decide if Dora is describing the picture correctly.). Thus, the chunks should be simple, the exact message should appear early in the utterance, the motivation for the task should be clarified and solidified as much as possible, the instruction should be checked via questions or paraphrases, and enough processing time should be provided following each spoken utterance.
To sum up, young children have limited executive function abilities as they are still undergoing neural maturation. This is mostly manifested in their failure to integrate the late coming parts of long and connected utterances to revise their initial wrong/incomplete interpretation. As there is no literacy at preschool ages and most of the instruction relies on spoken utterances, it would be best to provide spoken input in a controlled manner, where the utterances are organized into smaller/simpler sentences and the main idea appears early in the utterance and repeated when necessary. As one might notice, breaking up the instructions into smaller parts dramatically increases the amount of teacher talking time. However, I contend that this type of teacher-talk has no harm as long as there is no repetition of the exact same sentences, there is no echoing, and there is enough processing time following each utterance. In the example above, each sentence builds into a meaningful story, students are actively involved in comprehension via questions, and there is enough wait time following each utterance. Also, each utterance is simple enough for the child to process. Once the child knows what she is supposed to do from the start of the conversation, it would be easier to integrate each incoming detail into the context without losing track of the main message. Arguably, meaningful teacher-talk might enhance language learning in preschool context, as the teacher is the most important source of linguistic input. Furthermore, presenting such sequences of utterances in a controlled manner, where meaning interpretation is ensured at every step, would provide a healthy dose of challenge for executive function skills, which might in turn result in improvement in those abilities.
Copland, F. and Garton, S. (2014). Key themes and future directions in teaching English to young learners: introduction to the Special Issue. ELT Journal, 68 (3), 223-230.
Huttenlocher, P. R., & Dabholkar, A. S. (1997). Regional differences in synaptogenesis in human cerebral cortex. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 387(2), 167–178.
Novick, J. M., Trueswell, J. C., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2005). Cognitive Control and Parsing: Reexamining the Role of Broca’s Area in Sentence Comprehension. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 5(3), 263-281.
Trueswell, J., Sekerina, I. A., Hill, N. M., & Logrip, M. L. (1999). The kindergarten-path effect: studying on-line sentence processing in young children. Cognition, 73(2), 89-134.
 The role of visual aids, realia, games, and learning by doing is unquestionable. I do not focus the role of visual and tactile modalities here due to limited space.
UNRECOGNIZED WARRIORS DETERMINED TO WIN
By Yeşim Eraslan
I would like to start off by stating how privileged I have always felt to be in the English Language Teaching profession. Then I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to all my English Language Teaching colleagues. Within our context of “working as an instructor” and working in (English) Language Schools, our profession is extremely demanding, consuming, but very rewarding indeed.
Indeed our job is very demanding. We have to teach English and do this with the most appropriate methodology in order to be able to achieve the best results. This requires us to have good knowledge of subject matter, knowledge of methodology, curricular issues and assessment issues. While teaching the subject matter, we try to make use of authentic materials and meaningful tasks that will help students see the language in reality and to feel a genuine need to communicate, which in turn will foster internalization of the language. For good learning to take place, the learning outcomes need to be considered prior to our entrance into the classroom. We should not only be fully aware of overarching learning outcomes of a holistic nature, but also specific outcomes for each level, for each course and even more specific outcomes for each and every lesson. Language Schools in our country are expected to prepare students for their studies in their faculties, which is another demand that must be met. This is a demand in that in as short as a year or two the most, students should attain a level of English which will help them carry out academic work in their faculties. This brings the issue of EGP, EGAP and EAP. In the very short time that we have, students are to learn English for general purposes in order to be able to communicate in a variety of settings. Furthermore, they are to learn academic skills like summarizing, paraphrasing, essay writing, presenting material, citing sources, etc. that will help them fulfill the academic tasks in their departments. We generally aim at EGAP at prep level and EAP during freshman, sophomore and junior years. When we list these, we can see how challenging our endeavor is. Yet the list is not complete. In addition to knowledge of subject matter, methodology, curriculum, and assessment, we have to be aware of current issues: political, environmental, educational, psychological, technological, medical and so the list goes on. The materials we exploit make extensive use of these issues, which brings along with it our mission to open the eyes of students to what is going on around us and to help them think critically about these issues by reading and listening about different perspectives. What is more, students should be equipped with the skills to express their reactions both orally and in written form. On top of all these, students with virtually no study habits who have recently come out of a great war – preparing for the university entrance exam – land into our world with a need for motivational support and for acquiring the required skills and abilities to be able to make the transition to university life.
Recently the British Council has launched two reports about the state of English Language Education at primary, secondary and high school levels at state schools and also at university level. The picture is quite gloomy. It is very clear that the burden on the shoulders of Language Schools is foreshadowed by the curricular and assessment approaches and lack of teacher education before students come to universities. The English level expectancy from university graduates is B2. This would be fair enough if universities had the luxury of admitting students at the very start of B1 level. The fact is not so, however. What also hinders the success of Language Schools is the reality that our context is an EFL context and not an ESL context. Students do not have the vast opportunity to practice the language outside the classroom. Those who are truly motivated and devoted, do so by watching movies and serials, listening to English songs, reading English books and magazines, playing video games, etc. This suggests that we need to work more on flipped classroom practices. It also suggests the importance of extra-curricular activities. However, these practices should be introduced at earlier stages when students are forming their study habits.
In addition to being demanding, English Language Teaching is also consuming. The job is not confined to the hours spent teaching in the classroom. Teachers spend a lot of time getting prepared to teach. We have to divide our teaching into stages and link the stages to each other meaningfully by ensuring that learning takes place and by providing ample opportunity for practice to help students internalize the language. In order to be able to get the best results we are forced to improve ourselves. This is generally realized through training programs, by attending seminars and conferences and/or by doing masters and PhD degrees. The consumption part is our having to do all these on top of our teaching duties and mostly within our own budgets. Different from faculty, we do not hold any personal benefits for improving ourselves. Our mere consideration is our students. We are refreshed with new ideas that we hope will make us better teachers and hence convert the learning outcomes into student intake. There is an anonymous saying which says,“A good teacher is like a candle consuming itself to light the way for others”. Sometimes what happens is that the teacher burns out completely. In the quest to motivate students, sometimes we begin to lose our motivation. If only we were supported better by the system which could better dictate the importance of learning English.
Another factor that consumes English teachers is the sad fact that our efforts are hardly appreciated and our needs are very often ignored by top authorities. If you come to think of it, Language Schools all have different names with different structures. This is probably because we are not seen as a very significant link to the academic community. The budget allocated to English Language Schools is definitely lower in size than budgets allocated to other academic units. Due to the very status we hold, we are not required to do any academic studies or research. In reality, however, we spend quite a lot of time educating ourselves and doing research in order to try to solve many learning and classroom problems. The main drive is to ensure better learning. It would not hurt at all to be recognized because it would truly motivate us. The fact is that we often go unrecognized.
Despite these not very positive facts, we still hold on to teaching as the meaning of our lives because it is highly rewarding. We seem to have a different relationship with our students: our students are more than students to us – we work with them and for them. The English teacher undertakes so many roles: motivator, teacher, guide, actor, psychologist, father, mother, role model, and rule setter. We keep changing hats to fit different purposes. There is so much we can do just to make them utter one particular word or one sentence with a sense of understanding. Seeing how students develop their language skills and enabling them to speak and write in English is an invaluable experience. Given the fact that we have very limited time, actually we are creating miracles together with our students.
No matter what the challenge is, no matter how high the barriers to success might be, we, as English teachers are very special because we are determined to teach with the highest motivation and improve ourselves continuously for the sole purpose of making learning possible. We are in a constant state of reflection, which enables us to review our knowledge and perform better classroom practices. We share whatever ideas we have with each other and this is peculiar to us because it is not a very common practice among academicians of other fields. In other words, we compete with ourselves and not with each other. All being said isn’t our profession indeed that of a wonderful nature? It is a profession to be respected, looked up to, and to be envied. I would like to further glorify our profession with the little poem below that I have written, dedicated to all English language teachers.
Equal are we in our demand for excellence in teaching
Never shall we depart from the quest for improving
Gifted with the internal boost to bring out the best in our students
Long years pass doing this wonderful job with prudence
In our eyes one sees a never ending fever
So enthusiastic are we that words are meager
Having the power to create change makes us a believer
Testing and teaching objectives should match
English for academic purposes is the key patch
Anxiety levels of students must be low
Charisma is what we need to put on a show
Happiness of students is to be sustained
Eagerness towards the job should be maintained
Readiness for each class is our mission
Supreme performance is the ultimate aim of our profession
by Üstün Bilgen Reinart
It’s three years now. It was early summer, on our first day at our modest summer house on the Aegean coast. After swimming for a few minutes, floating on my back and playing in the sea, I sprawled on a beach chair to stare at the light sparkling on the water. A swimmer entered my field of vision: regular strokes, an unbroken line, a spray of water at her feet, she was doing laps parallel to the shore. “She means business,” I mumbled. “I wish I could swim as vigorously…”
“That’s Mine,” said a woman who was lying on another beach chair nearby. “17-years-old. She swims for her life. She has type A Diabetes from infancy. With exercise, she can reduce the number of insulin injections she needs each day. ”
Mesmerized, and deeply moved, I stared at the arms plunging into the water, the feet kicking smoothly, the head turning alternately to the right and the left to inhale. “If only I could swim like her…”
I returned to the sea, resolved to count my strokes. On that first day, I concentrated on my breathing and managed sixty strokes, uninterrupted. Three days later, equipped with ear plugs and swimming goggles, I could do three hundred strokes in less than fifteen minutes, doing laps parallel to the shore, like Mine.
A couple of weeks later, I ran into Mine on the way to the sea. “You don’t know me,” I said to her, “But you’ve inspired me to cross a threshold in swimming. I used to play in the water, but lacked confidence as a swimmer. Admiring you, I decided to take it more seriously. Now I swim for more than half-an-hour at a time, counting eight hundred strokes, all thanks to you.”
She was thrilled. She had no idea anyone ever noticed her swimming. She had just been accepted to the Department of Chemistry at the Aegean university, but had to do a year of Basic English.
“We took some English at high school,” she said, “but oh, it’s so difficult.”
I told her she should gather her books and come to me in the afternoon for an English lesson
When she arrived, instead of getting into the nitty gritty of the passive voice, I told her about thresholds.
“In learning, we cross thresholds,” I said. “A new language, a new activity, even a new pleasure may seem inaccessible at first. With determination, encouragement and motivation, a moment comes when we discover our own ability. It’s a magical moment when the obstacles dissolve to give way to pleasure. Watching you swim, I could’ve told myself your style and stamina were out of my reach. Instead, I started paying attention to swimming at my level, and stayed with it until I crossed a threshold. Now, I swim in good style, with good rhythm and even strokes, for more than half-an-hour at a time, thanks to you. Perhaps I don’t swim as fast as you do, but I’ve become a good swimmer.”
Instead of focussing on the difficulties in learning English and attacking them with grim determination, I said to Mine, find points of insight and pleasure where you are at. Then go back to the difficult areas, as if to play with them. I told her I had learned Italian after retirement, and showed her the Italian novel I was reading (with a dictionary). “This was humbling too, until I crossed that threshold,” I added. “Sometimes you don’t even know when you’ve crossed it. If you stay with whatever you’re learning, it comes. You begin to glimpse something that you understand and enjoy.”
Through that summer, every morning I plunged into the sea after watching Mine swim, and every afternoon, Mine and I worked together on her English.
This was three years ago.
Yesterday, while the early autumn light was playing on the surface of the sea, my Canadian son Errol and I ran into Mine on the shore. I introduced them and watched Mine speak English with Errol, hesitantly at first, more confidently as they kept chatting.
“I switched from Chemistry to International Relations” she announced to me. “I now want to learn a third language in addition to English. I regularly practice writing in English.”
A little shyly she asked me “Are you still swimming seriously?”
“Thirty five minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the afternoon,” I answered.
“Five minutes short of an hour. I intend to keep at it until early November.”
“I have to put in at least an hour at a time,” she sighed, “but my classes start next week, so I leave the sea to you.”
She turned to Errol, “I really liked talking to you,” she said in careful English. “Enjoy your time in Turkey.”
She walked away. Errol and I smiled warmly to each other, glad that she seemed so well.
JUNE and JULY, 1986
By Ayten Doğu Bağcı
When the telephone rang, I was having breakfast with a friend of mine from the Department of Physics (DP), Middle East Technical University (METU). We were just chatting about the weather, holidays and so on. My family was in Antalya for holiday and I could not go with them, for I was trying to find a job just after my graduation.
“Congratulations! You are expected to have an interview, you passed the written exam,” said the voice on the phone.
“What interview” I asked.
“You have to be here in an hour, there is also an oral exam for those who passed the written exam!”
It came as a surprise to me because I was so relaxed thinking that I could not pass the written examination and most importantly that I did not meet the requirement of minimum three years of work experience.
“Oh my God! What should I do now? OK, I’ll try to be there in time, please let them wait for me!” I told the person calling.
I heard her laughter.
I got into a panic and my friend tried to calm me down. The very thought of working at that placecaused mixed feelings about the situation. On the one hand,it was a great opportunity for me;i.e., what I was dreaming for so many years,but on the other hand,I was thinking that I was not readyand even not competent enough to achieve it.
I got dressed and went to the place in time. There were a lot of people in the corridor. At the end of the corridor was the room for the interview. People who entered the room were out in about ten minutes. While waiting for my turn, without having the slightest idea of what was really expecting me inside, I tried to have some impressions of the atmosphere in the room by asking questions to those who came out.
Then, I was summoned to the room. I knocked the door, entered the room and took one step and greeted the people*who were keeping their eyes on me.They greeted me back and seated me on the chair just next to the door. I placed my bag on the floor, something I normally did not do, and waited, sitting in a position to make my escape any minute!
The head of the jury** started a small talk. She mainly asked me questions about my METU background, all of which I answered very enthusiastically and fluently. As a result, I felt more comfortable and had an upright position on the chair.They smiled. Moreover, each member of the jury asked questions related with my specialist knowledge.
Towards theend of the interview, such a dialogue took place:
The blond lady***: I think I know you; I saw you somewhere and talked to you.
I: I have been thinking the same ever since I entered the room! I think I sold you some books!
She: Yes, I remember now, I bought “Encyclopedia of Anatolian Civilizations” for my mother, may be a year ago!
I: Yes, I was selling books during holidays when I was a student at Hacettepe University (H.U). Since METU was my favorite place to visit and I knew a lot of people, I was trying to sell books here.
All of the jury members laughed at such a coincidence. Only at that moment, I could see and even scrutinize their facial expressions. Before, it was as if I was in a dream and what I saw was just some blurred images.
About half an hour later, they thanked me and I thanked them back and I was out of the room, blushed.
I shared this experience with my friend at home and we both said “let us see!”.
A few days passed and there was another phone call from the secretary of the workplace:
She: Congratulations! You are among the three people who passed the oral exam!
Total silence! I was about to faint.
She: You should immediately complete the formalities to begin to work with us!
To me it was a dream again, but it seemed like it was becoming real.
After a few days of my graduation from H.U, I applied for the Department of Freshman English and took the written exam and I was called for an interview.
Why have I mentioned this anecdote?
It is possible to establish a connection between my story and English 311 Course in terms of
A. Job-Seeking Skills
B. On- the- Job Skills
A. Job-Seeking Skills
Those were the days in which only newspaper, magazine, typewriter, home telephone, radio and black and white television existed for people to communicate.Therefore, the situation was as follows:
- My family, friends and I were checking almost all the newspapers for advertisements. One day, mylittle brother, who is a METU graduate himself, told me that in a newspaper he had seen an advertisement (AD) of According to the AD, there would be a written exam in a few days to employ English Instructors.
- As soon as possible, I filled in an application form, which included parts on references, diplomas and certificates. I indicated that I was a graduate of H.U, with a Teaching Certificate and had a two-year diploma from the DP, METU. If I was not mistaken, they did not ask for a CV, Cover Letter or a Letter of Intent.
- Some thirty- two people and I took first the written exam, whose questions were both on theory and application of Methodology and Grammar. Those who passed it were called for an interview.
- The Interview:
a. At the beginning of the interview, the Jury tested my performance by asking about my METU days.
The very first question was why I left METU if I liked it so much. I told them that I chose METU on purpose but about the DP, I did not have much idea until I started studying there. I was unhappy with and not very successful in the courses. As time passed, I came to the conclusion that working as a Physicist was not what I dreamt of as well. Therefore, I made a decision when I was in the third grade to take the University Entrance exam again and won H.U, Department of English Language and Literature. I graduated from H.U on June 6, 1986.
I felt a little nervous and excited to start with due to the unknown, i.e., possible interview questions, but soon began to relax upon this question,
b. Among the interview questions was ‘why us?’, and I tried to convince them howdesperately I wanted to work at METU, for I was familiar with itseducational, cultural, social activities and surroundings, facilities, as well as academic and administrative staff.
c. They asked me questions on Professional Knowledge: Methodology and Grammar . For example, they gave me a classroom situation and asked me how to cope with it. Then, they extended me a slip with a sentence including five ‘that’s in it. I had never seen such a sentence before but I tried to analyze it. I could not explain two of the ‘that’s and I told them that I was going to look for it as soon as I went out. They nodded and smiled.
d. Throughout the interview, their questions also served the purpose of understanding whether I had the appropriate personality traits or not. Competence in handling questions, determination to achieve goals and realize dreams, being open to learning, being positive and self-confident, honesty, self-awareness and willingness were to name but a few.
e. While I was giving answers to their questions, they tested how fluently and accurately I used English as well.
- Familiarity with the workplace:
When I was a student at METU, DP, I chose to take two of my non-technical elective courses from Freshman, one being ‘Linguistics’ given by Sabahat Tura and another ‘Fiction’ given by Ayten Bear. Furthermore, I took the compulsory ENG 101 and ENG 102 courses, given by Ünal Norman and most probably the late Nevin İnal. Not only I enjoyed all those courses but also I got good grades. I both respected and admired the Instructors because they seemed very happy and satisfied with their job.
- Work experience:
This was mainly what I lacked. In the last year at H.U, I took two compulsory courses on the application of methodology, in which we were sent to a secondary school to teach for an hour. That was the only official teaching I had performed. Therefore, it was highly probable that, from the point of view of the Jury, I had satisfactory methodological knowledge on theoretical level to pass the exams and that they believed in my potential and will for self-development. To this end, from the very first day of my career, I tried to develop myself by getting help from colleagues and reading more books. In time, The Administration also provided some new instructors with in-service training (though limited), including a course on ‘testing’, as special students, from the Department of Foreign Language Education. Moreover, I got a diploma on RSA.DOTE and a certificate on Teacher Training and Business English. I also completed all six of the Master’s courses offered at the Department of American Culture and Literature at H.U.
- Life experience:
a. I was at METU between 1977 September -1982 June, during which was severe political turmoil both in school and in the country, even once resulting in a nine- month long boycott of the school. When the education started again at METU, we had to attend preparatory school for three semesters, even in summer. Until the coupd’état on September 12, 1980, some groups of students were organizing extremely political meetings and protest marches. I was always finding a way to go back home because if by any chance one got caught in such an event by the police or gendarme , s/he would be kept in jail for at least three months.
In addition, it was very difficult to go to the university due to lack of proper bus services. Therefore, I had to find a way to make it possible every single day.
b. I was a very active and social student at elementary and secondary schools and in both universities. During the boycott period at METU, I joined the volleyball team of both the school and its club , learned to play tennis and to do folkloric dances. Also at H.U, I was at school volleyball team and with some of my classmates and teachers painted our classrooms. I was the one who made the valedictoryspeech on the Commencement Day at H.U.
- Code of behavior:
Some set of rules are necessary both in life and in certain situations. In my case, knocking the door , greeting, not even sitting unless I was told to do so, speaking politely, trying to answer all the questions asked, and being honest might have given the jury some idea of the fact that I was aware of those rules.
- Dress Code:
I was wearing a very casual dress, a yellow T-shirt and blue-black summer pants, and carrying a yellow plastic shopping bag. It was not a very proper dress for an interview, for I had to catch the exam and most importantly I had rather a vague idea of dress codes at that time.
B. On-the-Job Skills
Mastery of language (native and/or foreign) and terminology, specialist knowledge, being familiar with the culture of the institution, being aware of ethical values and personality characteristics, willingness, having crisis management and problem-solving skills, being open to professional development and self-improvementcould lead a person to execute the job at any workplace.
As mentioned earlier , I worked hard to gain certain skills for teaching ( see item 6 above). Moreover, until my retirement, I tried to make use of all the positive attributes I possessed. I still try to help as much as I can whoever asks for it.
Overall assessment :
Career-planning has become a popular profession recently. Moreover, technological developments have made it possible to raise awareness for those who are seeking employment . Today, with the advent of computers, theInternet, and social media, steps can easily be taken in finding a job. There exists innumerable choices to make . However, in the past, we were trying to be like our teachers or someone in the family or neighbors, i.e., they were our role-models. For example, Ichose Physics because I liked my Physics teacher in high school. When I decided to quit METU, I got help from the captain of our volleyball club, whowas a METU-graduate psychologist. My family, especially my mother strongly supported me in taking such a decision as well.Therefore, I could achieve finding a job with the help of my acquaintances and my family.
When I look back on the dayof the interview, I realize that the disadvantagesI had could easily be an obstacle to get the job. However, the result was positive. The jury might have taken their decision by taking the concepts mentioned above into consideration..
About a year after I started working at the Department, Ayşe Benertold me that they hired mealthough I had almost no experience in teaching (ELT) for mainly three reasons: Ability to use English, having mannersand METU background , on the grounds that being familiar with the culture of the university would help me in the profession. Indeed, knowing METU to the full extent was of great help to me when I was working. For instance, I had great empathy with the students.
At that time, I also applied for a post in one of the leading Banks and most probably I would start there but I telephoned and thanked them for their concern, and told them that I preferred METU. Even more important than that in my last year at school, Prof. Dr. Emel Doğramacı, the Dean of the Faculty of Letters at H.U offered me an academic career; however, I kindly refused the offer.
I never regretted my decision and worked at the Department of Modern Languages****more than 20 years (retired on December16, 2007) and loved being part of it. Moreover, I very much enjoyed being friends and colleagues with valuable people, most of whomhelped me in my professional development.
It was also a great feeling to try to do something for the great minds of our country, even if sometimes we criticize them and at times we had 42 of them in one class.
My mobile telephone rang a few days ago and dear Elif very politely asked for me to write something for the Department Bulletin. I felt honored but became extremely excited about the idea of addressing to my colleagues after years.
As a concluding remark, I would like to express my gratitude to my respectable and hard-working friends and colleagues Elif Şeşen and Yaprak Güleç Öğütçü for providing me with this opportunity to share one of the most important experiences in my life.
Ayten Doğu Bağcı
*The Jury Members : Ayşe Bener/Department Chairperson,
ZeynepGüleç, ItırSağcı, Ayşe Kırtunç ,
ŞükriyeRuhi( I can’t remember exactly, sorry!)
**The Head of the Jury : Ayşe Bener
*** The one who recognizes me :ZeynepGüleç
**** In 1982, the “ Department of Freshman English” became the Department of
This is not an academic article but I have made use of some sources to refresh information and memory.
Cory, Hugh. Advanced Writing. Oxford University Press, 1999
ENG 311 Course notes
A recent ENG 311 syllabus
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Pearson Education Limited, 1995