Friday, September 5, 2014

Thoughts from the other side of the desk.

As my Turkish proficiency has become relevant to my life and work here in Kayseri, Turkey, I'm realizing some of the struggles that students in learning English. Here are a few of the components of a language class I'm thinking about.

  1. Risk-taking. Even though I am always encouraging students to take risks in the classroom in order to grow as a language user, this is easier said than done. I find myself sometimes reluctant to try a new word or tongue-twister-ish Turkish verb construction. ...edebilir misiniz? I'm building empathy, but also seeing how I might motivate students to get past this roadblock. Despite my hesitation, I'm learning to just get the words out, on the basis of my second point.
  2. Context-dependent use. If I don't have the occasion to retrieve and use a new word or phrase in context during interaction with others, I have a very difficult time retaining it. This experience will inform my teaching of vocabulary and rote phrases. Give students a chance to recall and use new items in an authentic context.
  3. Bottom-up processing. Although I rarely used techniques like backward (or forward) buildup with advanced students, I am using it frequently in Turkish. Due to the heavily suffixed-ness of Turkish, practicing piece-by-piece is essential. ed. edebil. edebilir. edebilir misin. edibilir misiniz. I see this type of controlled practice as essential for building pronunciation and grammar knowledge. I will be using this technique at the word and sentence level.
  4. Praise. While I've never doubted the importance of teacher praise, being on the other side of the desk has thrown light on the affective effects of teacher feedback. Teachers who are unenthusiastic or too quick to correct do nothing to motivate students who struggle. On the other hand, I've experienced feedback from my colleagues that made me feel proud of myself and therefore motivated me to continue speaking in Turkish--this is important feedback for learners.  I will be very mindful of the ways I encourage my beginner students, especially in speaking activities.
There is so much to learn and so much to consider as I start a new teaching position in a new country with a new language. I can understand the struggle that many students who study abroad my face. I hope that my newfound empathy enriches my teaching experience here in Turkey.