TURKISH STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS ON THE CURRICULUM FOR INTERACTIVE AND TECHNOLOGY ENHANCED ENGLISH AS A FOREGIN LANGUAGE
Thanks to the communicative language teaching, interaction in English rather than teaching grammar rules has become the main goal of English classes. Technological equipment and the Internet have been widely benefited to reinforce interaction through the authentic materials they provided. This study investigated English as a foreign language students’ perceptions towards the use of communicative approach and technological resources at a state university in Turkey. Turkish EFL students’ perceptions towards communicative activities were analyzed with questionnaires comparing the statistical data based on their gender and proficiency. Statistically significant differences were found in terms of the gender and proficiency level of the students.
With the interactionist approach into second language acquisition, and communicative language movement meaningful interaction and negotiation of meaning have become the goals of the EFL/ESL language classes. Communicative language teaching has been interpreted in various ways and put into practice with communicative language curricula, meaningful communicative activities and materials. Many textbooks and course books have been written based on this approach, and instructors have been following them for their teaching practices. Especially in EFL settings, the course books with CDs and some videos which are authentic or created for pedagogic practices have been made use of by English language instructors. In addition, various authentic materials such as TV series, films, advertisements, internet sources have received great acceptance to provide authentic ways of introducing a language in especially EFL classrooms. Application of teacher led discussions, group work, peer feedback, dialogue practices to achieve some functions of the target language is a common method used in English language classes. In Turkey, the communicative language methods and practices have also been practiced in many contexts (Kaya; 2007; Sert 2005). Students are first introduced English at primary education and continue learning English in upper levels of formal education. Unlike some other EFL settings like Taiwan or China (Chung and Huang, 2009; Savignon &Wang, 2003) in Turkey English language proficiency is not tested in university entrance exams. Only students, who will study foreign language, take it in university entrance exam. However, at most of both state and private universities, there is a one year preparatory class of English where English skills are taught intensively at various levels. Students first take proficiency exam, and if they fail in it, they take placement exams, and placed into classes depending on their appropriate levels. At the end of the preparatory classes, they take an achievement exam as well as other summative and formal assessments to evaluate the performance of students during the whole academic year. The students who pass the preparatory class go on their education in their first year classes. There are a few universities who are English medium in their academic courses and others are usually Turkish medium though students have to attend preparatory classes. There are some others who provided some introductory courses in English or business English but the rest of the courses are in Turkish. In the context of the study, the preparatory class was established two years ago by the School of Foreign Languages. Last year the university administration decided to make the education as English medium in two faculties; Economy and Administrative Sciences and Engineering Faculties. In some introductory courses, initially providing a preparatory class for one year to prepare students for the courses of the following years in English and ideally to enable them to use English communicatively in their continuing life after school. In most of the classes, the multimedia, computer, DVD and the internet exist to enhance the quality of English language education. The director of Foreign Languages provides some in service training to the faculty who teaches at the preparatory classes in order to enhance the practice of communicative language teaching and use of the technology in the classes during weekly meetings and separate workshops. The current study investigates the teaching of English in listening and speaking classes from the students’ perceptions and attitudes towards the communicative curricular activities such as group and pair work activities, peer and teacher feedback, use of the internet and other technological resources in the classes, watching some authentic materials such as films or TV series. However, the computers with the internet access is mostly in termediate level classes; therefore, the perceptions of those students’ in intermediate level classes have been sought in the current survey study. As students gain competence in English, they get more motivated to participate in interaction during the class and gain autonomy using more authentic sources such as the internet and watching movies. In my experience, students who attend university with English language learning background have been more motivated to learn English and the use of interactive and authentic materials have increased students’ motivation. Kaya’s (2007) study also reveals some perceptional differences in various proficiency groups. So in this study, whether there is a perceptional difference in terms of their proficiency levels in this Turkish EFL context, too. In addition, in my own personal experiences with Turkish English language learners, female students have usually been more motivated and more volunteer to participate in the communicative activities. According to a research into attitudes towards computer and internet usage, males have more experience with computers and usually have more positive attitudes towards computers and the internet (Shumacher Morahan-Martin 2001; Tekinarslan 2009; Aydın, 2007). In Aydın’s study on EFL learners in Turkey, there were significant differences in terms of gender of the students’ attitudes towards the internet. Male students had more positive attitudes towards the function of the internet for cultural exchange and more motivated to have information about the internet than female students. On the other hand, females put their emphasis on the leading role of the internet to get more prepared knowledge. Therefore, in the present study, whether gender differences affect students’ perceptions on the internet usage as well as communicative activities has also been investigated. The following research questions have been investigated: 1. How do the intermediate students feel about the interaction types in listeningspeaking classes in an EFL context? 2. How do the upper intermediate students feel about the interaction types in English listening- speaking classes in an EFL context? 3. How do the upper intermediate students feel about the technological materials in their classes and what are their general perceptions towards the use of the internet? 4. Is there a difference between the attitude of the male and female students towards the overall activities, interaction types and internet use? In this paper, in order to answer the questions posed above, related literature has been reviewed in terms of the theoretical considerations of interaction in the second language classes, the research studies conducted in this field, group work activities and the role of feedback and peer feedback, and the research into group work and pair work as well as teacher-led classrooms, feedback and peer feedback, the use of authentic materials such as the films, the Web, and students’ perceptions of them.
2.1. Interaction in the second and foreign language classes With the advent of communicative approaches, classes are not dominated with rote learning methods and mechanical output anymore. Classrooms have become places where students and teachers try to interact with each other to learn and teach English as in natural first language acquisition environment. For more than three decades English teachers have been using a variety of techniques and methods to enhance student interaction in the classroom. “In the era of communicative language teaching, interaction is, in fact, the heart of communication; it is what communication is all about….Interaction is the collaborative exchange of thoughts, feelings or ideas between two or more people, resulting in a reciprocal effect on each other ” (Brown, 2001: 165). Interaction and the input theory have been widely discussed in the literature of second language acquisition. As Savignon (1991: 270) suggests “better understanding the strategies used in the negotiation of meaning offers a potential for improving classroom practice of the needed skills”. In order to better understand the importance of interaction in classroom activities, it is best first to begin the theoretical background of second language acquisition with the input theory. Krashen (1993 cited in Ellis 1997: 47) suggests that a second language is most successfully acquired when conditions are similar to those present in first language acquisition: that is, when the focus of instruction is on meaning rather than form; when the language input is a little above the proficiency of the learner, for example, if a learner is at a stage ‘i’, then acquisition takes place when he/ she is exposed to ‘Comprehensible Input’ that belongs to level ‘i + 1’ (i.e., learners are a little more advanced than the current state of the learner’s interlanguage.) when the students are given the opportunity to engage in ‘meaningful use’ of that language in a stress-free environment. Krashen puts great emphasis on comprehensible input as a source of acquisition, supports the view that comprehensible input is necessary for language acquisition to occur. Interactionist theories of L2 acquisition acknowledge the importance of input as well as learners interaction with its environment and their internal mechanisms (Ellis 1997: 44). Vygotsky’s social-cultural theory has had an influence in the second language acquisition theories to a great extent. According to Vygotsky, social interaction plays an important role in the learning process and proposed the zone of proximal development (ZPD), where learners construct the new language through socially mediated interaction. Vygotsky (1978: 86) states that “ZPD is the distance between actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”. Zones of proximal development are created through interaction and thereby negotiation of information between or among knowledgeable peers. Hatch (1979, cited in Pica 1994), in line with Vygotsky’s interaction theory, claims that interaction is important in the linguistic and cognitive features of L2 process as well as the social features. Swain (1985, in Pica 1994) points out that learner production of modified output 60 is important as well as comprehensible input for second language acquisition. Long (1985) and Pica (1987: 5) analyze the interaction between native speaker and non native speakers, and suggest what makes input comprehensible is modified interaction. Negotiation of meaning promotes language acquisition. For example, clarification requests during the interaction require or at least encourage learners to produce improved output. Pica, Young, and Doughty (1987), in their analysis of excerpts of native and non native interaction, both the premodified and the negotiated input improved learner’s comprehension, there was a significant difference in enabling comprehension. (Pica, 1994: 514) states that “Through feedback negotiation brings learners’ attention to L2 versions of their interlanguage utterances and heightens their awareness of their own interlanguage system.” In this way it prevents learner’s errors caused by their interlanguage fossilization. In addition, analysis of the excerpts in Pica (1993, 1992 cited in Pica 1994) reveals many learners produced modified sentences when they interact with native speakers. Overall negotiation enables the learners to get modified comprehensible input, modify their own output, and access L2 form and meaning (Pica 1994: 520). Myers (2000) also found Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory practical to apply in language classes. In his study he found that students who negotiated meaning and form in groups collaboratively benefited from it. Aljararfrah and Lantolf (1994) found that negative feedback which learners tell the ungrammaticality of their peers’ language uses and modified input can help learners to acquire language within the ZPD as Vygotsky (1978) proposed. As these studies indicate, classrooms act as communication contexts in which students communicate using language in specific ways. Most of the researchers who conducted research in the field of second language acquisition agree that negotiation of meaning and pushed output promotes communication, it helps acquisition of at least concerning vocabulary, clarification requests facilitate learners to produce modifications (Ellis 1994; 1997; Long 1984: Pica 1994). During the interaction the feedback learners’ receive can help learners to notice gaps in their inter-languages. Application of interaction in the classroom has been widely discussed in the literature. Rivers (1987: 4) states that “through interaction students can increase their language store as they listen to or read authentic linguistic material or even the output of their fellow students in discussions, skits, joint problem-solving tasks, or dialogue journals”. The use of games, role plays, pair and other smallgroup activities has gained acceptance and is now widely suggested to include in language teaching programs (Savignon, 1991). Similary, Richards & Rodgers (1986: 80) acknowledge that social interaction activities in a second language classroom includes conversation and discussion sessions, dialogues, role plays, games, and simulations. Pair and group work are suggested for the encouragement of using and practicing functions and forms. In communicative language teaching classes “activities in the Communicative Approach are often carried out by the students in small groups” (Larsen-Freeman, 1986: 132). Grouping students within small groups, whole class, pairs and individuals is seen as an aspect of balanced lesson planning by Mc Kay and Tom (1999: 18). The authors point out different grouping techniques should be employed. For example, if pair work is the only technique, “the students miss out a sense of class unity” (Mc Kay and Tom, 1999: 18). They urge that in order to achieve a more balanced class, the class begin with a whole class oral activity then the students generate their ideas individually and then share them in a small group. Through the small group activities, students are involved in meaningful and authentic language use instead of mechanical language practice (Larsen-Freeman, 1986). The interaction between students and teacher, students and students, and teacher and student-students has been regarded as shaping the “patterns” of communication by Johnson 1995. Also Kaya (2007: 18) made a comprehensive literature review of communicative and interactive activities and called the group, pair and whole class activities as “interaction types” and states that “ type represents the general structure held in common by the tasks, practices, or activities carried out in pairs, groups or as a whole class, namely that interaction is required”
The rapid technological development of computers and the Internet have drawn the attention of English language instructors seeking ways to integrate technology into their curriculum of EFL classes. The World Wide Web has provided instructors with many pedagogic opportunities with its rich updated information and resource which provides authentic way of exposing to English. According to Kuo (2008), the provision of word processors, presentation software, multimedia, drill and practice programs and especially the Internet by the computers enables EFL learners to better engage in individualized instruction and an environment designed to meet their specific needs. Students’ and teachers’ perception of the internet and computer use inside and outside the classroom are usually positive. Using the computers and the Internet in EFL/ESL classes have been widely researched and discussed in EFL/ESL literature (Berg 2003; Chatel 2002; Kuo 2008; Son 2008; Yang 2001; Kung and Chuo 2002). For example, in order to investigate how technology supports teaching and learning, Chatel (2002) conducted interviews and observations with eight classroom teachers and four ESL teachers and the qualitative data revealed if appropriate software and websites are selected, ESL students can learn and apply English efficiently. Some researchers benefit from its intrinsically motivational feature for language input and peer feedback via some 64 blogs, e-mail exchanges, etc. to make it a real life experience in EFL settings. Son (2008: 36-39) created some detailed and well planed webbased language learning activities for use in a teaching program. He made use of pre-created activities which are easily accessible online, task based activities using authentic web sources for problem solutions or information gathering tasks and Web activities prepared by teachers making modifications of some Web sources for their own students’ needs and levels. After implementations of these activities, students were administered questionnaires to investigate their perceptions. The researcher obtained very positive reaction from the students about the overall activities. Son (2008: 41) suggested that in order to gain effective results from Web usage, teachers should become active and critical internet users and develop their own skills to benefit from Web materials. His study indicates that when carefully planned the Web provides many authentic opportunities enhancing the motivation of English learners. Similarly, Kung and Chuo designed an EFL curriculum with online activities. They were trained to use some websites in pairs on the computers at the learning centre. They were instructed to use some websites such as Dave’s ESL Café, Randall’s ESL Café which has sections with different levels and contents as well as one website created by one of the researchers. After the training sessions on these websites, they were given assignments to use these websites. Furthermore, students were asked to join a discussion forum in Dave’s ESL Café and play some language games found at the different sites. Students were given questionnaires. Students had some explanations finding these websites effective tool for both as in class and out of class activity. They also report the teachers’ guidance to use those websites proved beneficial. Some dissatisfactions can be cited as connection problems, comprehension problems due to their proficiency, students’ having time constraints due to their usual assignment load. Online peer chatting and feedback to writing process have been investigated and found that it improved negotiation of meaning and motivation of students (Liu and Sadler, 2003; DiGiovanni & Nagaswami, 2001; Perez, 2003; Warschauer 1996) Researchers found that students discussed their writings or a topic exchanging ideas in online chatrooms and benefit from this negotiation and exchange of ideas. The feedback they give each other enabled them to improve their writings and enhanced their productive vocabulary usage. Warschauer (1996: 22) more specifically found that quieter students participated more than they used to emphasizing that it avoided domination of some students during group negotiations and enabled more equal participation. He identified some features of electronic discussion as involving longer turns and the more equal opportunity for all students to exchange ideas, allowing electronicallyproduced texts to be saved for review later, more formal and complex use of language. In addition, for oral discussions, he suggests that students could first generate many ideas and discuss or debate them orally. He concludes that face-to-face and electronic discussions could be combined in different ways to highlight the advantages of each. The internet has provided networking among people from different countries. This feature of the internet has also been benefited by the researchers. Students were found to be more motivated to write in the target language for the audience of native speakers (Ware, 2003; Kern, 1996). Gelabert, Gisbert, Thurston and Topping (2008) launched a project for online communication environment between Spanish speaking learners of English language and English speaking learners of Spanish language. The researchers found that students could give feedback to each other’s writing and benefited from it. Online environment enable students to be exposed to authentic use of language and enable them to practice English outside the classroom. In addition, in recent years, online peer feedback has gained more attention and some empirical studies have been conducted to see its benefits, and some positive results have been obtained