Melike Kesirli, Leah Bosworth, Jonathan Smith and Bünyamin Mengi at the FOCI Event

Melike Kesirli, Leah Bosworth and Jonathan Smith collaborated with colleagues from İstanbul Aydın University School of Foreign languages to plan the third Forum on Curriculuar Issues: Designing a curriculum that fosters independent learner competencies (FOCI-III) which was held at İstanbul Aydın University on Friday 13th May. Bünyamin Mengi attended the event as the School of Languages official participant. Here are a few important concepts and themes which we personally wanted to take away from the event:


Transparency

One concept that seemed to come up often during the event was transparency: that this was essential in everything we do to encourage learner autonomy. Are our expectations explicit to the learners right from the start? Are our objectives and assessment criteria explicit to the learners (in language they can actually understand – not “TeacherSpeak”)? The teacher too needs to be a model of autonomy: so maybe we should encourage teachers to be open about their reflection on their own practice; letting the learners see that the teacher is a learner too and is reflecting on the learning process and how to improve it.

Special role of speaking
From the questionnaire discussion it seemed that maybe there is something particularly motivating for learners when they experience success in speaking and this maybe needs to be investigated more. Speaking is all about confidence and is closely linked with self-esteem – maybe more so than other skills. So maybe this is a key to fostering autonomy. Speaking is maybe not seen as very important in learners? future academic needs and is hard to test and so on. But maybe we can’t afford to ignore it?

Learners? beliefs about language learning underlying their behaviour in and out of class
It seemed evident from the discussions in the forum that we need to understand what the students bring along with them (i.e. their beliefs about language learning). Even if their beliefs seem incompatible with ours, we should start from the point where they are (this will minimize conflicts of expectations) and bring them to the point where we are. This can help us to better understand why they do what they do in and out of class and the insight we will gain will help to make informed decisions about our teaching and learning practices.

Self-reflection & frequent success
Learners’ evaluating their strengths and areas to improve after exams through self reflection can guide them for their further studies, which is a practice that can be exercised across levels. Also, it is not always motivation that leads to success, but it is sometimes the feeling of success that leads to further motivation. Therefore, it seems wise to provide the students with opportunities to experience the feeling of success through frequent quizzes, which is a practice that could be much appreciated by our “exam-oriented” students. The feeling of success they will experience is likely to motivate them to study more for upcoming exams.

Learners’ Voices
Hearing the learners’ voices on autonomy and using what they have experienced to inform other students’ further development in this area was a topic that we discussed at length. To do this we can use our previous learners (those with a decent level of autonomy) for both information gathering and working with current students. These ‘old’ students can provide a wealth of information as well providing ‘live’ inspiration/motivation and guidance on the keys to success. The information gathered could also inform some kind of ‘booklet’ which students could refer to as and when required.


The FOCI project was set up in May 2010 by the Curriculum Team of Sabancı University School of Languages and is a chance for representatives from a range of universities in Turkey and North Cyprus preparing learners for their undergraduate studies in English to come together to discuss curriculum issues. These have now become regular events held twice a year in collaboration with different host institutions. The FOCI-IV event will be hosted by Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus in December 2011. If your university is interested in sending a representative please visit our website to find more details about past FOCI events: www.fociturkey.com.

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