This research gave me a great opportunity to look into the high achieving Turkish speaking students in a comprehensive secondary school setting in the UK. In addition, I was able to see how these high achieving students’ parents and the school were supporting them in both school and home life. Compared to the first generation of Turkish speaking migrants, the high achieving students in my research seemed more settled and ready to build a life in the UK. They realized the importance and the benefits of education and they knew how to move forward in order to meet their targets. Their parents were aware of the advantages and the disadvantages of the British Education System, particularly when the children did not speak enough English. Having attended nurseries, these students learned BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) in English. In schools, we also call this ‘playground language’. Cummins (1984a, 1984b, 2000b) in Baker (2006:174) discusses BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) as well as CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency).
‘BICS occur when face-to-face ‘context embedded situations provide for example, non-verbal support to secure understanding. CALP, on the other hand, is said to occur in context reduced academic situations. Where higher order thinking skills (e.g. analysis, synthesis, evaluation) are required in the curriculum, language is ‘disembedded’ from a meaningful, supportive context.’
When the students started in the main school, they were ready to learn ‘academic language’ like their peers. However, as their primary language which they spoke at home with their parents was Turkish and/or Kurdish, they experienced some difficulty in transferring their first language skills to the second. Parents were not able to help them with their homework due to lack of previous education in own countries (many students’ parents of those that contributed to this research were in fact illiterate in their first language). In some cases this proved to be frustrating for the students; for if the ‘academic language’ is not taught explicitly they ran the risk of falling behind their native peers. This may be the reason why these parents sought the help of private tuition for their children. I acknowledge the fact that many native speakers attend also private tuition due to the large class sizes in schools and the limited time available for subject teachers to reinforce and elaborate on the topics they learn.
When learning another language ‘motivation’ is the most important key to be successful. If schools could raise ‘motivation’, students may achieve higher. According to Baker (2006:132);
‘Reasons for learning a second (minority or majority) language tend to fall into two categories; Group 1: A wish to identify with or join another language group which is termed ‘integrative motivation. Such learners wish to join with the minority or majority language’s cultural activities, and consequently find their roots or form friendships. Group 2: Learning a language for useful purpose. This is termed ‘instrumental motivation’. Learners may acquire a second language to find a job and earn money, further career prospects, pass exams, help fulfil the demands of their job, or assist their children in bilingual schooling.’
The Turkish speaking students who participated in my research possess the integrative and instrumental motivation. On the one hand, they thought learning Turkish and Kurdish was important to communicate with relatives and to make friends with whom they could identify themselves with. On the other hand, they knew that proficiency in English would help them find a good job and provide them with higher standards of living.
Strategies for schools, teachers and parents
Dörnyei(1994) in Baker (2006:134) suggests that in order to promote language learning, teachers could include a socio-cultural component within the syllabus, such as native speakers and TV programmes. To develop learners’ cross-cultural awareness, they could focus on cross-cultural similarities rather than the differences. Student contact with second language speakers could also be developed through pen-pals, exchange programmes or even correspondence via email. Reinforcing the students’ self-confidence in their mastery of the language, promoting student competence by explaining to them what they can do, rather than what they can’t and encouraging students to make a personal learning plan, are just some of the other strategies that the teachers may employ. A culturally inclusive curriculum is vital to ensure that students feel both comfortable and secure throughout their education.
All the participating students in my research are ‘Advanced bilinguals’, meaning:
“ pupils who have had all or most of their school education in the UK and whose oral proficiency in English is usually indistinguishable from that of pupils with English as a first language but whose writing may still show distinctive features related to their language background.”
Some strategies to raise their levels in school subjects could be: providing opportunities to hear an orally rehearse the language, using dictogloss activities, bridging talk and text, concentrating on target vocabulary and phrases, providing glossaries for the topic before lessons and allowing for time for the discussion of answers with an articulate partner before resolving questions as a class.
When I spoke to one of the students’ mother on the phone, her main concern was that her son had not been allocated a place in the top sets of any of his classes in spite of the teachers’ assurances that he was indeed progressing very well at school. Having been told throughout her son’s entire academic life that he was achieving well, she had believed that was in the top sets of Science, Maths and English. When she discovered otherwise, she was a little upset that none of the teachers had mentioned this during parents’ evenings. “I did not know why my son was not in top sets although all his teachers told me that he was doing very well.” she said. She then looked for a private tuition facility and her son started attending Maths and English classes there. Since then his levels have improved and he feels much more confident in these subjects.
As teachers, we know that there is always a target level for students and the improvements that they must make in order to achieve that level. Had teachers clearly explained these objectives, the student would have learnt how to reach their target level, while the parent would have been more capable of providing the assistance her son needed to improve. In this case having a Turkish speaking parents-school liaison officer helped a lot for her to understand that she needed to support her son in other ways. In the case of parents speaking insufficient English for comprehension, parents should either bring someone who is able to converse for them or the school should be capable of providing them with a translator.
It is the school’s duty to inform parents how their children are progressing and what they need to do to continue to develop academically. Schools must collaborate with parents to ensure that they understand both the British Education System and the schools’ expectations of the students. A consultation was prepared by DfES in March 2003 which was called ‘Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils’ (http://www.ligali.org/pdf/ahconsultation.pdf. Schools and teachers can also find many useful strategies to follow in their classrooms to raise the achievement and attainment of Turkish speaking students. Another publication which could also prove to be useful is ‘Raising the attainment of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Turkish heritage pupils’ which was published in March 2007 and can be accessed via the webpage below. (http://www.teachfind.com/national-strategies/raising-attainment-pakistani-bangladeshi-somali-and-turkish-heritage-pupils-ma-0 )