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Prospective foreign language teachers' preference of teaching methods for the language acquisition course in Turkish higher education.


Researchers argue that competence in a language or being a native speaker of it is not sufficient for teaching it, and foreign language teachers should have an awareness of language as a system (Wright and Bolitho, 1993; Brown 2007; Andrews, 1999, 2007; Thornbury, 1997; Luk and Wong, 2010; Giessler, 2012; Achugar, Schleppegrel, and Oteiza, 2007; Glasgow, 2008). According to Brown (2007), in order to teach a language effectively, foreign language teachers need to know the relationship between language and cognition, writing systems, nonverbal communication, sociolinguistics, and first language acquisition. How foreign language teachers understand the components of language will influence their teaching practices. Besides, "a linguistically-aware teacher will be in a strong and secure position to accomplish various tasks--preparing lessons; evaluating, adapting, and writing materials; understanding, interpreting, and ultimately designing a syllabus or curriculum; testing and assessing learners' performance; and contributing to English language work across the curriculum" (Wright and Bolitho, 1993, p. 292). If teachers are aware of the underlying systems of a language, they will teach it efficiently (Thornbury, 1997). Likewise, a foreign language teacher needs to reflect upon her knowledge of the underlying systems of the language, in order to maximize useful input for learning (Andrews, 1999).

Considering the importance of creating an awareness of the system of language for language teachers, it is common to see yearlong university courses that explore language as a system in foreign language departments of universities where prospective foreign language teachers are trained. Brown (2007, p. 06-07) lists possible fields and subfields covered in these courses as follows:

1. Explicit and formal accounts of the system of language on several possible levels (e.g., phonological, syntactic, lexical, and semantic analysis)

2. The symbolic nature of language; the relationship between language and reality; the philosophy of language; the history of language

3. Phonetics; phonology; writing systems; the role of gesture, distance, eye contact, and other "paralinguistic" features of language

4. Semantics; language and cognition; psycholinguistics

5. Communication systems; speaker-hearer interaction; sequence processing

6. Dialectology; sociolinguistics; language and culture; pragmatics; bilingualism and second language acquisition

7. Human language and nonhuman communication; neurolinguistics; innate factors; genetic transmission; nature vs. nurture

8. Language universals; first language acquisition

When these fields and subfields of linguistic research are considered, it is evident that it includes so many theoretical, sophisticated, and abstract concepts and topics that need to be taught by teacher educators to prospective foreign language teachers. In light of immense information to be conveyed in higher education courses covering these subjects, the teaching methods that will be used by the teacher in the classroom constitute a crucial theme.

Demirel (2006) presented 'the lecture method', 'the discussion method', 'the case method', 'the demonstration-performance method', 'the problem solving method', and 'the independent study method' as the common teaching methods used in education faculties. The lecture method is a traditional teaching method that has been used throughout the years as a means of transmitting information from a teacher to a group of students (Werner& DeSimone, 2009). It is also a one-way process of education and students are passive listeners while teachers are active agents of instruction (Henderson & Nash, 2007). The discussion method gives students the chance to be active participants and there is no expectation of information transfer only from teacher to the learner. While having classroom discussions students can explain their point of views and ideas rather than memorizing facts and details. Thus, it is considered as a useful teaching technique for developing higher-order thinking skill that enable students to interpret, analyze, and manipulate information (Larson, 2000). The case method aims to establish education by providing examples or problems from real life experiences (Demirel, 2010). Students might face problems when they try to connect theoretical or abstract themes to real life. By providing real life examples, the case method eliminates this problem (Brooke, 2005). Thus, using the case method makes education substantive (Garvin, 1991). The demonstration-performance method is considered as one of the best ways of teaching various skills to students (Smith, 2011). It is based on the opinion that an individual learns at an optimal level by performing. It aims to assist the development of physical or mental skills by making students practice these skills under supervision of an instructor. The problem solving method is a student-centered way of teaching where the principal and essential characteristic is solving problems. On one hand the emphasis is on solving problems by applying existing knowledge; on the other hand the emphasis is on developing new knowledge through solving problems (Killen, 1996). Independent study is a student-centered method (Rogers, 2002) that gives students the chance to work individually to investigate self-selected or teacher-selected content related to the curriculum (Delisle & Lewis, 2003). It provides a chance to improve self-governing learning and research skills (Cathcart, 2005) and promotes learning beyond the classroom (Kent, 2000).

Teaching and learning are the two sides of a coin. Research on education proposes that a better understanding of students' learning styles and preferences by faculty can improve instructional delivery methods, create an opportunity to learn in a classroom environment more conducive to student preferences, expand the quality of educational practices, and help teachers recognize the diverse needs students bring into the classroom (Zapalska and Dabb, 2002; Nunan, 1999; Khan, 2009; Theall and Franklin, 2001; Gurney, 2007; Minotti, 2005; Steinberg, Grigorenko, & Zhang, 2008; Williamson & Watson, 2007). Moreover, students are the most qualified sources to report on the extent to which the learning experience was productive, informative, satisfying, or worthwhile (Theall and Franklin, 2001, p.50) and student ratings on learning styles and preferences tend to be reliable, valid, relatively unbiased, and useful (Murray, 1994). As an instructor becomes more aware of his/her students' learning style preferences for a particular subject or course, s/he is more likely to put educational applications into practice to accommodate these preferences (Beck, 2001). Thus, it is crucial for instructors to employ learning style preference assessments, respect and trust students' reports on which learning experience was useful, and adjust instructional methods in the classroom in accordance with students' preferences.

Inquiries into students' preferences of instructional style reveal that students prefer specific teaching methods for particular classes (Hunt et al. 2003; Akplnar and Ozer, 2004; Johnson and Dasputa, 2005; Karns, 2005; Singh et al., 2009; Seremet and Yasar, 2010; Ioakamidis and Myloni, 2010; Ozer and Acar, 2012). In this sense, it is important for higher education faculty who teach courses on language system in foreign language teacher training programs to identify the learning styles and preferences of prospective foreign language teachers.

Context and Research Focus

Considering the importance of teaching language as a system to prospective foreign language teachers, the Turkish Higher Education Council (2007, p. 10) in Turkey has made it obligatory for foreign language teaching departments of universities to include a 'Language Acquisition' course in their curriculum and it has specified the course content as follows:

"Theories of first and second language acquisition (e.g.: behaviorism, innatism, information processing, connectionism, the interactionist position) and developmental stages and sequences of first and target language acquisition; case studies, comparative analysis of the use of native and target languages in corpus data (e.g.: CHILDES database), recordings and/or transcriptions of real second language classroom interaction will be employed for the analysis of first and second language acquisition; comparison of second language acquisition in children and in adults; identifying developmental sequences in first language acquisition; stages in second language morpho-syntactic development; processes in second language acquisition; learner characteristics and individual variation in ultimate attainment in second language acquisition (e.g.: role of personality, language aptitude, intelligence, age of acquisition, motivation and attitudes, learner preferences and beliefs); differences between second language acquisition and foreign language learning contexts (e.g.: natural vs. instructional settings)."

The content of the 'language acquisition' class in Turkish higher education parallels the fields and subfields of language courses focusing on language as a system mentioned by Brown (2007, p. 06-07). Thus, teachers who teach 'language acquisition' courses in foreign language departments of Turkish Universities have to handle immense theoretical, sophisticated, and abstract information. Such a situation makes it important for teachers identify the preeminent way and method to teach it. Moreover, since research considers students as the most qualified sources to report on the extent to which the learning experience is productive, informative, satisfying, or worthwhile, it is important for teachers to consider student preferences and ideas while deciding the method to teach the course content. Although research has focused on measuring students' teaching method preferences for various courses (refer to Hunt et al. 2003; Akpinar and Ozer, 2004; Johnson and Dasputa, 2005; Karns, 2005; Singh et al., 2009; Seremet and Yasar, 2010; Ioakamidis and Myloni, 2010; Ozer and Acar, 2012), research focusing on students' method preferences for 'language acquisition' courses in foreign language departments is missing. Considering this problem and the importance of taking student preference into account while choosing the teaching method, this study aims to identify which teaching method prospective foreign language teachers would prefer their instructors to use in language acquisition classes. It is hoped that the findings from this study will provide actionable guidelines for higher education faculty charged with teaching language acquisition classes in foreign language departments.



The study group includes 119 third and fourth year students (teacher trainees) who are studying English Language Teaching at Yrakya University, Faculty of Education. A written consent was gathered from all participants before the study was conducted. While %68, 91 of the participants are female, %31, 09 of them are male. The reason for choosing third and fourth year students as participants in this study was; students had already taken the language acquisition course during the second year of higher education. In this sense, they were aware of the course content. Additionally, they had already been instructed about the teaching methods in the Teaching Principles and Techniques course which is also compulsory during the second year of education.

Data Collection Tool

A teaching methods evaluation form which includes six teaching methods was given to the participants. The teaching methods mentioned in the teaching methods evaluation form are 'the lecture method', 'the discussion method', 'the case method', 'the demonstration-performance method', 'the problem solving method', and 'the independent study method' which are presented by Demirel (2006) as the common teaching methods used in education faculties. Students were requested to rank from 1 to 6 their preference of teaching methods to be used by their instructor given they had to take the language acquisition course again.

Data Analysis

Data obtained from the teaching methods evaluation form were scaled according to ranking judgments. Initially, students were given the list of all six teaching methods. Subsequently, they were requested to rank their preference of these methods from 1 to 6 while bearing the language acquisition course in mind. During the data analysis, the frequency matrix was formed. Frequency matrix displays the rank of the teaching method and how many times each method was selected by the participants. Successively, the proportion matrix was obtained from the ranking judgments given for the teaching methods. The z values that correspond to the proportion matrix elements were identified and the formation of the unit normal variance matrix was put into effect. Values that belong to each column were added to the bottom line of the unit normal variance matrix and the mean of each z value in this column was calculated. Thus, scale values were found and subsequently shown on the number line. Finally, in order to find if the ranking judgments, scale values obtained from scaling operation and student judgments were reliable, the mean error of scale values was calculated. In order to identify if the mean error was significant, chi-square was calculated. Microsoft Excel was used for these operations.


In this section, with the aim of determining which teaching method the participants mostly preferred, data based on students' ranking judgments were scaled. Primarily, the frequency matrix, which is acquired by students' ranking of 6 stimuli, was formed. Table 1 shows the frequency matrix.

In order to control if an error was done during the organization of the frequency matrix, the numbers in each row and column were added since the sum of the rows and columns is expected to be equal (Turgut & Baykul, 1992). After this control, no error was found and the operation was pursued. Of the rankings done by 119 participants for 6 stimuli, proportions that display how many times each of the six stimuli was ranked more than others were calculated. Following this operation, the column sums of the frequency matrix were divided by [N.sup.2] = [(119).sup.2] and the proportion matrix was obtained. Table 2 shows the proportion matrix.

Pairwise comparison was applied for the proportion matrix, as it is important for the sum of matrix' elements that are symmetrical to the primary diagonal to be equal to 1 when the proportion matrix is constructed. Following that control, the next step was the construction of unit normal variance matrix (Z). Z values corresponding to the cell values in the proportions matrix (P) were identified, and the unit normal deviations matrix in Table 3 was derived.

When Table 3 is considered, the smallest value of [bar.zj] values is -0,535 and that value belongs to the teaching method specified as C. By sliding the starting point of the axis, Sj values were found. In order to do this, 0,535 which is the absolute value of-0,535 were added to each [bar.zj] value. Table 4 displays Sj values.

Results on Table 4 show that "the case method' is mostly preferred by students for the language acquisition course. This method is followed by 'the discussion method', 'the lecture method', 'the demonstration-performance method', "the problem solving method', and 'the independent study method'. The scale values belonging to each teaching method is also shown on a number line (See Figure 1).

In order to find the reliability of the ranking judgments, the scale values obtained from the scaling operation, and the student judgments, the mean error of scale values was calculated. The mean error shows the consistency between the observed values and the empirical values. The significance consistency degree can be determined by conducting the chi-square test (Turgut & Baykul, 1992). In Table 5, results related to the mean error and chi-square values of the scale values are shown.

When Table 5 is considered, it is evident that the mean error of the scale values is very low (ME=0,020; [chi square]=16,576). This result displays that the scale values and the student judgments are reliable. In other words, the assumptions in the model were ensured.


The results of the study reveal that the participants consider 'the case method' as the most appropriate means of learning language acquisition course content. This method is followed by 'the discussion method', 'the lecture method', 'the demonstration-performance method', 'the problem solving method', and 'the independent study method'.

The major reason for students to prefer the case method may be related to the theoretical, sophisticated, and abstract nature of the language acquisition course. Students may have problems when they try to connect the course content to real life, and they may need real life examples to transform the abstract information into concrete realities. Since the case method is used for making education substantive (Garvin, 1991) by focusing on examples that reflect reality and slices of life (Brooke, 2005), the participants in this study might have considered it as the most efficient and authentic way to understand language as a system. This result displays parallelism to Ozer and Acar's (2012) and Karn's (2005) research. Ozer and Acar (2012) aimed to identify which teaching method used by the instructor in the measurement and evaluation course is mostly preferred by forth year students at Faculty of Education. Their study results show that students mostly preferred the case method. The researchers concluded that measurement and evaluation courses include abstract subjects and definitions which may seem inapplicable to real-life situations. Karns (2005) also found that marketing students preferred, "real-world" learning activities such as case analyses in marketing classes. Students' preference of the case method stemmed from their eagerness to establish a connection between the abstract course concepts and real world experiences.

The second most favored method is the discussion method. The discussion method is a student centered method, and it serves for structured exchange of ideas directed toward a specific goal (Moore, 2005). Since students also consider it as an important teaching method for the language acquisition course, such a situation reflects that they have a propensity to actively participate in the classroom by discussing and explaining their point of view. Rather than memorizing facts and details, they want to co-construct information by engaging in classroom discussions with their classmates and teacher. Similarly, Johnson and Dasputa (2005) surveyed introductory statistics students regarding various aspects of the teaching style they prefer. They denoted "lecture" style as traditional and "discussion-based" classes as non-traditional. Their study results reveal that the overall proportion of students preferring non-traditional teaching methods is higher than students preferring traditional methods. Hunt et al. (2003) also noted favorable student attitudes towards active learning methods in medicine courses. Although the results of the current study, and the studies by Johnson and Dasputa (2005), and Hunt et al. (2005) underscore the student preference to actively participate in the learning process by co-constructing meaning through meaningful discussions, the study by Qualters (2001) discusses the opposite. Qualters (2001) found that students do not favor active learning methods because of the in-class time taken by the activities, fear of not covering all of the material in the course, and anxiety about changing from traditional classroom expectations to the active structure. These contradicting findings imply that students prefer specific teaching methods for particular classes and their preferences may differ according to the subject matter or the course content.

The lecture method and the demonstration-performance method have approximately similar scale values which show that students do not prioritize one over another. The lecture method requires an active instructor (Ekeler, 1994) and is used for transmitting information from a teacher to a group of students (Werner & DeSimone, 2009). In the current study, the students did not prioritize the lecture method over other teaching methods and this result contradicts with the study of Ioakamidis and Myloni (2010) who investigated the learning preferences of Greek students attending a two-semester undergraduate economics course at a Greek university. They found that students disapproved student-centered teaching methods in the economics course and displayed an inclination to be instructed in a lecture format. The participants' prioritizing the lecture method in their research and the prospective teachers' not ranking it the first in the current research highlights the significance of employing learning style preference assessments for every course since students' preferences vary from one course to another.

The demonstration-performance method was ranked by the participants four in the current study. The language acquisition course does not necessitate skill development. Since the demonstration-performance method is considered as one of the best ways of teaching various skills to students (Smith, 2011), the participants might have regarded it less important than the case and discussion methods.

The least preferred method for the language acquisition course is the independent study method. It is important to note that language acquisition is the first theoretical course that touches on the topics related to language system in foreign language departments of Turkish Universities. It is possible that students have no prior knowledge of the course content since their linguistic background is only related to practicing the foreign language skills. Considering the theoretical and abstract nature of the course and lack of students' background knowledge, students might have considered acquiring knowledge by their own efforts challenging and ineffective.

Although, the study does not seek to generalize its findings to other contexts, it provides an example of student demand for using case oriented teaching methods in language acquisition courses. It also shows that when students have no prior knowledge of a course such as language acquisition, they do not wish to study it independently. The participants' ranking the case method first and the discussion method second also demonstrates that although the students' priority is learning the course content by referring to samples of real life and concrete situations, they also want to engage in classroom discussions and actively participate in the learning process. Thus, instructors who teach language acquisition courses in higher education institutions should note these student preferences and incorporate cases into their teaching practices and give students the chance to discuss their opinions. Moreover, since the current study shows that students' preferences of teaching methods differ from one course to another, it is necessary for educators to conduct research to identify student preferences and organize their instructional practices in view of their findings in order to make education satisfying for students.


This study focused on which teaching method prospective foreign language teachers would prefer their teacher to use in language acquisition classes. The more that can be learned about students' preferences, the better adjustments can be made to the educational environment and interventions designed to help prospective foreign language teachers learn and study language as a system. Given the multiple theoretical topics that face teachers and students in language acquisition courses, it is important to discover the appropriate teaching methods that will lead the students to success. Thus, more identical research is needed to bridge the gap between student preferences and teachers' classroom applications.


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Department of Foreign Languages, Trakya University, Edirne, Turkey

Table 1. The frequency matrix related to the teaching methods

Ri (a)     ri (b)  A (c)  B (d)  C (e)  D (f)  E (g)  F (h)  Total (i)

1            6      21      8      2     11     15     62       119
2            5      21     13      5     14     43     23       119
3            4      18     25     13     28     25     10       119
4            3      15     21     28     30     18      7       119
5            2      21     25     41     15     12      5       119
6            1      23     27     30     21      6     12       119

Total (i)   119     119    119    119    119    119    119

(a) The rank order from 1 to 6. (b) The rank order from 6 to 1. (c)
The lecture method. (d) The discussion method. (e) The case method.
(f) The demonstration-performance method. (g) The problem solving
method. (h) The independent study method. (i) The total number of
teacher trainees who have participated is 119.

Table 2. The proportion matrix (P) related to the teaching methods

        A (a)   B (b)   C (c)   D (d)   E (e)   F (f)

A (a)           0,42    0,33    0,69    0,66    0,68
B (b)   0,58            0,40    0,56    0,71    0,79
C (c)   0,67    0,60            0,69    0,82    0,86
D (d)   0,53    0,44    0,31            0,66    0,77
E (e)   0,40    0,29    0,18    0,34            0,68
F (f)   0,29    0,21    0,14    0,23    0,32

(a) The lecture method. (b) The discussion method. (c) The case
method. (d) The demonstration-performance method. (e) The problem
solving method. (f) The independent study method.

Table 3. The unit normal deviations matrix (Z matrix) related to the
teaching methods

                 A (a)   B (b)    C (c)    D (d)   E (e)   F (f)

A (a)                    -0,20    -0,43    0,50    0,42    0,46
B (b)            0,20             -0,26    0,14    0,55    0,81
C (c)            0,43    0,26              0,50    0,92    1,09
D (d)            0,08    -0,14    -0,50            0,42    0,73
E (e)            -0,25   -0,55    -0,92    -0,42           0,46
F (f)            -0,56   -0,81    -1,09    -0,73   -0,46
[SIGMA] Zj (g)   -0,09   -1,44    -3,21    -0,01   1,85    3,55
mean Zj (g)      -0,02   -0,24   -0,54 *   -0,00   0,31    0,59
Sj (i)           0,52    0,30     0,00     0,53    0,84    1,13

(a) The lecture method. (b) The discussion method. (c) The case
method. (d) The demonstration-performance method. (e) The  problem
solving method. (f) The independent study method. (g) The sum of unit
normal deviations. (h) The mean of unit  normal deviations. (i) The
scale values. * The smallest value of mean zj values.

Table 4. The scale value and rank of the teaching methods

                                         Scale Value (Sj)   Rank

A-The lecture method                           0,52          3
B-The discussion method                        0,30          2
C-The case method                              0,00          1
D-The demonstration-performance method         0,53          4
E-The problem solving method                   0,84          5
F-The independent study method                 1,13          6

Table 5. Internal consistency of scale
values related to the teaching

N (a)  ME (b)   df (c)   [chi square] (d)

119     0.02      10          16.58

(a) The number of teacher trainees. (b) Mean error. (c) Degree
of freedom. (d) Chi square
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