Summer Teaching Reflections at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tuğba Yıldırım Kumbasar
I am writing this post to share my enriching experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Language Institute (MEDLI) this summer as a Turkish instructor. MEDLI is one of the programs within the Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institutes (WISLI) at UW-Madison, offering intensive courses in over 30 less-commonly-taught languages (LCTLs) for undergraduates, graduate students, professionals, and non-traditional students from across the US.
This marked my third summer instructing Turkish within this program, with each session presenting a distinct avenue for personal and professional growth. In previous instances, I designed and executed an Intermediate Turkish curriculum that mainly merged technology and creative elements. However, the focal point this time around was on ensuring teaching quality by drawing on past experiences while simultaneously establishing an inclusive learning environment that caters to everyone. Notably, this experience introduced a unique challenge as I accommodated a student with visual impairment, prompting me to look at the way I am teaching from a very different angle.
Even if I had worked with students who have learning disabilities and hearing impairments before, I initially found myself grappling with a sense of apprehension. This apprehension was rooted in the realization that my accustomed mode of teaching, heavily reliant on visual aids, would not be as effective in this context. As I contemplated how to ensure a high standard of education despite this limitation, I recognized the need for a comprehensive reevaluation of my teaching strategies. To prepare myself for this endeavor, I collaborated closely with the university's disability resource center. An essential first step involved converting all instructional materials into accessible Word documents. Concurrently, meticulous planning was imperative; I developed weekly lesson plans well in advance, facilitating thorough examination by the accessibility support team. Regular consultations with the disability resource center and pedagogy director proved invaluable, fostering a dynamic exchange of ideas crucial for effective execution.
Fortunately, my student, also a proficient PhD student in Special Education, possessed a high level of familiarity with the assistive technologies required. Engaging in a continual feedback loop, I routinely discussed planned activities with her, drawing on her insights to refine and optimize the teaching process. These early interactions not only honed my understanding of her technological preferences but also prompted a reevaluation of universal design principles. As I explored the accessibility features of various educational technology tools, I discovered overlooked-until-now functionalities, such as those in Word and PowerPoint documents. This newfound awareness extended to the feedback process; I transitioned from Google Docs to Word documents to accommodate Braille usage. The digital learning portfolio platform shifted from Google Sites to the more accessible Google Docs in HTML form.
In the realm of arts integration, a core facet of my teaching approach, I encountered both challenges and opportunities. Previous successful endeavors, like a museum-based class where students responded to art with Turkish poems, necessitated innovative adaptations. My collaborations with the Disability Resource Center and the Museum aimed to enhance accessibility, yet limitations prompted me to seek alternative avenues. Embracing creativity, I crafted an arts-integrated lesson using classical music by Fazıl Say within the tranquil setting of a campus botanic garden. Students perceived this experience as offering them a platform for authentic and creative engagement with the Turkish language, thus effectively aligning with my goal of fostering a comfortable and creative learning environment. Paradoxically, the constraints I faced prompt an outpouring of innovative instructional design, showcasing the potential for teacher creativity to flourish even within the confines of apparent limitations.
Alongside a range of in-class engagements, we had co-curricular events aimed at enhancing various aspects of the target culture, thereby complementing the classroom experience. A notable highlight was the involvement of Turkish artist Murat Palta, who skillfully melded traditional Ottoman miniature art with contemporary influences, introducing participants to the world of miniature art. Moreover, Emirhan Deniz Çelebi, from Unilever and previously affiliated with SUGender, delivered a compelling lecture on gender studies in Turkey, and Ozan Kumbasar from Marmara University shared insights into Turkish sports culture through his lecture that encompassed a wide array of athletic disciplines. He also generously shared his expertise with us to embark on a collaborative journey to design an outdoor class that would bring together students from both elementary and intermediate Turkish levels. Ozan created and led a morning exercise, wherein students participated by following instructions delivered in Turkish. This endeavor represented my initial attempt of integrating sports with language instruction, building upon my prior endeavors centered around the integration of technology and arts within the realm of curriculum integration. Students described this experience as a refreshing and meaningful break from their regular classroom routine.
Additionally, we organized weekly language tables, providing students with the opportunity to practice their Turkish language skills in a more relaxed setting among fellow Turkish learners and speakers. In a delightful twist of fate, our dear friend Kassandra Robertson from SL, an alumnus of UW-Madison, happened to be in town during the summer, which brought a joyful note to our co-curricular activities as Kassandra joined us for one of our language tables, connecting with our students and supporting them in enhancing their language skills.
Last but not least, the well-organized orientation week was also a standout experience. This gathering brought together language instructors from WISLI, both based in the US and from around the globe, throughout the academic year. The aim was to engage in dialogue about teaching approaches, share best practices, and address common challenges. What's truly captivating is how, despite our diverse languages of instruction, we were united in our common ground of pedagogy. As an instructor who teaches English and Turkish as foreign languages, the cross-linguistic teaching insights and the opportunity to contemplate student dynamics in varied contexts have proven incredibly enriching. This dance of reciprocity shapes a loop, where insights from one classroom gracefully enrich the other, and vice versa. The dynamic exchange of teaching ideas within this immersive setting leaves me excited and motivated to strive for more. Furthermore, the close collaboration with colleagues and students from diverse cultural backgrounds promises continuous personal development on a profound level.
Overall, engaged year-round at SL and during UW-Madison's vibrant summers, I find myself immersed in a truly harmonious blend of teaching roles. This seamless flow of knowledge and experience between these two worlds is like the sweet melody of a well-conducted symphony, nurturing the very core of my passion for teaching. It promises an unending cycle of refinement that transcends boundaries. This symphony of learning, always in tune with my spirit, resonates deeply within me, pushing me forward on an exciting journey of continuous exploration and growth. Armed with the valuable insights, creative adaptations, and the unwavering spirit of collaboration that this summer experience has instilled in me, I return to SL and stand ready, with heart and mind open, to embrace the fresh opportunities that the new semester will bring as I step into the next phase of this enriching journey.
(You may also review the digital learning portfolio examples (LP1, LP2, LP3), an assessment component of my intermediate Turkish class, to examine their work samples and self-reflections on their learning journey.)