Educational Research and Reviews

  • Abbreviation: Educ. Res. Rev.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1990-3839
  • DOI: 10.5897/ERR
  • Start Year: 2006
  • Published Articles: 1800

Full Length Research Paper

Orthography and punctuation problem in Turkey within the context of the curricula and textbooks

Latif Beyreli
  • Latif Beyreli
  • Department of Turkish Language Teaching, Atatürk Faculty of Education, Marmara University, Turkey.
  • Google Scholar


  •  Received: 05 March 2019
  •  Accepted: 23 May 2019
  •  Published: 10 June 2019

 ABSTRACT

In this study, the orthography and punctuation problem was evaluated within the context of the curricula and textbooks. The data obtained from both sources were assessed by way of document reviews, and consequently, it was seen that the orthography and punctuation topics existed as learning outcomes only in the curricula for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. No learning outcomes related to orthographic or punctuation rules were found in the curricula from the 6th grade to the 12th grade. The picture of the topic of orthographic and punctuation rules in the textbooks is even more blurred. These two topics were included in the textbooks for the first five grades in line with the learning outcomes of the curriculum. No activities related to orthographic and punctuation rules were seen in the textbooks for the 6, 7 and 8th grades. As a matter of fact, this situation ironically matches the curricula. As for the textbooks for the high school, even though the curriculum does not include, there are activities related to orthographic and punctuation rules. This complex situation is naturally reflected upon the teaching applications as well. Thus, the orthography and punctuation problems starting from the primary school continues through the secondary school and high school. The results of this study were compared with those of the studies in the literature, conducted on the orthography and punctuation mistakes of students.

 

Key words: Curricula, orthographic rules, punctuation marks, textbooks, writing education.


 INTRODUCTION

Virtually, all definitions related to language emphasize the fact that language is a conventional system (Ergin, 1972; Aksan, 1979). Although this emphasis is correct in terms of general function of the language system, one cannot always talk about such an accord in all components of language. It is not possible to say that there is full consensus on the components of the language, from phonetics to syntax. On the other hand, considering the constantly changing and evolving structure of language, it is possible to consider this situation natural. Orthography and punctuation, which are related to style of conversion of language into writing, are also components on which no consensus has been reached yet. According the Krahn (2014), the theoretical and systematic studies on use of punctuation marks date back 150 years, and is a rather new field for grammar studies. Therefore, it is possible to talk about wide variety of punctuations in use (Krahn,  2014). Personal/Arbitrary uses independent from any language are encountered in terms of use of punctuation marks, which can also be defined as diacritic marks. According to Kalfa (2000), one of the reasons why the punctuation system in particular is not well-established in the Turkish language is that it is perceived as an insignificant detail. When it comes to the Turkish language, it would be appropriate to add the issue of orthography to that uncertainty in application of the punctuation rules. The reason is that the orthography and punctuation topics are dealt with as an integrated whole in the curricula and teaching applications. Even though it has a structure on which the education system in Turkey has consensus on the “rules” section of the orthography and punctuation topics, such situation is not so reflected upon the applications and student products. In this context, it would not be wrong to define language as a conventional system consisting of non-conventional components.
 
Speech and writing are forms of expression emerging in the spoken and written forms of language. Between these forms, speech is natural, and writing is artificial. As each written text is concretization of a background speech by way of a number of signs. In that sense, a written text has a symbolic meaning. The verbal text pictured in mind can be converted into text only by ordering it in accordance with the grammar rules. Such a text, however, does not always reflect the background verbal text (conception, emotion, intention, request) completely. In such cases, punctuation is used to assist expression. Essentially, a major portion of the punctuation marks, according to Johnson-Sheean (2005), are designed for the purpose to fully reflect the style of speech. In this context, punctuation marks have the same function as the musical notation (Mulderig and Elsbree, 1990). Consequently, the punctuation marks are used for the purpose to clarify the complex sections of a written text that may cause confusion.
 
On the other hand, orthography is a set of rules (phonetics, morphology, syntax rules) that determine the correct way of writing in a certain language. In this context, topics such as writing some suffixes and compounds separately or combined, capitalizations, writing of the abbreviations, etc., fall within the scope of orthographic rules of the Turkish language.
 
Mother-tongue education is a process in which basic language skills are taught, and the knowledge learnt is made permanent. One of these basic language skills is writing. The writing skill is learned approximately 6 years after acquisition of listening and speaking skills, and the first several years of the process are spent for teaching the calligraphic features of writing, and for writing the letters of the alphabet.
 
After this process, the skill to write properly conforming to the rules is taught until the end of the 8th grade; and during high school, effective writing skill as well as the skill to write properly is taught (Ministry of National Education (MEB), 2018a, b). Although the proper  Turkish language writing skills are taught in school, as prescribed by the national curricula, process is not sufficient to make the students competent in writing the Turkish language. Drawing zigzag lines to teach cursive italic handwriting in the Turkish curricula confirm this assertion. While the Turkish language course curriculum of 2015 prescribed “students shall be taught cursive italic handwriting as from the first grade, cursive italic handwriting shall be used in all writing practices, and continued to be used in all grades” (MEB, 2015), the Turkish course curriculum of 2018 left use of cursive italic handwriting and vertical basic letters to the preference of teachers.
 
The curriculum can be defined as “all activities planned for achieving the learning outcome expected from students” (Doğan, 1974), or as “a programme consisting generally of knowledge categories, and aimed at provision of knowledge and skills in a planned manner and in line with the objectives of the curriculum, allowing focus on skills and practices at some schools” (Küçükahmet, 2003).
 
The curricula are texts defining the targets to be achieved, activities to be carried out to achieve those targets, the tools and materials to be used, as well as the measurement system to assess the level of attainment of those targets in any course, in line with the overall objectives of the education system. A curriculum is a roadmap, a guideline answering the following questions:
 
(1) What will be taught/learned?
(2) Why will it be taught/learned?
(3) How will it be taught/learned?
(4) When and within what period of time will it be taught/learned?
(5) How will the amount taught/learned be measured?
 
These questions correspond to the context, purpose, method, period, and measurement-evaluation elements, respectively.
 
Assuming that the curriculum is a skeleton structure, the textbooks are their shape in flesh and bones, and the teaching practices are the lifeblood.
 
The textbooks are the basic teaching materials that transfer the learning objectives defined in the curriculum by way of texts and activities, and that also allow students to learn by themselves (Ünsal and Güneş, 2004). According to Çalışkan (2006), textbooks, as materials that are the easiest to access and use, maintain their priority position among all educational materials in Turkey as well as in many other countries. In the last quarter century, an increase and diversity is observed in learning materials owing to effective use of teaching technologies. In spite of this diversity, the textbooks continue to be indispensable elements of education.
 
In Turkey, the Turkish course is given at the primary school level from the 1st grade to the 4th grade; secondary school level from the 5th grade to the 8th grade; and the Turkish Language and Literature course is given  at  the  high  school  level from the 9th grade to the 12th grade. Furthermore, the Turkish Language course is given as a compulsory course in all fields of education at the university level. The mother-tongue education at all levels aim at improving skills of students in the listening, speaking, reading, and writing fields. Furthermore, grammar topics are taught to students by correlating them with these skills. Even though each has its own set of challenges in teaching, among the fields of listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar, the biggest challenge encountered in the field of writing is the fact that students are unable to apply the orthographic and punctuation rules adequately.
 
Although they can be partially found in books of “composition” or “grammar’ traditionally, the main source of orthographic and punctuation rules are the sources of the type of a “spelling book”. However, it is not possible to talk about a full consensus on orthographic and punctuation rules in Turkey. Spelling books that are published by a number of publishing houses and that contradict each other in terms of the rules can be considered a concrete indicator of this situation. Since the education and training services are based on generally-accepted information, the Ministry of National Education recommends the use of the Spelling Book (Yazım Kılavuzu) prepared by the Turkish Language Institution in the curricula and textbooks. Consequently, the official spelling book is used in education in Turkey. This situation provides facilities in teaching the orthographic and punctuation rules. On the other hand, it is also known that some rules are explained in a complicated way in the spelling book. As a matter of fact, the Turkish Language Institution and the Istanbul University  had   to   hold  a  “Workshop  on  Orthographic Problems” in 2017. During the workshop, the orthographic and punctuation rules of Turkish, as well as the associated challenges and their reflections in education were discussed The “Introduction” section of the Spelling Book published by the Turkish Language Institution addresses the orthographic and punctuation rules in detail. The orthographic and punctuation rules specified in the Spelling Book are provided in Table 1.
 
In this study, the problems encountered in teaching the orthographic and punctuation rules were examined within the scope of the curricula and textbooks. Furthermore, the results of other studies conducted on the same subject were also used for the purpose of discussing the problem.
 

 


 METHODOLOGY

The survey research method was used in this study, which addresses the orthographic and punctuation problem within the context of Turkish language curricula and textbooks. In the survey research method, it is aimed to describe a situation that existed in the past or that currently exists, in the form it existed/exists. It is endeavoured to describe an event, an individual or an object constituting the subject matter of the study under respective conditions and as is. At that point, it is important to observe what exists as is, without­ any changes (Karasar, 2014).
 
The data obtained from the study were evaluated using the document review method. In document reviews, written materials containing information about the facts or events were analyzed. In this method, any written or visual materials related to the problem constituting the subject matter of the study can be included in the study in cases where it is not possible to carry out direct observations and interviews related to events of historical nature, or to increase the validity of the study (Yıldırım and Şimşek, 2016).
 
In   this  context,   the  Turkish  Course   Curriculum   dated  2018 (Primary and Secondary School 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Grades) (MEB, 2018a) and the High School Turkish Language and Literature Course Curriculum dated 2018 (9, 10, 11 and 12th Grades) (MEB, 2018b) were reviewed for curriculum-based data. The textbook-based data were obtained from the Primary and Secondary School Turkish textbooks, and the High School Turkish Language and Literature textbooks for the 2018-2019 school year. While identifying the textbooks, a randomly-selected textbook from each grade was taken, but attention was paid to establish a balance between textbooks published by the official and private publishing houses. The data obtained from both the curricula and textbooks were evaluated by comparing with the results of the other studies in the literature.


 FINDINGS

Findings related to orthographic and punctuation rules in the curricula
 
Here, presents the findings related to distribution of the orthographic and punctuation rules in the curricula for the 1st to 12th grades. The orthographic and punctuation rules are addressed in the Turkish textbooks in the primary and secondary schools (1st to 8th grades) within the scope of the Turkish course, and in the Turkish Language and Literature textbooks in high school (9 to 12th grades). The orthographic and punctuation rules are addressed within the scope of “writing” lessons in the 1st to 8th grades, and “grammar” lessons in the 9 to 12th grades.
 
The data here were obtained by reviewing the Turkish Course Curriculum (MEB, 2018a) and Turkish Language and Literature Course Curriculum (MEB, 2018b).
Furthermore, 15 orthographic rules and 17 punctuation rules contained in Table 1 were identified based on the Spelling Book (Turkish Language Institution (TDK), 2009).
 
Among special objectives of the Turkish Course Curriculum for the 1st to 8th grades are, as specified in the said curriculum, as follows:
 
“With the Turkish Course Curriculum prepared in line with the General Objectives and Basic Principles of the Turkish National Education as specified in the Law No. 1739 on National Education dated 14.06.1973, it is aimed (MEB, 2018a):
 
(1) to improve the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills of students,
(2) to ensure that students use the Turkish language consciously, correctly and carefully in accordance with the speaking and writing rules”.
 
According to this statement, punctuation and orthography were addressed within a framework exceeding the learning achievements set out in the curriculum, and shown as the special objectives of the Turkish course.
 
In this context, application of the punctuation marks and  orthographic    rules,    which   are    ancillary   items supporting the writing skill, enables use of the language in written form correctly and carefully. These special objectives in the curricula were partially distributed progressively and with a spiral approach.
 
Table 1 shows the grades in which the orthographic rules are addressed in the respective curricula. As shown in Table 1, only 8 out of all 15 orthographic rules specified in the curricula are covered. Additionally, there is no spirality or systematic integrity in the distribution of the 8 orthographic rules covered. Among these rules, only the “Capitalization” item is addressed in the first 5 grades uninterruptedly. The circumflex (^) used in some loanwords from Arabic and Persian is a semantic distinguisher (‘hala’: father’s sister; ‘hâlâ’: still). Use of the circumflex, however, poses a problem at virtually all levels of education, including the higher education. The fact that this orthographic rule is not covered in the curricula can be considered a problem by itself. Likewise, separate/combined use of the “de” and “ki” in Turkish is also a semantic distinguisher, and this topic is limited only with the 4th grade in the curricula. One of the most common orthographic problems in Turkish is the writing of the compound words, and this topic is not covered in any curricula. The orthographic rules are addressed in a general way in the curricula for the 6, 7 and 8th grades, unlike the previous grades. The following expressions are included among the learning outcomes for these grades: “Students should be encouraged to make use of the spelling book and to use the new vocabulary they learned,” and “…should be limited to the orthographic and punctuation rules appropriate for the grade level”. These ambiguous expressions that do not make references to any rules are also seen in the curricula for the high school grades. The orthography topic is addressed in the grammar section of the curricula for the 9 to 12th grades, and it is circumvented with an explanatory sentence such as “Exercises in orthography and punctuation shall be carried out based on texts”.
 
It is seen that the punctuation rules are addressed more intensively in the curricula. As can be seen in Table 2, the punctuation rules are generally addressed with a spiral approach at the 1st to 5th grades. However, the punctuation rules were addressed with general statements only (without making references to any punctuation marks) from the 6th grade to the 12th grade. As in the orthographic rules, the punctuation rules were addressed with ambiguous expressions in the curricula for the 6 to 8th and 9 to12th grades. These ambiguous expressions related to both the orthographic rules and punctuation rules in the curricula for the 6 to 12th grades give the impression that these topics are left to the initiative of the textbook authors and teachers.
 
Findings related to orthography and punctuation in the textbooks
 
The  data  here  were  obtained  by reviewing the Primary School Turkish Textbooks (Yalçın and Yurdusever, 2018; Ataşçi, 2018; Karaduman et al., 2018; Kaftanayan et al., 2018), Secondary School Turkish Textbooks (Ağın et al., 2018; Şekerci, 2018; Kaya, 2018; Mete et al., 2018), and High School Turkish Language and Literature Textbooks (Özcan, 2018; Karaca et al., 2018a, b; Yerlikaya, 2018).
 
The orthographic and punctuation rules are addressed in the textbooks that have  activity-based  design,  in  line with the respective curricula. The orthographic and punctuation rules are, as in the curricula, covered under the writing topic in grades 1 to 8, and under grammar topic in grades 9 to 12.
 
As shown in Table 3, there is no specific system in distribution of the orthographic rules in the textbooks. Essentially, the orthographic rules were included in the textbooks depending on the preference of their respective authors. For example, although the topic covering the use of circumflex is prescribed in the curricula, they were not included in the textbooks for the 10, 11 and 12th grades.
 
 
It can be said that the punctuation rules are more complicated in the textbooks. In spite of the fact that the punctuation topic is terminated in the 5th grade in the curricula, it is intensively addressed in the high school textbooks. However, the fact that this topic is not covered in the textbooks for the 6, 7 and 8th grades, which are critical periods, creates a considerable gap.
 
Table 4 shows that there is a gap in coverage of punctuation rules in the 6, 7 and 8th grades. This gap arises from the curricula, and naturally, the punctuation rules are not covered in textbooks for these grades. However, in spite of the same gap in the curricula for the high school, punctuation rules were heavily covered in the textbooks for 9 to 12th grades. A random attitude is observed in use of some punctuation rules; e.g. while use of the semicolon is a topic prescribed by the curricula to be taught in the 5th grade, teaching of this rule started as from the 3rd grade. In this respect, it is clear that the textbooks do not observe the curricula.
 
With reference to the orthographic and punctuation rules, while there are no concrete and guiding instructions in the curricula as from the 6th grade, there is no reasonable explanation as to why these topics are not covered in the textbooks for the 6, 7 and 8th grades, but in the textbooks for the 9, 10, 11, and 12th grades. It can be presumed that the situation arises due to the personal preferences of the textbook authors.
 
On   the    other   hand,   while   one   orthography   and punctuation question is asked in the university entrance exams traditionally, the fact that 4 questions, 1 related to punctuation rules and 3 related to the orthographic rules, were asked in the Higher Education Examination held in 2018 poses another problem. It would not be wrong to say that this situation will lead the students to exam-focused learning.
 
 

 


 DISCUSSION

This study addressed the problems in teaching of orthography and punctuation at primary, secondary and high school levels based on the curricula and textbooks. According to the findings of this study, the orthography and punctuation topics are covered in the curricula for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades incrementally, but they are circumvented with general/ambiguous expressions in curricula for the following grades. Both topics were covered in the textbooks irregularly. The orthography and punctuation topics were generally addressed by way of activities in the textbooks for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, but no activities were found in the textbooks for the 6, 7, and 8th grades. The textbooks for the 9, 10, 11, and 12th grades contain various activities on both topics.
 
This scattered and irregular coverage of the orthography and punctuation topics in the textbooks naturally led to a situation in which students fail to adopt the orthography and punctuation skills. This result is supported by various studies in the literature.
 
In their study conducted on the writing skills of the 1st graders, Özkaya and Ataş (2015) found the level of students to apply the orthographic rules to be 70%, and the level to apply the punctuation rules to be 90%. These percentages show that students achieve the full learning level at the 1st grade level (Özkaya and Ataş, 2015). Özcan (2012) conducted a study on the orthography and punctuation mistakes in the workbooks for the 4 and 5th grades, and with reference to the orthography and punctuation mistakes, came to the conclusion that students fail to put their knowledge of orthography and punctuation into practice (Özcan, 2012). In his study, Çetin (2013) found that the level of 4th graders to apply the orthographic and punctuation rules was far below the expected level (Çetin, 2013).
 
It is seen that the studies on orthography and punctuation problems in the literature concentrate mainly upon the secondary school level. This concentration should also arise from the gap in the curricula and textbooks, for the secondary school is a critical stage where the knowledge acquired in the primary school becomes a second nature. The studies conducted on secondary school level found that the 5, 6, 7, and 8th graders had a level of achievement below the acceptable level with respect to orthography and punctuation. In his study on orthography and punctuation mistakes of 6, 7, and 8th graders, Karagül (2010) found that students had troubles in applying the orthographic and punctuation rules. According to the data of his study, 90% of the 7th graders used some punctuation marks incorrectly (Karagül, 2010). Kara (2010) conducted a study on orthography and punctuation mistakes made by secondary school students in the activity books, and found that students made orthography and punctuation mistakes frequently. In another study related to the level of application of the orthographic and punctuation rules by the 8th graders, it was found that students made mistakes more than they were expected in both topics (Oğuz, 2012). Although the curricula and textbooks circumvent the matter with general expressions regarding the learning outcomes, it is known that some teachers attach special importance to these topics. Thus, the duty-bound teachers are able to compensate for the problems arising from the curricula and textbooks. According to a study investigating the effects of the cueing and feedback techniques in orthography and punctuation mistakes of 8th graders, there is 80% decrease in the number of mistakes found in the student texts when the cueing and feedback techniques are used (Pekaz, 2007). This result matches the results of a similar study conducted among 6th graders (Yıldız, 2016). In his study, Maden (2013) found that students made lower levels of orthography and punctuation mistakes in classrooms where active learning techniques are used. He further found that level of orthography and punctuation mistakes decreased in classrooms where active learning techniques are used compared   to   classrooms   where   traditional   teaching techniques are used. This result significantly matches the results of similar studies in the literature (Karateke, 2006; Ergin, 2009; Maden, 2011).
 
As mentioned earlier, the orthography and punctuation topics were circumvented in the High School Turkish Language and Literature Curricula with a rather general explanatory sentence, but both topics were addressed with a number of activities in the textbooks. However, high school has a rather difficult content in terms of course load. Consequently, even though they are included in the textbooks, the orthography and punctuation topics are overshadowed by the literature topics. Moreover, the fact that these topics are covered in the high school textbook is inadequate for compensating for the gap arising from the 6, 7, and 8th grades. As a matter of fact, the studies on orthography and punctuation problems on high school level support this opinion. In a study conducted on the level of application of the orthographic and punctuation rules by 9th graders, it was seen that students were incapable in the level of application of both orthographic and punctuation rules (Erdem, 2007). In his study conducted on the orthographic and punctuation mistakes made by 9 and 11th graders, Acar (2011) found that the average number of mistakes made by the 11th graders was higher than that of the 9th graders (Acar, 2011), while the rate of mistakes is expected to decrease at higher grades. This is an indication that mistakes become automatic in the course of time.
 
Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to primary school, secondary school, and high school. It is highly possible to find similar results in studies conducted among university students as well. For example, a study conducted among prospective teachers studying at the undergraduate program of Turkish language teaching showed that the knowledge of the prospective teachers of the orthographic rules was at average level, and of the punctuation rules at lower levels (Karabuğa, 2011). Furthermore, it is also known that the orthographic and punctuation rules are not always observed in textbooks and other teaching materials either.


 SUGGESTIONS

The following recommendations were based upon the findings from the study.
 
The orthographic rules should be simplified and explained with abundance of examples in the Spelling Book, taking into consideration the grade levels for schools. The orthographic and punctuation rules should be taught with a progressive and spiral approach from the 1st grade to the 12th grade in the curricula.
 
Orthographic and punctuation rules pages can be supplemented as standard pages at the end of the Turkish textbooks and Turkish Language and Literature textbooks.
 
Since not only the language and literature course teachers but also all other teachers are responsible for observing the orthographic and punctuation rules, the prospective teachers in other branches as well should be trained accordingly.


 CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.

 



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