The end is nigh (or is it?)

The Thai Ministry for Education plan on rolling out a train the trainer style scheme set on improving the English teaching skills of Government school teachers in a bid to cut back on the costs of hiring foreign teachers, according to the Bangkok Post this morning.

Wait… WHAT!

Don’t panic though, my ever hopeful one-day TEFL dreamers… the scheme has to a) happen and b) actually work.

A stand out quote from the article for me was;

…. the ministry recently conducted a survey of the capability of Thai English-language teachers across the country and found more than 43,000 Thai English language teachers in public schools, but only six of them have been found to have the ability to achieve native-like fluency in English.

… and a six week training scheme is going to sort out the other 42,994 people?

The Thai teaching style is worlds apart from more progressive, Western countries and it does not lend itself well to the EFL classroom.  Not only will the English language abilities of the teachers need to be brought up to near-native fluency, but their whole teaching philosophy will also need to be updated and transformed.  In six short weeks.

I think it’s great that the Ministry for Education want to make improvements to their home grown teachers, and I do agree that relying on importing foreign teachers at a higher cost is not a long term goal.  I just don’t know if this scheme is going to be the magic solution that they claim it is.

Looks like we’ve got our work cut out; Thailand come out bottom of the pile for English proficiency

A global survey conducted by EF Education First ranked Thailand at number 55 out of 60 countries for English language proficiency.  Looks like us EFL teachers have a lot more work to do to help them to play catch up!

I knew that Thailand wouldn’t fare well, maybe around the middle, but bottom six?  Followed only by Panama, Kazhakstan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq?  Fantastic, this is who Thailand share their English level with:-

borat

OK, so I know Borat is fictional… but, still – for the lol’s.

Considering the high level of tourism and the approach of the formation of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), whose official language is English, Thailand will need to pull their finger out and up their English game pretty sharpish.

The world is becoming a smaller place, where being proficient in English is key to success.  Thailand has spent a long time trying to protect its culture, ways of life and its people – but has that been at the cost of falling behind the rest of the globe?

Malaysia, which is literally less than an hour from where I sit typing this right now, ranked 12th.  I could drive there right now and be able to fully converse with the guy selling me coffee!  Not that I expect or even want to do that in Thailand, but it’s insane that within such a short distance there can be such a massive difference, and it’s all down to education and more importantly, general attitude to needing (and wanting) to learn English.

So many of my students haven’t even realised the importance of English yet, and so they don’t want to learn.  But then again, when they are probably going to take over their father’s rubber plantation and stay living in their little town where English isn’t seen or heard other than for a few lessons a week with the token farang teacher, do they really need to learn it?

Before we force feed the language down their necks, we need to encourage the students to come to their own conclusions about why English is important to them, if it is at all.

Click here to read the full article that brought this to my attention.  And here for the full survey results.

Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #2 – Keen Bean

KeenStudentThe Keen Bean

This is the second installment of my observations of the Thai classroom.  If you didn’t read #1, and would like to, click here for the first installment.

Enter the class.  Hands scramble for the pile of worksheets in my arms.  If there is a small number of Keen Bean students then a battle ensues as to who can have the honour of distributing the papers out, and who can do it most efficiently.

“TEACHER!  TEACHER!” – a notebook is thrust under your nose to proudly show you the date and title, the completion of each and every sentence, the illustrations, the “I Love Teacher” declarations.

“TEACHER FINISHED!” is exclaimed at every interval – no, they have not finished the whole exercise but the Keen Bean must make you aware of every step that they are taking.  A title, a number, a sentence, a full stop.

“TEACHER SIN!” – ahem, they can’t pronounce sign… Yes, their notebook must be covered in as much red pen as possible.  They need you to tick every line, to draw stars and smiley faces, to sign your name, autographing celebrity style across the base of the page.  “VERY GOOD, TEACHER, VERY GOOD!” – no other written praise will do – I tried to write ‘fantastic’ before but the poor child didn’t understand what it meant and almost cried.

Don’t have a red pen to hand (BAD TEACHER… tsk, tsk) – worry not because your Keen Bean students have PLENTY.

“CLEAN?  TEACHER?” – board eraser in hand, poised to wipe my ramblings from the whiteboard.  Sometimes I can’t locate the eraser but it has usually been secreted by a super-Keen Bean student who wants sole responsibility for the board management.

“CARRY?  TEACHER?” – no, they aren’t offering to carry me like a queen through the corridoor as I leave, but they are fighting over who will have the coveted responsibility of carrying my things back to the office for me while I follow feeling quite awkward and hoping that no one assumes that I actually make these students do this for me like they are my minions.

The Keen Bean role is usually reserved for 3 or 4 girls in the class but in one of my classes I have 2 boys who are leading in the keenness stakes.   They always gravitate to the front right of the classroom – as close to the teacher’s desk (or, in most cases, where the desk should be) as possible.  Usually front right.  This places them in the best position to be to hand for ANYTHING that the teacher may need, and to gain maximum opportunity for thrusting the notebook under your nose.

These are the students that write messages on the board before your arrival, usually declaring their love for you.  Sometimes their behaviour verges on the brown nosing (who am I kidding; sometimes?!) but at times when the other 47 kids are making you feel like a crappy teacher, it is the Keen Bean students who will bring you back to that special fuzzy place.  Unless they are thrusting that notebook, red pen and board eraser under your nose while you are trying to stop the monkey boys from throwing the smallest student out of the doorway and into the bin.  Then they are just plain annoying.

Do you have any Keen Bean’s in your class?  Are they super-sweet or just plain old annoying?

 

In my classroom: Onomatopoeia

In one of my English Writing classes we have been looking at creative writing and how important it is to make your writing as interesting as possible.  In my classroom I refer to ‘WOW’ words which are interesting, exciting and different words that the students can use to jazz up their work.  As I have been left to my own devices when it comes to my writing classes I am able to teach whatever I like and so I thought it would be really fun to look at onomatopoeia  with some of my classes to build up their collection of ‘WOW’ words.

The lesson went really well; the students really enjoyed it as did I.  So I thought I would share it for any other teachers out there who may be interested…

So I walk into the classroom and write ‘onomatopoeia’ across the board in massive writing to make the word look even longer and scarier.  This is breaking one of the cardinal rules of ESL teaching – you don’t walk in and write a grammar term on the board – you teach it first and then tell the students the official name for it once they have an understanding of it’s use, if you tell them at all.  But I wanted to de-mistify this long and scary word from the start, and the students thought it was hiarious as I wrote this ever lasting word (it has EIGHT vowels – that is simply insane) and when they tried to pronounce it they all got the giggles.  During the lesson I didn’t actually refer to onomatopoeia using the word, ‘onomatopoeia’.  A word that length and with that many vowels is just plain scary to 12 year old ESL learners!  I referred to the words as sound words which is much more student friendly.

After explaining that we were going to build on our ‘WOW’ words with special sound words, we watched the video below.  It’s a super catchy song so I was dancing around and encouraging the students to as well.  Onomatopoeia is fun guys!

Introducton – Onomatopoeia video:

So we watched the video a couple of times and the kids instantly understood what the lesson was going to be about.  Students were baaing and mooing and boinging and whooshing all over the place.  I explained that we can use these sound words to describe all sorts of things; animals, people, actions, cars, nature – anything.  Cue wonderful white board work and mindmap of examples of onomatopoeia.

Pair work – matching activity:

Then in pairs, the students did a matching activity where they had to match the sound word to the correct picture.  Some words weren’t in the video but the beauty of onomatopoeia is that the words sound like the sound that they are (if that makes any sense at all…) so the students were able to figure them out, occasionally aided by my wonderful impressions of car engines, slamming doors and sneezing.

I made the matching activity using random images from google so some of them have got watermarks on them (naught, naughty) but it worked fine.  I think if I was going to print and laminate a few sets (oooh, I love a bit of laminating) then maybe I would make sure all the images were proper.

Download the pdf file here: Onomatopoeia matching activity.  I cut the words out and left the pictures as 2 sheets of A4, asking the students to place the word on top of the correct picture.

General madness in the loose guise as an educational game:

We then played a game involving lots of running around, scribbling on the board, barking like a dog/ screeching around like a car/ flying like a rocket – BUT AT THE SAME TIME IT WAS TOTALLY EDUCATIONAL AND WAS DRUMMING THESE NEW SOUND WORDS INTO THEIR WONDERFUL SPONGE-LIKE MINDS.  Ah, the beauty of teaching.

And that was our super fun onomatopoeia lesson.

Aaaand the song from the video is now stuck in all of our heads isn’t it?

 

Some observations of the Thai Classroom #1 – The Buffalo Boy

The average class in a government school in Thailand, studying a regular, no-added-extras programme of education will usually have a cohort of around fifty students. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that you will ever learn even a fraction of the nicknames of these students (don’t even try to attempt to learn their five syllable full names!) and those that you do learn will be of the naughty students – it helps to be able to directly address a student when they are acting up – “Oi! You!” just doesn’t help to get their attention while they are running around the back of the classroom brandishing a broom/chair/desk/cat/fellow student (yes, these things have all happened.)

Despite not knowing the names of all of these students you will develop a sense of getting to know them, both in the sense of the group dynamic of that particular class group; the ‘hyper’ class, the ‘boring’ class, the ‘good’ class; and as individuals. I have found that there are a set of different categories that each student tends to fall into, feeding on a range of influences including attitude, behaviour, appearance and even where they choose to sit. Based on my own experiences over the past year as a TEFL teacher, five years working with young people in the UK and the quickly fading memories of studying group dynamics and experiential learning at university, I have drawn some observations of the typical students you will find in each and every class. I was going to put them all into one mammoth post but to save your eyes, minds and time I will give it to you bit by bit. Starting with one of my favourites; The Buffalo Boy.

 

The Buffalo Boy

In Thailand the buffalo is associated with stupidity and slowness. Daily we see men walking their buffalo along the road, leading them from field to field, where they will munch on grass and swat flies with their tails. We aren’t talking majestic fighting buffalo here – just the plain old, slightly muddy, pooing in the road type of buffalo.

The name may be specific to Thailand but each group needs it’s Buffalo Boy – if you can’t think of one when you look back at your classes at school then unfortunately you were it. I refer to this character as The Buffalo Boy as it will almost always be a boy, he will be overweight (not in a big boned way but a poor lifestyle, too much crappy food and no exercise way) and will usually carry a slightly lost, gormless look on his face (look at any image of a real buffalo for a pretty good representation of this expression). Communication is reduced to caveman style grunts, punches and other random, laboured movements that sometimes fool you into thinking he may be about to participate but he is actually only shifting from left to right bum cheek.

He will usually sit middle left – just in front of the monkey boys that reside in back left as he doesn’t quite have the energy to be fully part of that pack. He can be easily led by them and often any loutish behaviour from him is inspired by their whisperings and suggestions. He is also often the scapegoat of the class, with blame being thrust at him from all surrounding corners of the classroom. A middle seat is pretty middle-of-the-road though, and he chooses this neutral ground because really he isn’t choosing to be The Buffalo Boy, and so it isn’t an attention thing – he would rather sit and disappear into the crowd.

I love to get The Buffalo Boy up to the front as much as possible. When pushed, he is able to join in and the whole class will cheer every time he utters a word in English. It also gives me a chance to actually hear him speak and to check that he is kind of maybe following what is going on. He may even crack a smile. Most of the time the case is that he isn’t completely stupid, he just doesn’t have the energy, enthusiasm or get up and go to join in at will. With a little persuasion he can fly! OK, scrap that – have you ever seen a buffalo fly? He can at least plod along.

wild buffalo looking stupid

Image source: www.byronandemma.blogspot.com

 

Do you have a Buffalo Boy in your classroom?

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