A brief intermission from the Bali adventures….
This week marks the finals week of the 2011-2012 school year. The foreign language department of roughly twenty lovely Thai teachers is a roller coaster of silence and noise, inactivity and frantic flurries. For a few intermittent hours, the office is all-but completely empty while the teachers proctor the final exams. Then for a brief hour here and a brief hour there, the office is abuzz with teachers nattering and analyzing student performance, gaggles of giggly students clogging their teacher’s desk while they ask about grades. People burst in and trickle out.
Patience. At the beginning of the year, a fresh-eyed eager teacher was swimming through the classrooms of 13 year old and 17 year old students, expecting high-level conversations from most students. I jumped right into the deep end and was frustrated when, at midterms, my students still weren’t participating in or understanding my lessons. Their skill levels varied so widely, I had to redesign everything. I slowed down and showed them patience by repeating lessons that were confusing. By the end of the year, one of my worst-performing classes was surging ahead. Woohoo!
Simplify. English is a complicated language with convoluted rules, exceptions and ridiculous pronunciation patterns. Best tool: simple lessons with easy-to-practice patterns. Students are more likely to talk in class if they don’t view language as complicated but as a set of tools to use in various situations. Like a plug and play game.
Sanuk. It’s the Thai word for fun and everything here revolves around some level of sanuk. At the beginning, my classes were serious. I was frustrated when the kids goofed off, were distracted and didn’t do their homework. Scolding was ineffective. Guilt didn’t work. Then I was lucky enough to embarrass myself a few times in the classroom–unknowingly painting my forehead with chalk, tripping over my own feet, saying something with terrible Thai grammar to which my students would burst into laughter. I realized their laughter at my expense meant they were interested, listening, wanting to participate. Suddenly, when Teacher Katie embarrasses herself, they want to join in and poke fun (in English) too. A tough lesson for the teacher to learn. But from then on I tried to capture the kids’ interest by using goofy antics, jokes, cartoonish miming and funny faces. It worked. The kids kept goofing off in class, but in English. They’d participate, crack jokes and quit resisting my worksheets.
Ahhh… success. Even the teacher can learn a few new lessons.