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Affiliate News: February 2010

Affiliate News (February 2009): Reaching Out to English Primary Teachers in Nongkai

by User Not Found | 11/11/2011

Reaching Out to English Primary Teachers in Nongkai

Asst. Prof. Ubon Sanpatchayapong, ThaiTESOL

This training project was initiated in collaboration between Thailand TESOL and Nongkai* Education Area 2. The idea to reach out to teachers in primary schools in these localities was born during the Thailand TESOL International Conference in Khon Kaen in January 2008 when Ajarn Sutheepron Pakadee, a project manager of Nongkai’s Education Area 2, proposed to invite Thailand TESOL experts to run a workshop forlocal teachers’ professional development. The plan resulted in a language improvement three-day training course March 20-22 in Amphor (district) Phonphisai near the Mae Khong River some 50 kilometers from central Nongkai.

Participants’ Background and Group Management
Participants of this workshop were 240 primary teachers in Education Area 2. Their ages varied from 20s to 40s. They were divided into four groups. Group 1 contained teachers whose major was English, whereas Groups 2 through 4were non-English majors. They were math, music, physical studies, Thai, and social studies teachers who were assigned to teach English because of the lack of English teachers in that area. Each group was composed of 60 teachers. Some had to travel a long way from subdistricts and some other remote areas where electric lights have not yet shone through.

Each group was allocated to a classroom normally used for very young children, complete with small tables and chairs and blackboards squeezed into a tiny space. There was no air-conditioner, nor were there enough fans to cool the class. One group had to move to the school canteen to get enough space (the number of teacher-trainees exceeded the available tables) for the activities and games trainers incorporated. To deal with a large number of participants, the trainers set them up in groups with roles and rules for members to learn as they collaborated. Therefore, roles such as mentor, assistant, troubleshooter, and facilitator were designed. A group interpreter explained in Thai to the group when English was incomprehensible at some points. Four rules were employed: listen carefully to the text, take notes, ask questions to make unclear points clear, and experiment with what they had learned.

Trainers’ Roles and Training Tasks
There were five trainers: Assoc. Professor Suchada Nimmanit, myself (Asst. Prof. Ubon Sanpatchayapong), Ajarn (a Thai term for a teacher) Kruawon Thongwundee from Thailand TESOL,and two invited guests: Ajarn Sununtha Wilaisilp and Ajarn Ozlem Cankaya. All have experience inteaching and training teachers at this level. We took several roles, as described below.

As demonstrators , we implemented five short topic-based units focusing on social life, food, jobs, cities, and technologies for teachers’ language development. In class, we demonstrated teaching techniques, such as total physical response, group-work, pairs, and storytelling to participants. In addition, simple classroom management instructions were suggested. We taught stress and intonation using symbols, songs, tongue-twisters, ice-breaking, and mind-mapping.

As facilitators , we gave participants sources such as additional handouts, local libraries, resource centers, and Websites to look for more information for primary classroom use and for their knowledge expansion.

As supporters , we encouraged teachers to ask questions and gave them hints to do so. Most teachers wanted to join the activities, but they were not sure about their speaking. One teacher said she was not confident to speak English or to give her opinion in English because she had limited vocabulary and was afraid she might make mistakes, which would bring her embarrassment. Therefore, we had to encourage teachers to talk and not to be afraid of making mistakes. We used simple English to explain and to communicate our ideas. Our friendliness and efforts made them more courageous. They then joined the games, songs, and additional exercises.

We acted as supervisors when we supervised them in designing lesson plans and means of assessment. We incorporated strategies for listening such as note-taking, summarizing, and reports for activity contextualization and teaching vocabulary. These were also tools for teachers to motivate themselves and to keep their momentum in life-long learning and self-improvement.

In summary, teacher participants were ready to learn. They knew how important teaching young students is, and they wanted to be good English teachers. However, they wanted to get ready-made lesson plans, activities, and songs so they could use them instantly in their classrooms. Thus, we speakers had to take different roles to serve their needs, such as creating networks and offering more resources necessary for their teaching contexts.

Reflection and Evaluation
Reflection and evaluation were from two sides: the teacher participants and my own, as one of the speakers.

Reflection from the teachers: The final session saw the teachers reflecting and working out their plans to apply what they learned in a form of poster displays. In this session, teachers formed a group of 10 to 15. They produced one poster each. A number of posters were very impressive. One poster contained a mind-map of what teachers had learned. Another made a list of new vocabulary they encountered. They drew pictures of different activities and planned a lesson based on the text they had learned. They made figures and charts to demonstrate numbers and how to read them. They knew how to put the stress mark on the right syllable and so on. It was a busy hour and teachers were productive and cooperative. They promised to start their language improvement plan by practicing on their own or with friends at school. In addition, they would share the knowledge they got during this workshop with friends who could not come.

I have three impressions from this workshop. First ,I was impressed by teachers’ questions when they did not understand. They were not absolutely passive. Instead, they were active and inquisitive. They asked for more explanations to make sure that they understood my idea correctly. Second , they were creative teachers. I could tell from their brainstorming for ideas in their group. A lot of teacher participants gave good ideas to their peers, such as on how to increase students’ motivation and how to use local products as tools to teach. This shows that they understood their local contexts and how to make use of them. Third , teachers’ reflections on the last day illustrated their application and integration of their learning. One example was from my observation of group 4. They presented what they had learned via a nice mind-map and created a good template for their English lesson plans..

In all, the teachers, both those whose major is English and those who were not English majors, were great resources. The Ministry of Education and local offices have to provide them with training and more tools for their teaching and learning. Incentives such as scholarships to seminars, workshops, or conferences must be provided for professional development and life-long learning. I admired Ajarn Sutheeporn’s enthusiasm and efforts to make the workshop possible and very fruitful. The leader as well as his or her leadership is very important to develop these areas. I had a conversation with one observer, who said, “The English team in this area is the strongest. They are active and they meet very often. They have made a lot of improvements in their teaching and research.”

In terms of evaluation, we have been informed that teachers rated this workshop highly. To us, the weekend was well-spent and life well lived.

Conclusion
Helping these teachers not only meant we helped improve teachers’ and students’ education but we also learned to be better teachers ourselves. We felt inspired to be teachers of many teachers. They wanted more workshops of this kind. Therefore, the next ones we are preparing are likely to be in Roi-et, Mahasarakam, and Nakorn Panom.

*Nonghkai is a province in northeastern Thailand.