There used to be signs posted around the school saying, “Proud to be an English-speaking only school,” but when I went to find one today, hoping to include a photo of it in this blog post — I couldn’t find any around anymore. Curious.
At any rate, our school is probably about 80% Thai — with a significant Indian population as second highest population, and then a small mix of Korean, Chinese and European/North American students round out the remaining percentages. The majority of students here speak Thai as their first language, and on a typical day I am fortunate enough to hear enough Thai to pick up the daily playground talk.
As an IT Specialist/Teacher, I teach Grades 3-5 technology and Grade 6 Digital Photography. I have approximately 250 students between the ages of 7 and 12 in my classes — with quite a lot of differentiation in terms of literacy comfort and language acquisition. In my first teaching year here, my Principal evaluated my teaching style and watched carefully how I interacted with my new EFL students. I particularly remember one observation and the feedback that I received. I was teaching a lesson to Grade 4′s and was asking the students why they thought it might be importatnt to save their work. My questioning was similar to the questions written below.
Me: “Why is it important to save our work? Any ideas? Why do you think we should save our work often? What do you think? Do you think saving your work is important?”
Students: <Insert sound of crickets here.>
After the lesson, my Principal and I talked about that particular line of questioning. After a few laughs about the response together, he pointed out very clearly that what I was doing was asking three different sounding questions, and my students were all still processing the first one. It was a good lesson learned…and a good starting point for more lessons down the road.
The transition into an ESL environment has been a particularly important experience. As a teacher in Canada, I had collected hundreds of short educational videos from resources all over the internet and was excited to use htem in the classroom. It became evident pretty early that much of the humour, language and context would be difficult for my new students. As a result, I’ve been forced to look for new multimedia resources for my classroom and more importantly — evaluate those resources with a new set of criteria — with the ESL student foremost in my mind.
In my classroom, I try and find great Web 2.0 resources for my students that challenge their literacy skills while engaging their strong technology skills. Online applications like ZimmerTwins, BitStrips, Prezi, XtraNormal, and GoAnimate are some of the favourite websites in my classes because they blend strong visual elements with literacy and language. No-dialogue games like Samorost or Chasm are big hits any day of the week — probably because the students are able to sit and think about the game in any language they want . . . and there’s nothing wrong with a little break now and then.
Having to rethink ESL teaching strategies and resources is probably something more teachers should be doing — as it challenges us to consider different learners in our classrooms and ultimately widen our catch basin. The nicest part about reinvention is that social networks (like Twitter) and connecting with teachers in forums like Teaching Village can provide very real and meaningful opportunities for sharing and collaboration.
So far the frontline has been as stinulating as one might imagine.
Rob Newberry is a technology specialist at Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok, Thailand. He began his teaching career specializing in Interactive White Boards and multimedia integration, and now focuses on Web 2.0 applications in the classroom.
Rob is the license holder for TEDxBKK — the first independently organized TED.com event in Thailand.
In 2009 he began a long term relationship with Prezi — an online zooming presentation tool and was nortorious for seeing Posterous on the side.
Follow him on Twitter: RobinThailand