Learning Lessons in Thailand (by Rob Newberry)

I teach in an International School in Bangkok. The “internationality” of the school is an interesting term, as there really are two languages spoken here — English and Thai — and not necessarily in that order.

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.

Class in ThailandAt 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.

Huge Upload 413The 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.


Note: This article by Rob Newberry originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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9 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Rob! I can remember that “cricket” feeling as a new teacher here in Japan, too. The idea that paraphrasing makes it sound like we’re asking new questions was quite an “aha” moment for me, too 🙂

    I love the links you’ve included. I’m going to try them out with my students (and nieces and nephews), too!

  2. Loved reading about your teaching life, Rob. Thanks for sharing.
    One question. Do you use sites like Bitstrips to present language or do students make their own cartoons and animations or is the answer ‘both’. I can see the potential for these tools and would like to find out more from teachers using them about how they integrate them into the overall activity/lesson plan/curriculum.

  3. Rob Newberry says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for your comment.
    I use these sites to do both really. I’ve used them to illustrate a point, or as a sample – but primarily the students create with them.
    Working with the homeroom teachers helps considerably – students create strips or videos based on content from the homerooms. Nice cross curricular application.
    Let me know how it goes in your classroom.


  4. Pat Talbot says:

    Hi Rob:
    I also had that “cricket” response teaching secondary school students in China …

    As a unilingual person, it took me quite a while to understand that students need time to process what has been said and then to formulate a response …

    and also to realise that if they’re to learn the students should be doing a whole lot more of the talking …

    and then to develop some ways to ensure that that happened …

    I think what you’re doing is fabulous and fascinating, as always.
    Much love to you.

  1. November 9, 2009

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by tamaslorincz: Learning Lessons in Thailand by @RobinThailand anecdotes and useful tools – grt post onTeachingVillage (@Barbsaka’s blog) https://is.gd/4LkmF

  2. November 15, 2009

    […] Rob Newberry in Thailand, I’ve learned that paraphrasing skills can run amok in foreign langauge classes. While […]

  3. December 13, 2009

    […] Rob Newberry teaches both technology and English at an international school in Thailand. Rob doesn’t have a blog (yet!) but he’s a great Twitter friend to have. He frequently shares messages from class, and provides a great real-life model for his students of ways they can use technology (and English!) to connect to a larger world. He also organized the first TED.com event in Thailand. […]

  4. December 31, 2010

    […] Learning Lessons in Thailand (by Rob Newberry) […]

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