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5 Highlights from Thai TESOL 2014

The 34th Thai TESOL Conference was recently held in Chiang Mai

Thai TESOL is a non-profit organisation that works committedly towards raising the standards of English in schools and universities across Thailand. They do this by cooperating with like-minded organizations, providing professional development, conducting research and organizing conferences.

On 17th and 18th January Thai TESOL held their 34th Annual International Conference in Chiang Mai. The conference featured presentations from some highly respected educators from around the globe and here are my highlights from the event.

1) Key Note Speech - Dr Somkiat Onwimon

Key note speeches can often be long-winded and a little dull but this was no ordinary key note speech.

Dr Somkiat, who spent 12 years teaching South Asian studies before starting a successful career in radio broadcasting and television news, is probably better known for his political career and his involvement in the current protests in Bangkok.

In his speech he highlighted the urgency with which English language standards in Thailand need to improve, especially with the AEC just one year away. He also spoke of the empowering qualities of books and how reading had broadened his outlook and his understanding on everything from political theory to world history to the nature of human behaviour.

Before leaving he also managed to get a good laugh at the expense of Prime Minister Yingluck by sharing a clip of her speaking English to the foreign press. However he stopped it short - ‘before she embarrasses herself any further'

2) Dr Paul Kei Matasuda Ph.D, Arizona State University

A Writing Workshop

Dr Paul Matasuda was arguably the hardest working guest speaker at this year's conference, giving three presentations and joining the panel discussion. An American university professor and non-native English speaker he is also an inspiring role model for foreign language students. I particularly liked his statement - ‘I'm a nonnative English speaker and I'm proud of it.'

His presentations focused on teaching writing and he had some great insights which I've already begun using in my writing classes. He started his presentation by having the participants consider two very important questions

-What is good writing?
-What is good writing instruction?

- Good writing is effective writing - writing which successfully achieves its purpose
- The goal of English writing instruction is to produce good writers, not just good writing

Dr Matduda's presentation then focused on the importance of remembering that writing is a process and that teachers should approaching writing assignments as projects with various stages;

+ Contextualization
+ Planning
+ Drafting
+ Feedback
+ Revision
+ Editing
+ Sharing
+ Assessment

By breaking the assignment down into these stages the students have more opportunity to process their writing - changing and improving the assignment over time, which leads to a more complete final piece.

Another important point he made about these stages was the importance of providing opportunities for peer feedback. Students develop critical thinking skills through giving feedback to their peers and by doing this on a regular basis they will get into the habit of objectively evaluating their own writing.

Dr Paul also explained the importance of teachers responding to students' written assignments from more than just one perspective. As language teachers we often fall into the trap of just responding to written work from the singular perspective of a language teacher - focusing on grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

By responding from other perspectives such as; a writing teacher, a language teacher, the intended reader and a fellow writer, we are able to give more comprehensive feedback.

Dr Matsuda explained that this was important for the following reasons-
- ‘form focused feedback is most effective when it is tied to meaning'
- ‘enhanced understanding will help students better reproduce and adapt their writing'

I've begun using some of these ideas in my classroom and I am already seeing the benefits of making students more aware of the multiple aspects of writing - aspects which go way beyond just ‘getting the grammar right'.

3) Prof. Dr. Russell Gordon Cross, Melbourne Graduate School of Education

Content and Language Integrated Learning

Prof. Dr. Russell Gordon Cross was another speaker at Thai TESOL with a busy schedule of presentations. His presentation focused on the use of CLIL, an approach to language teaching that has been gaining popularity across Thailand over the past decade

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. It was developed in the 1990s building on the success of the Canadian immersion programme. It is an alternative to the 'language only' approach to learning foreign languages which critics believe has limited benefits. It has increased in popularity as more and more research shows that language is best learnt when being used in context.

Dr Russell's presentation focused on the benefits of CLIL and ways in which it can be applied in the classroom. His insights to CLIL are of particular interest to those educators in Thailand who teach in English Programmes or International Programmes.

In these programmes core subject content is taught in English and so, according to the definition above, they fall comfortably under the ‘CLIL Umbrella'. As such it would benefit teachers working in these programmes to have a greater understanding of CLIL pedagogy in order to assist them successfully implement these programmes.

If you are interested in learning more, there is a lot of great information about CLIL on the web - here is a good place to start  

4) Prof. Dr. Icy Lee - The Chinese University of Hong Kong

"21st Century English Language Assessment: Towards Assessment as Learning in L2 Classrooms."

Dr. Lee's presentation covered an area that has been much discussed recently - educating the 21st Century Learner. One of the most popular models for teaching the 21st Century Learner is the 3Rs and 4Cs model.

The 3Rs (Reading, Writing & Arithmetic) represent subject knowledge while the 4Cs (Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking) represent the skills that are essential for success in the 21t Century.

Dr. Lee focused on how the adoption of the ‘Assessment for Learning' approach can benefit 21st Century learners and better prepare them for the life in the Information Age.

She explained how this approach can be applied in the classroom using guided instruction from the teacher to help students develop their capacity to reflect on, monitor and assess their own learning and how this will help them take charge of their learning. This approach aims to create self-regulated learners who are able to grasp the opportunities that now exist in the Information Age - an age where everyone has instant access to an abundance of knowledge which previously would have been impossible to access.

This article shows a good example of how assessment for learning can be implemented in the classroom.

5) Inspiring the Y Generation - Sadie Maddock

This presentation caught my attention because I teach Generation Y teenagers and I'm always keen to get a greater insight to their world.

Sadie Maddock started by going over the key characteristics of this generation -

- Achievement-orientated
- Team-orientated
- Attention-craving

She explained that teachers should remember these characteristics when planning in order to create lessons that will engage these Generation Y students.

Another important point to remember is that this generation is used to having instant access to an abundance of knowledge so it is necessary they develop the skills to search, evaluate and then use this information correctly.

Social Networking

‘Social networking isn't a fad'....it's here to stay and it can be an extremely valuable educational tool that provides students with opportunities to practice English in ‘real world situations'. Sadie explained how educators need to embrace the methods of networking and communication which Generation Y has grown up with.

By effectively using social networking, educators can engage students in authentic practice, personalize their learning and assist their development of critical thinking skills. The link between the use of social media and the development of critical thinking skills has been made by numerous researchers (Al-Fadhli & Khalfan, 2009; Maurino, 2006-2007).

Previously many parents and teachers consider the time students spent playing on FaceBook was time wasted but actually the truth is quite different. While students are ‘playing' on FaceBook, they are actually engaging in a wide range of higher level thinking skills such as -inferring, summarizing, composing, analyzing, decision making and predicting. Through their repeated use of these skills these students are actually developing their own critical thinking ability.

Along with the development of higher level thinking skills, social media can also be used as a teaching resource for teacher-student / student-student communication and language production activities - Blogs, Twitter & YouTube are particularly good for production activities.

Finally on the topic of Social Networking, Sadie mentioned the importance of teachers educating students about the safe and responsible use of social media. I recently organized a class discussion on these topics and discovered that most of my students are aware of these points but they don't take it very seriously. On the topic of government surveillance the students didn't seem too bothered but one point which did cause an uproar was the small print in FaceBook's terms and conditions, especially this point - the photos you've uploaded to FaceBook are now the property of FaceBook!

Next year's Thai TESOL International Conference will be held in Bangkok and it has already been scheduled for 29th-31st January 2015. If you are able to attend, I'm sure you won't be disappointed and you'll come away from it with something that will help your work in the classroom.... I always have!

For more information about Thai TESOL International Conference, you can visit their website 

Teacher Daniel
Varee Chiangmai School


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