Benito Vacio

Notebook concerns

How to get your students to use their notebooks effectively

It's been quite a time since students put their studies aside to energize themselves in preparation for the more challenging days ahead of them next school year. On May 16, the first day of school they will be receiving their books, notebooks, bags, and school materials. This is a special day for my English classes for this is the time I collect their English notebooks to label, to stack in place, and be ready to use when needed. Do you know why I do this? Well, you might have experienced in your own school that many Thai students seem to pay little importance to their notebooks. They either mutilate, vandalize, forget, and worst of all lose them.

You see, previously in my school it was an uncommon event. When I asked students to draw, copy, or write something, a number of them would have nothing to write on. If I asked, "Where's your notebook?" They would answer," I left it at home, teacher. I lost it, Teacher, or would say" Lom", would run back to their classroom to get them or would go to the bookstore to buy one. Not only that, when copying, they would borrow liquid erasers from classmates. They wanted accuracy in their writing but they couldn't come up with the right thing. As a result pages were torn until only half of it or even a third of it was left.

Well, every time students entered my English room, they would bring their notebooks, pencil cases, pens, pencils, and colored pencils . Unfortunately, after class, many would leave their notebooks in the English room and never bother to look for them. So, whenever they left them, I would put them on top of the shelves and wait for them to be retrieved. Somehow, only a few would remember and come back, but most of them never bothered. In fact I was able to collect a huge number of notebooks.

Because the notebooks were labeled in Thai, I would not know who owned them, what grade they were, or who the teachers were. Was it because notebooks were given free of charge so students couldn't care less? How come they could run to the store and buy a new one when they forgot their notebooks or lost them?

To rectify these student habits, during the first meeting of the term , I would collect their notebooks in English. I would write their names and grades on them for my easy reference. I would do this so that everyone had something to write on. Then I would start training them how to write properly in their notebooks.

I would guide them by writing permanent lines on the board as if the board looked like the lined pages of their notebooks. When they copied, I would point out to them that the beginning of sentences were written in big letters and the following letters in small letters occupying only half of the space except when writing proper names, when first letters were written big. Oh, from the time I had the notebooks left in the classroom, I didn't have problems anymore.

Maximizing the use of notebooks includes using it as a spelling notebook, as a note to copy structures, vocabulary, writing descriptions, as a diary or journal, or to  answer exercises. It is also used to encourage responsibility in distributing, collecting and taking care of one's school material.

Friends of mind said that they give importance to notebooks of students by grading them, giving stickers to those who have complete notes , stamping them with positive comments, and giving points to those who have complete, neat, and beautiful notebooks as part of their grade.

So, to lessen your headache about notebooks, let students leave them in the classroom. Chances of losing, forgetting, and messing them up is indeed very remote.


Yes, Marvin. I agree with the things you said. Unless students overcome the fear of making mistakes, their confidence will not improve. That's why, we provide activities that encourage mistakes. Let me cite 2 instances. In one private school where many rich students studied, I saw in their bulletin board, uncorrected written paragraphs of students from various levels. In another private school in Sukhumvit, I saw similar activity - no corrections. It goes to show that self expression is more important than paying attention to mistakes. The more you think of "not making mistakes" the more you slow down your thinking process and if this becomes a habit, one becomes inhited indeed. Parents need orientation in the importance of spsontaneous writing. As aa writer friend of mine beore, he said, "Just write and write your ideas. Never mind the grammar and errors. You can correct them later on.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (19th May 2014)

I am in a private school now and that is not the case. They have work books which are by the way not great at all. We have been told that they need to last the whole year. How you get these books the whole year is beyond me. The problem is this, that they choose the cheapest books – work books the like and there is very little writing. How long can you make “hello my name is John” I wonder. When we try to make them write things often Thai teachers thing we are being lazy. I taught Mattayom 3 before and they did not even know what a full stop was used for. I was told that Thai students did “not like them”. “Oh really!” I thought. Because of the over reliance on grammar, the lack of writing and multiple choice for marking means the students do not try, do not make mistakes and do not learn. I have seen many damaged like this who think English is a set of rules. When you tell them this is the case, they will not believe you because they have come to believe it is the case. While we can complain about Thai education., I see many foreigners as lazy as the day they were born. They do as little as possible, do not care of the kids progress or not, and only care about their pay check. Few are progressive and committed to teaching.
If they wrote more, were encouraged to make mistakes and then corrected and were lenient in the correcting they would be more likely to try and have a go at it. The irony is that after years of learning English grammar many will not even try it because they feel it is too complicated. I meet woman in their 30’s who say the same thing to me. Then you have the problem of looking good. We have been told that all work that goes home is to look “nice”. So when I get my kids to write, if it does not look nice, then the parents will complain. “Really”, I think to myself, you can complain about the work your kid does even when that is the best they can do. This is why Thai education does not improve. We have even been instructed how to do ticks in the books and they need to be made beautiful. One place where I teach on the weekends, the owner there took her son out of the bilingual school and put him into International school because besides his books being perfect, he was not progressing. Some Thai teachers in our school have to rewrite the student’s work so that the parents will not complain about it. At its heart, while I can complain about the school, are the parents who want to see “perfection” and high marks regardless of the kid’s real progress. This is why Thai education does not improve. Until they learn to make mistakes, embrace it and celebrate it, Thai education will be on the same dismal path it has been for years.

By Marvin, Bangkok (19th May 2014)

Well said, Marvin. That's why, as a teacher in this country, we have to be extra innovative, creative, and resourceful to make our students learn more. I know culture is hard to break, but a I have seen in my past schools, especially in the grade schools, that these young students have come to like Englih. So I can foresee that in the future, they will be the better set of generation to speak English especially in our project that has been trying hard to implement. I am still optimistic that someday Thai studentsrad will come to embrace the language because of the ASEAN, because of the trend, and because millions of baht had been spent by towns and cities to improve their English program. No problem with the private school because they have international programs and special programs where students really excel. One time, I was able to watch a TV program that gave out 30,000 baht for in a challenge, 5 students of that school spelled all the words asked by the host. So, it isn't far that English will be learned. Just give Thailand time.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (15th May 2014)

This has to be one of the biggest failings in the Thai Education system. They want worksheets and games, and to have fun but when you ask them to write anything down, they will look at you dumbfounded. “What, you want me to write that..??” And of course then maybe the teacher has to neatly label it and print out their names. I am convinced the Thai education system is where it is today because they do not write things down. Consider that in some parts of Africa all they have is a teacher, a book (maybe and a pencil), a blackboard and a piece ofchalk and with so few resources they come out and can speak, read and write English. They may not even have a classroom. They may do it under a tree. The teacher will come out and start writing on the board and the kids will write it down. No questions, just follow the teacher. So they have 2 skills right there – reading and writing. Then the teacher will ask them what it means and go through the class. They may play a game, and may even draw a picture for added emphasis and so by the end they have the 4 skills. In Thailand, they have computers, DVD’s, notebooks, I-pads, dictionaries which they hardly ever use, books which explain the stuff, worksheets, pictures etc ….. and in the end most come out with so little. So you have to ask yourself how it is that the Thai education system does so badly on the back of often so many resources. The reason must be their refusal to write things down, and the over emphasis on fun (IMHO) and in the end the entire system mostly fails them, or they fail it.

By Marvin, Bangkok (14th May 2014)

Thanks, EJ. Being a teacher is indeed a jack of all trades ready to fix what is not right so that our students will become the best of themselves.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (14th May 2014)

You are not just a teacher to your students but a parent as well.

By EJ, (13th May 2014)

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