"Is sheer talent sufficient enough to make a story telling champion? What has training got to do with it?"
Well, 2 years ago, I was very fortunate to find a child prodigy to represent our small public elementary school (less that 200 enrollees) in a Storytelling Contest in Nonthaburi Province. The Department of Special English Project in Area 1 and 2 sponsored this event. It was held at Pak Kret School where my grade 5 student bested "all" elementary public school story tellers in the entire province.
It was incredible. My student emerged victorious on this event. Was it because she had better training compared to other contestants, who similarly had very competent and enthusiastic trainers? Was it due to the kind of story she told which impressed the judges and amused the audience as well? Was it caused by the technique of presentation or was it justified by the kind of materials used in presenting the story effectively?
Whatever the answers are, let me point out them one by one so that, you, too can produce a champion in your future competitions.
Actually, I had waited for nearly 2 years before I could find a material that would bring me to the limelight of success. That was the time when this student came to our school just in time for the competition to be held the succeeding month.
"I could see a winner when I see one..." I enthused myself for I found indeed a gem. It was like an advance forecast of the contest scenario which made me very optimistic despite the fact that I shouldn't be counting the chicks before they are hatched.
Anyway, the first thing I did was to choose a very entertaining story about animals involving varied voices. I didn't confine myself with Aesop's Fables because I wanted more simple language which was suited to the level of my student. The fact that one of the criteria for judging was the presence of a moral lesson I wrote a story adapted from "The Musicians of Bremen" by Brothers Grimm with a whetting introduction, "Have you ever scared someone smaller than you are just because you are big? How did he/she feel? Is it good to do this? Listen to my story with the help of the pictures I made myself." The ending was - "So, boys and girls, next time, don't scare someone because you are big."
If you want a copy of the story, E-mail me and I will gladly send it to you.
For I had a strong hunch that my student would be a sure winner, I was so enthusiastic to train her. Unlike the previous trainings I had with other contestants in other competitions, my training was not as taxing as before. I did piecemeal memorization and simple voice production of animals, and as soon as the story was mastered the real McCoy came.
Oh, I was lucky to have the assistance of my very supportive coordinator, the girl's mother herself, a group of high school students from the International School of Bangkok called "Make a Difference", and critics from the British volunteers in our school. It's funny because the result contradicted the old adage. "Too many cooks spoil the broth." What also contributed to this successful quest was the full support of the school. It provided the materials needed, time for rehearsals were allotted, and storytelling practice during flag ceremonies was permitted. Although the student was a neophyte, I sensed she was oozing with confidence and not least to mention, her astonishing accent was entirely different from that of a kid of a typical Thai family.. What's remarkable about her too is that she is a natural story teller.
The next thing I had to worry about was to think of how to present the story. I wondered whether to use puppets, diorama, pictures, miniature book, realia, overhead projector, power point, or slides, instead I used a modified flannel board style using an artist's easel, and 3 future boards measured 18" x 30"with story scenes made out of cut fluorescent colored cartolina and individually cut colorful pictures of animals that could be tacked and moved to the background scenes when necessary.
I tell you, if you were in the finals, you would be amused too. In fact, a week after the contest, my champion storyteller presented in front of more than two hundred school directors from the province and she got a very resounding applause from them.
Wait, I haven't told you how she won?
It's like this. The first competition was composed of 11 schools in our area. She was rated second. The girl from a private school won. But with the help of lady luck she was invited to join the final round to represent Pak Kret district public schools while the 1st Prize Winner from the private school had to compete with Private schools. On the scheduled date the champion story tellers of Nonthaburi representing its 4 districts (Pak Kret, Bangyai, Bang Bua Thong, and Sai Noi) had their final showdown.
Don't you think talent, training, kind of story, style of presentation, and materials used, made her win? Who do you think won? Of course, our prodigy was the champ. Because of that, another feather was added to my cap as a coach/trainer.
You see, mere talent is inadequate to make a great champion. It has to be coupled with the right training from a creative coach. Teamwork or good chemistry is another contributing factor. A good student plus a good coach produces a champion. Similarly, good students plus a good English teacher produces more confident speakers.
The implication of ‘training' in ESL and EFL teaching in Thailand is so great that with it teaching our students would be a piece of cake. Gone are the days when the teacher serves as the sole source of wisdom in the classroom. These days, classes are student centered and the teacher merely serves as a facilitator. Teacher talk is minimized. The more the students talk, the more chances of internalizing the language particularly the structures being taught. That's why pair group, small group, simulations, role plays, dialogues, and other communicative activities, play an enormous role in English teaching. Without training/practice students won't make their learning functional. Many teachers say that our Thai students in the public schools are not keen in the language because they have very little opportunity to practice. If they have less practice, then increase their chance in the classroom.
So fellow teachers, never give up hope teaching English to Thai kids. The results may not be manifested immediately, but in few years time, the seed that we have planted will become a tree full of fruit and the efforts we exerted will never be put to waste but would be fully utilized to the optimum when the right place and the right time comes.