In my 30 years as a university-level educator, I have taught the English Language and many education and science-related topics in the US, UAE, Egypt, & Thailand. Here's what worked for me with young Thai college students.
From 2016 to 2018, I worked at a small college in Thailand, and taught, among many other things at the undergraduate and graduate levels, intensive English to freshmen. Many of my intensive English students came from poor families in Isaan and this was their first experience away from home.
This was four hours of English every day, which was exhausting for me and the students. The textbook used for the course was too difficult, nevertheless, we had to get through 10 chapters.
Using teaching assistants
Here's how I adapted: First, I put my two Thai TAs in charge of class logistics, which included taking the roll and communicating all important information about scheduling, testing, etc. If I had any doubt that students understood something in class, I would have the TAs translate it to Thai to make sure.
At the one-hour mark or break time, I just let the students sleep, which some very much needed. I also appointed one student to select Thai music from You tube that students could listen to during the break and / or during exercises in class.
Adapting teaching materials
Since we had to get through the book, I took the most important vocabulary (that would be tested) and created online and printable crossword puzzles (CW). Every day, we had to cover certain pages in the book, so that's what was covered in that day's crossword puzzle.
I would introduce book exercises and then tell students to show me their work after they had finished their assignments, before giving them the puzzle. I also told them that they could find exercise answers by using laptops, mobile phones, a friend's brains, or of course their own brains.
Almost all my students were engaged, enjoyed my sense of humor, liked my flexibility, and adored the CW puzzles. My students didn’t feel constrained by having to use L2 only and their amazing spirit of competition regarding CW puzzles was delightful to watch and be part of.
Some might argue that allowing a first language in class and being too accommodating to students reduces the effectiveness of second language acquisition, but my perspective is that appropriate content supported by a positive atmosphere in language learning at the beginner+ level helps a larger percentage of the class get more out of the experience, not just the top 10%.
Overall, these students very much liked and benefited from my approach, and listening to and observing them made me a better educator.
Some of my intensive English students would not go on to study at the college due a lack of English skills or interest, but none left my class feeling like a failure. They knew I respected them no matter what. My teaching approach can be summed up by a quote I once heard: ‘I want my students to know about how much I care, so they will care about how much I know’.
As an aside, I have had a number of colleagues over the years that did not adapt to their language students’ needs. They didn’t seem to understand why their students failed to accept their style or didn’t seem to care. To me, cooperation from students can only be reasonably expected if students can reasonably expect cooperation from their teachers, and that includes an adjustment of teaching style to accommodate the cultural needs of students.
My experience with Thai students taught me that using support, respect, and honesty, along with providing opportunities to for healthy competition, resulted in a great educational experience overall.
Dr. A E Schneider holds several graduate degrees from Columbia University, including a doctoral degree in Science Education, as well as master’s degrees in TESOL, Organizational Psychology, and Counseling Psychology. In 2015, Dr. Schneider took a master’s degree from The American University in Cairo, in International and Comparative Education. Please visit the links below if you interested in services that include professional editing, research paper development, business and conversational English, business coaching, teacher development, or school improvement. Special discounts offered for Thai residents.