Sam Thompson

Teaching quality vs teaching quantity

What to do when the odds are stacked against you?

So apparently my current Mathayom 2 reading class didn't finish the reading book assigned in Mathayom 1. The result is that I've been told I must teach both that book AND the one I was assigned to teach... in one semester. A parent complained that she bought a book that her daughter didn't even use, and I can see her point. But the result is thus: each book consists of 20 chapters or units in 120 pages. That's a total of 240 pages to get through in one semester with a class only meeting for 50 minutes (in reality, more like 35 minutes), twice per week.Poor kids.

My general reading teaching method is to read the story to the class aloud once, then go over a selection of vocabulary words from the book piece which I determine beforehand. Model, choral, drill, definition... the works. Depending on the class size, I also go around and have students read at least a sentence each aloud to me (sometimes two students reading together). As I'm doing that, the students are answering the questions I assign from the book. Depending on the lesson size, we may or may not get through an entire lesson.

This method obviously won't work when I have a very short time to get through a lot of material.

Do I think the kids will actually learn anything coherently by having to get through so much? Well, no. I've decided to make the best of a bad situation: I'm assigning two units (6 pages each) per class with the full realization that a handful of them will do it (if that many) and the rest will copy it.

I'm also spending a good deal of the last part of each class going around and checking that they have completed the assigned pages "for a grade"; it makes them think they actually must do it, even though most of the scores I take aren't recorded for final reports anyway. That's the great thing about most of the students I've had in Thailand: just thinking they may fail is a strong enough motivation to get them to do at least something. I'm reviewing the answers with them one of the two days per week on the assigned pages.

Realize, of course, that the completed bookwork is to keep the parents happy. Anyone in their right mind would understand that cramming a whole book into a half of a semester won't result in a lot of long-term learning.

The book we're currently using (we're now on the second book) is beyond the comprehension of my MEP class of 28 students .So, my main goal with them is that they learn some vocabulary. I've assigned on average ten vocabulary words to make into flashcards for each unit, for a total (by the end of the book) of about 220 vocabulary flashcards. On each card, they must write the word, part of speech, and a small picture representing the word on the front, and on the back the English definition. They can write the Thai definition if they like, but I'm not requiring it.

Believe it or not, it seems to be going fairly well. Granted, it is a LOT of work for these poor kids, but it keeps them busy, which means they MAY actually LEARN something-stranger things have happened. The flashcards are a productive and crafty thing for them to do; I remember having to make them for Spanish when I was in high school, and although I hated them, they certainly helped me remember words. Better yet, based on their scores from midterms (which were almost exclusively based on the vocabulary flashcards I assigned), they're actually learning some words too!

So, if you get stuck with a ridiculous task in a Thai school, you've just got to make the best of a bad situation. I realize that with a "normal" class of 50+ screaming 12 year olds, this would not be a viable option. But then again, in a "normal" class, you aren't as likely to have a parent complain that money is being wasted... because not as much is spent in the first place.

If you can hold students' attention for more than five minutes, get them to be semi-productive, have them remotely excited about being so, and they actually LEARN something... you're doing pretty damn well in my book.


I think you've hit the nail on the head, Dave, and that's why they'll continue to remain dependent on outsiders for technological development. I don't think discipline, punishing cheaters, and so forth, count as western values. Those are necessary if you want to have a successful learning environment, in any country on the planet.

Also I think the fact that food just grows right out of the ground all over Thailand has something to do with it. They're never going to go hungry and thus don't need the sort of planning or complex organization that countries like in Scandinavia (or Russia, or China) require.

One more thing: someone suggested that ESL teacher's job is one-third educator, one-third babysitter, and one-third game show host. Sounds about right.

By Sam, Shanghai (22nd September 2013)

You are a proprietor of Edutainment which can consist of being a talk show host. A Thai student going to school, particularly an expensive private school, will generally believe that karma will provide the knowledge that he needs the same way it put him in the school. If it's karma then who needs work which is difficult and uncomfortable thus edutainment is the answer.
I never provided edutainment when I was teaching at a Thai private school for well of students. However I would have provided fun activities if there wasn't so much inherent inertia in the classroom keeping the students from getting out of their chairs. All the students want to do is sit and talk loudly while karma provides the education that they are entitled to.
In Thailand you have teachers like Duncan Scobie who have adapted well to the edutainment that Thai schools prefer from their ESL teachers and don't want educators with Western educational standards and morals interfering in Thai education. This attitude fits in well with the desire of the students not to be bothered with learning as well as the outlook of the MOE which placates Thai attitudes about the superiority of their culture with Thai culture being included in their educational directives. As if Thai culture is not something to be studied rather it should have a hand in running education and keeping it distinctly Thai. You have to have Western values in education, the kind that looks down on disrupting the class, not doing your own work, and cheating. In addition the Western principle that if you don't succeed at just basic education in some way or another there is no where else to go in life.

By Dave, Saudi Arabia (22nd September 2013)

"A friend of mine once said being a teacher here in Thailand is like being a game show host, hmmm"

I totally agree with that. I remember going for an interview with a private language school in the early 90's and the interviewer said "you ARE a game show host" - those were his exact words.

And one thing I learned over a 15-year teaching career here - the teachers who pour scorn on that statement are invariably always the ones who lack the personality / ability / characteristics to fill that role anyway.

By philip, (22nd September 2013)

A friend of mine once said being a teacher here in Thailand is like being a game show host, hmmm.

By Thomas, (21st September 2013)

yes Sam, I thing so. My friends and I thought at the one. I could thing that the students can do whatever I say, I got stuck in the rest. My friend's name Paul. He always talk as you say. I got a book to teach (somebody gave me in education department) and the students use to study the same. I found the way to improve them and me in the same time. Cause last time, I have my way to teach and the student's book isn't need for the classes.
I use handouts, worksheets,.,etc. and the result is perfectly. They may not poor if we find the way to teach them.

By John, Thailand (15th September 2013)

Is that right Lisa? No its not, One thing about teaching in Thailand is don't expect the student to take in large amounts on information in one lesson. The target you expect the students to achieve at the end of the year is probably too high. Halve what you think the will learn, and you will have success, Take two lessons to confirm information, pently of writing rather than handouts or board work. I personally have notebooks that everything is written into, and only rarely are they allowed to take them out of class. Both the worksheet and excerises are copied into the notebook and then they have to answer the work by writing answers or reading aloud. A good week of work and one lesson is put aside for video or games. ON PAPER YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THE NOTEBOOKS TO PROVE TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS THAT YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE.

By Phetpeter, Phetchabun (14th September 2013)

True, Lisa, but it's difficult to balance the facts as they are in Thailand (and elsewhere in Asia, as I'm finding in China), with the facts of reality. Students who copy will pass and get that shiny degree (and can make a window sticker out of it on their car so everyone can see) but still won't be able to converse or think for themselves. I think if we manage to connect with the ones who DO want to learn and have the drive, and give them a quality education, we're doing pretty darn well, like Sam says.

By Sam, near Shanghai (9th September 2013)

Did you say your goal is to get Thai students to actually learn in your English class? Students, parents and administrators don't complain about NOT learning. They complain when they are bored, you don't play enough games or you are too serious. Oh, and they really complain if you don't look very good or don't smile enough. So just focus on edutainment, smile, and joke. If the students cheat and copy, nobody complains about that either. That's HOW you can do it! It's not about the learning in Thailand, it's about how things look on paper etc.

By Lisa, (9th September 2013)

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