The concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy is certainly true in teaching. When teachers believe their students are incapable of independent thinking, lack creativity and have no interest in anything education related, then students may well start exhibiting these “qualities”.
We as teachers tend to forget that our own negative and frustrated thoughts lead to negative action, and these negative actions manifest themselves in us treating our students as if they have no education related interests, lack creativity and can not think independently, so we start spoon feeding information and fall back on teacher centered instruction and “flying with the fastest” learners in class which is, sadly, what so many students have grown accustomed to a long time ago, and what has made them exhibit the above listed negative traits to begin with!
That vicious cycle can only be broken by the teacher, and we as well trained English instructors must often times simply throw our frustrations into reverse, think the opposite, and think outside the box to enable our students to truly use their skills and interests to further their education.
So how can we get two hundred noisy and ill behaved Thai government high school students to learning and using English as a medium of communication?In an article exploring ways students can negotiate the curriculum and create their own learning, it pinpoints the value of increasing the role of students in decisions made about and for their learning as a persistent theme in the current discourse of educational reform in Thailand as well as in Western countries.
Many teachers are exploring new ways to give their students a stronger voice in the learning conversation that takes place in schools and there is plenty of evidence to suggest such involvement enhances learning. When students are really listened to, when they are valued and included in such decisions, they are far more productive and motivated.
This is exactly what we were faced when a fellow UEC TEFL course graduate and I were invited to teach at one of the better known Thai Government schools in Bangkok for a semester.
We both had been handed two classes of fifty Mathayom 3 (9th grade) students, numbering a total of 100 students for each of us. The children had been used to foreigners simply trying their luck at teaching, most of them the untrained yet well meaning backpacking crowd, and the 9th graders had quickly learned how to overwhelm and get rid of these foreigners with overwhelming noise and general unruliness. We had been teaching in Thailand for a while, so the situation did not shock us and we knew that these students simply yet urgently needed an outlet for their creativity, energy and enthusiasm, combined with firm, fair and fun instruction.
What better than to have our learners create an exhibition! Part of our first conversations regarding areas of interest revealed that our students were starting to think of employment or university studies as graduation was only a couple of years away, but they did not really have a clue what undergraduate study or working as a doctor and lawyer on a daily basis really means. They were all a bit worried and concerned about their future, so we had them write down their worries and concerns, while we introduced some new vocabulary words to simplify the discussion.
We then introduced our learners to the idea of an exhibition as a significant and exciting event for the 9th grade students to address their learning as well as their fears about their future head on. We asked them how they envisioned such an expo? After some very slow starts initially, they realized that they could do as they saw fit, and out came the ideas: They wanted to develop questions or issues that interested them under the theme of Employment Opportunities for English Speakers from a personal, community and global perspective.
They wanted to collaboratively engage in hands on experiences in which they identified real-life issues or problems of interest, such as how to be able to enter the country’s most challenging university programs offered at Thailand’s top government public university, namely Chulalongkorn university. They wanted to investigate employment challenges by using mainly primary resources and conducting interviews with individuals in the field, and map out their own recommendations for individuals wanting to pursue this field of study, as a result of their learning.
As a self-initiated inquiry, the exhibition became more significant to the students as they were empowered to lead the learning and by participating in making decisions about what they wanted to learn and how they would learn.
As a culminating learning experience, the students were asked to put on an expo in the school’s large auditorium.
The learners got themselves into teams and created their team name. Certainly, some names were highly inappropriate but when the students understood that they were free to name their team anything as long as they would explain the meaning to their parents when they would come to attend the exposition, names were changed promptly and without hesitation by the groups.
Each team decided on what they wanted their booth to represent, be it a university program or a field of employment, how the booth should be decorated, who should create the posters and other decoration, the English informational fliers to be handed out, who should start the English language presentation when visitors approached the booth, etc..
What was most exciting for the teacher was to see our learners use the little bit of English they had to really try to get their points across, look up new vocabulary with an urgency fueled by nothing but sheer desire to know, and work as teams on making their exhibit the best part of the expo. The teachers were used as resources and counselors, while dictionaries, the internet, neighbors and family members were utilized to learn as much about their team’s designated field of interest.
Class started on time every day, with all students eager to continue on their projects as the deadline of the scheduled expo day was looming. Needless to say, the project of how to have 200 rambunctious 9th grade English language learners engage in self-directed English language learning was as big a success as the well visited student Employment Expo. Our students presented to the other visiting English language learners and their teachers, as well as to Thai teachers and the administration of the school.
The concept of an Exhibition provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning, explore many different perspectives, synthesize and apply their language learning of previous years and finally, reflect upon their theirs years of learning. The exhibition leads to a student’s conceptual understanding of the topic and allows students to demonstrate and reflect upon the attributes of a 21st century learner.