Thai TESOL is a great organisation that work relentlessly to raise the standards of English language teaching across Thailand. This weekend they are holding their annual conference in Chiang Mai and earlier today they held the Thai TESOL Pre-conference which was primarily attended by educators from Northern Thailand. There were two distinguished speakers at today’s event and in this blog I hope to summarize their presentations.
Prof. Dr Paul Kei Matsuda from Arizona State University
‘A Writing Workshop for Teachers’
I was particularly looking forward to this workshop because of one difficulty i regularly encounter with my Mathayom students. The students I teach possess a wide range of vocabulary, they have good grammar skills and they are imaginative. But the problem I encounter is that when I set a writing assignment the students forget all this and end up writing wonderful stories which, unfortunately, are littered with basic spelling and grammar mistakes.
So would Dr Paul’s presentation be able to help?
Well the good news is ‘yes’….. He explained that writing assignments were best approached as a project with various stages. The stages he listed were;
By breaking the assignment down into these stages the students have more opportunity to process – changing and improving the assignment overtime, which leads to a more complete final piece.
Another important point he made about these stages was the importance of peer feedback. Of course students will benefit from receiving constructive feedback but Dr Paul also referred to research that explained how students develop critical thinking skills through giving feedback to their peers. By doing this on a regular basis the students’ own writing will develop as they become able to apply these skills to their own work.
There were two other important points I took away from this workshop that made me feel better about my ‘problem’. Firstly, Dr Paul made the point that it is completely natural for students to make grammatical mistakes. When we encounter these in speaking activities we understand it as part of the process, however when we see these errors in a written assignment teachers often see it a more dire mistake.
Linked to this point was another observation – teachers should focus on the overall effectiveness of the students’ written piece rather than focusing on grammar and spelling mistakes. Does the student meet the objectives of the assignment?
Of course getting grammar and spelling right is important but of far greater importance is that the student’s writing fulfills its purpose.
Finally, Dr Paul made one statement which I thought was really important and something that teachers often lose sight of during the day to day teaching of English at school – ‘The goal of English writing instruction produces good writers, not just good writing’
Prof. Dr Russell Gordon Cross from Melbourne Graduate School of Education
‘ Learning from content and language integration: Using ‘native’ texts in foreign language learning’
I was also very interested to hear from Dr Russell who would be focusing on CLIL because there has been much discussion about CLIL over the past decade and I have come across conflicting views about what is and what isn’t CLIL.
Thankfully Dr Russell’s workshop was able to clarify these points. He also explained the benefits of CLIL and through a group work activity he introduced ways to use CLIL in the classroom.
So what is CLIL?
Well it stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. A concise definition is given below,
Research has shown that language is best learnt when used in context. By using English as the medium of instruction to teach Science the students will learn through the language – language acquisition.
This is of particular interest for educators in Thailand because bilingual education and Thailand’s English Programmes rely on this CLIL methodology. Anyone who has worked in a Thai school with a well organized English Programme will have seen the benefits of CLIL as the students gain acquisition of the language in a way you don’t usually encounter in a regular EFL/ESL classroom.
Hopefully, the successes these schools have had with the CLIL approach to language acquisition will encourage more schools to adopt this approach.
Finally, Dr Russell also recommended one website with a lot of CLIL recourses;
Finally, I would like to thank Dr Paul, Dr Russell and the Thai TESOL Team and Chiang Mai Rajabhat University for organizing an excellent pre-conference.
The main conference takes place on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th January at Empress hotel, Chiang Mai.
More information about Thai TESOL and this year’s conference can be found online