Monday, December 3, 2012

The Auditor Goes North

When I started teaching here, I was given a list of classrooms, a tour of the campus, shown the canteen and told to start the next day.  I wasn't told that I had so many classes and that the upper grades were organized by their grades, their interests and their social skills.  I was told to teach them conversation and sent on my way.

Since that time, I have struggled to figure out how to teach someone conversation.  I went from class to class trying different things to teach including speeches, interviews, songs and quizzes.  What I had not done, though, was what my auditing had taught me years before.  Know your subject first.  I realized that after six months, I really didn't know who my best speakers were and who couldn't understand me at all.  I had been meeting with students face-to-face occasionally to have them repeat some words to me, but I had never actually interviewed them.  I found the task too overwhelming so I avoided it.  At least until November rolled around.

Through trial and error, I came up with my way to evaluate a student's ability to speak English.  I knew most of them could read and their writing was beautiful, though it was mostly rote and didn't involve any new ideas.  My job is to teach conversation and I decided to focus on just that.

I got a list of students for each class and had them come up to my desk in the front of the room and then asked them one question.  What do you want to do when you finish high school?  I never stopped there, of course.  Based on their first answer, I would ask another and then another question.  From there I came up with a scoring method.

0 – Mai kaew jai (I don't understand)
1 – Can understand English but cannot answer
2 – Can give short answers with help from friends
3 – Can give short answers with little or no help from friends
4 – Can give short answers without help from friends
5 – Can answer in full sentences and participate in a conversation, poor pronunciation, small vocabulary
6 – Can participate in a conversation, larger vocabulary, better pronunciation, cannot always follow native speaker
7 – Can follow native speaker with occasional difficulty, larger vocabulary, better pronunciation
8 – No difficulty, needs to work on pronunciation and larger vocabulary
9 – Speaks with an accent
10 – Native speaker

I wrote this on the board and then started my work.  My answers ranged from, "I plan to go to Chiang Mai University to become a doctor," to "I go by bus."  I was surprised when students scoring 1 and 2 want to be guides, airline hostesses and even English teachers.  I wished them luck and suggested they work harder on their English.

This week, I have started telling classes their overall scores.  Some did well while others did not.  No matter what class I spoke to, though, they gave me far more attention than I had received before.  I said that if they were serious about their career choices, they would need to raise their scores to 5 or better.  Eyes got very big when I said that.

Not to leave them without hope, I told them how they can improve their English, starting with actually showing up for class.  "If you aren't here, you can't learn," I said.  I suggested they watch movies in English with the English subtitles turned on, to practice with other English students and to start reading more.  

I wish I had done my testing at the beginning of the first semester so I plan to do so next time around.  In the meantime, some classes are working their way through "Charlotte's Web" while others I will give opportunities to speak to each other in English.  

Each day I learn something new about my newly chosen profession.  I wonder who is the teacher and who is the student.


  1. I am impressed.
    Positive feedback makes for goal-setting on the students' part.

  2. I found these as a follow-up to reading Charlotte's web:

    to inspire you...maybe you already came across the links.

  3. Very cool. Thanks. I will give them a try.