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An enquiring mind Print E-mail


Asking questions and providing answers comes easily to some students and more difficult for others. Too often, students learn their English language skills in the classroom and never get the opportunity to put them into practice. Last semester I was able to witness some progress.


It is always difficult for students to have any connection to the English they learn in the classroom, because in most cases, they never have the opportunity to use English in any productive context.


I remember reading in the newspaper some time ago about a school that had identified this problem and took steps to rectify it. I believe that it was a Mathayom class (though I may be mistaken).


Their class was learning about home economics and were learning how to cook something. This was conducted in English; however the English lesson did not stop there. When they had finished making the food, they then had to sell it in the school.


This task was also conducted in English and I thought at the time that the Thai teacher of English concerned had shown great vision in keeping the English language going throughout the whole making and selling process. I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to do something like that with my classes.


I had a pleasant surprise recently when I was accosted by some of my students wanting to interview me for research they were carrying out. From memory, this has to have been the second time in more than five years that it had happened. They were researching various problems that their junior Bachelor of Education classes were perceived to have.


I was an obvious choice as they had known me for several years, so it wasn’t too difficult to muster the courage to ask me. Moreover, the next day, another group of students from the same class also approached me with a view to an interview.


Nothing in this life is really free, so I agreed to answer the questions on the proviso that they would send me a finished copy of their research so I could read it. My students have had this drummed into them from the beginning; to question whether anything that is free has any real value, so I certainly wasn’t going to let them interview me for free.


The students seemed puzzled at first, as to why I would be interested in what they were doing. I explained that they were conducting research into areas of education that I was interested in. If they could find problems and offer solutions to solve these problems it would help me with my teaching. All of a sudden their research had taken on a new significance.


If teaches can think of ways for students to use English in real life contexts, then maybe we can interest our students and prove to them the value of acquiring English language skills.


One such incident happened recently during the annual science fair at Udon Thani Rajabhat University. I have always tried to show interest in what my students are doing, especially educational activities outside the classroom. During the science fair I had the perfect opportunity.


The students were spread out around the Science Faculty buildings, some inside and some outside, in their booths. I found some of my Chemistry students and asked them what they were doing. Everyone started to run around and conduct the experiment, which of course was far too difficult for me to understand, which proved really amusing for everyone there.


Once we had finished, I asked some of them if they could tell me, in English, how to conduct the experiment, as we had been practising in class. You could see their faces light up as they suddenly realised that there was in fact a use for all that English they were subjected to over the previous weeks.


I was overwhelmed by a barrage of English, as everyone suddenly realised the purpose of what we had been doing, which must have seemed rather odd to passers by. It was, of course, very gratifying for me, as I was able to finally show them the context of when and where they would be able to describe any experiment that they were to conduct, using the processes that we had learned in the classroom.


In my opinion, in places far away from Bangkok, like Udon Thani, it is even more important for students to understand how English can be used in a context that is relevant to them. It’s no use telling them that they will have an opportunity to use English later in life; they have to use it now to really understand its value.



An enquiring mind


Putting theory into practice, chemistry students from Udon Thani Rajabhat University strike a pose after successfully explaining their experimental process to their teacher.

(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 04th November 2008)


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