During our time at Sikeud Primary school, we implemented four ways of teaching. In this article, I share my personal review.
- Teaching pre-schoolers with Mister Mopsy:
The pre-existing concepts of education and communication challenged us in working with the pre-schoolers. The hand puppet dog Mister Mopsy soon became very popular among the pre-schoolers, and helped us to overcome some of these concepts. For details, check out the two articles on teaching English with Mister Mopsy. (Mopsy article 1 & 2)
- Teacher training I – language competencies:
For the teacher training, every one of us English education graduates from the University of Education Karlsruhe was paired up with two Lao English teachers. My fellow teachers were Mit and Noy. Working with them was a great pleasure as both are lovely Laotians with great charisma. Sitting face to face with them and seeing them smile while working together was definitely a daily morning highlight and I could not have wished for better students. Sometimes they came late or forgot their homework, but usually they worked hard and ambitiously. As I had never taught adults before, it took us a while to adjust to each other, and to find a good way of engaging. We worked with the book “New Headway Elementary” and its companion book on pronunciation. Soon I realized that many exercises were too easy for Mit and Noy, so we skipped them. Their English pronunciation, however, was a huge challenge. Working on it required a lot of patience from both sides. They were able to form most of the sounds but sometimes it seemed as if that they had forgotten what we had practiced just the day before.
- Teacher training II – English education:
The second part of teacher training focused on implementing concepts and methods of English education. Therefore, I followed Mit and Noy to their English classes and observed their teaching. A major problem with teaching English in Lao schools is being hogtied to using the school books. All classes, except the pre-schoolers, have to use the school books which take on a predominant role in the Lao classroom. During my observations, I took notes about what went well and what could be improved and gave Mit and Noy feedback afterwards. Sometimes observing became really boring and even frustrating, for example when the whole class mechanically recited from the book and I could not think of good ideas to improve the learning situation from this basis. I tried to support Mit and Noy with tips and tricks of the trade to help them create more motivational settings for language learning. I think the outcome was quite alright. Even before our arrival, Mit had been working with songs and aspects of the Total Physical Response method from time to time. Total Physical Response (TPR) is a language learning method that conveys meaning through actions. By doing what is said, the learners can learn language chunks in a playful way.
To create a more lasting effect, I prepared a 3-page handout for my fellow teachers, in which I summed up all the things we discussed during feedback time. I hope it will come to good use.
In the afternoon, it was activity time. During activity time, the students get to choose from a variety of activities like clubs or sport teams. Naturally, we decided to offer English activities, and this went quite well. On some days, I just started talking to a group of students. Shortly after, a whole crowd had gathered around me, taking part in whatever I presented to them (colours, numbers, songs…). Some weeks later, mostly pre-schoolers joined in the activities – I guess because they liked me from our class with Mister Mopsy. Their high motivation made teaching a bit more difficult, because some of the little keen ones loved to overdo the body movements, especially during the popular “Hokey Pokey” song. During the chorus (“Ohhh, the Hokey Pokey”) the students hold hands and run towards the centre of the circle and out again. This usually is great fun, but the keen ones were so eager to get to the centre of the circle that some students tripped and fell and others pulled them over the ground. Sometimes the whole circle collapsed. Luckily, no one ever got hurt. At such points I sometimes got frustrated because it was hard to explain to them to remember that despite all the fun this was still an English lesson – they would just not understand. They kept on asking for the Hokey Pokey over and over again.
Learning words and phrases during activity time was very fruitful, as it gave us the opportunity and freedom to implement teaching methods that are suitable for children.
Text by T. Mayer