Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Working with Picture Books Pilot Project:The 3 Keys to Using Picture Books Successfully

I am back to blogging (maybe).

Last August I started a pilot project called Working with Picture Books. In this project we used picture books from CCUP in elementary schools to teach about the English language and culture. Three teachers from two primary schools in my prefecture were kind enough to participate. The challenges that using English picture books impose on teachers is a little more formidable than I thought it would be. Not only must teachers must try new teaching materials and activities that they have never done before, but they must also read the book in English. Before the project began, we discussed with the teachers about the structure of English activities using picture books: pre-storytelling, storytelling and post storytelling. We gave the teachers 15 picture books as well as guides for using the picture books to teach about culture. The teachers were able to use the picture books to teach about culture but, perhaps, struggled to use the picture books to teach about English. The primary reason for this was that I did not give them as much support as I should have.

As teachers and university staff are busy, we only met once for an hour and a half before the project began. I explained to the teachers the structure of English activities using storybooks: They have a pre-storytelling phase, a storytelling phase and a post storytelling phase. I then demonstrated how a typical lesson might look like using the book Too Many Tamales(or see CCUP ). After that the teachers were on their own. In retrospect, If I had given the teachers a list of potential pre-storytelling activities, post storytelling activities as well as a taxonomy of techniques that they can use for storytelling it would have made it much easier for them to do the pilot lessons. Nevertheless, we have learned a lot from the teacher's pilot lessons and these pilot lessons have contributed to the New Working with Picture Books Project which has just started.

From these pilot lessons and my discussions with the teachers, I think that there are 3 keys to using English picture books successfully.

First, the teacher should conceive of pre-storytelling activities and storytelling techniques that will spark children's interest in listening to the story.

Second, the teacher should conceive of pre-storytelling activities and reading techniques (using pictures, the mother tongue, facial expressions, changing intonation, asking questions etc.) that will make the story understandable for the children. In many cases the teacher will have to simplify or abbreviate the story because more than 10 minutes of reading (in most cases) seems to be too long for primary school children.

Third, the teacher should conceive of activities that will get children actively involved in the class.

Thanks to this Pilot Project I am now ready for the new project where we will be working with the Primary School that is affiliated with my university to introduce English Picture books into their English Activity curriculum. I will write about this new project in my next post.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bangkok Poverty

I was visiting schools in Thailand for 6 days last week and for 5 of those 6 days stayed in Bangkok. One night I was talking to a teacher-friend of mine (who is Thai) and she asked me what were some things I did not like about Thailand. First, I told her what I did like: the Thai smile, people's hospitality and friendliness, fresh fruit year-round, Buddhism, reading about Thai history, etc. I then told her what I did not like: corruption, poverty, etc. But when I said poverty she stopped me and said poverty was not necessarily a bad thing. I agreed with her. However, I explained to her that what I meant by poverty was seeing homeless children on the street in Bangkok or a mother sitting on a sidewalk breast feeding her child at 11 at night. Seeing these sights was absolutely heartbreaking for me. It was not like I had not seen stuff like this before but now that I have a child, seeing someone about the same age or a little older than my son sleeping on a sidewalk overcomes me with a profound sadness. Believe it or not, I did not give these kids or young mothers money. I wanted to help them, but in the end, I thought that giving a larger sum of money to an organization for getting kids/mothers off the street would be best.

I wanted to learn more about how the disadvantaged in Bangkok live so I bought two books at Asia books, one book was called Bangkok Boy by Chai Pinit and the second was Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughter House by Father Maier. The first book was the autobiography of a male prostitute from rural Thailand who moved to Pataya and then Bangkok. Below the title on the cover of the book is written "The Story of a Stolen Childhood" and you expect that this will be the autobiography of how this poor fellow was victimized. In the beginning of the book, though, Chai (It seems that just about everyone in Thailand uses their first name) writes that the reader should not feel sorry for him and he was writing this story to come to grips with his past. After reading the book, I felt less sorry for the author and more sorry for the people he victimized. I thought that this book shed some light on why some people choose to enter the sex industry, but will not tell you much about how people are forced into it.

The second book I read is about Father Maier's work in a Bangkok slum. Father Maier togther with Sister Maria Chantavarodom runs an organization called the Mercy Centre which runs a orphanage for children who are HIV Positive and also creates schools in the slums. The book consists of the stories of the children in the orphanage or who live in the slum. All the stories are sad but also instilled some hope in me. The reason why is because no matter how dire the situation the children found themselves in, most of them did not give up in their pursuit of happiness and neither has Father Maier. After reading the book I decided to give a small donation to the Centre.