Phonics Training – coming full circle

2 years ago, I wrote about my vision for a Phonics Project.

While I was very motivated in the beginning, the more time I spent at my school, the less I saw my dreams becoming a reality. Too many cancelled classes or other teacher duties, too many students and my time stretched thin, plus student fundamentals too low to make much headway under these conditions in 2 years.

Still, during any free time I would mull over how I would ideally teach Phonics. Each term, I added and created more ideas, creating a system that I hoped would be left behind for my counterpart even if she never used it…

And then, with 2 months left in my service, at the beginning of 2019, I was invited to an informal “Phonics meeting” by my Counterpart I don’t even teach primary Phonics with. When the meeting began, I immediately realized that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I told the group teachers and supervisors heading the meeting that I knew a good deal about Phonics and they let me share some of my knowledge that very day, only to have a meeting set for one week later where I would walk an even larger group of teachers and administrators through my untested 3 level plan.

Soon thereafter, an official training was planned (2 days, 100 teachers per day, for a grand total of 200 teachers in the local area to train). As the lead, I luckily, after 2 years of sitting on my plans, I had most everything ready except a lesson plan to accommodate such a large group. Being wise to the Thai-way-of-planning now, I didn’t expect to have much input or collaboration or my supplies or seating arrangement suggestions filled, but I’ve become as flexible as Elasta girl when it comes to last minute and changing on the fly; I used that superpower to power through the 2 days training…

 

Training Day 1:

-I was nervous and tired after 2 weeks of traveling and only a few days preparation for the 200 teachers I would be teaching on my own, including a night before editing of lesson plans

– I rushed a bit, looked a little haphazard, losing track of where I placed materials (as I tend to do when I get frazzled), but all in all it went very well

Training Day 2:

-Went much more smoothly – I had materials prepped beforehand, I had already done a run through the day before to gauge how activities went and how to adjust accordingly

-Both days I was bombarded with picture taking – the first day was overwhelming in that I needed to prep for the next lesson, but was getting pulled every way for pictures, and by the second day, although there were actually more pictures taken than the day before, I smiled widely knowing that I had survived

-I know I did well in relating with the teachers right from the start; I told them how I had observed their duties as teachers the past 2 years and acknowledged the difficulties of learning and teaching English; I shared my own Thai language learning experience and impressed upon them the importance of routine and 5-10 minutes daily practice to improve the fundamental skills of phonics in the classroom

Aftermath:

-While I know that I couldn’t have pulled off this training until the end of my service, I wish I had done it earlier because I met so many wonderful Thai teachers, peers and friends, that now with a month until I go home, I don’t have the opportunity to spend more time with them or collaborate further

-I received great feedback including the observation that Thai teachers were not on their phones, they were paying attention throughout (a rare occurrence) aka were interested in the training

-Also, I was given compliments that I spoke English very clearly and that my Thai is very good

-Thai teachers wrote feedback that the training provided practical use in the classroom, and covered almost all topics that teachers wanted to learn (all except singing songs – not my expertise)

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*notice me teaching on the right hand-side and my support staff posing for pictures 55 #priorities

Overall, a great and an unexpected way to end my service. One of the most difficult parts of service is not comparing or wishing your service had been something other than what it was. However, after 2 years of never  being allowed to teach 1 swim class (while there was a pool at my school and swimming classes for PE), basically failing at transferring any skills that really were implemented by either of my counterparts, and wishing I could have been involved in more teacher trainings like the group of volunteers in Satun, it was FINALLY the unexpected culmination of 2 years work actually being put into practice, plus the appreciation of the community around me to trust me with leading such an ambitious 2 day training, that really makes me feel somewhat accomplished after these 2 haphazard years of service to the Thai people.

 

Published in Khao Rai Sub Da issue 400 – PC Thailand newsletter

STORY FROM THE FIELD:

Phonics Teacher Training by PCV Lauren Cono: Last week, over the course of 2 days, 200 hundred teachers in the surrounding districts of Surat Thani attended a training focused on Phonics. This was the perfect way to end my service as I had concentrated most of my teaching efforts with my Primary counterpart on building a Phonics program that could be applied 5-10 minutes every day at the start of each lesson.

The training consisted of pronunciation practice, speaking and listening activities, as well as a run through of a 3 level system to implement Phonics at any school. I noticed that one of the biggest factors keeping Thai teachers from teaching Phonics in the classroom is their own lack of confidence with the English language, especially pronunciation. Instead of training them in the difficult language of linguistics, I broke down the basics of pronunciation into easy language that Thai teachers at any English ability can understand and therefore use in their classrooms. I also provided materials, a weekly guide for each level to implement during a school year, along with suggested lesson plans to create weekly Phonics routines.

There was positive feedback from each day and both groups of 100 teachers. They felt the training was easy to understand and practical enough to apply in their classrooms. They particularly liked the active games like “Cowboy” and “Monster” as ways to practice letter names, sounds and/or vocabulary. Although both my counterparts were participants and not trainers, they supported me throughout. I hope that the community of teachers in the Surat Thani area will bond together and be able to apply this training and later train others if it proves successful.

 

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Sharing light

“When we share our light with others, we do not diminish our own light. Rather, we increase the amount of light available to all. . . When out of gratitude we use our candle to light other people’s candles, the whole room gets brighter.”

—Master Sheng Yen, “Rich Generosity

Not every day on this Peace Corps adventure feels like I am sharing my light.

Many days my light is waning, twitching on and off like a light bulb burning on its last wattage as I deal with disappointments, difficult situations, and feeling drained.

And yet there are some experiences that are enlightening and enlivening where I am glowing with a rekindled desire to share my light.

A week away from site, collaborating on a project with 4 other volunteers for an English training at a Vocational School in Phuket, was just that spark my flickering flame needed.

 

  • Sunday and Monday – Planning & Prepping
    • The 4 other volunteers and I created the content and organization of the training from scratch, and so lots of revisions were made throughout the first few days as we gathered feedback and prepared materials for the days ahead.

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  • Tuesday – Training Day 1
    • Getting comfortable – To encourage involvement and motivation, participants (40 Thai teachers and 20 students) learned a lot of ice-breakers, energizers and competed in games with vocabulary and conversation as an overview of the content we would be presenting more in-depth on Day 2.

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  • Wednesday Training Day 2
    • Specific content learning – Participants enjoyed activities at stations concentrating on improving English skills in the 4 subject areas: Hotel (front desk/housekeeping), Restaurant, Tourist Information, and Tour Guide.

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  • Thursday Training Day 3
    • Application of skills – The color teams competed in a Photo / Video Scavenger Hunt around Old Town to practice finding tourist information and speaking English with foreigners. We finished the day with a review and closing ceremony.

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My team was Yellow!

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  • Friday and Saturday – Sports Opening Ceremony & Patong Beach
    • We able to watch the parade and attend a ceremony of unparalleled performances by the whole school displaying a mix of creative cohesion, school spirit, and national pride I had never seen before.

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We tried some local dishes, many influenced by Chinese cuisine like these delicious noodles.

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The school spoiled us with accommodations at the college, meals and snacks prepared for daily, as well as setting us up in a resort to enjoy after the training.

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The Director of the Vocational School was so impressed with our successful camp, that there is another training being planned for December to train 100 more vocational teachers!

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I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with the great Thai staff at the Vocational School, who became instant friends, taking us to out to karaoke, dancing, and walking around Phuket’s markets and beaches.

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And I can’t say enough about the 4 other PC volunteers I was able to work with, learn from, and just relax with. From late nights of planning, eating Pizza Hut, and exploring a Chinese market celebration full of red turtles on our way to 711 to exploring Patong beach, where we were able to unwind with pedicures, massages, eat dinner at Full Moon brewery, watch “Crazy Rich Asians,” and enjoy long conversations on the beach. They’re a talented group, each with a lot of experience running trainings and different strengths that really diversified our output, turning the training into a fun learning week for all.

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Grateful to be shining bright again 🙂 6 more months of service to go!

Freedom Under the Sea

Before sending us to pre-service training in-country, Peace Corps preps its volunteers with a pre-departure training. During training session, one learns many tools to breed cultural sensitivity including the infamous DIVE model (which is an acronym for something I forgot) which encompasses the idea of looking beyond the surface of an issue. You gotta dive deep to see the vastness of the situation, and I have quite literally dived deep into in the East Pacific Ocean now, exploring a whole new underwater world.

I love the ocean and I have over 10 years of serious experience in water sports, so one  would think that diving would be an easy sport for me to transition into, YET it was one of my biggest fears. The idea of being “trapped” underwater weighed down with heavy equipment and not being able to surface quickly if there was an emergency due to nitrogen poisoning, was not a sport I found appealing. Still, when the opportunity arose sooner than expected, I bottled up my fear, took a deep dive and kept my eyes open.

Anilao, Philippines

  • Dive site: Anilao Beach Buzz and Dive Resort
  • 3 dives:
    • LigPo Island (34)
    • Dive N Trek (32)
    • Anliao Pier (42)

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  • Instructor: Nel (local Philippine)
  • Highlights:
    • Night dive!
      • Able to stay longer under water, because our max depth was only 10 meters (~32 feet)
      • Saw mini coconut octopus and cuttlefish

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(Coconut octopus photo cred to Russian diver friends we made on the trip at Anilao Beach Buzz and Dive Resort).

  • Feeding the fish
    • Tropical fish swarmed us as we released bread from water bottles

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  • Kevin’s underwater camera!
    • Able to capture some pretty cool creatures even without the red filter lens

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Koh Lanta, Krabi, Thailand

  • 6 dives – Koh Bida and Koh Haa
  • Instructor: Whale (local Thai)
    • *rare instance, to have a Thai instructor – most are foreigners. I think because I spoke Thai, Whale felt comfortable to go out with us
  • Highlight: cave swim throughs
    • Swam into a cave and surfaced into an air bubble cavern
    • Swam through the infamous Cathedral and other caves around Koh Haa islands

*pictures/video to be added later

Diving is not a typical sport for Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand to try out during their service – although Thailand is one of the cheapest countries in the world to be certified, it would take over a full month’s stipend to pay for certification, not to mention transportation to and from, and lodging on the islands. If volunteers do choose to get certified, many wait till their COS funds kick in at the end of service or friends/family foot the bill.

Thanks to Kevin visiting twice, we are both 13 dives deep just 6 months into the sport (more like our grown-up expensive hobby). 4 dives to get certified on Koh Tao and 9 dives this past April in the Philippines and southern Thailand (I’ll be treating Kevin to dives in the Americas in due time after I get a “real” job;)

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