It has been ten weeks now since we started to work at Ban Phang Heng Lower Secondary School. During our daily work we were confronted by course book-centred lessons in nearly every classroom. The “Authors’ Preface” to the (mandatory) Lao English state course book already points out that the book was written under time pressure and explicitly asks for helpful feedback. Well, to begin with, it is printed in black-and-white, and it wouldn’t do from our perspective to teach the vast majority of the lessons without the use of extra material.
According to the authors, some of whom we had the pleasure to meet in person, there is extra material that comes with the book. However, it is not their job to distribute this material, so they could not tell us why our school neither has it nor even knew about it before we asked.
Then, the “Grammar notes” are sometimes incomplete, or the introduction of vocabulary does not follow a certain sequence but is only translated into Lao. Many instructions for the exercises (not tasks) emphatically rely on extra material that is not given, as it either does not exist for all the course books in the series or it simply has not reached our school. All in all there are many reasons for implementing extra material into the Lao English classroom.
Our main concern was and is to help the Lao teachers to help themselves and teach them how they can support the Lao state course book series with self-made extra material like handicraft templates, listening material, flashcards, word cards, conversation cards, and other requisites which activate speaking. So we started our workshop by using Unit 10/Lesson 1 of the grade 1 Lao English course book as an example of how to enrich the given material with simple and cheap self-made material.
To give our Lao teacher-students ideas about how to make the lesson more “colourful” we introduced some self-made material for this lesson. Our aim was to show how easy and cheap it can be to create one’s own material. Starting with flashcards that simply feature the colours, we went on to rolling a dice with surfaces in different colours while asking questions, and ended with a game on the topic “colours & animals” plus two “colour” songs.
After our short introduction to the wider range of possibilities and more variation, it was time for a hands-on phase for our partners and to brainstorm about teaching material. Therefore we equipped them with a pouch filled with stationary.
Honestly, we were impressed by the range of the Lao teachers’ knowledge about what kind of extra teaching material could be used to support the books, as we had rarely seen any examples of this in the classrooms.
As already agreed before, every teacher was to choose one particular lesson in their course books which they would want to spice up, so now we went over to the active part of the workshop. We provided some English didactic, grammar, and course books and (sadly) relied on our two mobile wifi-routers that then promptly let us down. Luckily, our friend and helper Bouangeun Hanthavong a.k.a “Linda” helped us out with a working device. Meanwhile, Anika and the group talked about the various uses of the “offline material” we had prepared, i.e. two templates for a dice and a clock. When we were theoretically eventually connected to the Internet, we discovered that the Lao teachers’ laptops could not receive any wifi-signal. After 15 minutes of trying in vain, we finally re-organized ourselves and let them use our own laptops so that we could start to work on the chosen lessons.
With high expectations of a successful afternoon, everybody started to work right away. Nonetheless the tandem-teachers realized quickly how challenging it can be to come up with your own ideas and to think outside the box. In turn, we German teachers saw ourselves confronted with the time running away, realizing that the scheduled 3 hours were not going to be enough. Laos is not Germany, and we regularly face the realization that the German efficiency we are used to cannot be imposed on or imported to our daily Lao lives.
In total our workshop took over 5 hours, but at the end of the day we were proud of our tandem-partners and their self-made material.
After a long day we went to a restaurant nearby which is owned by a friend of Souvanh Navong’s. Tired, hungry and overwhelmed by the impressions of the day we ate together, talked about the workshop, made jokes and just had a good time.
As David will stay until the mid of January and Anika even until the mid of February, we are planning to do two follow-up-workshops in which we will go on working on the course book together. For the future, we look forward to seeing our teacher-students carry on with these meetings, even after our departure.
Text by D. Schrep & A. Broghammer
Photos by A. Broghammer, D. Schrep & P. Kern