As educators, our most fundamental task is to make our students feel comfortable in the classroom. Only then can they devote their full attention to the learning and personal growth that will come to characterize their experience at International School Bangkok (ISB).
Here at ISB, we pride ourselves on our diversity, but with multiculturalism comes a variance of native languages and levels of English proficiency. Highly trained specialists are therefore present to support students of all ages as they acquire a command of English.
One such specialist at ISB is Marie Gaetgaeow, a teacher of English as an additional language (EAL) in Grade 4. As the EAL teacher, Ms. Gaetgaeow provides both direct and indirect support for English language learners. She supports students directly through her English for Academic Purposes classes, where she helps early through intermediate English learners gain fluency and comprehension in a new language. She also “pushes in” to grade 4 classes to support not only English learners, but all learners as a co-teacher.
Ms. Gaetgaeow helps learners indirectly by working with classroom teachers, collaborating with them to plan and design units of instruction and assessments. This work makes the curriculum more accessible by bringing cultural and linguistic points to the forefront. Ms. Gaetgaeow and colleagues strategically introduce key terms, concepts and strategies, helping students engage successfully with the curriculum. Such engagement allows students to progress in their learning while also feeling socially included, and making friends with others in class.
Importantly, EAL support often draws upon words and ideas in the students’ native languages, so that they can connect prior knowledge with new concepts they encounter – and also share their background with others around them. Ms. Gaetgaeow emphasizes the importance of native languages in students’ cognitive development and inspires parents to support children’s languages at ISB’s Raising Multilinguals parent workshops. In addition, she co-leads workshops on translanguaging (tapping into all of students’ languages in the classroom) at faculty professional development days. Through this work, she is not only helping students improve their English and access the curriculum, but she is also affirming their identities. By making space for students’ multilingualism, she truly nurtures globally-minded learners.
A lifetime of student care
Ms. Gaetgaeow has taught EAL at ISB for thirty years. Throughout that time, she has worked closely with countless students, creating a positive and nurturing environment where they can thrive, develop, learn and grow. She uses images, objects, and games in her teaching, encouraging a kind of experiential-learning that gets students practicing multiple skills simultaneously. She also works with students to deconstruct language and examine its interlocking parts, which helps learners take an active role in increasing their understanding of language.
Before joining International School Bangkok, Ms. Gaetgaeow was a volunteer with the United States Peace Corps, teaching English in Thailand in the context of agriculture for three years. Next, she taught English as a foreign language at Chulalongkorn University. Both experiences helped Ms. Gaetgaeow to shape her approach to English teaching, even as she learned Thai and immersed herself in Thai culture. This latter phenomenon – needing to learn the language and culture of her surroundings – has helped her understand the perspectives of her students, and recognize the importance of making them feel comfortable as they learn both the language and the culture of their new school.
We’ve mentioned the work of famous educator John Hattie before. He has pointed out that this ability to see the world from students’ point of view is a hallmark quality of expert teachers:
The manner used by the teacher to treat the students, respect them as learners and people, and demonstrate care and commitment for them are attributes of expert teachers. By having such respect, they can recognize possible barriers to learning and can seek ways to overcome these barriers.
Dr. Hattie also highlights the importance of establishing supportive classroom environments, where students are given the freedom to experiment without fear of failure – as Ms. Gaetgaeow accomplishes with her experiential-learning. Dr. Hattie summarizes the educational research on this topic in the following way:
Expert teachers are proficient in creating optimal classroom climates for learning, particularly to increase the probability of feedback occurring (which often involves allowing for, and certainly tolerating, student errors). They build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners.
In other words, by taking a value-driven, socially-intelligent, self-managing, creative, globally-minded, adaptable approach to instruction, teachers like Ms. Gaetgaeow demonstrate the essence of expert teaching.
With each passing day, her students grow in both ability and confidence. At the same time, they increasingly come to see the school environment as a new and welcoming home, where their contributions are valued and actively sought. Their backgrounds are appreciated as a source of strength, through the school’s interest in diverse experiences and perspectives.
Finally, by experiencing the incremental achievement of a formidable task – that of succeeding in a new environment in an additional language – Ms. Gaetgaeow’s students come to realize that barriers are meant to be broken, and that their own personal limits are not what they seemed. With this mindset, her students can look ahead and see new challenges as opportunities, ultimately reaching great new heights of achievement.