This Classroom Anecdote will take a bit of context to appreciate, in three parts.
Context Part 1: Lesson Plan
Recently, I developed a 3-hour lesson designed to help students improve their listening skills, penmanship, skimming and research skills, and paragraph writing. It begins with dictation. I read off seven questions on a topic, and then read the answers. The students have to copy down each sentence as they hear them. They’re allowed to ask me to spell difficult words on the board. The topic: Who is President Obama? (Obama is probably the best-known world leader outside of Thailand among ignorant Thai schoolchildren, so he earned the pleasure of joining my class.)
Then, I display a neat PowerPoint slideshow I made showing Mr. President’s picture, along with the seven questions and answers. The students must then compare their sentences to what they see on screen and fix any errors. Then they copy each sentence two times. Finally, they notice the grammar structures used to answer the questions. That ends stage one.
In stage two, my PowerPoint beautifully shows via animation that if we put the seven answers into a block of prose, they constitute a cohesive and brief biographical paragraph. The students must then copy the paragraph they see on screen. They’re also reminded of what exactly a paragraph is.
In stage three, they are shown the exact same questions, except that they’ve been altered to ask, “Who is the King of Thailand?” The students copy the questions. Then I hand out a single sheet from a Thai-English textbook about the king. I’ve already checked to make sure the answers can all be found. The students then practice skimming for specific information. I help them along in this process, teaching them to look for key words. Then, I have them notice the proper grammar to answer the questions in complete sentences. They answer the questions then copy those answers into a paragraph block.
Results: marvelous! The students are a little more adept at research, more confident in their writing abilities, and now understand what a paragraph is. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I can give them a simple paragraph prompt and they’ll wax eloquent for five or more sentences on the topic. But they now understand the logic and structure of a paragraph.
Context Part 2: His Majesty the King
One thing that any visitor to Thailand immediately learns is how respected and important the king is. He is in all respects a demi-god. He embodies a dharma so superior that he’s a second Buddha of sorts. In the past kings have been retroactively given titles that essentially mean “Second Buddha” or “Buddha Incarnate.” His perceived religious piety is only matched by his wealth. The Crown Property Bureau has an estimated worth of $30 billion. The king is robed in power, wealth, prestige, and spiritual serenity. Yet he is the most Western king the kingdom has ever had. Born in Cambridge, Massachusettes, and raised and educated in Switzerland, King Rama IX has developed Western tastes for jazz music, photography, and writing. He has learned Western philosophy, Western languages, and Western political science. So he’s woven from the finest of both Eastern and Western cloths.
Enter stage three of the lesson. The students have received their texts on the King to research answers. We’re on the final question: “What makes the king different from other kings?” The answer is essentially his enthusiasm for the arts, especially jazz music. In Thailand, he’s regarded as an accomplished jazz musician. Here’s me eliciting at least that much, if not the bit about writing and photography, let alone the all-too-complex insight that he was the only one born in America.
Me: What makes the King of Thailand different?
(students chatter in Thai)
Me: Guys, what makes the King of Thailand different? See the section on the page titled “King of Arts”? (‘chests’ handout and points to the section) Read that to find the answer.
Ploy: He a mu-si-….musician?
Me: Good, Ploy. He’s a musician. What kind of music?
(students glare at each other)
Me: What does the text say? What kind of music? Rock? Pop?
Context Part 3: Morlam
If you haven’t read my three-part post on Thai music, then you wouldn’t know that Morlam is a traditional folk style of music originating in the northeastern area of Isaan. Morlam is a music of the poorest rural people that talks about the hardships of rural life. It began as an instructive lyrically driven music, but has evolved into a dance music backed by guitars, bass, drums, and synthesizers, as well as scantily clad female dancers.
Franco’s intentional joke had us imagining the wealthy, pious, and serious king lead-singing in front of a bunch of sexy dancers in feathery, glittery garb, swooning audiences with tales of a simple poor rice farmer’s life and all its struggles and hardships.
For this image, I salute Franco.