Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

HELP! Teaching Reading to Thai Primary School Children

In teaching reading in any language, common sense goes a long way. Thais appear to have been blessed with more than their share of this essential society builder and aid to educating its citizens. It is not an accident that Thailand has an impressive literacy rate.

Nevertheless, what Thai education policy makers want is even more success in bringing a majority of its student population to a high Thai language reading comprehension rate by the end of primary school. Many Thai educators feel an urgent need to get a greater proportion of Thais highly educated  in order to compete  in the global market.

A key to providing a great leap forward in reading ability is the teaching of Thai language reading based on scientifically based research.    As stated at the outset, common sense goes a long way and some Thai teachers are already following the prescriptions based on  research  about teaching children to read with understanding.

These Thai teachers, consequently, are teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Their instruction is systematic and explicit. These teachers start out with the simplest sounds represented by letters (phonemes) and move gradually to the more difficult. Therefore, letters easily pronounced are necessarily taught first. Thai teachers who teach this way tell students exactly what they hope to accomplish with them during a given lesson. And these teachers model the lesson.

For illustration, this means, that in teaching first graders phonemic awareness, the teacher pronounces lettered sounds while showing students how she positions her mouth and tongue to show how she produces the sounds. Then she prompts groups of students to mimic her sounds.

Effective Thai reading teachers move into the area of phonics when the class has achieved a good foundation in distinguishing sounds within spoken words (phonemes) and can blend phonemes into words. The teacher is explicit in illustrating the relationship between phonemes and letters that represent those sounds so students can use those relationships when they are trying to recognize unfamiliar words.

Phonics is often misunderstood. It is not an end in itself but an important part of a total reading instruction programs. Phonics helps young readers understand the relationship between the Thai alphabet (graphemes—letters and letter combinations) and phonemes (individual speech sounds).

The editors of SCLThailand are aware that there are Thai experts not only on phonics but also in the continuation of reading instruction to fluency (rapid word recognition) and to comprehension. This editorial comment opportunity is being used to ask a Thai reading expert to come forward and continue this dialogue on the teaching of reading in the Thai language and the place of current scientific reading research in the context of Thai primary education. Please help!

By  Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. 

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