Teaching in Thailand: The SLS Graduate Practicum

Written by Betsy Gilliland, PhD (SLS Associate Professor)

The course offered a unique situation that could not be duplicated anywhere else. It completely immersed students into a new environment forcing us to adapt and adjust our teaching styles.

- SLS 690 student comment, 2016

The teaching practicum is a common feature of language teacher education programs, and the Department of Second Language Studies has been a leader in running practicums and conducting research on them for a long time (see Richards & Crookes, 1988, for an early perspective on the TESOL practicum). In general, a language teaching practicum gives teacher learners the opportunity to put into practice the concepts they have been studying academically in their coursework. Usual features of a teaching practicum include supervised teaching practice, guided reflection on practice, observation of peer teacher learners and other teachers, and being observed by supervisors. The SLS 690 practicum includes all of those, plus a feature intended to give teacher learners even greater learning opportunity: a location away from familiar settings, where they can extend their teaching repertoire beyond their previous accomplishments. 

SLS 690 has been taught as a summer study abroad course in northeastern Thailand since 2007, when SLS professor Dr. Richard Day coordinated with university staff to organize an 8-week program for SLS graduate students. Dr. Day led groups until 2013; I have taken groups alternate summers since then. Each year the logistics vary slightly, but always include the opportunity for the teacher learners to develop curriculum and teach English for academic purposes to Thai university students. The teacher learners are welcomed into different faculties (academic departments) at the host university, where they get office space and access to supplies and teaching materials. Over the course of the practicum, they refine their instructional practices and reflect on their perspectives on language teaching and learning. 

690 Course

In addition to teaching their own classes of Thai students, SLS teacher learners attend regular meetings of SLS 690, a graduate course. Class meetings begin during the spring semester before departure and engage teacher learners in readings and discussion on topics including culture and language teaching in Thailand, Thai language, and preparation for teaching. On arrival in Thailand, SLS 690 supports teacher learners in creating curriculum, activities, and daily lesson plans, making sense of their new environment, and developing their teaching skills. 

One core feature of the course is reflective practice, which Farrell defines as “conscious thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it” (2015, p. 8). In the practicum, teacher learners engage in frequent reflection, writing in a journal, talking with their peers, and participating in class activities. SLS PhD graduate Jay Tanaka analyzed the Thailand practicum teacher learners’ reflection in his 2019 dissertation (see reference below). Another feature of the course is observation; teacher learners observe each other teaching and receive observations from course instructors and their fellow teacher learners. After each observation, the observed teacher learner meets with the observer to discuss what happened in class and to reflect on what both parties have learned from the observation. 

SLS MA students in SLS 690 (2018) engaged in discussion of theories of teaching and learning. L to R: Jue Wang, Hayley Cannizzo, Leeseul Park, and Moeko Norota

Teacher Research and Publication

The Thailand practicum has also given SLS graduate students the opportunity to conduct research on their own teaching. In 2014 and 2016, I developed a companion course for the practicum, SLS 680R Action Research, to support the teacher learners in designing research studies that emerged from ideas they identified in their classrooms as interesting. Teacher learners have investigated such topics as collaborative writing, role play, extensive reading, presentation media, and teacher identity development. 

Beyond just taking the course, many SLS graduate students have used their research in Thailand as a starting point for their MA scholarly papers. They have presented their research at local and national conferences and published their findings in academic journals and professional organization newsletters. Many have also attended and presented their work at conferences held in Thailand, such as Chulalongkorn University Language Institute’s International Research Seminar. 

SLS MA students Linda Wong and Moeko Norota presented research at the Chulalongkorn University Language Institute International Research Seminar in 2018.

Holistic learning on the practicum

Beyond just the hours they spend in their own classrooms and the practicum courses, teacher learners recognize benefit in getting out of Hawaii and living in an unfamiliar environment. Thailand is an ideal location for such a practicum, with its friendly people and fascinating cultural attractions. Every year, our university hosts organize a few outings to temples and natural sites around their region. The teacher learners frequently accompany their students on excursions to other sites of interest. They try new foods and explore artistic traditions with students and colleagues. 

The course went beyond my expectations and has been one of the most influential courses I have taken at UH. It has completely changed the way I view language learning, teaching, and my role in the field.

Student comment, 2014

(L to R) PhD student Mery Diéz Ortega, BA+MA student Kaoru Motomura, a Thai friend, and MA students Jue Wang and Linda Wong carve wax for inclusion on a temple’s float in the 2018 Candle Festival parade. 

Recent publications and presentations by SLS faculty, students, and graduates about the Thailand practicum

An, H. (2015). A teacher’s flexibility in a Thai classroom. The Word, 24(2), 16-17.

Bolen, K., Bach, C., Shimaji, K., & Suzuki, M. (2017, February). Building action research communities for sustainable teacher self development. Panel presentation at the TESOL Hawaiʻi Annual Conference, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. 

Díez-Ortega, M., & Cannizzo, H. (in press). Reflective teaching and critical language pedagogy in a Thai EFL context. In J.K. Shin, & P. Vinogradova (Eds.), Contemporary foundations for teaching English as an additional language: Pedagogical approaches and classroom applications. New York: Routledge.

Edmond, L. (in press). Course planning in the postmethod era: Ideas from a practicum experience in Thailand. In J.K. Shin & P. Vinogradova (Eds.), Contemporary foundations for teaching English as an additional language: Pedagogical approaches and classroom applications. New York: Routledge.

Gilliland, B. (2015). Benefits and challenges of supervising an international practicum. CATESOL Journal, 27(2), 201-209.

Gilliland, B. (2016, April). Learning to Teach Beyond National Borders. Roundtable presentation at TESOL Annual Convention, Baltimore, MD.

Gilliland, B. (2018). Teacher research during an international practicum. ELT Journal, 72(3), 260–273. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccx054/4904550

Gilliland, B., Kwon, C., Patharakorn, P., Young, E., & An, H. (2014, October). Classroom action research: English for academic purposes in Thailand. Panel presentation at the CATESOL Annual Conference, Santa Clara, CA.

Kasula, A. (2015). Conducting action research in a practicum: A student teacher’s perspective. CATESOL Journal, 27(2), 229-237.

Kwon, C. (2014). Student perspectives on group work and use of L1: Academic writing in a university EFL course in Thailand. Second Language Studies 33(1), 85-124.

Tanaka, J.T. (2019). Qualitative content analysis of reflection in language teacher practicum settings (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Hawaʻi Mānoa. Honolulu, HI, USA.


Farrell, T. S. C. (2015). Promoting teacher reflection in second language education: A framework for TESOL professionals. New York: Routledge.

Richards, J. C., & Crookes, G. (1988). The practicum in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 22(1), 9-27. doi:10.2307/3587059