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Cultures and learner behaviours: a qualitative investigation of a Thai classroom

By Chutigarn Raktham


This thesis investigates the extent to which Thai national culture can be used to explain students' behaviour. In addition to exploring the cultural and social aspects of the classroom community, it also takes into account the importance of understanding the way students perceive their reality and as a consequence ethnographic research techniques are utilised. The research was carried out at a provincial university in Thailand, with a focal group of forty English major students. Two ethnographic research methods, namely classroom observation and interviews, were used in the research. While the classroom observations were carried out to describe the characteristics of the classroom and identify salient patterns of students' behaviours in the classroom, the interviews were conducted with the intention of allowing students to reflect on their own patterns of behaviours. The classroom observation not only showed the physical characteristics of the classroom, but also identified the teacher-student and student-student patterns of behaviour. These social aspects of the classroom revealed that while some student behaviour coincided with Thai national cultural characteristics, other patterns of behaviour deviated from commonly held beliefs about Thai students' behaviour. Pair and group interviews were then conducted to give students a chance to reflect on their interactions and their disruptive behaviour in class. While students' interviews offered insights into several personal issues, such as students' reasons to study English at the University, their transitions from high-schools to university and their self-perception, their accounts really highlighted the importance of the social interactions and relationships on their behaviour in the classroom. Social interaction, in the form of relationships with teachers, peer pressure, or peer reaction had, from the perspective of the students, significant explanatory force; these were strategically viewed and evaluated by students as the factors guiding their behaviour.\ud Although this thesis aims to explore the influence of Thai culture on students' behaviour, it became clear during the research that unless students were made conscious of cultural influences, they were mostly unaware of the possibility that Thai culture might affect their behaviour. Because this thesis relies on the emic view of the students, the lack of students' verbal support for the influence of Thai culture on their behaviour makes the answer to the research question inconclusive. This leads to a discussion of the level of analysis students used when asked to interpret their behaviour and whether students viewed their behaviour at the social or cultural level.\ud The study both highlights the significance of social interaction and context, and also distinguishes between a large culture and small culture paradigm. While the large culture approach views culture as essentially a feature of ethnic, national, and international groups, the small culture approach views culture as part of any social grouping. By seeing the classroom as a small culture and allowing students to explain their own behaviour, the research gains deeper insights into the students' world and their construction of their realities, the significance of which is explained and developed

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