Student Centered Learning – Thailand

A Centre for Education Reform in Thailand

Welcome to Student-Centered Learning Thailand


Our Mission:

To provide a center of discussion , information and planning for 21st Century education reform in Thailand that will lead to a unity of purpose and action among  Thai and international educators to realize the goals set forth in the National Education Act of  B.E. 2542 (1999).

At the heart of this National Education Act B.E. 2542 (1999) is a move toward student-centered learning and a student-centered  classroom.  Specifically, Section 24 of the Education Act outlines what must be done   to improve  education  performance : 1. arranging learning in line with the students’ interests , aptitudes and individual differences ;2. training students in thinking abilities, especially critical thinking; 3.organizing learning activities that draw from authentic experiences; and 4. promoting situations where learners and teachers learn together.  

In addition to addressing these key issues of education reform in Thailand , indeed in international education, we also focus our attention and resources on the goal of promoting Thai teachers to reach their potential as skilled teachers using teaching methods that engage their students with the result that students love to learn through self discovery.


ยินดีต้อนรับสู่ Student-Centered Learning ประเทศไทย



เพื่อสร้างศูนย์ข้อมูล การแลกเปลี่ยนข้อคิดเห็นและวางแผนสำหรับการปฏิรูปการศึกษาของประเทศไทยในศตวรรษที่ 21 อันจะนำไปสู่การปฏิบัติอันเป็นไปในทิศทางเดียวกันของนักการศึกษาไทยและต่างประเทศเพื่อให้บรรลุเป้าหมายที่กำหนดไว้ในพระราชบัญญัติการศึกษาแห่งชาติ พ.ศ. 2542 (1999)

ใจความสำคัญของพระราชบัญญัตินี้คือการมุ่งไปสู่การเรียนรู้และการเรียนการสอนในห้องเรียนโดยมีนักเรียนเป็นศูนย์กลาง โดยเฉพาะอย่างยิ่งมาตรา 24 ที่กำหนดถึงสิ่งที่ต้องทำเพื่อพัฒนาประสิทธิภาพของการศึกษาไทยคือ : 1. จัดการศึกษาให้สอดคล้องกับความสนใจ, ความถนัดที่แตกต่างกันของนักเรียนแต่ละคน; 2. อบรมนักเรียนให้มีความสามารถในการคิดวิเคราะห์ด้วยตนเอง; 3. จัดกิจกรรมการเรียนรู้จากประสบการณ์จริง; และ 4. ส่งเสริมการเรียนการสอนที่ครูและนักเรียนได้เรียนรู้ร่วมกัน

นอกจากประเด็นหลักเพื่อการปฏิรูปการศึกษาในประเทศไทยเหล่านี้ แน่นอนว่าในระดับโลกเรายังมุ่งเป้าไปยังการส่งเสริมศักยภาพอาจารย์ชาวไทยในด้านทักษะการสอนโดยอาศัยเทคนิคการสอนที่ให้นักเรียนมีส่วนร่วมในชั้นเรียนเพื่อให้นักเรียนมีความรักที่จะเรียนรู้ด้วยตัวเขาเอง

By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief

Long and close ally to the U.S.A., Thailand is quickly becoming more neutral in global politics. Despite the United States Government‘s declared foreign policy of a pivot back to Asia, there is hardly a better example of the shift in super power influence than that taking place in Thailand. While China is enjoying a new eminence, the American influence is declining.

Student Centered Learning Thailand (SCLThailand) believes China’s influence on Thai education comes at a critical time and China’s influence and aid may help turn around the alarming and continuing erosion of Thai education. Sanitsuda Ekachai describes this decline in her March 17, 2015 Bangkok Post opinion entitled “Bigwigs Try to Pass the Buck on Failing Schools.” She points out that “Thai students consistently fail in both national and international tests. Author Khun Sanitsuda points an accusing finger at the Thai Ministry of Education citing its failure to reform despite receiving 24% of the national budget, making the Thai MoE the “second richest Ministry of Education in the world.”

On university campuses throughout the Thai Kingdom Chinese influence is seen and felt through 12 Confucius Centers and 11 Confucian classrooms (as of 2012). These Chinese language and cultural centers are jointly run Thai-Chinese NGOs but supported by both governments. These Chinese classrooms welcome 7,000 Chinese volunteers who teach Chinese language and culture, more than any other South East Asian country. These centers of Chinese learning are providing a language and cultural platform for future Thai business and professional persons to interact in the future with Chinese business and academic partners.

The Chinese government has made a decision to concentrate its soft power on Thailand not only because it is a pivotal ASEAN country, but also because of the natural amity with China. Thailand, after all, is the only country in Asia to have successfully assimilated a large Chinese population. An argument can be made, albeit a controversial one, that if the large assimilated Chinese population was not a high proportion of the largest cities in Thailand the current dismal overall education student performance would be a disaster if the big city higher scores of the Chinese-Thai mixed ancestry were excluded. In short, the difference in test scores between the rural areas and the urban areas is significantly higher in urban areas. Nevertheless, some credit should be given to successive Thai governments in establishing a quota system that gives rural students a chance to attend universities even if their scores cannot compete with their urban counterparts. But really the die is already cast in terms of inequality once a student gets to university since the urban students has, in general, been exposed to better teaching and therefore a better education.

In addition to the Confucian Centers and Classrooms, the other major arm of Chinese soft power is the exchange programs under the tutelage of the China Scholarship Council (CSC). These scholarships are given to Thai students to study Chinese language and culture in China. Thailand ranks a surprising fourth in students going to China to study after Korea, the USA and Japan.

China is also influencing Thai education by example. Shanghai student scores on international tests now rival traditional regional education high academic performers, Singaporean students. No wonder, since China has been studying Singapore business and education paradigms for over two decades and followed this small country’s big footsteps. A major key to country academic success is an investment in teachers, something both Singapore and China are paying attention to. So far Thailand has failed to make its ample budget provide the proper training and support for its teachers.

The show piece of China’s soft power is the China Cultural Center in Bangkok, covering 6,400 meters of space and located in front of the Chinese Embassy, not far from the Thai Cultural Center. Chinese art and dance are among the features to be found there. The Center is an apt symbol for the dramatic presence of China as a new, major soft power. Thailand is a favored beneficiary.

The future of Thailand will depend on how well its work force is educated and thus able to compete in the market place with other countries. We can only hope that China will continue to use its soft power to improve the education atmosphere and resources in Thailand. The more other countries are willing to invest their soft power to help Thailand and its education system the better. The influence on Thailand can work in interesting ways. For example Teach for America was started to address the lack of good teachers in economically deprived areas of the U.S.A. Talented, top college students volunteers were recruited to be trained and to teach at these poorer schools. The Chinese adapted the Teach For America model to China and it was successful. Now Teach for China has brought the program to Chulalonghorn University and started Teach for Thailand. Importantly, the teacher training offered by Teach for America, Teach for China and Teach for Thailand emphasizes student centered learning.

  • 3 Responses

    1. Thein Thein Htay

      21|Mar|2015 1

      Thank you so much for giving us the logic of Teach for America, followed by Teach for China and now Teach for Thailand. Very inspiring and thought-provoking message and I will also be dreaming for Teach for Myanmar, where we are facing with the same problems. Student centered learning in our setting seems much easier to say than done while the faculty generations themselves have no idea what does it mean. Delighted to learn more on the adaptability into the existing system.

    2. Adam Bodley

      23|Mar|2015 2

      An interesting piece, thanks. As a teacher in an English Program in Bangkok, I wonder if you have any insights regarding the future of EPs in Thailand in relation to the points made about China’s growing influence in Thailand?

    3. Ajarn Bandhit Samtalee

      28|Mar|2015 3

      Hopefully Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha would consider this as one of the most important issues in Thailand.

    Leave a reply

Jian Shi – Xin Wang[1]


China now is undergoing speedy changes, and, along with the changes, the progress and development in its higher education is playing a critical role. The changes and progress of Chinese higher education could also reflect exactly the fundamental changes this country has been going through in different historical periods. The higher education in the modern sense in China has only a short history, less than120 years, compared with the higher education in the West. Its role-play, however, has great impact at every step of China’s development. With the history of Sichuan University, one of the leading prestigious universities in Southwest China and in the country, we could have a better understanding of the changes, ups and downs, of Chinese higher education.

Education in China has its unique long history, especially those private schools, normally with a very limited number of students taught by a master, but the modern-sense university only came into being in about one century ago. The forerunners of higher education established in 1890s were the present Tianjin University, Jiaotong University, Peking University and Sichuan University (1896). The birth of public university came in the intellectual historical background of saving the country through education, especially for the reformers who promoted the way, and some earlier history could be traced to Jingshi Tongwen Guan in 1862 and Jingshi Daxue Tang in 1898. Cai Yuanpei would, as the General Director of Education in 1912, be the remembered pioneering intellectual person in Chinese public education. In early 1900s China had its system of colleges and universities quickly established, and as a complement some colleges, especially those of western medicine, were set up by European and North American missionaries. Namely, Sichuan University at present is actually coming from three different historical backgrounds, former Sichuan University (1896), Chengdu University of Science and Technology (1952) and West China University of Medical Science (1910 by missionaries).


ChineseUniGate2 ChineseUniGate1















(Photos of the traditional gates and buildings of the three universities)


In the first half of the 20th century, both the public and private universities and colleges in China had been active frontier in the New Culture Movement in since 1910s, introducing and translating new and fresh ideas into China, and encouraging young students to be active in taking social responsibilities and later on in the War of Resistance against Japan. Then in 1949 when Chinese Communist Party took power and the People’s Republic of China was founded, all the universities and colleges were nationalized except a few private colleges such as Lingnan College left the Mainland for Hong Kong. In1952 a reorganization of higher education system in China was carried out along the European and then former Soviet Union lines with a focus on specialized training to meet the needs of the quick industrial and social development in the country. The specialized universities and colleges were run by different government ministries in addition to the Ministry of Education. West China University of Medical Science was an example.

At the early stage of New China, the government’s priority in education was the anti-illiteracy education. In early 1950s only less than 20% of the school age kids could go to school for education, and over 80% of the population were illiterate. If compared with the statistics in 2011, by the year of 2011 all the kinds in China have the 9-year compulsory education, and the illiterate population of the young and middle age were reduced to 1.08%. With this kind of changes, the demanding for higher education has been increasing quickly. But in the first three decades since the founding of P.R. China, the economic condition of the country largely decided the government investment, both from the central and local governments, in public schools and universities and colleges, which was very limited, if we consider the large population, high illiteracy rate and poverty in the 1950s, the natural and man-made disasters in 1960s and early 1970s, which held back the development of education in this country , even the universities and colleges were partly reopened with the students coming from workers, peasants and soldiers since 1972.

The restoring and normalization of higher education after the decade-long of Culture Revolution came in 1977 when the national college entrance examination system was reinstituted, and the Chinese higher education shifted from red (political criteria) to expert (academic achievement). Then we see a quick expanding of the university enrollment from 1978, when only 2.7% gross rate of the graduating high school students could get into universities, to 2013 when about 40% gross rate of the students could have their higher education. In some coastal areas and Beijing and Shanghai their figures are even higher. For the first time the Chinese higher education becomes a socially focused area, and the students and their families shift their attention from having opportunity to go to university to attending universities of good quality. Before the reform, the students were assigned to specific majors and institutions by the government and universities based on their examination scores, and the graduates were assigned to a life-long job position based on their academic performance in school.

Deng Xiaoping at the time acknowledged that China was behind the West by 100 years and the way to catch up was through education and open-door policies. For the first time, educators, professors and scientists were sent abroad by thousands to the developed countries in Europe, America, Canada, Australia and Japan. They had one to three years there for learning and training, and some of them had their master or doctoral degrees from the universities abroad. This bridged the gap in Chinese higher education, since its well-trained senior faculties were mainly coming back to China in early 1950s or former Soviet Union trained or self-trained as well. Since then government-supported visiting scholars and students’ studying abroad has been a national strategy to upgrade the higher education and science research and narrow down the gap between China and the developed countries. And in addition to that, the country in late 1990s opened up the self-financed students’ studying abroad, and since 2000 more and more families even send their talented kids abroad at high school or right after their high school. At a time the going-out and coming-back students and scholars were not even, but now the balance is almost achieved, seeing more students and scholars coming back home for better job opportunities or working environment. This open-door and studying abroad policy really gives Chinese higher education a great leap forward.

Another major reform in 1990s was tuition fee and job market. For decades the universities in China were tuition free, and the students were government supported, and they need not worry about their jobs. In 1990s with the reform, the students have to pay their tuition fee and accommodation annually, at a controlled rate that is not changed for decade, and the government support changes to scholarship to those who perform well in learning and to those who are in poverty. The jobs that were used to be assigned to the graduates now were competed for by the students with their talent and ability in the job market. And the college students’ unemployment upon their graduation becomes a social issue now that draws more and more attention from the governments both central and local. The universities also put their effort to help their graduates to have jobs and even to create opportunities for their students to create job opportunities by financing their practice with their initial innovative ideas.

With the increasing demanding for higher education from the society and the expanding of the enrollment in 8 years since 1994 there had been a reform and reshape of the universities and colleges, and at the same time the private or enterprise sectors started to step in for higher education. Some of the universities in various provincial capital cities and regions merged together into the comprehensive giant universities, and most of the universities had their campuses enlarged in double or even in triple sizes. Sichuan University was then the leading one in the merge, with the former Sichuan University of arts and science merged with Chengdu University of Science and Technology in engineering in 1994 and later further merged with West China University of Medical Science and its four affiliated hospitals in 2000. Then Sichuan University became one of the biggest universities with Jilin University, Shandong University and Zhejiang University in China. It has three major campuses with 30 schools in arts and science, engineering and medical science. Sichuan University now runs 133 undergraduate programs, 443 master programs and 349 doctoral programs with about 1370 professors among 4882 teachers, about 40,000 undergraduate students, over 20,000 graduate students and over 2000 international students. From this size one can imagine the quick increase of the higher education of China in its enrollment, and China has shifted in a short time from elite education to mass education. This explains well the quick increase of the gross enrollment from 7% of 1998 to 15% of 2002 and then to 26.9% of 2012, and now this figure is over 30%. The central government’s investment in education in China in this period has also highly increased from 2.7% of GDP in 2002 to 4% of GDP in 2010. By the year of 2012, the total number of universities, colleges and vocational colleges jumped up to over 2700, and among them 1024 were four-year undergraduate program universities, and this number is over 1200 by the end of 2014.

With the quick development and enlargement, China’s higher education is big or huge in scale but still weak in strength. To catch up with the international higher education level, Chinese government has also launched several specially financed projects, namely, “211” University Enhancing Project (100 universities in this project), “985” World-Level University Project (39 universities in this project) and “One-thousand Leading Scholar Project” (to attract Chinese oversea scholars to come back to the universities and research institutes), “One-thousand Young Scholar Project” (to attract the young Chinese oversea PH.Ds to come back to the universities and research institutes and enterprises), and “2011 Research Collaborating Project” (to encourage the universities and institutes to bring together the research resources in the major front academic research areas). On the one hand, Chinese central government and local government give their support to the speedy development of higher education, and on the other hand, more attention is given to the quality control, particularly for the undergraduate education. The teaching methodologies and teacher’s training are stressed. In 2005 there was a nationwide undergraduate program quality-control survey and on-campus inspection. The quality-control now at each school is the priority in teaching work in the undergraduate programs. The classroom teaching is shifting from teacher-centered to student-centered and then to learning centered, in which the students are not offered the “fish” but trained in skills about how “to fish”. Researches are carried out on the learning habits of post 1990s younger generation at the campus, the students are encouraged to have more hand-on practice in learning, and they are encouraged to have their creative and original abilities developed. More attention is given to the students’ ability to learn, ability to innovate and create, and the ability to articulate. In the classrooms less full-time lectures are conducted, and more chances to have the students’ voices and ideas heard. General cultivation in liberal arts, hand-on skill training in various academic majors and innovative and creative talent exploring in and out classroom are the new tendencies in undergraduate education at almost all the campuses of Chinese universities.

To match up with the speedy progress of its economy and the quick changes in social and cultural domains, China’s higher education is now moving on at a faster speed and is trying with the effort to meet the international higher education standards, there is still a long way to go. With the reform of the National College Entrance Examination and with the more independent administrative power for the universities and colleges, we could expect still deeper and quicker changes to come in next five years.



1.       《国家中长期教育改革和发展规划纲要(2010-2020)》[Z]. 北京:人民出版社,2010. (The Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020).

2.       教育部, 2012, “2012教育统计数据”[OL]. (Education Statistic Data of 2012, MOE).

3.       刘延东.“在世界语言大会开幕式上的致辞”[R]. 2014年6月5日,苏州. (“The Opening Remark at the World Language Conference by Vice Premier Liu Yandong”).

4.       四川大学校网

5.       四川大学档案馆

6.       《中共中央关于进一步深化改革的重大决定》[Z]. (CCP’s document of important decisions for further deepening reform).

[1] Jian Shi, Professor of English at English Department of Sichuan University, Ph.D. from Lehigh University, U.S.A. and Xin Wang, Professor of English, Chairperson of English Department of Sichuan University, Ph.D. from Sichuan University, China.

  • 2 Responses

    1. lynda

      02|Feb|2015 1

      Thank you for sharing this. It is interesting to understand a little of the background to higher education. The rate of change is really going to impact the future developments.

    2. Jack

      02|Feb|2015 2

      This was an interesting story of the development of Chinese education. That there was
      wide spread illiteracy throughout China in the first half of the 20th century was a surprise.
      China has certainly come a long way. Thank you to Professor Shi Jian and his colleague for presenting such a clear picture of how China has progressed in the field of education.
      Best wishes,

    Leave a reply

By Peter J. Foley, Editor-in-Chief


Since its declared policy in 1999 to move towards a more student centered system of public education, progress has been slow, especially in rural schools. How can more progress be made in changing teachers’ attitudes and approaches to teaching?


Student Centered Learning Thailand, believes that an important part of the answer lies in how teachers are trained at the teacher training colleges in Thailand. Students studying to be teachers in Thailand should receive a thorough grounding in what modern research has discovered about how we learn, then how to apply these findings in a classroom, including best student centered teaching practices. Anecdotal evidence points to large numbers of teachers just entering the classroom who are poorly equipped to teach students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, keystones of student centered learning. It would be a valuable service to the Thai nation for research to be done on just how much teaching knowledge a new teachers college graduate possesses.


One focus of the study might be the student’s knowledge of how people learn. Another part of such a study might be a new teachers college graduate’s understanding and knowledge of the contributions of great educational thinkers from the dawn of civilization starting with Confucius and Socrates through to the beginning of modern times with King Chulalonghorn and Maria Montessori down to the current day thinkers , King Bhumibol Adulyadej and John Dewey.


Students should be equipped at the end of their teacher training to answer questions such as: how do we get students to solve problems on their own or in groups with their peers? How do we conduct classes so that individual students’ learning needs are met; where students learn at their own pace; and where learning is individualized rather than standardized?


Over the past two decades research has debunked the notion that rote learning is an effective method of learning. We now know that only when learners are actively thinking out ideas in a personalized manner does real understanding happen.


So why is so much rote learning still going on in Thai classrooms? We at Student Centered Learning Thailand think that one of the major reasons is linked to the way new teachers are trained. Would the Ministry of Education consider researching this question?


  • 2 Responses

    1. lynda

      20|Jan|2015 1

      Good Points.
      IT would be interesting to follow the project Teacher’s of Excellence that ran a few years ago, to see if the project teachers who participated were able to change their teaching and children’s learning or if timetable constraints, testing that was mandatory and resources available in their schools thwarted their enthusiasm for non-rote learning.

    2. Michel Thibeault

      30|Jan|2015 2

      While I fully agree with the main idea of the article I would like to point out that from a Buddhist perspective memorization is actually an extremely valuable tool. Monks devote a lot of time to it and with good reasons. I’m not taking about replacing critical thinking and true understanding with rote learning. I’m talking about using the skill to collect and keep the data needed to analyse events, thoughts and situations. We actually need this every day without realising it: from the doctor who can give a quick diagnostic from looking at a skin reaction to the teacher who must remember the details of every student’s profile in order to adapt his interventions on a daily basis. Wishing for progress we often tend to overlook what was valuable in the old way of doing things. Let’s not make this mistake again!

    Leave a reply

Op Ed December 2014

In the first 14 years of the 21st Century, has education changed to accommodate the new learning needs of the century?

Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE, Deputy Managing Editor

14th December 2014


At the time of writing we are just 16 days away from the end of 2014, soon we will be into the 15th year of the century ….. How quickly time passes! In 2015 more than one sixth of the 21st Century will be part of history.

GregPictureFor educators, what is significant about this? In the future, educational historians looking at the first 15 years of this century and the last 5 or so years of the 20th Century will read much about what academics, teachers, economists and business people said and wrote about the essential skills needed by students for a successful and fulfilled life in the new era. A quick browse of the literature about curriculum, pedagogy and school leadership, published between 1995 and 2014, will quickly lead the reader of this literature to be able to compile a list of what skills, attitudes and attributes that seem to be common in the literature and is recommended for education in the 21st Century. As well a the hard copy based literature on the topic, there is a mass of digital information on web sites and blogs on the topic.

It could be said that the work of Student Centred Learning Thailand is also part of this mass of information. We were founded to support teachers in Thai schools in changing their pedagogies from content driven, teacher directed methodologies to the student centred practices that are more appropriate for the needs of current times. That is our mission.

When the educational history of the first part of this century is written, I am sure the historians will HangingOuthave no trouble discerning the common view that it was clear in the latter years of the 20th Century and the first years of the 21st that the research said quite clearly that teaching and learning in the new century would have to be different from what had been done in the 20th Century. Mainly because of the exponential expansion of Information and Digital technology.

Have you ever had a photographic drone flying in your vicinity? If you have, it’s a safe bet that you would not have had this happen to you 10 years ago.

Who would have ever imagined the non military impacts of such technology? The same could be said of so many of the new developments in digital and other technologies.

What will history say about the efforts of educators, schools and systems to take the advice given to meet the challenge of technology’s ubiquitous impact on daily life in the first 6th of the 21st Century?

As far as our target audience – Thai classroom teachers and school decision makers, are concerned the question needs to be asked, is there actually much change occurring in Thai schools? We would love to hear some Thai teachers’ views on this.

The social impacts of technology continue to have a huge influence on all facets of life as shown in the photographs below.

In the way we relate to each other.






How often to you see situations like these?






These effects are not limited to the Western world, nor are they limited by age or gender


Family life has changed in different periods throughout history, and it continues to change ….is it for the better?










Has the meaning of the word friend been weakened by Facebook?










I recently read a book called “A Simpler Time” by the Australian writer, Peter Fitzsimons[1]. In the book, he talked about growing up on the outskirts of Sydney where his father, a soldier in the Second World War, began a new life as a farmer in 1950s, doing the hard physical work of clearing the land and then farming it.

He told the story of family life in Australia in that period where the dinner table discussion, between members of a growing family would have been vibrant and educational as well for the growing children, participating in all sorts of discussions.

Nothing at all like the family dinner scene depicted above.

In this century, educators – teachers and parents, face challenges in educating their children which are different from those challenges faced by teachers and parents in previous generations.

The digital screen can be a powerful educator but, it can also be a harmful one. Parents of young children today are faced with the paradox of allowing their children to be “digital natives” and start using digital devices as soon a possible, while others resist this use of screens at a young age by limiting or refusing access to TV and other digital media – the paradox bring that the children can learn so much from this media, but they can also develop unhealthy dependence on such media at the expense of free play and interaction with others.

The 21st Century skills lists referred to above, commonly list the following skills and attributes as essential to the current century:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Initiative
  • Curiosity and imagination
  • Self management and self regulation
  • Vision
  • Hope, optimism and resilience
  • Grit [determination, perseverance]
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy
  • Environmental awareness
  • Collaboration

Below is a useful diagram on critical thinking that some out readers may not have seen.

This and other ideas for developing critical thinking can be found at


The book, “Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for all Learners” by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison[2] is a highly influential work directly related to advising teachers on how to nurture the development of these skills.

This year, I have had the great pleasure of watching an outstanding Primary Year 2 teacher, use the techniques advocated in the book. I go into her class most days, what I see is that when questions are asked, by the teacher, or someone in the class, up go the hands and the responses invariably begin with I think ……

This shows that these children are on the road to developing their own critical thinking, and it shows these techniques can be developed at a young age

By starting these techniques early in their education, we are helping children develop habits of mind that enable them to think more deeply, to be better problem solvers problems and to develop their understanding. This teacher’s use of the Thinking Visible techniques has worked really well in just over four months.

Our feature article this month by Dr Don W Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish is on questioning techniques, an aspect of pedagogy which is essential to the teaching of critical thinking.

Ellen and Don build on, and expand, previous work published by SCLT, with a focus on planning for questions in developing thinking for understanding. I thank them for their regular and practical articles for classroom teachers in Thailand.

Teachers will find their article helpful in appreciating the importance of planning for questions to be asked. As indicated in the Year 2 example above, this teacher has worked steadily and daily with her students in helping them to ask good questions and this is developing the way they view their lessons right across the curriculum.

On behalf of the SCLT team, I wish all of our readers a very happy festive season and I trust that the New Year brings each of you peace, happiness and professional fulfillment.

Warm regards

Greg Cairnduff,

Deputy Managing Editor

December, 2014                      Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

[1] A Simpler Time, Fitzsimons, Peter, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2010

[2] Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for all Learners” by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison , Wiley and Sons, 2011


  • One Response

    1. jack O'Rielly

      20|Dec|2014 1

      A fine article that really hits the major themes of what should be the focus of Thai and western teachers in Thailand. Thank you!

    Leave a reply

Do You Understand?


Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don Jordan

‘The biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply’. (Source unknown)

How often have you given a lecture or lesson and checked for understanding during the session by asking: ‘Any questions?’, ‘Did you get that? ‘Does everybody understand? ‘Does that make sense? Teachers often allow one or two confident students who respond to such questions, to speak for the rest of the class, and accept these responses as evidence that the whole class has understood the concept or idea being developed by the teacher. The teacher will then make a decision about where to move to in the next part of the lesson or series of lessons.. As teachers, even if we select students at random to answer a question, we might select a student for which the question is either too easy or too hard.

We know that less confident students will sit quietly, but we don’t know whether they understand or not, or whether they are too shy to say anything in case they show their lack of understanding in front of their classmates.

Teachers rarely go into a lesson with a plan of the questions they might ask as part of the teaching and learning process, even though questioning and discussion are key aspects of good pedagogy.

Too often, classroom discussion only involves the most confident students, ignores the majority of those not volunteering to participate, and relies on prompts and questions that we don’t plan in advance.

Questions are an important way to check for understanding, so it is important to ensure that questions engage students in deeper thinking, not just prompts for them to recall information that they have read or have been told.

By planning questions, teachers can ensure they are tapping into deep issues of learning. One way to make a question suitable for all students is to ask the question at a number of different levels either orally or written. Well-crafted questions are an important way for teachers to determine what their students know, need to know and understand. [1]

One way to make certain that the questions we ask really engage students in creative and critical thinking is by developing questions that represent the range of knowledge that is taught in classrooms as well as the deeper understanding we are striving to achieve. The way to do this is to plan questions in advance.

Guiding questions to help teachers incorporate checking for understanding in their lesson planning include:

  • How do I provide opportunities in my classroom for students to ask questions?
  • How is discussion used in my classroom as a support for deeper understanding?
  • How will I find out what misconceptions or naïve assumptions my students have about the topic?
  • How do I know what my students understand?
  • What evidence will I accept for this understanding?
  • How will I use their understandings to plan future instruction?


There are numerous questioning techniques; the most relevant in any learning setting will depend on the purpose and context of the lesson.

Previous SCLT authors have outlined important techniques that engage students in critical thinking through deep questioning. [2] Melvin Freestone (2012) discusses generative, focus and explorative questions.

Generative questions are gateways to inquiry; focus questions shape learning and explorative questions direct learning. Each type of question has a particular value, role and function in learning. When they are used in combination, they become powerful and empowering beyond words.

By way of analogy – generative questions paint the big picture, focus questions provide the colour and texture, and explorative questions give the detail. An artist looking at or creating a work of art sees the overall picture at the same time as the detail and nuance. (Freestone 2012)

[3] Greg Cairnduff (2014) discusses ‘Five powerful questions a teacher can ask to promote student thinking in the classroom’.

‘Teachers would agree that for inquiry to be alive and well in a classroom, amongst other things, the teacher needs to be expert at asking strategic questions, and not only asking well-designed ones, but ones that will also lead students to ask questions of their own’.

Keeping It Simple

  1. What do you think?
  2. Why do you think that?
  3. How do you know this?
  4. Can you tell me more?
  5. What questions do you still have?

Provide time for them to think, before requiring students to answer.

Fisher and Freya (2007) suggest a series of question stems that require students to reflect on and to explain their understanding. Suggestions include:

  • How is_____________similar to / different from_____________?
  • What are the characteristics / parts of _____________?
  • In what other way might we show / illustrate _____________?
  • What is the big idea / key concept in_____________?
  • How does_____________relate to_______________?
  • Give an example of________________?
  • What is wrong with ________________?
  • What might you infer from________________?
  • What conclusions might be drawn from_______________?
  • What questions are we trying to answer? What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What are you assuming about________________?
  • What might happen if _________________?
  • What criteria might you use to judge / evaluate________________?
  • What evidence supports_________________?
  • How might we prove / confirm________________?
  • How might this be viewed from the perspective of_________________?
  • What alternatives should be considered___________________?
  • What approach / strategy could you use to __________________?

Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), identified six levels of thinking, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation and creating. These levels of thinking are explained in an earlier SCLT article by Cornish / Jordan[4] where we share our experience in using Bloom’s Taxonomy in our classroom teaching

Supporting Bloom’s six levels of learning are questioning stems that enable students to demonstrate their deeper understanding, from the simplest level, remembering, to higher order, creating and evaluating.

Bloom’s Taxonomy; Six levels of questioning.


  • What happened after…?
  • How many…?
  • What is…?
  • Who was it that…?
  • Name…
  • Find the definition of…
  • Describe what happened after…
  • Who spoke to…?
  • Which is true or false…?


  • Explain why…
  • Write in your own words…
  • How would you explain…?
  • Write a brief outline…
  • What do you think could have happened next…?
  • Who do you think…?
  • What was the main idea…?
  • Clarify…
  • Illustrate…


  • Explain another instance where…
  • Group by characteristics such as…
  • Which factors would you change if…?
  • What questions would you ask of…?
  • From the information given, develop a set of instructions about…


  • Which events could not have happened?
  • If…happened, what might the ending have been?
  • How is…similar to…?
  • What do you see as other possible outcomes?
  • Why did…changes occur?
  • Explain what must have happened when…
  • What are some or the problems of…?
  • Distinguish between…
  • What were some of the motives behind..?
  • What was the turning point?
  • What was the problem with…?


  • Judge the value of… What do you think about…?
  • Defend your ideas on / about…
  • Do you think…is a good or bad thing?
  • How would you have handled…?
  • What changes to… would you recommend?
  • Do you believe…? How would you feel if…?
  • How effective are…?
  • What are the consequences…?
  • What influence will….have on our lives?
  • What are the pros and cons of….?
  • Why is….of value?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • Who will gain & who will lose?


  • Design a…to…
  • Devise a possible solution to…
  • If you had access to all resources, how would you deal with…?
  • Devise your own way to…
  • What would happen if…?
  • How many ways can you…?
  • Create new and unusual uses for…
  • Develop a proposal which would…




Ellen Ellen has had 33 years’ experience teaching in Tasmanian schools.

Since March 2011, at the invitation of public and private sector education establishments, Ellen has focused on work with educators, post graduate students and teacher trainees in Thailand and Cambodia.

Since 2012 she has been co presenter been co presenter in an ongoing program to assist the development of skills in classroom strategies and teaching methodologies of staff and education students at Battambang University, Cambodia

Since 2014, she has been working with the Health Sciences Faculty at Puthisastra University, Phnom Penh, helping develop and teach units of work in the Graduate Certificate in Teaching Learning.

In Thailand, in 2011, she was involved as a co evaluator of the Mechai Pattana Secondary School in north eastern Thailand. She has co presented workshops for university staff and senior Education and PhD students in the Faculty of Education at Silpakorn University, since 2012.

Ellen has co-authored a number of articles for Student Centred Learning Thailand.



Dr Don W Jordan

Dr. Don Jordan

Dr Don Jordan is an experienced educator, having taught in a number of schools in Tasmania, Australia. He is currently working with nurse educators at the Health Sciences Faculty, Puthisastra University Phnom Penh Cambodia, teaching units of work focussing on teaching and assessment strategies that promote critical thinking. Don is also working with education students at the University of Battambang, Cambodia, conducting workshops for staff and education students on classroom strategies and methodologies.



Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007) Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. ASCD, Virginia, USA.


[1] Fisher and Frey 2007

[2] Melvin Freestone. SCLT, Oct. 2012.


[4] E Cornish and Don Jordan. SCLT. (August 2013) Student Self-Assessment: what I ask myself.


  • 2 Responses

    1. Jack

      23|Dec|2014 1

      The questioning is a wonderful way to have a continuous formative assessment in play. If a teacher follows the guideposts Corrish and Jordon have laid out there will be a continual playback to the teacher what the students are really learning. Brilliant really! Thanks for some really important points. Jack

    2. Michel Thibeault

      30|Jan|2015 2

      Asking questions is an art! Thanks for the reminder. Allowing students time to think before answering is often the hardest part for teachers. It helps to ask students to answer those questions in pairs where hiding behind a group or the outspoken students is impossible. Pair the outspoken students together!

    Leave a reply

Jurgen Zimmer, in this month’s article, “The Situational Approach in Didactics of Higher Education” makes a solid case for progressive education. There are many educational approaches encompassed under the rubric of progressive education and certainly the situational approach is pivotal. At SCLThailand the term student centered  translates into many similar or identical approaches including not only the situational approach but also: brain-based learning; the inquiry method ; the discovery method ; experiential learning and learning by doing.

Professor Zimmer brings into sharp focus what teacher education has missed. The result of “missed lessons” is teachers continuing to rely on the lecture method. Research shows much more long term memory learning when students actually participate in the learning process.   Professor Zimmer is the co-founder of the School for Life in Chiangmai, Thailand. The curriculum purpose of the school is to establish a situational approach to learning that will lead to students being prepared for life after the completion of high school and also make the school and the boarding of the students more and more self-reliant.

Taking inspiration from Professor Zimmer’s situational approach, it might be useful to give an overview of a learning project plan for students at the School for Life who are interested in coffee production and interested in using coffee as a gateway to learning how to be an entrepreneur. At each step in the process of empowering the students who join the coffee club, there will be problem solving based on knowledge gained followed by actual practice and then, reflection followed by action.

The first steps in the process of forming a coffee club at the School for Life have already started. Ms. Praewa, a coffee expert and coffee educator has introduced the art of coffee making to all the students of School for Life in three afternoon sessions during the month of November of 2014. The introduction was a hands- on experience on how to judge coffee bean quality and how to identify and select coffee beans; how coffee is harvested and how it is roasted; and finally how the barista makes the experience of coffee memorable to the end user in a café. Students thus begin to understand the importance of knowing coffee bean quality and what it takes to produce a quality  coffee bean. They also begin to understand the importance of temperature and air flow in the coffee roasting process. And  by the end of  Ms. Praewa’s course the students begin to understand the importance of marketing and presentation of coffee.   In sum, the three sessions Ms. Praewa lead are the hook used to capture the interest and enthusiasm of students who may wish to go on to join the coffee club.

The coffee club will continue to develop coffee making and entrepreneurial skills.   Interested students will register their names with the head of school who, along with a committee of teachers, will choose a group of students, a mix of 25 boys and girls, to be members of the club based on their enthusiasm and grasp of the ideas and skills Ms. Praewa presented through hand-on experiences during the three day sessions on the art of coffee making.   Once the coffee club is formed, advisors will be assigned and the coffee club will begin a mind -mapping exercise to decide what they already know about coffee; what further questions they need to ask about coffee and where they hope to get further information. The club will also do a mind mapping exercise on what they hope to achieve at the coffee club and how they will realize those objectives and what help they might need.

The club members will also have to decide how they will make decisions, how often they will meet, and how meetings will be managed.   Readers of Professor Zimmer’s article may recognize that these mind-mapping exercises may well result in the coffee club students making their own situational analysis. Indeed, that is the hoped for result.   Once the club has formed the questions that need to be answered and the skills they will need, the advisors and students will explore links with the knowledge and skills offered in the Ministry of Education curriculum. These links will probably lead to blended learning. For example, inevitably, the club will decide that they want to mount a small business. They will conclude that they have to have some way of tracking profits and losses. The need to learn certain math skills in order to do the accounting will be evident. Moreover, the students may decide it is worth learning a computer program like EXCEL to help them speed up the process of preparing financial statements.

After the club’s mind-mapping exercises, there will be a need for reflection. Are the objectives coming out of the mind-mapping exercise reasonable? Should the objectives be prioritized? What should be the time-frame? What resources are available? Where and how can other resources be found?   Again, readers of Dr. Jurgen Zimmer’s article may recognize this provision for dialogue as an integral part of the situational approach. Out of the dialogue students will use their knowledge and skills to help “steer” their own development process. The advisors will help guide and coach the coffee club toward a common purpose and goal. The students will be learning in a wide variety of situations, i.e. by going to coffee factories, visiting coffee plantations and visiting cafes. Each experience will be recorded by each the students of the coffee club in  personal student journals  and then discussed in group meetings. What has been learned? How can we apply what we have learning to our situation in the School for Life?

We return now to the purpose of School for Life. The coffee club is in league with the school goal of preparing coffee club members to be innovative entrepreneurs. And the this project also mirrors the second goal of School for Life of self-reliance by establishing a coffee production center at the school where professional coffee experts help bring in revenue through coffee productions and sales. Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

by Jürgen Zimmer

Thirteen Theses and Commentaries


The situational approach has its origins in the educational reforms of the early 1970s in West Germany. Based on a critique of curriculum design in formal education, it initially stemmed from a much-publicized reform at an elementary level – in kindergartens. Back then, like today, a central question was how ideas about the future and imaginings of a world which is worth living in for all – children, young people and adults – can be realized.

The origins of the situational approach encompass the work of social critics such as Shaul B. Robinsohn, Paulo Freire, Siegfried Bernfeld and Ivan Illich. The consequences include not only extensive kindergarten reforms, but also community education, learning in projects, open teaching, promoting entrepreneurial spirit and UNESCO’s “Open Learning Community”.

Autonomy, competence and solidarity, the educational and developmental objectives of the situational approach, lead the design of educational and psychosocial fields of work with children, young people, families and communities. Business enterprises which feel a sense of duty to be part of the solution to global and local, environmental and social issues have integrated these objectives into their mission statement.

To shape the present and the future with self-determination and in solidarity with those who are weaker; to allow the potential of all members of an institution or a society to come into play, beyond old boundaries; to develop personal, social, factual and methodological competences in contradictory and challenging life situations – these are the targets, established through the situational approach for the development of social communities which are increasingly influenced by global processes.

In recent years, the situational approach has proven increasingly to be a universal principle of development: learning in real life, learning as a challenging adventure, open-ended learning, learning to stand on one’s own feet – these are the principles that are demanded by a plethora of social fields of action.
The further development of the approach was initially driven forward by kindergarten teachers, educationalists, psychologists and development workers. Over the years, the situational approach networked with other movements and set new priorities; new fields of application include intercultural education, the integration of people with disabilities, the alleviation of poverty through entrepreneurship education, psychosocial work in conflict areas, Youth and Adult Education. To date, the approach has spawned debates amongst urban planners, development workers, socially-oriented businesses and educational institutions around the world. It has also become clear that we cannot talk of “the” situation, because situations are always different, depending on whether they are in India, Brazil, South Africa, Italy or China.


1. For many teachers of higher education, training in didactical methodology is thin on the ground: it doesn’t exist.

As a result, the courses on offer are often characterized neither by a variety of methods nor by practical relevance to reality. Traditional lecture and seminar patterns dominate and theory is not followed by practice, nor is reflection followed by action. Knowledge gained in this way is easily forgotten because it is not connected with personal experiences.
2. New uniformity in the educational system threatens to cancel out diversity in forms of learning.

The increasing strangle hold by the rampant examination system is leading to the restoration of learning which is divorced from reality. Education is increasingly reduced to memorization for the next test, then forgetting what has been learned and memorizing again for the next test. This renewed ‘de-schooling’ of schools continues at university level and is further fueled by international comparative tests.

3. Situative and systematic learning cannot be separated from each other, but rather enable each other in alternation and are closely related

From 1986 to 1988, a broad-based Delphi survey on the development of education was conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany by the Ministry of Education and Science. Hundreds of experts were involved in multiple phases, and the results showed numerous similarities to the situational approach: the acquisition of skills for the development of problem-solving knowledge is seen as increasingly relevant – the situation approach helps in locating and weighing up these problems as well as in the provision of realistic settings and highly differentiated learning environments.

Increasingly, learning will take place through the alternation of formal and situational training. Problem-solving knowledge is becoming more important than pure knowledge. We will have to say goodbye to the canonization of knowledge into a fixed educational canon – the situational approach has long been building on exemplary situations, expressly renouncing the attempt to find the ‘timeless’ and transcultural.

For curriculum development as part of blended learning, it is important that developments and interventions in practice are in an alternating relationship to expounding theory, and that both are aligned to the respective key problem and serve to solve this problem. This reciprocal relationship is brought alive through its connection to the situation.

4. The situational approach respects neither the border between Humaniora and Realia, nor the boundaries of subjects and scientific disciplines.

In kindergartens, this means connecting social and subject-based learning. In the field of engineering education, building a bridge cannot simply be an architectural or structural matter – indeed, it takes place in a social, environmental and cultural context which is important to identify and consider with care.

Example: an interdisciplinary research group at the Max Planck Institute for Educational Development in Berlin examined two industrial companies with a chief interest in revising the didactics of mathematics teaching. The question was which mathematics-related skills mature people need to understand the processes of such a company with a critical consciousness. In this research group, mathematical, sociological, psychological, economic and educational science skills were represented. From the results of the situation analysis it was concluded that the most important knowledge is the ability to analyze pre-mathematic values and quantification processes which are controlled outside of mathematics. This insight would probably not arisen from a mono-disciplinary approach. The qualifications that can be formulated out of a situation like this are of a different kind all together than those which deal simply with “getting your sums right”.

5. Elements of the curriculum (modules) can develop out of key situations and problems.

The resulting four steps of situation-related curriculum development are:
• Exploration: identification and analysis of the situation
It is important that this is oriented towards an interest in gaining new insights and grounded in theory. The analysis can be carried out by the students themselves, through discourse with actors in the situation as well as through the acquisition of knowledge which is relevant to the situation and experiences from other sources.
• Decision: the determination of qualifications and objectives
Carrying out a situation analysis can help to ascertain which facts are relevant to qualification, providing pointers towards desirable skills and competencies that are useful for dealing with situations and their intrinsic problems. However, the situational approach is about more than just a subject-related qualification. It can open our eyes to what is desirable, to real utopias and to shaping situations anew. In the words of Ernst Bloch (“the Principle of Hope”): “We need the most powerful telescope, that of polished utopian consciousness, in order to penetrate precisely the nearest nearness.”

• Action: Interventions
People want to gain qualifications in order to make a difference. Inherent in this are both the competence and the intervention. This can be short and to the point or take the form, for example, of a project.
Example: The most famous project in American Progressive Education was reported by William Heard Kilpatrick. In the typhoid project, when two pupils from a farming family fell ill with typhoid, their school class investigated the reasons behind the outbreak on the farm, found out the causes, formulated recommendations to address these causes, and assisted the farmer in implementing these to ensure that typhoid did not break out again in the future.

• Reflection: evaluation and further perspectives
Questions inherent in an evaluation of the first three steps include the following: was the situation analysis sufficiently differentiated and were suitable theories formed? Were the objectives realistically formulated? Were the interventions really connected to the objectives? From any given situation, many bridges can be built to further situations and provoke never-ending learning processes.

Example 1: The swimming pool at the School For Life northeast of Chiang Mai (Thailand) was initially kept clean by an energy-intensive filter system. When the people heard about the theory of a “natural swimming pool”, they put small rice paddy fish and a few plants into the water and watched happily as the little fish – in contrast to goldfish – kept the water clean. At first there were more and more of them, but then their number started to decline again. Why? Small green water snakes were now cavorting in the pool and eating up the little fish. The children and adults decided to put larger fish in the pool instead of the small ones, so as to supply the kitchen. But then a cobra family with a particularly aggressive cobra mother moved to the water’s edge, and once again the fish were in trouble. Later, they tried microbiological methods, but no sooner had the water become clean, there was a small earthquake which cracked the base of the pool and out seeped the water… Have all these problems been resolved by now? No, but a lot has been learned.

Example 2: You can develop a curriculum from generative themes stemming from a company, city, region or country. The generative themes themselves, rather than the structure of a scientific discipline, shape the curriculum. In Nicaragua in 1986, a fourteen-day seminar was held with 60 members of the Ministerio de Educación in order to decide which generative themes would characterize the current situation in the country. All of them started with “falta de …”: lack of energy, lack of food, lack of spare parts, lack of medicine. Broken down into a university curriculum, this resulted in a subject or module on the theme of “the lack of spare parts and what can be done about it” and a project to address the recycling of a contrast fluid used in the only X-ray machine at Managua’s hospital, so as not to be dependent anymore on contrast fluid imported from Sweden at a high price. The subject “the lack of energy and what can be done about it” pointed the way to a rural area where there was no more firewood because of deforestation, and the attempt to build a biogas plant without being able to buy the necessary materials in the nearest store.
6. Interventions within the framework of the situational approach are dependent on the acceptance of the actors in the given situation.
Dialogue is one of the cornerstones of the situational approach. Teachers become fellow learners, students become co-researchers, the former objects of research become subjects who help steer the development process. If a department of a company which was highly innovative when initially founded loses its power of innovation over the years, and situation analysis has identified the problem areas with the participation of all stakeholders, ways out of the dilemma will be pursued, corrected and readjusted together. Adult education thereby becomes adult self-education, primarily. Students of the Carl Benz Academy might fail or get held up battling in new terrains, but failure also contains intensive learning when it is done at a high level, as Hermann Glaser (a gifted former Head of Cultural Affairs of the City of Nuremberg) once put it.

Example: In the tea plantations on the steep slopes of Darjeeling, one of the key problems is soil erosion, caused mainly by deforestation. Workshops attended by members of a university and tea plantation workers addressed the question as to which conditions would be necessary so that newly planted trees or bushes would not be cut down again after going to seed. The workers responded that the bushes trees could stay if they had another economic benefit, for example in connection with the breeding of silkworms or because edible mushrooms grow well under certain trees.
Counter-example: An expert from the developmental organization GTZ initiated the setting up of a Craft Chamber in the capital of a small African country, investing a large sum of money. As soon as he had gone, taking the source of the financial support with him, the Craft Chamber gave up the ghost.
7. The situational approach needs allies

If the inhabitants of a Brazilian village with the generative topic “water” wish to gain access to the river, but are frightened off by the private army of the large land owner whose disused land they have to cross, then they don’t take an active part in history, like the young Paulo Freire would have wished, but rather they fail upon meeting barriers that they cannot overcome alone, and their literacy teachers behave like a vanguard without troops. The older Paulo Freire learned from this, and highlighted the importance of joining forces with the social movements, with the movement of the landless, the women’s movement, the Afro-Brazilian movement or the unions.
8. The situational approach is not a vehicle for the promulgation of closed world views
In a documentary scene towards the end of the film “La Victoria” by Peter Lilienthal, a literacy teacher shows a poster on which many people are all looking in the same direction, although it is not clear what they are looking at. The teacher asks what the people are looking at so expectantly. The illiterate pupils – the scene is a barrio on the outskirts of Santiago de Chile – offer answers, but none of them are right. Finally, someone suggests that they are looking at the compañeros of the MIR (revolutionary left movement in Chile). Yes, says the teacher, that’s right – because the MIR helps you. The teacher is part of this left-wing revolutionary movement herself.

Abuse of the situational approach includes when its users come with ideological baggage and engage in dialogue with manipulative intent.

Example: The “Iglesia ni Cristo”, an aggressive Philippine sect along the lines of a “Church Business” tried this and wanted to use the situational approach to capture the key problems of the people in order to wrap them around their little finger. They were prevented from doing so.
9. The situational approach must first of all take seriously the interpretations of meaning of all participants
These interpretations of meaning may be influenced by “magical-intransitive consciousness” (Freire) or by incomprehensible cultural patterns, but respects demands that they are perceived and negotiated in dialog.

Example 1: Years ago, German pharmaceutical representatives met with a German-Filipino student group in Manila. The pharmaceutical representatives lamented the lack of sales even of reasonably priced drugs. The students researched: the obstacle was not the price but the fact that the leaflets did not specify which ceremonies were to be carried out on taking the drugs.

Example 2: On behalf of her organization, a German PhD student was supposed to investigate why the rural population in Tanzania refused to take medication to treat an otherwise fatal disease. Her situation analysis showed that the people believed that the sick patients had been occupied by the most evil of all curses and therefore irretrievably doomed to death. Only when the project staff changed their strategy and spread the word that the magic formula contained in the drug reversed this curse and could bring the half-dead back to life again, did the drug / magic potion start selling like hot cakes.

Example 3: A project by the Carl Benz Academy examines the occasional car-rampages carried out by Chinese owners of luxury cars, destroying their cars in public or letting them be pulled by oxen. The analysis so far seems to suggest that there are not only technical, but also social and cultural reasons causing this behavior.

10. One of the strengths of the situational approach is that it is culturally adaptable.

Since the 1980s, in some countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, workshops and projects on the development of a pre-school curriculum have been carried out. These events all began with an intensive brainstorming session to identify and prioritize the key situations of the children in the region. These situations differed depending on the location.

Thailand: “Going to the Temple” (meaning cultural alienation through cultural invasion); “Chaotic traffic in Bangkok”: (meaning: it is almost impossible for children to cross a road).

Philippines: “Surviving a typhoon”; surviving on a sinking boat; “surviving fire” (in Slums); “surviving gunfire” (between army and Guerilla).

Malaysia: “Boys don’t touch girls because they think they have to marry them”.

South Korea: “Getting lost in the city” (the house numbers in Seoul are not in rows, but rather added according to when a building was built, meaning that number 2 can be somewhere entirely different than number 3).

Indonesia: “Girls don’t eat bananas” (Taboo), “New York” (the answer from children in a kindergarten in Jakarta when asked what is the capital of Indonesia).

Hong Kong: “Home Alone” (parents go to work for 9 or 12 hours and leave the children alone at home).

Singapore: “Alone in the elevator” (meaning isolated children as a result of the government’s single child policy).

Ghana: “Girls and women don’t eat chicken” (in a workshop, it turns out that this is only true in one province, where the men have convinced them of this so that they can eat the chicken alone. In the neighboring province, the women eat chicken).

Nicaragua: “Fear of armed attacks” (meaning the activities of the Contra in the 1980s).

11. The situational approach doesn’t need a campus or a school building to unfold. It doesn’t stake any territorial claims.
It is mobile, goes to the hot-spots where things are happening, and favors contrasting milieus. These hot-spots are action sites characterized by a generative topic. This means that instead of the students gathering where professors teach, both meet at selected locations where things are going on and engage with them. In his famous essay “Sisyphus or the Limits of Education” (1925), Siegfried Bernfeld remarks that the ridiculousness of pedagogical activities is that it is done in the wrong place and only protects the status quo. Ivan Illich (“Deschooling Society”) wrote that the most intense learning takes place through unhindered participation in relevant environments.

Example 1: a group of German students prepares for a trip to the slums of Manila. They are taken directly from the airport to their accommodation: huts encircling Smokey Mountain, the city’s enormous reeking garbage mountain from which around 3000 families make their living. They are shocked. But the aim is clear: assisting in developing Productive Community Schools, in which “learning and earning” are connected. The students learn that the road towards this aim is one long obstacle course.

Example 2: a team of Turkish and German university teachers from Berlin take around 70 students for a stay of several weeks in West-Anatolian villages as part of – or better still, instead of – a seminar on intercultural education. During this time, a military coup ensues. The borders are closed. The students and their teachers take on the role of immigrant workers for a while, and are touched by the heartiness of their hosts and find out that there are other ways to treat foreigners than was the case in Germany in the late 1970s.

12. Those who work with the situational approach might find themselves veering off the path they were on.

Since situations are, by their very nature, not fully detectable events, they can take unexpected turns. This is often a good thing.

Example: a high school teacher working in an Afro-Brazilian majority school on the southern periphery of São Paulo works on forming a curriculum of sassy resistance against the white Goliaths. Teachers, parents, neighbors and the headmistress take part in an intense and spirited way – it is a mixture of workshop and party and lasts several days. But then the story takes a different turn: a delegation of around twelve Guarani Indians enters the school building, sit down silently on the floor of the seminar room and observe the happenings for an entire day. They are silent.

Finally, however, one of them stands up, announcing that he is chief of the Guaranis, his name is Karai, and he wants to report what their problems are and why they also need a school of resistance. They came from a reserve near São Paulo, and because the city was continuing to grow and was rapidly approaching the boundaries of the reserve, white land speculators had begun to individually ambush and shoot the Guarani Indians. For this reason, the Indians were only leaving the reserve in groups.

The professor asks them what kind of school of resistance they want. One with weapons, says Karai. The professor finds this idea hopeless and presents another idea: the Guaranis could build an Indian Academy in the reserve, an academy for the reconstruction of indigenous knowledge and its connection with modern knowledge. For example, one could merge old knowledge of ecology with modern knowledge, and that would be interesting for many Brazilians and guests from other countries, and they would visit the academy, fund it through their donations, and stop the speculators through their presence.

No sooner said than done – almost. A Swiss foundation supplies the money. The Indians start to build their academy, the press come, the first visitors register, but then everything turns out differently. “Globo”, one of the big television companies in Brazil, turns up with the plan of making a 42-part “Novela” on the (invented) love story between the Karai’s beautiful daughter and a young white Brazilian. And so it is. And when half of Brazil sees this story and the press photos of the reserve are published, even more people want to come and see the site of the action.

The academy was done for, it wasn’t necessary any more. It sufficed to take an entrance fee from the visitors. But they had reached their goal nonetheless: no more shootings from speculators, and Karai thanked the teacher with a long hug when he saw him again years later. His “magic” had worked, he said, and he had already guessed when he sat in the Afro-Brazilian school that things would develop in the right direction.

13. The situational approach meets with innovative entrepreneurship.
It is better to create jobs yourself than running after non-existent ones. You can start early.

Example: in the “Villa Kunterbunt” kindergarten in the Brandenburg village of Crussow, since the mid 1990s, the children have successfully been breeding thousands of common German garden worms (2 for 5 Cents). The children researched what makes works happy, because happy worms have lots of babies – 500 little worms per happy worm. They discovered that a wormery with different layers of worm-friendly earth and an upper layer of fresh organic compost can be arranged in a variety of ways. They discovered that by holding a bright light over the wormery, the fully grown worms, ready for harvest, can be motivated to come out of the ground and form bundles like balls of wool that can be easily harvested, while the younger worms carry on burrowing around in the soil, apparently oblivious to the light. They have discovered that the flies that like to eat worm eggs can be shooed away by the smell of old oil, which is why the kindergarten sometimes smells like a car repair workshop. The children have learned to love their worms and have started selling them to gardeners and horticulturalists rather than fishing clubs.

What they haven’t got the hang of yet is the cultivation of the aristocratic Canary Island earthworm. Of handsome figure and lively temperament, these are usually flown in from the Canary Islands for German customers, and cost 20 cents each – a steep price. The Canarian worm doesn’t feel at home in Crussow’s little wormeries, not even with a special menu – it loves the liberties of free-range rearing. But how do you get a worm that burrows eight feet into the ground (in order to get married and protect its 500 worm eggs from flies) to come back up to the surface again?

By drilling 7,80 m deep holes and sending down a scent which promises a royal gala dinner for worms? But shouldn’t this menu really exist, so that when the worms crawl up and poke their tips out of the ground to sniff, they don’t return back home disappointed? The children of Crussow have not yet uncovered the secret of how to help the Canarian crawlers settle into the Brandenburg soil and stay together, or how to collect them. It would certainly be an economical quantum leap. The children of Crussow could undercut the import prices of Canarian earthworms. They could rear more of them outside than in the basement. Sales would roar. The surpluses generated would be sufficient for the formation of reserves and investments. Because the children have discovered a new market niche: there is no one who repairs bicycles in Crussow…

The Essence
The ‘wilder’, the more unexplored the terrain, the greater chance the situational approach has to unfold, and the more we have the opportunity to be refreshed. But even for those who work in institutions, the principle of hope holds true: in terms of learning, the situational approach is an escape artist.


Young Teachers and Young Writers

Young Teachers and Young Writers
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief

The editorial staff of is making greater efforts to enlist young teachers to write articles on the topic of improving classroom learning. A young teacher from Boston, who is  a Princeton University fellow, writes this month’s article. He will teach this semester at the storied Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. It is significant that the author, Tyler Belanga, places a premium on a trusting relationship between teacher and student. Research bears out the importance of such a student teacher relationship. For example, here are just some of the research findings that support the importance of relationships between students and teachers:

1. Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students throughout the formal schooling experience (Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008).

2. Positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron, & Essex, 2005).

3. When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001)

4. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

As the editors and writers of have said over and over again in its opinion editorials and articles, the key to a successful student centered classroom is the teacher acting as a coach and not simply a lecturer. This means that there must be interactions between students and teachers every day that are significant to the learning process. Such interactions can take many forms: Q and A sessions where all the students have an opportunity to interact with the teacher; individual or group help where the teacher checks a group or individual’s learning progress; and individualized reviews of student journals. Another salient ingredient that goes into maximizing student learning that Mr. Belanga emphasized is the participation of parents in schools. This would appear to be just common sense given the overwhelming and singular influence parents; nevertheless, parents rarely are brought into schools to engage in the learning process with students and teachers. When parents are involved the research proves that:

1. Increased involvement correlates positively with higher student achievement

2. The most likely predictor of a student’s success in school is a home that encourages learning

3. Parents aspirations exert a significant influence on student achievement*

  Over the next six months we hope to bring you more articles from young teachers and writers. We are looking particularly for young Thai teacher scholars. If you know of a young Thai teacher scholar who would like to be published in please be so kind as to refer her or him to me, the editor-in-chief at *The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. Masten, Ann S.; Coatsworth, J. Douglas American Psychologist, Vol 53(2), Feb 1998, 205-220.

by Tyler Belanga

Over the course of the last two years, I served as a Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools, a U.S. non-profit that partners with struggling urban middle schools to expand the learning day. Specifically, I was assigned to the McCormack Middle School in Boston as part of a small cohort called 8th Grade Academy (8GA), the goal of which was to prepare students for success in high school and college. With almost zero teaching experience entering my service time in the program, I tried to keep my expectations low at the outset of year one. Little did I know that I was going to learn a great deal about myself, as well as acquire many best practices for educators that would lay the groundwork for a potential career in education. What makes 8GA such an inspiring and effective program, and one that I believe is worthy of widespread emulation, are three distinct things, all related to building relationships, that widen the scope of an educator’s role beyond just the classroom.


1) First and foremost, in 8GA there was an extraordinary emphasis placed on teacher-student relationships. How many thousands of enlightened educators have proclaimed this to be extremely important I do not know, but I will confirm here the veracity of the statement. In my experience, the element of trust is infinitely more effective than consequences or incentives in motivating students to learn and in keeping them on-track. However, most students can easily identify feigned interest; authenticity conveyed through honest and consistent dialogue is vital. An educator who cannot at least give the impression that he is interested and invested in the lives of his students should either enroll in acting classes or find another career, because the job cannot be successfully executed without this element.


8GA created an environment in which I could support my students not only academically, but also emotionally. From feelings of intellectual inadequacy, to problems with other students getting in the way of schoolwork, to serious personal conflicts that had not been shared with any other adult in the building, I encountered a vast array of issues that required addressing. I could not always solve these issues on the spot, but often it was only the knowledge that an adult was there for them that students truly needed. These one-on-one conversations also often lead to crucial dialogue about students’ careers and futures, which allowed me to give advice and tailor lessons concerning job skills, pathways to specific types of colleges, etc. to individual aspirations.


2) The second element that made 8GA successful was constant communication and collaboration between education professionals. This practice created a network of safety for students and one of mutual accountability among educators. Students cutting multiple classes were noticed and promptly pulled aside. Dissemination to the relevant teachers of information regarding discord in a student’s home life led to an increased sense of understanding and to more purposeful planning around that student. Weekly meetings to discuss a student in danger of falling off in one subject begot check-ins from teachers throughout the day to ensure that the student used all available free time to complete homework for that class.


The sharing of strategies in the classroom was particularly helpful for me, as I discovered that the struggles and frustrations even between dissimilar classes are often quite consistent. And if the math teacher has discovered the secret to getting a troublesome student to focus in class, why should this magic weapon be withheld at the expense of continued disruptions in all of the student’s other classes? There were countless instances in which veteran teachers gave me small pieces of advice that, when implemented, resulted in swift and tangible results in my own classroom. I worked with some of the best teachers in Boston who taught me, among many other things, that the further from an island mentality each teacher within a school has, the closer to a pedagogical paradise the school draws.


3) Finally, I learned in 8GA that being present and visible in the school community can have massively positive effects. Increased visibility can come in many forms, such as holding a potluck dinner during a monotonous time of year or attending a school play held after dismissal. When physical encounters are not possible, visibility can come in the form of a voice over the phone. For example, calling home to praise the performance of a normally difficult student after a particularly impressive showing in class can literally bring a parent to tears. The rewards of such minute but uncommon actions are often far greater than the efforts required to perform them.


It should be clear that a vastly important stakeholder comes into the picture here: families. Family involvement is an absolutely critical component in driving student success. A student who feels supported is typically a successful one, and deficiency in this area often leads to insurmountable problems in others. A great educator can have a profound impact on a young person, but it cannot be forgotten that a student spends the majority of his or her time at home. Many large urban schools struggle to establish a tight-knit feel, but I have seen pockets of heavy family involvement within a student population, and I believe it is possible to achieve in large school communities as a whole. The key seems to be making families feel as though they are a relevant part of the equation, which usually involves teachers taking the initiative to reach out.



It is my firm belief that the model of 8GA, which involves an adult serving as a mentor, therapist, teacher, outreach coordinator, and advocate to a group of students is a highly effective educational apparatus that can be used to drive student success, whether it is in the U.S. or on the other side of the world in Thailand. Although my days at Citizen Schools are now behind me, I plan to keep these three core values close as I begin teaching at Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. My role will not be the same; I will be teaching exclusively English and not College Prep. I will not be taking students off campus, nor will I make phone calls home to parents. I will undoubtedly experience some difficulty communicating with students and native coworkers.


All of this, however, simply means that I will have to work harder to forge bonds with the people at Vajiravudh College. I will still have ample time to build relationships with students by synchronizing our breaks and having lunch with them during the week. I will be working very closely with other teachers, especially veterans who have experience in a system that is completely new to me. Finally, I will have the opportunity to attend prayer assemblies in the morning and rugby matches after school, allowing me to be more visible in the school community. Although I am teaching abroad for the first time in my life, I look forward to growing as an education professional at Vajiravudh College and applying the valuable lessons I learned as a part of 8GA in the United States.

  • 2 Responses

    1. lynda

      13|Oct|2014 1

      the point you make about being authentic and genuinely interested in the young people we work with is important.

    2. Bill DiYeso

      14|Oct|2014 2

      There are some great things going on in US education despite the institution’s slowness in catching up to the 21st century. Most of them stress interpersonal relationships & collective strategies that make all in the room teachers & students at the same time. It’s encouraging to know that in this tech age, there is still great value in developing face-to-face relationships, promoting kindness & respect, & EMPOWERING the human machines in front of us to move forward & do great things. Nice work!

    Leave a reply

Five Powerful Questions:


From Edutopia

How do you ask questions in your classroom? What works well with your students?

Teachers would agree that for inquiry to be alive and well in a classroom, amongst other things, the teacher needs to be expert at asking strategic questions, and not only asking well-designed ones, but ones that will also lead students to ask questions of their own.

Keeping It Simple

Asking straightforward, simply-worded questions can be just as effective as those intricate ones. With that in mind, if you are a new teacher or perhaps not so new but know that question-asking is an area where you’d like to grow, start tomorrow with these five:

#1. What do you think?

This question interrupts us from telling too much. There is a place for direct instruction where we give students information yet we need to always strive to balance this with plenty of opportunities for students to make sense of and apply that new information using their schemata and understanding.

#2. Why do you think that?

After students share what they think, this follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.

#3. How do you know this?

When this question is asked, students can make connections to their ideas and thoughts with things they’ve experienced, read, and have seen.

#4. Can you tell me more?

This question can inspire students to extend their thinking and share further evidence for their ideas.

#5. What questions do you still have?

This allows students to offer up questions they have about the information, ideas or the evidence.

Provide time for them to think

In addition to routinely and relentlessly asking your students questions, be sure to provide time for them to think. What’s best here: three seconds, five, or seven? Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, this think time will vary. Just push yourself to stay silent and wait for those hands to go up.

Also be sure to vary your tone so it genuinely sounds like a question and not a statement. When we say something in a declarative way, it is often with one tone and flat sounding. On the other hand, there is a lilt in our voice when we are inquiring and questioning.

To help students feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, you can use this scaffold:

Ask a question, pause, and then invite students to “turn and talk” with a neighbor first before sharing out with the whole group. This allows all to have their voices heard and also gives them a chance to practice their responses before sharing in front of the whole class.



  • One Response

    1. lynda

      19|Sep|2014 1

      What sound advice. The Traidhos Barge Program holds such questioning as its chief educational tool. I really support the time to think – and as a facilitator not being embarrassed by the silenceof the thinking time. Talking with the person next to you is also really helpful.

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