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

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.



The importance of class size?

Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE,

Deputy Managing Editor

14 September 2014

The question of class size is one of those age old questions that have long been the subject of debate among educators, parents, school administrators, and school planning authorities. At the core of these debates is the endeavour to get the best out of limited resources for education.

Much has been written and researched on this subject.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s fifth and most recent book, David and Goliath, subtitled Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants [Penguin, London 2013], the Canadian – English author, journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine, explores how disadvantage can bring about advantage and conversely, how an advantage can be a disadvantage. The book is peppered with interesting and powerful examples, many of which can be imported into education. For example, he cites the example of a poor working class family, where the parents instill into their children the need to be thrifty and not to take for granted the basic necessities of life for granted. For instance, the father brought his children up not to waste electricity, insisting lights should not be left burning in unoccupied rooms. Gladwell looks at the successful move on the children to more prosperous life styles achieved by the children of that family. When one for them becomes very successful in the movie industry, whose children want for nothing, their father laments their lack of appreciation of what they have, and their inability to understand the value of money.

Here in Thailand, I am sure Gladwell’s premise that disadvantage can sometimes be an advantage, may be seen in the happiness and joy of living that comes from some of the poorest communities of the North East of the country. A Thai educator friend of mine one said to me that Esan does not have to worry about the economic term gross domestic product, because they have gross domestic happiness. I know this may be a liberal generalization of the point being made by Gladwell but the strong family ties and family loyalty and personal support found in poorer parts of a country or a city, do tend to show up the fragility of family bonds in more affluent areas.

In my last editorial, I recommended Gladwell’s book Outliers, as being useful to educators; I would recommend David and Goliath also not only for its insights into advantage and disadvantage that are very useful for teachers, but particularly for the discussion on class size which explored in the book.

What is a class size that produces optimum learning opportunities for children? Is it better to have small classes or is it better to have large classes? The jury is out on exactitude with regards to this question.

School populations grow and decline according to a range of socio- economic factors. It would be true to say that most parents would want their child to be as small a class as possible, in the belief that a small class is a better class for learning. In the West, and in Asia, efforts have been made to reduce class sizes in USA, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, all believing that smaller classes would lead to better learning outcomes, as students in small classes get more attention from their teachers. Using schools in Connecticut, USA where there happened to be swings in class sizes caused by rapidly changes demographics due to real estate prices going up, economist Caroline Hoxby who was able to study the impact of smaller classes on the educational outcomes of the students[1], found that the impact of small class sizes had little or no effect on improving learning outcomes.

Gladwell’s summary of the hundreds of research studies done over the years found that in 15% of the studies examined there was an improvement in student performance, in another 20% of the studies there is no measurable improvement and that the students actually do worse in smaller classes. He goes on the cite studies on reduced class in 18 different countries and there were only two countries – Iceland and Greece where there were “nontrivial beneficial effects of reduced class sizes” [2]

I wonder what Thai teachers being urged to use child centred pedagogies would say if they were asked about their desired class size? Teachers dealing with 45 – 50 sized classes would obviously want them brought down; there would be no argument with that. What about an Australian teacher with a class on 33? I am sure that teacher would want to class to be lower.

Is there an optimum? Of course for different stages of a child’s passage through school, the best class size will vary depending on the stage of education, but teachers know that very small classes have their own challenges and can be every bit as difficult as large classes. One thing teachers need in a class is vibrant discussion and this is what students need too.

So the debate is about optimum sizes of classes for learning, Caroline Hoxby comes down on the mid 20s as a good size for middle school aged children, a size of around 25 where discussion can flourish and where the dominance of one or two students can make learning difficult for others. Her research found that teachers do not like to have classes much under 18 in the early years of secondary school.

There is no doubt that is the class sizes in Thai classrooms in secondary and primary schools were to drop, there would need to be many changes of teaching strategies from the teachers.

One such change would be the promotion of engagement and independent learning among students. This month’s article revisits the importance of questioning techniques in class rooms by looking at Five Powerful Questions teachers should ask their students.

Greg Cairnduff, September, 2014

Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

[1] David and Goliath, Gladwell, M, p42

[2] Gladwell, p44

Using Testing Wisely

By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. Editor-in-Chief
Let’s make the distinction right away between high stakes testing and low stakes testing. High stakes testing include standardized tests and final exams. Standardized tests often determine whether someone will get an entrance into University. A final exam often determines in large part the final grade a student will receive.

In Thailand, students take a national exam in grade six of high school to determine college entrance. Americans take the S.A.T. or similar standardized tests. And the Chinese and Japanese have similar high stakes testing tools. High stakes testing is almost universal. Such exams put enormous pressure on students and many react negatively. But the main point I wish to make is that high stakes testing is not effective for learning.

On the other hand, low stakes testing is an excellent learning tool.

Low stakes testing usually takes the form of quizzes that may or may not be counted in a student’s grade. Recent research shows that low stakes quizzing helps people retrain more of what they learn. Henry L. Roediger, Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, provides convincing evidence of the efficacy of low stakes testing in his book “Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning.”
For example, in one study Professor Roediger conducted, students were assessed on how well they remembered a particular reading passage.

After an initial reading, students were tested on some passages by being given a blank sheet of paper and asked to recall as much as possible. They recalled 70% of the ideas. Other passages were not tested but were re-read, and thus 100 percent of the ideas were re-exposed in the final tests given either two days or a week later, the passages that had been tested just after reading were remembered much better than those that had been reread.

According to Professor Roedigger what is happening here in this Social Science study is students taking the quiz are getting practice in the retrieval of data. They are retrieving data from their memory bank. A very similar process happens when we review some learning in a classroom when the teacher instructs students to turn to their neighbor and share with each other what they learned.

Research has also shown that some teachers’ cherished study skills instruction to their students are not useful and do not contribute to improvements in learning retention. This includes techniques such as underlining or highlighting when reading. Professor Roedigger maintains that these suggested study skills just create the allusions of mastery, but are largely a waste of time because they do not provide any practice in accessing or applying what students are trying to learn.
Research also shows that low stakes quizzes that are administered over time spans of days or weeks or even months are the most effective retrieval leaning tools. Our brains need repetitive learning circuit patterns to establish long term memory.
The wise teacher will quiz/test his students accordingly.

  • One Response

    1. Brett

      21|Aug|2014 1

      I agree totally as my students tend to have higher success rates and fewer resits from my mid term and final exams. I attribute that to the many online quizzes I have prepared on my website for the students to complete. They do them at home and often from their phones and the scores are automatically tallied. Most of them the students have to get 100% so if they don’t pass the first time they have to keep repeating the quiz. This frees my class time up to concentrate on critical thinking and other activities.

    Leave a reply

Democracy and Education

OUR THIRD YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Democracy and Education
By Peter J. Foley, editor-in-chief

Featured this month of July — marking the third year anniversary of Student Centered Learning Thailand ( —is the important debate on how teachers should help their students learn.

For three years now, SCL Thailand’s web site has promoted a balanced literacy approach to instruction in the classroom that also often includes a section of ten to twenty minutes of direct instruction on the skill to be mastered that day in the classroom. In the debate discussed in this month’s article, the educators took what the editors of SCL Thailand consider one sided positions. On the one hand you have advocates of teachers constantly using a “muscular” approach to teaching, which is, lecturing the students. This approach is one where the teacher is the sage and pours forth the knowledge that students must drink in for all or most of a class period. These advocates are at the extreme end of the Common Core’s muscular teaching spectrum.

On the other hand, there are the extremes of never having the teacher at the front of the room instructing but a predominant situation where the teacher is helping groups or individuals to master concepts and ideas. These are the extreme ends of what are sometimes called balanced literacy approaches. Far too often educators refuse to see the value in both approaches and thus, do not incorporate what we term a balanced approach, that is, make use of both approaches into their teaching.

For three years we have promoted the approach the Thai parliament described in its 1999 National Education Act. This enlightened reform called for student centered learning as being a key element of teaching and learning in Thai schools and the Act detailed changes required in the Thai classroom that would bring about a more balanced approach to teaching, that is, a move decidedly away from straight classroom lecturing by the teacher.

We think section 24 of the Thai Education Act, is worth quoting here:

Section 24
In organizing the learning process, educational institutions and agencies concerned shall:
(1) provide substance and arrange activities in line with the learners’ interests and aptitudes, bearing in mind individual differences;
(2) provide training in thinking process, management, how to face various situations and application of knowledge for obviating and solving problems;
(3) organize activities for learners to draw from authentic experience; drill in practical work for complete mastery; enable learners to think critically and acquire reading habit and continuous thirst for knowledge;
(4) achieve, in all subjects, a balanced integration of subject matter, integrity, values, and desirable attributes;
(5) enable instructors to create the ambiance, environment, instructional media and facilities for learners to learn and be all-round persons, able to benefit from research as part of the learning process. In so doing, both learners and teachers may learn together from different types of teaching-learning media and other sources of knowledge;
(6) enable individuals to learn at all times and in all places. Co-operation with parents, guardians, and all parties concerned in the community shall be sought to develop jointly the learners in accord with their potentiality.

The debate over the student centered learning sub set, balanced literacy and what some see as a separate approach to teaching, known as Common Core is very much in play in the Kingdom of Thailand. How Thai students are taught is reflective of what kind of political system will finally develop.

At SCLThailand we feel that the National Education Act of 1999, especially section 24, pointed Thai students in the direction of being part of a full democratic participatory system in the future. We will continue to advocate for these educational reforms that are still, a decade and a half later, waiting to be realized.

Student Center Learning Debate: Common Core vs Balanced Literacy
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

The purpose of this article is to take the reader through some current arguments that are part of the debate over student centered learning. At the risk of being simplistic, the current thrust of the student centered learning advocates is to dethrone teachers from their traditional lofty perch at the front of the classroom lecturing on a topic for an entire class period. The extreme is the teacher—all too often found in Thailand—just feeding the students information with little or no chance for class discussion or exchange. At worst this teacher monologue continues for the whole class period. In fairness there are model schools throughout Thailand that have become much more student centered. There are also some private foundations that have spearheaded effective student centered model schools like the Lampaimat Pattana School for elementary school and the Michai Pattana School for high school. Both schools are located side by side in Lampimat, Burirum in northeast Thailand.

Research has shown that students normally can only absorb what a teacher is teaching for a maximum period of 20 minutes. In sum, if the traditional lecture method of teaching just described is used, student will probably be receiving about half the information the teaching is explaining at best.

Student centered learning proponents want a much more balanced schedule of teacher and student activities. For example, the classroom might start with the teacher explaining for 10 or 15 minutes the basic lesson for the day and then have students “turn and talk” about what they think the lesson is about with their fellow students. Then the teacher might introduce problems to be solved using the instructions given at the beginning of the lesson either in groups or individual work while the teacher goes around to each group or students to help . At the same time the teacher makes formative assessments to see how well individual students are grasping the information or concept.

An extension of the argument for student centered learning is currently being waged in the U.S.A. under the banner of balanced literacy vs common core. A lot of the arguments now center on elementary education, particularly on how to teach reading.
On July 3, 2014 , the New York Times featured this debate. In New York City the city government from 2003 to 2008 mandated balanced literacy methodology. Even at the end of the 1990 many teachers in New York City accepted balanced literacy as a correct way to teach. Teachers across grades and subjects were told to follow a “workshop model”, i.e. a short mini-lesson followed by practice group or independent work, then a final sum up of learnings at the end of the class. At this time, therefore, student centered learning advocates were winning the day, at least in New York City.

One of the debaters in this New York Times feature was Diana Senechal, author of Republic of Noise, The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture. She argues that such pointed structuring of class lessons is wrong because so much depends on what is being taught, so the best teaching method for a particular learning sessions should be entirely left up to the teacher to decide. But this argument fails because traditional teachers—when given a choice—do not change. Despite a specific policy for a change to student centered learning in Thailand back in 1999, there has been only incremental change , and Thailand’s rural areas continue to be dominated by teachers using traditional teaching methods only.
Another New York Times participant in the debates , Claire Needell, the author of Nothing Real, argues that a balanced literacy approach gives too much freedom to students to decide what they want to read, especially on the elementary school level. Student get the impression that books are for their pleasure only and they need not tackle more difficult texts or subjects that they are not interested in. The end result, she contends, is that students will be unprepared for the rigors of high school , and later, college subjects.
And this is the main point of the common core advocates that have come to dominate the U.S.A. landscape during the eight years of the Bush administration and into the Obama Administration. American Schools must be accountable and standardized testing is the key to holding public schools and teachers accountable. This was the central thinking behind President Bush’s signature program called “Leave No Child Behind.” The actual Common Core Standards were written in 2009 under the guidance of the National Governors Association among others.

Thailand has its own Common Core and its own standardized testing. It would appear that both the United States and Thailand suffer from a testing meritocracy that favors students who, by accident of birth, are from the upper income families.
The problem with common core standards in both countries is that the standards are rigid and fail to test the real intelligence and over-all abilities of the test takers. Moreover, in countries following common core and over dependent on standardized tests, teachers are unable to teach creatively and teach for deep understanding since they are judged on how well their students do on the standardized tests.

Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, says that U.S. schools currently are over dependent on standardized tests. Furthermore, such testing is unjust since students from poverty backgrounds or minority , non-English speaking backgrounds will perform, on average, less successfully. Cannot the same be said for Thailand? Is there not an opportunity gap between rich and poor opening wider and wider in both countries? And isn’t one of the cause and over dependency on standardized tests that results in many worthy students to be cut off from further education?

  • One Response

    1. Sofia Stevens

      17|Jul|2014 1

      It’s time we consider symposium-type reading evaluation courses, with student-led discussions including rigorous analyses of content of literature. Math can also be comprehended in various ways easing different types of learning, from manipulatives to electronics to class aides (possibly retired community volunteers) helping with one-on-one tutoring. The U.S. has proved by academic failures that standardized testing is detrimental to the learner and a waste of time and money; it’s time to prepare children in different ways for a new kind of higher education that will be more beneficial to THEM – 2 year community colleges before selecting a major that provides specific training and learning for future careers. The U.S. does have a wealth of unpaid internships available to high school students in almost all areas; this is a good learning tool. Again it requires the support and cooperation of community volunteers.

    Leave a reply

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

This month’s feature article is focused on a story featured in The New York Times about a courageous school girl in Vietnam. The story is about her uncommon will to learn, to become educated despite poverty and lack of support from her parents. She is an exception. Nevertheless her story highlights what can happen when a girl from a poverty background gets an education.

There have been vigorous efforts to improve education for all (EFA), and in particular girls, going back to 2000 when the gender disparity of girls out of school compared with boys was 60% to 40% globally. That gender gap in educational opportunity between boys and girls has narrowed considerably and hopefully will reach an equal ratio globally within this decade. Developing countries are becoming more and more aware that investments in girls’ education is one of the best ways to improve the overall economy of a nation.

Research shows that:

■ Educated women are more empowered and better able to demand their rights, as well as having healthier, more economically-secure families.
■ A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
■ Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.
■ A 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%.

The EFA’s 2008 global report revealed that gender parity in primary education in Thailand is likely to be achieved by 2015 and in secondary education there are actually more girls than boys enrolled. The EFA’s mid-decade assessment conducted by UNICEF shows that there are fewer girls than boys enrolled in primary education in Thailand. In contrast, there are fewer boys enrolled in secondary education than girls.

In other words, girls in primary education in Thailand may face more disadvantages in accessing education, but are close to parity. In secondary education boys may face more disadvantages than girls in accessing education, but are close to parity as well. However, there is still a lack of research in this area that could determine whether there is systematic gender inequality in terms of accessing education, especially girls from poverty backgrounds.

A study commissioned by PLAN on girls’ education in the north of Thailand shed some light on this situation, but still left many unanswered questions on what happens to girls in the many poverty pockets of the north. The Vietname girl in this month’s feature article who fought to get an education is the exception. Most girls in Southeast Asia, including Thailand , who are born into poverty , by and large, remain in the poverty trap because of a lack of education.

More research needs to be done to measure just how large this problem looms and what effect
the lack of education of girls from poverty backgrounds has on Thai society both in social and economic terms.

Graduate of the Year


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

This month we are doing something for the first time. We are presenting an op ed piece written by Nickolas Kristof.

Below you will find a link to Kristof’s moving article of a Vietnamese girl from a poor farming family who refused to give up on getting an education. In Thailand there are thousand of young girls in exactly the same situation. But most Thai girls would not refuse their families call for economic help and so they fall into the trap of leaving school after Moo 3 and taking a menial job and, because of their lack of education ,remain in the cycle of poverty. What I would like our readers to think about is how we can support the girls who want to carry on their education – and that means also to think about how we can support the families of girls from poverty backgrounds too. In most cases the pressure on young girls from poverty backgrounds is just too great to offer the resistance that Tay Ti in the article below was able to muster.

Read the article here and please comment!

Student Centered Learning and Brain Based Learning
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor in chief

This month’s article talks about using brain- based learning in the class room. Brain- based teaching and learning is simply using what we know about how the brain processes learning and applying those principles to our teaching methods. Not surprisingly, the connection with student centered learning overlaps. In listing some examples of a strategy based on brain research below, I hope to give the teacher/reader a platform to dig deeper into making their classrooms more student centered and more brain-friendly.

Example 1: Limit your daily lesson plan learning objectives. Make each objective short and to the point enough to be “digested” by your students. Large parcels of teaching, especially by lecturing, tax the brain and too much will overtax the brain. The result is the students learn next to nothing. Research shows our  working memory is very limited and so is our mid term, ”holding tank”, capacity controlled by the hippocampus.

Teachers should be making continual formative assessments to guide the improvement in learning content and the ideal time to deliver the learning objective and then make appropriate adjustments. For illustration, the teacher might follow up a short teaching parcel by asking students to write two sentences summing up the main ideas just delivered. A rule of thumb is to keep the lecture, or  “input stage” to 15 minutes or under.  This conforms with research showing that this is usually the limit of a student’s attention span.

Example 2:  Teach with an understanding that each student learns differently and also have particular strengths and weakness in how they learn through their senses. Some have a dominant ability to learn visually, others, aurally, and still other kinesthetically. Hence, teachers should plan to appeal to students at different levels and using a variety of visual and aural and kinesthetic methodologies. The work educators are using is differentiation.

In sum, different strokes for different folks. *For more strategies based on research please see:  To discover the basis of the current emphasis on differentiation in teaching you may want to refer to Gardener, et al and their work at Harvard on the different types of intelligence.

Brain Based Teaching: KISS

Brain Based Teaching: KISS
by Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

David Sousa – “Lecture continues to be the most prevalent model in secondary and higher education but produces the lowest degree of retention.”

In Thailand I have met teachers who use brain based teaching in their classroom. This is good. What is disappointing is that the approach to using brain based teaching is incomplete and often the research behind the teaching practice is only partially understood or not understood at all. For example, some Thai teachers use the mind mapping techniques with students in order to help the students design their own learning projects. What teachers often fail to do is to coach students to connect the mind mapping exercises to what they already know, what they hope to learn, and where they will find out the information to complete a particular project or exercise. Moreover, there is often a huge gap in the students’ mind-mapping plans and the student’s real, personal interests and the students’ experience. In fact the planned project often turns out to be what the teacher is interested in, not the students. And it also turns out to be based on the teacher’s experience, not the students.

A cardinal rule of brain based teaching is that learning that connects to a learner’s experience and interests will optimize long term memory learning. What teachers must master is how to set up a classroom and  lesson plans that will optimize learning. You do this by understanding what conditions and methods of learning an individual’s brain needs to learn best. For most teachers the KISS (keep it simple stupid) rule should be followed.

To keep it simple, it is useful to remember Craine and Craine’s three principles of complex learning:

1. relaxed alertness
2. orchestrated immersion and
3. active processing.


Effective teaching starts with creating a friendly, nurturing classroom. It is common sense (and research shows) that fear and threats close a mind to complex learning and the mind goes to survival mode. Thus teachers who rely on negative criticism and verbal and corporeal punishments or otherwise instilling fear in his/her students are actually preventing learning. Brain research evidence suggests that stress is a significant factor in creativity, memory, behavior and learning. Teachers who purposely manage stress factors (purposefully decrease stress of failure or embarrassment) in class are likely to experience a positive classroom environment. There are many ways to decrease stress in the classroom, such as integrating stretching exercises, incorporating recess, teaching coping skills, and utilizing physical education.


The teacher can create relaxed alert students when the role of the teacher becomes that of a coach, one who nurtures, encourages, demonstrates with enthusiasm and purposefulness.


As the term “orchestrated immersion” implies, the teacher becomes the orchestra leader composing lesson plans that incorporate experiences that will lead students to make meaningful connections. To cite an illustration, in Bradenton, Florida I observed a class where the math teacher taught measurements, including the metric system, using cooking as an experiential springboard. The teacher had learned that many in his class were passionate about cooking. Small groups of students worked out measurements for individual recipes. All the students were totally engaged in the preparation of different recipes. Every one passed the core curriculum skills test on weights and measurement with no difficulty.


A teacher’s lesson should give time and space for student to reflect on what they are learning. It is also important that during the processing time the teacher makes formative assessment to check students’ understanding of the concepts just taught. A useful reflective instrument is the keeping by each student their own journal that can be sued by both student and teacher to tract the student/s progress and further questions.

Another simple list that can be used by teachers to help create good brain based teaching practices is the use of Susan Kovalik’s model ITI (Integrated Thematic Instruction). Kovalik lists nine brain-compatible elements in the learning process:

Absence of Threat( this should include the threat of failure by students)
Meaningful Content
Movement to Enhance Learning
Enriched Environment
Adequate Time
Immediate Feedback
Mastery (application level)

Our last simple guideline to brain based teaching and learning is from Marlee Sprenger: Sensory to Long-Term Memory in Seven Steps.

1. Reach: Grab students’ attention by introducing the topic in a way that is meaningful to them.
2. Reflect: Allow students to make connections between new information and prior learning through such activities as writing or responding to a question.
3. Recode: Have students put ideas they have encountered in their own words.
4. Reinforce: Provide positive reinforcement to students when recoding is accurate, or give informational feedback to avoid lingering misconceptions.
5. Rehearse: Engage students in related activities that demand higher levels of thinking and incorporate multiple memory systems.
6. Review: Offer brain-compatible review activities such as practice tests, games, drawing, writing, mind maps, and acting.
7. Retrieve: Ask students to retrieve newly-formed memories and apply them in different ways.

Within these steps there are many opportunities to incorporate brain based learning. For example in the reflection step it is useful to turn to your neighbor and discuss a topic. Stopping at key interval in a lesson for students to reflect on a topic with one another is a way to achieve long term memory learning. Humans are social and we learn and reinforce learning through interaction with others. The brain based teaching conscious teacher will also be aware that the short attention spans of the average student demand appealing to different senses for learning and different learning exercises to hold students attention. Make these simple principles and active part of your classroom planning and actuation.

This short review of some of some of the best guidelines to brain based teaching and learning is intended to encourage the reader to delve further into using brain based teaching methods and to KISS ( Keep it Simple Stupid).


1. R. Caine and G. Caine: Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain ( 1991)

2. Susan Kovalik: The Model Integrated Thematic Instruction (1993)

3. Marlee Sprenger: Becoming a “Wiz” at Brain-Based Teaching (2006)

Authentic Learning

Authentic Learning…..

from the dictionary: learning that is genuine, real, not false or copied…

                             from latin: Original., primary, at first hand


In Tasmania in 1980 Rob Banfield started teaching in science, maths, and a few other areas. He has taught in Java at Bandung International School. He holds an Ed.D in leadership professional learning and has keen interests in curriculum design, pedagogy development, effective leadership and strategic planning.



Why would we be  interested in authentic learning, surely all learning is authentic?

Perhaps NOT!  Some learning has to be not first hand and  uses copied texts and demonstrations. Safety, efficiency and  the  practicalities of schools demand these professional  boundaries.

However, we know that engagement of students in real learning often increases their motivation, energy and indeed their learning of new concepts and applied skills.

My enthusiasm for this authentic style of teaching has a few personal waypoints. One particular “hard to teach class” in 1983 encouraged me to manipulate an entire Grade 9 Science Curriculum around the real science of cars.  Cars were a real inquiry object with intrinsic interest to 15 year old boys! Later I was introduced to the idea of negotiated curriculums, where I let go of the reins and discovered the wealth of untapped knowledge already residing in the brains of my assigned students. Soon, real inquiries into astronomical Quasars with 13 year olds became a reality.  In recent years I was fortunate enough to interact with Dan Buckley from the UK (certainly worth an extended Google). His work with   students responding to  real tender scopes to achieve real solutions to real problems, struck another cord with me.  Dan’s innovative approach to curriculum  motivated students as authentic learners whilst responding to  skills and concepts demanded by the agreed curriculum.

Isolated examples are fine, but what is the potential to authenticate the curriculum in our everyday real world of technology?

I randomly selected the Grade 3 Australian  Science Curriculum to apply my ideas of a  real learning framework. I was  first challenged by the science content areas of biology, earth, chemistry, and physical science areas as I read the curriculum scope. These areas contained  dry, important things we need to know. So, I ventured across to the science inquiry skills list. Ah ha, here was the stuff of real science in my mind. Experiments, observation, data, reporting etc… But, alas the creative juices could still not conjure up a real life inquiry for my imaginary  Grade 3  learners.

I opened up a digital skill link that took me to some Scootle learning objects and ideas. Here I found the seed of an authentic learning plan in amongst the suggestions on Shadows. The shadow inquiries had a clear link back to the earth science content field of planet rotation, seasons, day and night etc…

Now applying a little imagination here is my initial thinking for Grade 3 Science authentic inquiry.


“Our town council is processing a new application to allow for the building of a single 4 story office block in our main street. As part of the planning approval process, the councillors want to know what the shadowing effect will be on neighbouring buildings, the streetscape and people at various times of the day and the year. Currently the maximum height of buildings is limited to two stories. The council requires a 5 page report and a concise 20 minute presentation of your findings for a full Council Planning meeting in June.”

My class would work in 7  groups of four students and present to a genuine town planning engineer at a future time.  My invited engineer would be asked to give feedback to each group and perhaps provide real written responses from his council division. My planning will involve the science, literacy and numeracy outcomes from Grade 3, an even some history outcomes.

I am keen, Grade 3 science is being applied to a real life problem,  where we don’t know  a prepared “proper” answer. The detailed planning, teaching and negotiation with people from outside my school needs to be done. The scope of the inquiry may change as my planning develops.

Learning can be (more) authentic, more motivating for students (and teachers) and integrate various   discrete curriculum areas (as happens in the real world).


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