Visit to the Chiangmai Demonstration School
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.
Smack dab in the middle of ChiangmaiUniversity is a pot of gold in terms of talented teenagers. These teenagers study at the Chiangmai Demonstration School only a stone throw away from the Chiangmai University Faculty of Education. The school has 1,356 students , 80 teachers and 30 teacher assistants. Every year approximately 3,500 students take the entrance exam to be admitted to the Chiangmai Demonstration School ;only 240 are admitted. Those who attend this highly selective school , therefore, are the crème de la crème of the Northern Thai youth gifted brain pool.
It is little wonder that every year 100% or nearly 100% of these students go on to university. In addition, about a handful of their especially gifted students get scholarships to study overseas. Most of the graduating students take a few steps from their old high school and attend Chiangmai University, the premier Thai university in the North of Thailand.
I visited the Chiangmai Demonstration School on November 4th , a day full of sunshine and pleasant temperatures for which Chiangmai is noted in this beginning of the cool season. Ajaan Jum graciously showed me around the school. The school Director , Ajaan Patajan, kindly arranged for me to observe an English class of Matayom 2 ( 8th grade in the American system). A student teacher taught the class. This was the first time I had observed a student teacher inThailand. A stroke of luck since I got a first hand look at what currently was being taught to student teachers at Chiangmai University’s faculty of education and also by the regular teachers at the Chiangmai Demonstration School who advise the student teachers.
Twenty-two year old student teacher , Ms. Phachara, taught the class of 44 students. It was immediately apparent that she had what I call fire in the belly, meaning that she loved teaching and really wanted to be a teacher. I asked her if you thought about a different career besides teaching. “Oh no, I want to teach, that is what I really want to do.” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. Ajaan Bambi is her supervising teacher. It was obvious from the outset that there are good teacher training practices being taught to future teachers. There are also some disturbing continuations of traditional Thai rote teaching of language where students recite after the teacher in unison, sentence after sentence , word after word with little concern for real understanding.
Ms. Phachara, had planned her lesson well. She had organized a lesson in the conditional tense in four sections. In each section, she used what Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy refers to as learning domains. Ms. Phachara designed her lesson around a popular song by Beyonce. The song has a number of conditional sentences, such as, “if I were a boy”.
Once Ms. Phachara has gone over the meaning of the words in the song and isolated the conditional sentences for the students, she conducted a series of activities that involved analyzing , applying , understanding and remembering. The students were for the most part engaged and having fun learning.
What I found impressive was that about half way through the 50 minute period , Ms. Phachara divided up the class into four working groups. She gave each group sentences to each group to analyze and then apply by creating their own answers to questions raised in the song.
Once she handed out the sentences to the four groups, all the students suddenly broke out in animated discussions about the sentences they had been given. The noise level grew in the room ,yet the student teacher was unperturbed. Most student teachers in my experience would have been reluctant to let the class noise level increase to such a pitch, failing to note that this period of collaborative learning and application is when real learning , real understanding of the lesson is solidified.
Toward the end of the class period, she had groups of students writing on the black board and explaining their answers to the rest of the class. This class was not what observers dread the most: a class where the teacher lectures sleeping teen agers with no interaction with the students.
In sum, it was an impressive teacher performance given that this was a student teacher. The only drawback that I observed was a technique the student teacher used a couple of times and is still used in Thai schools of the teacher reciting word or sentence and then the class repeating in unison in dull and listless monotony. This is a throw back to a bygone era where the object of school was rote memorization with little regard for understanding.
Teachers come from all over Thailand come to observe good teaching practices at the Chiangmai Demonstration School. An area that perhaps can be explored is an assessment of how these teacher observations are structured and what is actually carried back by the observing teachers and used in their schools in their teaching.