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Questions….Questions….Questions – Part 2

Part 2

Questions and Direction

By Melvin Freestone, September 2012.

The world is full of talk about where education needs to be going in the twenty first century.  To many this conversation appears light on realistic ways of acting.  Perhaps consideration of questions as drivers might help to bridge talk and action.

Two fundamental issues underpin the conversation.  The first centers on the much discussed need to promote ‘thinking’ among learners and what that means for learning environments.  The second is the shift towards ‘student centered’ learning.

Thinking is instigated by asking questions around which learners can make connections within and between different aspects of their experience.  At times the thinking may be critical or analytical where pulling thoughts together is in the ‘frame’, and at other times it may be creative or imaginative where searching for innovative ideas and practices is in the ‘frame’.

For a moment in time being critical or being creative may predominate, but over time both will be in full voice.  A ferment or argument between the two is created in learners’ minds from which possibilities, ideas and actions are generated.  The overall ‘flow’ from asking questions to making connections is illustrated in the diagram.


 Intelligent thinking is a dynamic multi-layered process of intention, strategy and process.

  • Is the intention primarily focused on – innovation, originality, novelty and inventiveness, or on deduction, analysis, synthesis and decision?
  • In what ways can strategies or broad courses of action aid pursuit of questions emanating from the intentions that have identified?
  • Which processes are best for – defining Issues, gathering Information, devising alternatives, drawing conclusions, making judgements, and being fair-minded – as questions are explored and answers generated?

Growing appreciation that learners make unique connections within and between different aspects of their experience is fuelling a shift towards more ‘student centered’ learning.  Even if they ask the same questions and have identical experiences learners formulate their own connections.  They may come to similar understandings but they get there by different routes.

The metaphor of ‘student centered’ often tends to polarize conversations into an ‘either/or’ trap.  Instead, ‘learner led’ might be more insightful as gives strong direction yet implies partnerships between learners and teachers in the construction of learning.  Key features in a shift to ‘learner led’ include.

‘Learner led’ education is more likely to become a reality if learners generate the questions.  But questions posed by teachers can be just as valuable provided they are clearly understood by the learners.  Either way the questions being addressed need to be in the learners’ minds.

Asking questions and pursuing answers to them begets exploration and inquiry.  To be truly powerful the discourse needs to be deliberate, systematic and structured.  As a consequence learning is deeper than it might otherwise be with answers continually opening up more of the unknown.  In stark contrast, the mediocrity emanating from repetitive rote learning does little to stimulate learners especially when the agenda is solely owned by teachers.

Questions are thus means and ends to learning.  Asking them and seeking answers to them is a shared enterprise between learners and teachers, parents and other people in the community.  Their effective use goes a long way in creating learning communities that encourage-

  • Being curious and questioning generated through inquiring, wondering, posing problems, probing further and looking beyond what is given or immediately apparent
  • Thinking broadly and adventurously predicated on exploring alternative points of view, being open minded, being flexible, trying new things and ideas, and being playful
  • Reasoning clearly and carefully promoted through seeking clarity, gaining understanding, being precise and thorough, and remaining alert to possible error
  • Constructing inquiries built around being orderly and logical, being strategic, thinking ahead, approaching things in a calculated and methodical fashion, and
  • Giving thinking time provided by devoting time and effort to critical and creative thinking around a diverse range of challenges in many different situations and contexts.

Deep thinking and deep understanding result with the unknown becoming progressively more visible, if not mysterious.  As Einstein observed – The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true Art and Science.

Questions explode the mysterious!!!

To go to part 1 or 3 of the series, click here.
Part 1 Question and Learning
Part 3 Question and Teaching

A Teaching Assessment With an Eye on Student Centered Learning Methodologies


By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

Educators continue to wrestle with how we should assess teachers.   Nothing definitive is on the horizon.  The jury is still out.

I have concluded that if we want to assess how effective a teacher is or is likely to be  we must measure :

1. how well the teacher knows their subject matter and

2. how well the teacher uses learning methodologies that are indicative of best practices.

I am concerned in this article with the latter assessment.  It is important to note that  observation-based teaching assessments, especially standards-based teaching assessments that measure specific dimensions of teaching , significantly relate to student learning outcomes (Rockoff and Speroni) .

Assessments range from elaborate to simple.  In the United States, the National Board Certification is on an elaborate scale. What competent teaching looks like is described in more than 30 teaching areas.  Large and small studies indicate that the National Board Certification assessment process successfully identifies teachers whose students will perform better than teachers whose assessment result indicate they are  low performers.

But even though 32 states use the National Board Certification, the international test results on the PISA exams  show overall American student performance  as lagging behind other industrial nations.

Since my work in education is  usually confined to a school, a set of schools or a refugee or displaced persons camp or camps, I am more interested in a simple assessment thatwith proper feedback to the observed teacher, will result in improved teacher and student performance.  In this assessment  below , I am assuming the teacher has the requisite knowledge base to teach the grade level and subjects involved.  If this is in doubt then a subject based knowledge test should also be administered.  I am also assuming that the teacher being assessed with The Teacher Quality Index(TQI), will be provided constructive feed-back in a non-threatening manner.   A fellow teacher and a head teacher might be the best choices to deliver feed-back to a teacher with the aim of improving the teacher’s performance.

As a consequence, I designed the assessment below for the coordinators and head teachers  at the Jalozai Camp  just outside Pashwar to use in their teacher observations.   The Jalozai Camp fluctuates between housing 13 to 20 thousand displaced  families who have fled to the camp because of the violence in their villages located in the  FATA region of Pakistan.

The design of the assessment follows the principles of what The International Rescue Committee ( IRC) calls “the healing classroom”.   Therefore  major assessment categories include:  sense of control; sense of belonging, feelings of self worth ; relationships with peers; personal attachments; and intellectual stimulation.

The Teacher Quality Index (TQI) has yet to be field tested, so I am eager for Student Centered Learning Thailand  readership feed-back and also the feed-back I expect to get back from the Jalozai Training of Trainers (ToT) Committee as they decide what parts of the TQI they want to use or adapt to their teachers’ needs.

Instructions: The observer( preferably a master teacher or teacher colleague)  should ask for a copy of the annual plan or curriculum  and daily or weekly  lesson plans before observing the class. If there are written class rules students agreed upon ,the observer should ask for a copy of these rules.


Teacher__________________________________Observer _____________________________

Grade_________________________   Number of students present _______________________

Date/Time of Observation____________________ Location _____________________________





Merits Further Development

Not Demonstrated






This form provides areas for observation and may be used by the observer to record feed- back after a class room visit. Each area includes prompts regarding what should be observed. Please respond to each statement using the scale below. Use the comments space below each section to provide more feed- back or suggestions. Remember when giving teacher feed- back begin and end with some positive feedback or comments.  Save the middle part of your feedback session for constructive criticism.


Note to observer: please also note that some items to be rated may be similar to other items.  This is because this particular item is important enough to have a double or even triple score. This means that this rating sheet is weighted toward certain activities deemed more important than other items.



1.   ________ Teacher’s lesson plans (daily or weekly are well written and integrated.

2.   ________ In the lesson observed, the teacher accomplishes the plan for the day and the skills learned that day fit in as a building blocks for lessons days lesson  [days ?]to come.

3.   ________ The teacher has prepared learning material and learning props and games to facilitate learning for the class period observed.

________ SUB SCORE



2. SENSE OF CONTROL: A Structured, ordered and predictable environment:


3.       ________ The teacher arrives before the class period starts and the teacher ends the lesson on time with some time just before to review what has been learned.

4.       ________At the beginning of the class the teacher reviews briefly what was learned in the previous class [lesson or day?] and links it to what will be learned in the current class period.

5.       ________ there is  a “do now” activity that students do as soon as they come to class that is routine and connects to the things that were learned in the last class or are needed  for the coming lesson  or as warm up to what will be learned in the current class period.

6.       ________Learning objectives for the class are given verbally or in writing at the beginning of class.

7.       ________Teacher follows his/her daily lesson plan.

8.       ________As the lesson plan is followed there is a step by step approach to achieving the learning objectives, that is, learning progresses through a process of  scaffolding with each building block of learning put in place using the previous learning block as a support

9.       ________The teacher assesses whether all the students are learning and understanding during the class period (formative assessments by checking that each student understands the concepts taught at each stage of the class lesson).

10.    ________The class is structured so learning lessons and activities appeal to all types of learners: visual, auditory and tactile

11.    ________There is evidence of class rules of behavior that are followed without the teacher having to discipline students: e.g. only one student talking at a time, respect for others’ opinions, quiet talk when students are working in groups

12.    ________Teacher‘s system of maintaining both instructional and non-instructional records is efficient and effective and students contribute to the maintenance of these records

13.    ________Teacher sees that everyone hears the question and answer; calls on non-volunteers as well as volunteers, allows time after a question for formulation of good answers, allows time after an answer to consider it, invites alternative or additional answers, involves a large proportion of the class.

________SUB SCORE




14.    ________the teacher addresses his/her students by name and in a friendly, welcoming manner

15.    ________there is evidence of the students’ work and group projects on the walls or on display in the classroom

16.    ________the teacher prompts awareness of the students’ prior learning and experience and relates learning on the personal and cultural level of the student and what the student can relate to in his/her family and daily life and environment.

17.    ________the teacher promotes activities; projects and learning that the student can directly connect to his/her own life, culture and environment

18.    ________Each student has his/her own progress folder that displays his/her work and charts the student’s individual progress with individual coaching for student’s individualized goals [where do these goals come from?]

19.    ________Teacher never is negative when responding to student answers or participation; she/he is encouraging and delivers praise when deserved

20.    ________Teacher lets students know they are free not to respond; makes it “safe” to speak and “safe” to be wrong and allows students to respond to one another

________SUB SCORE





21.    ________Teacher involves all the students in the learning activities and makes sure to include those who are shy or have a disability in such a way that students feel they are achieving and learning

22.    ________Teacher ensures that all students are able to achieve individual learning goals that are reasonably set in terms of each child’s ability and set of circumstances( time is made for individual coaching using individualized student portfolios that a student keeps to mark his/her personal learning milestones and progress with appropriate encouragement from the teacher.

23.    ________Group and peer activities are encouraged and their collective work is presented to the rest of the class and given recognition

24.    ________Individual and group work is given support and praise that is even handed and consistent and extends so that no students are left out in recognition of their efforts to learn and understand.

25.    ________teacher treats all students equally and with kindness and respect does not show favoritism

________SUB SCORE





26.    ________Teacher provides time during the planned class for  group or peer work so students can share ideas and work on learning activities and projects together

27.    ________Teacher gives groups of students a chance to work together and present to the rest of the class

________SUB SCORE




28.    ________the teacher is available to students before class, after class or after school ends

29.    ________The teacher is friendly and caring to all students; she/he a coach for all students making sure to give individual attention when students need it or ask for it.

30.    ________Teacher creates a classroom atmosphere that relates directly to the students’ lives and environment and takes advantage of objects in the environments to use as teaching aids

31.    ________Teacher instructions to students are clear, easily understood, delivered in a pleasantly audible voice and in a nurturing tone and manner

32.    ________Demonstrates a rapport and friendliness with students

________SUB SCORE




33.    ________Teacher encourages students to ask questions and find solutions

34.    ________Teacher poses open ended questions and helps students explore answers without judging student answers as right or wrong but rather coaching all the students toward a good answer

35.    ________Teacher uses selected praise to encourage students to explore answers to the day’s learning objectives making sure it is sincere praise for either clear thinking or trying hard to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion or answer.

36.    ________Encourages students to be creative by providing challenging problem solving activities on an  individual basis or on a  group activity basis.

37.    ________Plans class sessions so a variety of teaching methods are used to keep students intellectually stimulated including: direct instruction, paired questioning and attempting solutions to questions; group project activity; or instructional games

38.    ________Provides opportunities for each student to set goals according to their  ability and monitor their progress

39.    ________Provides opportunities for groups of student to design week or month longer projects with a learning theme connected to the weekly lesson plans. (Observer should look for evidence of such projects in the classroom or ask the teacher to show past project materials and presentations) What level?.

40.    ________Teacher appeals to artistic, musical or athletic talent of students by joining those talents to the lessons being taught through student art, songs, instrument playing, jingles, or physical games.

41.    ________Teacher uses a variety of techniques that provide students with opportunities to exercise different learning modes such as role play, brainstorming, gallery walks to see and comment on each other’s projects or peer work (turn and talk).

42.    ________Teacher uses learning tools effectively such as flash cards, pictures, graphs, hand gestures and role plays.  In general uses active learning techniques.

43.    ________Students are engaged in the learning process throughout the class period.  Indicators include focus on the teacher when the teacher is explaining something; questions and answers from the students when appropriate and enthusiasm and interest in what and how they are learning.

________SUB SCORE

TOTAL  SCORE( sum of sub scores)   =

TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE:  ( Total score divided by 43) =  

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What Should be Taught to Our Children in the 21st Century: A Student Centered Learning Approach. By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

To paraphrase U.S. President Bill Clinton’s famous election mantra “it’s the economy, stupid”, my answer to what should be taught to students in the 21st century is:  it’s the three R’s, stupid.

I don’t mean this in the tradition of conservative educators who periodically rise up in the middle of a progressive education moment and declare that the education system must get back to basics, that kids need to learn to read and to do their numbers. Still, I am strong in the belief that children should  learn to read at an early age. And this means being read to before attending primary school. I am painfully aware of the “Matthew Effect” where students who have not mastered reading in the early primary years are unlikely to ever catch up. Nevertheless, the bye- gone days of “See Dick run” and See Jane run”  of the traditional children’s readers do not fulfill the demands of the 21th century where problems like climate change, the  threat of nuclear disaster, and air and water pollution must be solved through collective ingenuity and collective agreement.

So I am not in favor of just teaching Johnny to read “See Jane run”,  or in mathematics  class for Johnny to learn simply by rote. My position is that children must be coached in asking questions and then seeking answers both individually and collectively.  So, Johnny needs to be coached to ask:  “Where is Jane  running and why is she going there?  Why isn’t Jane walking? What is the condition of the path she is running on? Is it safe?  What does Jane look like?  Is she happy?  After wondering about these questions  a child should be able to consult her or his peers to find out what they are wondering about.  Similarly, in math class practical problems  involving a student’s daily life need to be the norm.

I realize that these arguments have  been raging for  centuries with the volume being turned up considerably  at this dawn of the 21st century.  What is different now is that with the benefit of cognitive science we know more about how to go about coaching students on how to go about problem solving.

We know more about how the mind makes associations and more about how students reach a deep understanding  of a subject and the problems associated with that subject. As teachers, we learn to help our students improve  meta-cognition, that is how they go about thinking about subject or problem. In sum, students should be helped to develop strategies on how to think in order to solve a problem.  In reading, for example, we have a group of strategies that can be taught to dramatically increase reading comprehension.

I am deliberately using the word coaching instead of teaching simply because we sometimes understand the word teaching to mean lecturing, a one way communication from teacher to student. I am of the school that this method is highly ineffective for many, perhaps most, learning.  Much more effective, is the teacher learning with the student and helping the student teach themselves or each other.  This goes  back to what Socrates believed: we learn best when we discover the answers ourselves.

This approach to learning  translates into the 21st classroom looking and feeling much different from  the traditional classroom that has the teacher in front of the class and the student  lined up in a rows waiting to be taught.  A more congenial configuration for the 21st century is a flexible seating arrangement where students can quickly work in pairs or groups  or go to separate tables where they can work on projects.  The teacher is much more a participant in the learning process, not the fountain of all knowledge. Learning and questions are shared by everyone in the class.  One label used to identify this type of learning and classroom is called student centered learning. Part of this process is broken into other rubrics called project based learning, inquiry based learning,  peer based learning and activity based learning just to mention a few.  In all these types of learning a common feature  is what some refer to as the scientific method approach.  Put in another way, using deductive reasoning. The process starts with framing the question or problem to be solved; making observations; forming a hypotheses; making logical deductions and then testing these deductions or conducting an experiment.  In short, while it is important what is taught (the curriculum) it is equally important how we coach (teach) students in the 21 century, that is, how students go about learning.

So, let’s get to the heart of the matter:  what should be the core, universal learning competencies we want future generations to have.

You know from my opening salvo, that common sense tells us that knowing how to read, I mean really read, is the essential skill to be mastered and should be mastered thoroughly in primary education.  And I have touched on what real reading means: i.e. deep understanding.  Perhaps you can think of this as the floor to one’s education. We build from there.

By dwelling on reading, I did not mean to ignore the other essential skills needed in the 21st century. If we continue to use the analogy of building a house, we can think of working together as the skill needed to actually plan and put together the house along with the scientific and math skills to make sure all is plumb and well-fitting.

Thus, of  particular importance are what some call life skills and what I call social skills—being able to get along and cooperate with peers and superiors to solve problems and accomplish tasks.  I include in this skill set leadership.  How do we teach leadership?  The partial answer is we provide opportunities for practice starting at an early age. Previously, I mentioned a classroom that is student centered and in that context, the teacher uses project based learning.  Groups that take on complicated projects need to put personal skills to work and these groups must have leadership the group can rely on to successfully complete the project.

This is the information and digital age, yet  I deliberately mentioned first and foremost  gaining the basic skills of reading and writing in the 21st century and acquiring  social skills.

Digital learning follows and has a high place in learning competencies future generations of learners must have.  I continue to believe it is worthwhile to introduce primary school children to computers and computer programs; however, it is in the post primary school years that I think digital learning is critical.  This is the time in a young person’s life when he or she must search for information outside their immediate experience and those people and learning materials students have immediate access to..  It is on the world wide web and many other digital tools where many of these answers can be found.

The International Baccalaureate  three programmes of international education for students aged 3 to 19  represents to date one of the best summations of what international learning standards in the 21st century should look like.  It is a system that should be studied carefully before entering in a newer paradigm.

What I have attempted in this short space it to give the reader an introduction to some of my basic thinking  about what the most important learning competencies for the 21 century are and how those competencies should be learned.

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What can this student say, write, or create to show me they understand what they have been learning?

Assessing Student Learning

This article by two of our regular contributors, Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don Jordan, contributes to the discussion about Child Centred learning as it provides a practical example of how assessment is about more than testing rote learning. The article looks assessment of learning, assessment  for learning and assessment as learning. A comprehensive assessment matrix is provided to support assessment on a unit of work related to the Olympic Games.

Ellen Cornish is a very experienced Early Childhood and Primary School teacher from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Dr Don Jordan had an extensive career in Tasmanian schools and completed his doctorate at Curtin University.

Both Don and Ellen have had experience in other countries, either as visiting teachers or consultants. They have contributed several articles to SCLT.

What can this student say, write, or create to show me they understand what they have been learning?

Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don W Jordan

Student assessment is central to effective teaching and learning in a Child Centred classroom, to assist teachers to teach for understanding, and to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. There are many ways to assess student learning, ranging from summative standardized and teacher created tests, to more formative student focussed activities. It is not our intention in this article to summarize the different assessment possibilities, but to discuss the student assessment strategies used in our primary classroom in Tasmania, Australia.

Effective assessment can be in many forms including text based, visual presentations, group discussions, teacher and student initiated rubrics, or some other. We found one useful strategy was to imagine a successful student demonstrating in their chosen way, the thinking and learning we hoped to see from them. A powerful way, best described by Anne Reeves (2011), was to visualize successful learners and ask. “What can this student say, write, or create to demonstrate an understanding of the work that was undertaken? What questions can he answer? What tasks can he perform?”

It was important for us to establish classroom strategies and routines that provided opportunities for our students to demonstrate their learning, in their chosen ways. Depending on the interests and talents of the student, this included text based or art and drama activities or conversations with teachers or classmates. To help us take account of the different talents and abilities demonstrated by our students, we drew on Howard Gardner’s (1983) Multiple Intelligences (MI), to inform our assessment strategies and to provide a useful framework to help us understand that our students have different strengths, learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.

Gardner extends the traditional academic intelligences of linguistic and logical mathematical intelligences (IQ test), to include spatial, visual, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligences. This implies that students generally may engage higher order thinking and problem solving in an area of intellectual strength.

For example, a student gifted in linguistic intelligence may produce a creative and original piece of writing but may struggle with a task that demands high-level spatial awareness. We gave our students the opportunity to foster their intellectual strength and curiosity through a collection of guided choices e.g. art/craft drama, music etc. and teacher directed activities.

This was a powerful way for us to engage our students in learning, whilst giving them opportunities to develop their multiple intelligences. We always ensured that any such choices were under our supervision, thus ensuring students were engaged in activities that fostered a deeper understanding.

We furthered ensured that our students were able to engage in activities at a deeper level by drawing on strategies identified by Benjamin Bloom.

Bloom (1956), identified six levels of understanding, 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. Bloom’s six levels include:

Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory through labelling, listing, memorizing, naming, ordering, recognizing, relating recalling, repeating, reproducing .

Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining.

Applying: choosing, demonstrating, dramatizing, illustrating, interpreting, practicing, scheduling, sketching, solving, using, and writing.

Analysing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing, calculating, comparing, examining.

Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing through arguing assessing, choosing defending, predicting, selecting.

Creating: Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole through reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing, appraising, arguing, assessing, attaching, choosing comparing, defending estimating, judging, predicting, (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001, pp. 67-68)

To enable our students demonstrate their undrstanding, we organised our classroom activities using the Bloom / Gardner matrix, as attached.


Bloom, Benjamin S. & David R. Krathwohl. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York, Longmans.

Gardner, Howard (1983) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.

Anne R Reeves. Where Great Teaching Begins, Planning for Student Thinking and Learning. ASCD 2011.

We have modified the Olympic Games, Gardner / Bloom matrix, created by Miguel Aguilera (St Joseph’s, Bulli – 2004)

Click picture to view table


Student Centered Learning: The Healing Classroom


Student- Centered Learning Pathways in Thailand and Around the World

The Jalozai Refugee Camp in Pershawar, Pakistan: the IRC’s Healing Classrooms

Special Report from  editor-in-chief: Peter J. Foley,Ed.D.

The core of the  IRC’s (International Rescue Committee’s) education program is the “healing classroom” , featuring child- friendly classrooms and child- centered learning.



IRC constructs these classrooms all over the world where children find themselves victims of floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters or when they are faced with bloody wars and conflicts that force them to flee their homes and seek safety in a refugee camp or other refuge.

One such refugee camp is Jalozai Camp just outside Peshawar City.  The school is set up  in tents provided by UNICEF and run by IRC.  The schools are an oasis of safety , friendship and learning for thousands of children. Above are pictures that I hope give a sense of the IRC “healing classrooms in Peshawar , Pakistan.

articles Opinion:World Education

High Performing Schools: What’s the secret?

All around the world, countries are trying to get better performance from schools and school systems.

Thailand is no exception to this effort.

We know that some systems perform better than others, and we know that the best schools and systems have a set of common things they do. There is no secret about the factors that lead to school and systemic excellence. It is a reasonable question to ask that in any table or list of high performing schools or systems, what are the standards used to judge the schools?

There are several ways of making these judgments. Most countries conduct nationally benchmarked testing systems – mostly in the areas of literacy and numeracy.  In Thailand, for example there are the O-net tests which provide an indication of the academic performance of schools on a nationally comparable basis.

Internationally, there are benchmarks provided by such organisations as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]. The OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) enables comparisons to be made between systems, and between counties.

The PISA assessments examine such questions as:

    • Are students well prepared for future challenges?
    • Can they analyse, reason and communicate effectively?
    • Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

The PISA data provides answers to these questions, through its surveys of 15-year-olds in the principal industrialized countries. Every three years, it assesses to what extent students near the end of compulsory education, have acquired in knowledge and skills essential for participation in society. The questions are related to literacy, numeracy and science and more recently, digital literacy.

Neither source of data about systems’ performance comes from research organisations such as social research company McKinsey and the Grattan Institute at Melbourne University, Australia.

Research [2006 – 2010] into high performing  school systems  by McKinsey and Company  , looked at 25 school systems around the world, their findings being published  in the report – How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top [March 2008]

It is possible to obtain information about what it is that enables some schools to be rated as high performing, and through aggregation, what it is that makes some systems perform better than others.

Schools and systems seeking improvement can look to this evidence and use it to apply it to how they operate and they can also use the evidence to lobby for better support.

While there is a number of factors that lead to high performance, such as class size, demographics, budgets and so on, however research shows there is one factor that stands out above others. That factor is the quality of the teachers in schools.

There are three things which matter the most about getting high quality teachers into schools:

    • Getting the right people to become teachers
    • Developing new teachers into effective instructors
    • Ensuring the system is able to develop the best possible instruction for every child.

The McKinsey report found that in the 25 systems it examined, these three factors succeed in improving educational performance wherever they are applied.

Other studies provide strong evidence which support this.

In 2011 The Grattan Institute report Learning from the Best [] examined the four highest performing Asian systems – Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Specifically the researchers wanted to know: Why are these systems moving rapidly ahead of others?

Popular stereotypes about Asian education are strong in some countries. But this evidence challenges these stereotypes. In these four systems, high performance comes from effective education strategies that focus on implementing well-designed programs that continuously improve learning and teaching.

In just five years, Hong Kong moved from 17th to 2nd in PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) the international assessment of Grade 4 students’ reading literacy. In these four Asian systems, education reforms created rapid changes in reading literacy.

Success cannot be explained by what is often seen as an emphasis on rote learning in Asian systems. Students who rely on rote learning come to grief in PISA assessments, because PISA assesses meta-cognitive content knowledge and problem solving abilities. These skills are not conducive to rote learning. Rote learning in preparation for PISA assessment would lead to lower scores. Moreover, international research shows that classroom lessons in Hong Kong, for example, require greater deductive reasoning, with more new and advanced content.

Thai education policy makers would do well to look at the four high performing systems studied in the Grattan Report.  Anyone looking at the systems will soon see that have introduced one or several of the following reforms, they:

• Provide high quality initial teacher education. In Singapore, students are paid civil servants during their initial teacher education. Government evaluations have bite and can close down ineffective teacher education courses.

• Provide mentoring that continually improves learning and teaching. In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors, and new teachers have several mentors who observe and give feedback on their classes.

• View teachers as researchers. In Shanghai teachers belong to research groups that continually develop and evaluate innovative teaching. Teachers cannot rise to advanced teacher status without having a published paper peer reviewed

The challenge for Thailand is to look at these Asian systems and then ascertain what they can easily and quickly implement in the Thai context that is similar to the steps taken in Singapore Korea Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Thailand can do this.

Greg Cairnduff

Acting Editor

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Teaching for Understanding : Article 1

Teaching for Understanding

An Introduction


Thai teachers

Shifting the Educational Paradigm  to Student Centered Teaching and Learning


Greg Cairnduff

By Greg Cairnduff, 

Director The Australian International School of Bangkok 

January  2012  





This article is a  contribution to the  discussion about moving Thai education  from rote learning as the pedagogical norm, towards a pedagogy that is student-centered  and one that  will enhance the capacities of Thai students going into  the 21st Century workforce.

This is the first of a series of three articles on the basics of the methodology known as Teaching for Understanding.

Educational Change is Not Easy to Achieve

The challenge of educational change is well documented  and demonstrated in the practical attempts at reform by education systems around the world. Evidence of reform efforts reveals one inescapable factor: large scale educational change is never easy, nor is it quick to achieve.

The Finnish education system is an outstanding example of a high performing, high quality system. But it should be noted that it took Finnish educators  least 15 years to develop their at system to its current level.

Systemic context is relevant to the pace of successful reform. For example, Finland’s context is one of a relatively small country of under 6 million people compared to Thailand’s population of 62 million. On this count alone, the contexts of the two systems are very different.

Educational Change in Thailand

Thailand has  a very large education system. To move from an old paradigm of education [20th Century model] to a new paradigm [21st Century model] in a system of over 35 000 schools is like turning a large ship around – it takes time and sea space; it can be slow, cumbersome, and hard to achieve in the short term.

Despite these contextual challenges, the shift to student-centered learning is the  shift that is essential for  students’ success in the 21st Century.  In the end it is teachers in the classrooms of Thai schools who have to actually bring about this big change.

What are some of the needs of 21st Century Education?

Students must be prepared differently to enter the Information Age [C21st] workforce than in the Industrial era. The main difference is  preparation related to knowledge work, the kind of work that more and more people will do in the 21st century.

If Thailand is to have workers with the necessary skills for these times, the nation must have an education system that focuses heavily on the skills required for this  century, particularly communication and computer skills

What Knowledge and Skills are required for the 21st Century?

Building knowledge and developing sets of skills have traditionally been considered the mainstays of education.

In the rapidly changing world, the acquisition of the standard skills of reading, writing and numeracy are no longer sufficient. Internationally, education systems are  looking at ways to prepare students for  jobs that involve complex thinking and communication skills. These are the knowledge work jobs of today and tomorrow that require complex skills, expertise and creativity.

What seems certain is that there are two sets of skills that are at the top of job requirements for 21st century work: The ability to quickly acquire and apply new knowledge and  know how to apply certain commonly required skills to all aspects of the workplace; such as  problem solving, communication, teamwork, technology and innovation.

Four powerful elements  are converging and leading towards new ways of learning for life in the 21st century.

These  are generally recognised as:

  • Knowledge work
  • Thinking tools
  • Digital lifestyles
  • Learning research.

The diagram  provides an  indication of how these four elements fit together.

Education Transitions

Knowledge Work

The Thai Education system faces increasing pressure to produce knowledge workers.

Internationally, corporations are making investments in global programs to attract graduates to the high technology fields and to train them in these fields. The Thai education system has to ensure that students are not at a disadvantage when these corporations are in the Thai or international market for knowledge workers. For example, Thai graduates have to compete with well educated graduates from India and China.

In the book, The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What it Means for all of US, the author, Meredith writes “suddenly Americans must compete with much of the rest of the world for their jobs with much of the rest of the world “ [1] This comment emphasises the same for Thailand – Thai workers are competing with Indian and Chinese workers on the international job market.

Thinking Tools

The mental tasks of knowledge work involve accessing, managing, creating, and communicating information. These tasks are becoming easier and more efficient as digital tools for assisting with the tasks become increasingly sophisticated. Therefore, teaching in and learning in Thai schools has to move towards teaching students methods to help them organise their thinking, as well they need to use the digital tools available to them.

Digital Lifestyles

The terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” describe the divide that often exists between the students who are digital natives and their teachers, who are mostly digital immigrants. These digital natives [the students] and the digital immigrants [the teachers], must be able to work together. It is likely that it is the teachers who have to change the most.

Traditional Teaching

Studies of traditional teaching practices reveal numerous and persistent pitfalls. Too frequently students can’t remember what they have learnt or don’t understand the material well enough to apply it in different situations.  Regular classroom activities are often too routine to promote understanding.

The spelling drills, true-and-false quizzes, arithmetic exercises and conventional essay questions so common in the teacher-led classroom, promote the learning of knowledge, but limit the versatility of the skills.  The development of knowledge and routine skills are important, but what students learn is superficial and often remains inert, students are unable to apply their knowledge, or recognize opportunities to do so.

Educators must provide alternate applications for the theory and real-world examples. Learning experiences where students can apply their new knowledge and understanding outside the academic context, and

Teaching for Understanding

The approaches to developing understanding in students as used in many parts of the world  are  often based on the work of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Faculty members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education collaborated with many experienced teachers and researchers to develop, test, and refine this approach for effective teaching.

It is strongly recommended that readers refer to the web site at:

Teaching for Understanding is based on the premise that students who understand information are more flexible with their knowledge.

What is Understanding?

The term understanding denotes a variety of mental processes, states and structures.

  • Understanding refers to the ability appreciate the nature, significance, or explanation of a concept and apply these concepts appropriately (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 2002).
  • Understanding implies to the ability to make connections between facts [knowledge] and relating newly acquired information, to that which is already known and integrating knowledge into a cohesive whole so that ideas and concepts are understood.

The Need to Develop Understanding in the Teaching and Learning Process

Educators and students find themselves in the middle of an information explosion and a rapidly changing world.  The increased body of information proves problematic for teaching and learning. It is no longer feasible for students to memorize all the facts and figures that come at them on a daily basis.  Instead, teachers need to work with students to develop their ability to understand concepts and principles that will permit them to operate in the rapidly evolving world.

Researchers and educational reformers have worked collaboratively to develop a definition of understanding and identify approaches to teaching that develop skills and improve student understanding.

Developing Understanding  

Students’ ability to understand the world needs to be developed so they are able to adapt to new situations and apply their understanding to enable them to solve  problems.

The application of skills and knowledge beyond the classroom requires more than just the ability to do the task. It requires understanding of concepts and big ideas.

In Thailand [and not only Thailand] most of the current teaching practice has students acquiring knowledge and routine skills without necessarily any real understanding of the concepts and reasons which underpin the acquired knowledge. Often students know how to do something, but they have no depth of understanding of the processes and outcomes of what they are doing.

For example, students may know how a car can be driven so that it moves, but do they understand the chemistry and physics in causing this to happen?

In looking at an issue for example, the environment, it is necessary to have an understanding of the internal combustion engine in order to make judgments about the impact of the car on the environment.

Implications for Thai teachers

The challenge for Thai teachers is to move their practice from mainly teaching and testing the acquisition of knowledge to teaching students to think, ask questions, and develop deep understanding of the knowledge they acquire and rather than testing knowledge,  assessment ought to part of the learning process.

Articles presented in earlier by Ellen Cornish and Dr Don Jordan [December, and September October 2011] provide practical examples of how teachers can plan for this type of teaching.  

Article 2 in this series on Teaching for Understanding in February, will suggest ways teachers can enhance the development of deep understanding.

[1] Meredith, R. The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What it Means for all of US New York, Norton, p190


Can teacher directed and child centred classrooms co-exist?

Can teacher directed and child centred classrooms co-exist?

Dr Don W Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish

Is direct teaching rote learning or can it be something else? What paradigm shift is required to enable teachers to develop strategies that foster Child Centred Learning with a large number of students in enquiry based classrooms?

Direct teaching and enquiry based learning need not be at opposite ends of the spectrum, effective classrooms reflect a variety of ways to organise learning opportunities for all students.

In reality, the majority of classroom activity is teacher directed. The extent of the direction will depend on the outcomes the teacher wishes to achieve. It is equally important for students to feel ownership of a task and therefore take on responsibility for their own learning. Initially, we feared that if we gave too many decision making opportunities to students about their learning, we may lose control over our teaching program. This did not happen as we remained in control of the learning program whilst at the same time giving students the chance to make guided decisions about their own learning opportunities. Direct teaching activities are an important and necessary part of good classroom practice, whether whole class or part of a group or individual activities. Meaningful learning in the classroom is a joint venture between the student and teacher.

Howard Gardner’s (1983) multiple intelligences (MI) theory has been a useful framework to help us understand that our students have different strengths and learn in different ways. MI theory includes the traditional academic intelligences of linguistic and logical mathematical intelligences as well as spatial, visual, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligences.

Central to MI theory is that each intelligence has a different developmental trajectory and different ways of learning. This implies that students generally may engage higher order thinking and problem solving in an area of intellectual strength and only lower order thinking in an area of relative weakness. For example a student gifted in linguistic intelligence may produce a creative and original piece of writing but may struggle with a task that demands high-level spatial awareness.

Giving our students the opportunity to foster their curiosity and to develop their skills through a collection of guided choices e.g. art/craft drama, music etc. and teacher directed activities, was a powerful way to engage them in learning for understanding, whilst giving them opportunities to develop their multiple intelligences. We always ensured that any such choices were under our supervision, thus ensuring that students were engaged in activities that foster a deeper understanding.

Our classroom experience has shown us that when we combined our classes to include 50 students for a unit of work looking at ‘extinction’ (our planning is included in this article) our most effective strategies were those that took into account the skills, values and understandings we wanted our students to acquire. To achieve this we organised our classroom into;


Whole class teaching.


Whole class teaching formed a very important part of our classroom practice. One example of this was ‘Tuning in’ as a whole class each morning, which helped to focus students on the tasks to be undertaken for the day or week. This was also an opportunity for students to share their work in progress or completed work to the whole class, as well as any interesting resources that they or we may have discovered.

Small groups.

Knowledge is constructed through our senses of, seeing, hearing and our emotional connection as well as touch, taste and smell. We found that when students are encouraged to work and learn together in small groups, a powerful way for them to develop their learning skills is using their senses. Groups were organised in a number of ways according to the unit of work being studied. We found that small groups were most effective when groups of mixed ability, ethnic and socio-economic, gender and age were given the opportunity to explore their ideas with others through dialogue and critical debate, as opposed to the transmission of knowledge in one direction from teacher to student. There is no doubt that teacher to student transmission of facts and ideas has its place, but it is only when students explore and confirm their ideas with others, that learning takes place.

Individual work.

An effective approach for us was to develop a ‘contract’ with students; this was a series of written questions organised on Bloom’s (1956) six levels for organising information. (See below).These questions were structured in such a way as to take into account the thinking of Howard Gardner’s MI theory as well as the hierarchy of research skills outlined by Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom & Krathwohl (1956). We always encouraged our students to use a range of media including writing, art and craft, music, drama and IT, to demonstrate their understanding. This allowed for student’s different s interest and abilities.

Bloom (1956), identified six levels, 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. Examples of verbs that represent intellectual activity on each level are listed below;

1.         Knowledge: arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, state.

2.         Comprehension: classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, translate.

3.         Application: apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.

4.         Analysis: analyse, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, and test.

5.         Synthesis: arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, and write.

6.         Evaluation: appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose compare, defend estimate, judge, predict, rate, core, select, support, value, evaluate. (Bloom & Krathwohl. (1956).

Our evaluation of our students’ individual and group work was based on how well they demonstrated these understandings in their completed work. This included written, oral, graphic and drama presentations, as well as their own evaluation based on the student self-assessment rubrics.



Bloom, Benjamin S. & David R. Krathwohl. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York , Longmans.


Gardner, Howard (1983) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.




Inquiry into Science Inquiry

Inquiry into Science Inquiry

By John R. Stiles, Ph.D.

Science Education consultant



For at least the past three decades, what is now known as “Science Inquiry” has been the prevailing paradigm among science educators. However, acceptance from classroom science teachers, administrators, and university science instructors has been slow.

The U. S. National Science Education Standards first drafted in 1996 included science inquiry as one of its standards, underscoring the idea that inquiry is not only important in school science, but also fundamental:

“The Standards call for more than “science as process,” in which students learn such skills as observing, inferring, and experimenting. Inquiry is central to science learning. When engaging in inquiry, students describe objects and events, ask questions, construct explanations, test those explanations against current scientific knowledge, and communicate their ideas to others. They identify their assumptions, use critical and logical thinking, and consider alternative explanations. In this way, students actively develop their understanding of science by combining scientific knowledge with reasoning and thinking skills.

“The importance of inquiry does not imply that all teachers should pursue a single approach to teaching science. Just as inquiry has many different facets, so teachers need to use many different strategies to develop the understandings and abilities described in the Standards” (National Academies Press).

While traditional science textbooks have devoted but a single chapter to science inquiry, generally the introductory chapter (“What do scientists do?”), it was not necessarily encouraged as an integrated part of classroom science beyond the first week.  As the research base on science teaching and learning has evolved, even that introduction was revised, as such widely accepted, but mythological notions such as “The” Scientific Method needed to be re-thought (McComas, 1996). As early as the 1980’s, scientists also recognized that school science did not accurately reflect what science is, and joined science educators’ call for a redefining of teaching and learning. F. James Rutherford, science education pioneer, noted that teachers, particularly those in elementary levels, needed to be “re-educated” about the nature of science, and that science textbooks should be removed from the elementary schools because they “get in the way of good science instruction” (Rutherford, 1987). Rutherford echoed the position of other prominent science educators, such as Robert Yager, who in 1988 scolded school science instruction for rarely permitting students to investigate authentic scientific problems (Clough, 2000).

As science education research dramatically increased throughout the end of the 20th century, more and more, educators realized that school science was not reflecting the nature of science, which informs science education about what science is and how it works (Clough, 2000). Textbooks attempted to change their format to assimilate the shifting paradigm but with varying degrees of success. In short, the nature of science is not something easily read about, but rather something that needs to be experienced. As Colburn and Clough (1997) noted that in textbook science, “students are rarely mentally engaged in a meaningful manner.” Indeed, as Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1985) concluded after being asked to review a physics text, there was “no science” in it, “only memorization.”

Because of this shift in thinking about how and why school science needed to be more thoughtful regarding science teaching and learning, an evolution began of what classroom instruction should look like. Along with the development of the “Learning Cycle” strategy by Robert Karplus (1972), science educators gradually came to a consensus regarding what the research says about “science inquiry,” galvanized in five identified and widely recognized “Essential Features” (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). These five features and a short summary of each are as follows:

  1. The learner engages in scientifically oriented questions. The questions may come from one posed by the teacher, from students themselves, or from outside resources, such as a textbook, video or internet site.
  2. The learner gives priority to evidence in responding to questions. Students are given opportunity to explore ways to find credible evidence and gather data.
  3. The learner formulates explanations from evidence. Students discuss the evidence and give their own explanations regarding the findings.
  4. The learner connects explanations to scientific knowledge. Unlike traditional science instruction, students do not research information from experts until after formulating their own explanations. The “experts’ may be the classroom teacher, scientists, other science professionals, literary or electronic sources. The students then reconcile any differences between their findings and scientific explanations. This can be done in a variety of ways.
  5. The learner communicates and justifies explanations. Students report their findings, preferably in a public setting, either in class presentations or for a wider audience, such as to other classes, teachers, school-wide forums or conferences, or through self-publishing available to the school community or a wider audience via social platforms or other educational web sites.

The Essential Features are not necessarily required for all science instruction, nor are all five required in each investigation. However, science educators encourage teachers to use all five features at some point in their school year. Depending on how comfortable teachers and their students are with science inquiry, and the experience that both have had using science inquiry, there will be a wide range of science inquiry actually used in each classroom, and at different levels. The goal is to engage in scientific inquiry as often as possible at all levels of instruction when practical.

As in any endeavor, it is not enough to simply read about science inquiry and be able to implement it any more than it is possible to compose a song by reading a passage in a music book. Science inquiry, to be done correctly and effectively, takes time and requires practice, taking small steps. Some commercial science kits are available, such as FOSS (Full Option Science Systems), which are made to be used with an inquiry approach, and comes with teacher guides and videos that instruct how to set-up for investigations.

Also important is to understand what  misconceptions teachers have about science inqiry.  Here are just a few:

  • Myth #1: Inquiry Science is the teacher asking “recall” questions.

Answering rhetorical or simple yes-no types of questions does not require critical thinking skills.

  • Myth #2: Inquiry science involves students learning only facts of already acquired knowledge.

Although important, facts support the development of conceptual knowledge, but cannot, in isolation, possibly lead to understanding.

  • Myth #3: Inquiry science is learning science process skills.

While these skills are necessary, they alone do not result in student understanding of scientific concepts.

  • Myth #4: Inquiry science follows the “Scientific Method.”

Surprising to many science teachers, there is no such thing as the scientific method.

While scientists use many of these steps, they are not essential in science discovery.

Scientific discoveries occur using a variety of approaches, including accidental


  • Myth #5:  Inquiry science is “hands-on” or “discovery” science.

While using manipulatives or allowing students to independently explore are important

aspects of science investigation, they alone are insufficient for deep conceptual



These and other myths of science inquiry teaching and learning often inhibit deep student

understanding of science concepts and content, as well as give a misrepresentation as to

what science is and what scientists do.


Thailand’s Science Standards English Version drafted in 2008 (B.E. 2551) include references to scientific inquiry in school science. Specifically, Standard Sc 8.1 states: “The student should be able to use the scientific process and scientific mind in investigation, solve problems, know that most natural phenomena have definite patterns explainable and verifiable within the limitations of data and instrumentation during the period of investigation, understand that science, technology and environment are interrelated” (Institute for the Promotion of teaching Science and Technology [IPST], 2008).

Although inquiry is not explicitly described, it is implied in the standard. When reviewing the indicators for Nature of Science in the Thai science standards (all grade levels), many of the Essential Features of Inquiry are present, such as:

  • Pose questions, based on scientific knowledge and understanding, own interests, or current issues, that can be investigated comprehensively and reliably.
  • Search and collect data
  • Analyse and interpret data
  • Record and explain results of an observation, investigation and additional research from various sources, in order to obtain reliable information
  • (O)ffering explanations, viewpoints, and results of scientific learning to the public


This year and next, Thailand is undergoing further review of its standards and benchmarks, as are many other countries. An outside team of science, math and technology experts from The U.S., U.K. and Australia will review and make recommendations to a team of educators from IPST. After gathering feedback from Thai teachers and administrators, a final revision will be made and recommendations sent to the Ministry of Education for approval sometime in mid-2012 (B.E. 2555).





Clough, M.P. (2000). The nature of science: Understanding how the game is played. EBSCO Clearinghouse; Sep/Oct, Vol 74 (1): 13-17. ISSN: 0009-8655. Accession number: 3537010, Professional Development Collection.

Colburn, A. & Clough, M.P. (1997). Implementing the Learning Cycle. The Science Teacher, 64 (5): 30-33.

Feynman, Richard P. (1985). Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a curious character). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Institute for the Promotion of teaching Science and Technology (2008). The Basic Education Core Curriculum B.E. 2551; Science.

Karplus, R. (1972). SCIS: Three guidelines for elementary school science. Science Activities, 8 (1): 47-49.

McComas, W. (1996). Ten myths of science: Reexamining what we think we know…School Science & Mathematics, 96 (January) 10pp.

National Academy of Sciences (2000). Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

National Academy of Sciences (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.


articles Featured Articles

Student Centered Learning: A Case for Integrated Learning Classrooms

Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don W Jordan

Our classroom experience has shown us that the many benefits of moving away from rote learning to an integrated learning classroom, is that skills, values and understandings can best be taught and assessed within meaningful ‘connected’ contexts. Based on our understanding of students’ needs, interests, prior knowledge and experience, we planned a set of broad understandings to help frame our unit of work. These understandings – though specific to the topic – incorporated some of the    key concepts that students explore with increasing sophistication as they move through school.  The following is an example of what our classroom planning and teaching towards enhancing understanding in an integrated classroom looks like, sounds like, and feels like, together with a suggested unit of work on the human body, feel good feel great.

Integrated learning advantages teachers and students by:

·         Reflecting, more closely, the interdependence between all aspects of life in the real world

·         Challenging learners to use and develop their thinking as they work to make connections and see the ‘big picture’

·         Catering to the various learning styles and preferences held by students

·         Managing an increasing crowded curriculum

·         Meeting outcomes in context

·         Making more ‘sense’ to the school day – as activities have stronger links with each other

·         Providing students with a greater degree of control over learning

·         Encouraging staff to plan and work in teams

·         Structuring a meaningful context for the teaching and assessment of outcomes across key learning areas

·         Enabling students to transfer knowledge, skills and values across content and experiences

·         Skilling students to process and respond to experience in a range of ways

·         Linking purposes with activities more explicitly

·         Enriching understanding, enjoyment and reflection in teaching and learning.

The essence of this approach to planning is the relationship between those learning areas concerned with ‘the world around us’ (science, technology, health, and environmental and social education) and those areas through which we explore and come to understand that world (language, mathematics, art, drama, dance, music and aspects of technology.  Kath Murdoch (2003, P.1)


Creating an Integrated Classroom


An Integrated Classroom

Connects Prior Learning to New Learning



Fosters Reflective Practices

Makes Learning Meaningful

Recognises Individual Differences

Looks like


  • Teachers working / planning collaboratively.
  • Desks arranged in clusters of 4-6.
  • Activity centres with work space and resources.
  • Wall displays of student work and instructional material.
  • Comfortable reading space. (Cushions and books).

  • Smiling faces.


  • Tuning in activities using various graphic organisers e.g. what I know, what I would like to know etc.
  • Teacher assessment. (formative, summative).


  • Teacher and student created rubrics.
  • Students displaying their learning in a number of ways, e.g talking, writing, art, drama etc.


  • Relevant and up to date resources.


  • Adequate work spaces for students.
  • Curriculum relevant to student needs and interests.


  • Classroom program arranged to allow students to find space and resources. Allowing the teacher to give time and encouragement to students in order to demonstrate their learning across curriculum areas.
  • Learning program developed so that students can enter at their level and be extended and challenged.

Sounds like


  • Students discussing and helping each other.
  • The teacher interacting with individuals and groups.
  • Students confidently sharing their learning with the class through speaking, writing, drama, music, art.







  • Students being able to discuss their understandings and to make connections.







  • Students confidently explaining, discussing their learning with peers, teacher and parents.





  • Teacher making learning objectives clear.
  • Opportunities for students to takes risk in sharing their learning.





  • The sound of discussion between students and between students and teacher.
  • Students sharing the learning with peers, parents and teacher.


Feels like

  • Warm and safe to share confidently.
  • To ask questions and give opinions.
  • Inviting and feeling part of the group.














  • Warm and safe to share confidently.
  • To ask questions and give opinions.
  • Inviting and feeling part of the group.




  • Warm and safe to share confidently.
  • To ask questions and give opinions.
  • Inviting and feeling part of the group.


  • Students feeling confident to share their understandings with others.







  • Supportive environment so students feel comfortable to give thoughts and opinions.










Murdoch, K. (2003), Classroom Connections; Strategies for Classroom Learning. Australia: Publishing Solutions.



Overarching Goals: Goals which overshadow the whole topic.

Tuning In: Finding out what the students already know about the topic, as well as what they would like to find out in order to stimulate their interest and enthusiasm for the topic.

Brainstorm: group discussion and sharing of ideas.

Guiding Questions: questions related to the topic which promote thought as well as refining the investigation to be undertaken.

Graphic Organiser: Charts which help visually organise information (there are many examples, including Y charts, T charts, fish bones, placemats, concept maps, flow charts etc. on the internet)

Rubrics: Teacher or student generated charts based on the topic being studied to assist with self-assessment.

Formative Assessment: Teacher assessment, as well as student self-assessment which can be demonstrated through drama, oral presentations, written material, information technology, art and craft etc.

Summative Assessment: System and school based testing.

Culmination: The final part of the topic where students demonstrate their understandings using a variety of methods including drama, information technology, oral presentations, written material, art and craft etc.