One week in Buriram
This profile below was prepared when Wichian Chaiyabang was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The No Child Left Behind Act and Standardized Testing : by Melissa
I first became aware of Lamplaimat Pattana School (LPMP) while doing research about education systems in several countries in which I was considering doing volunteer work. Having spent the previous thirteen years in American Higher Education as a college instructor of English Composition, I found myself increasingly frustrated working in a system that did not, ultimately, share my vision of the possibilities of education.
My American teaching career spanned the dawning of the 21st-century, and my students represented the global village; I often had students from as many as a dozen countries represented in a single classroom. It became increasingly clear to me that the needs of the 21st century, and of the young people who would be charged with facing and solving the problems inherent to it, were not being addressed as effectively and urgently as necessary.
In June of 2011, I resigned from the American education system and made the decision to go outside of the United States to see if I could find a way to use my skills and experience to make a difference in global education. As I often say, and deeply believe, “Educationanywhere matters everywhere.”
In my research about education in Thailand, I discovered Lamplaimat Pattana. As I began to read about the mission of LPMP, and as I read the extensive analytical report produced by the University of Tasmania about the school, I recognized a pedagogical soul-mate. Conversations with a representative of LPMP further enhanced my sense that LPMP was a school that not only shared my educational vision, but was in fact substantially further down the path in implementing that vision.
Problems in American Education: The No Child Left Behind Act and Standardized Testing
On January 8, 2002, former United States President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I had been teaching for three years at that time, and although I did not doubt that the intentions of the Act were good, I knew that the methodology was exactly the opposite of what we needed to focus on in American education in order to face the increasingly pressing needs of the 21stcentury.
NCLB elevated the results of standardized testing to the position of central, and only, determinant of “success” for students, teachers, and schools. In the past ten years, a generation of American students has been taught “to the test” instead of being taught in authentic ways that truly encourage a love of learning, ways that cultivate critical inquiry and dialogue, and that help students to apply their knowledge to the real-world issues faced by their local and global communities. American teachers are becoming increasingly frustrated at having to assess students based upon an extremely narrow understanding of “knowledge” and by being unable to devote enough class time to helping students nurture a genuine excitement for the learning process (instead, the time is used to relentlessly prepare for testing). In effect, the motivation for “learning” has been thoroughly externalized: the goal is to pass the test, and avoid punishment, which is the end result of not “succeeding” in the NCLB model.
Both “knowledge” and “success” are perilously ill-defined in the NCLB system. Students are considered to “know,” and therefore to have “succeeded,” to the extent that they become successful test-takers; that is, to the extent that they are able to demonstrate that they can reiterate (not necessarily deeply understand) a narrow range of information, which they have been drilled about for the entire school year at the expense of the whole range of knowledge and skills which have been neglected in order to “teach to the test” (many of which skills, of course, simply cannot be assessed in the standardized testing model).
Also virtually ignored in the NCLB system is the inherent diversity in students themselves. Although anyone who has ever taught knows that each and every student is a unique human being with equally unique abilities and aptitudes, NCLB demands the impossible and ultimately, for the 21 century-- the undesirable: that every student be alike-- that they think alike, that they “know” the exact same things in the exact same way, and that they express that “knowledge” in the narrowly conceived way that allows test-makers to easily quantify that “knowledge.” Students are ultimately reduced to numbers in this system, a system that has been a boon for some, such as the standardized testing industry, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry since the inception of NCLB. But at what cost to the students, to America, and to the world?
In order to meet the requirements of “knowledge” in Reading and Math set out by NCLB, teachers and students are increasingly forced to give up time and resources that would otherwise be available for developing a well-rounded, holistic educational experience, one that recognizes the students as human beings, not simply standardized test-taking machines. Time for the Arts, play, sports, and even time to eat a proper nutritionally balanced lunch (all of which have been scientifically proven to enhance children's learning) has been increasingly shifted to test cram sessions. It has gone so far that two 11-year old girls from Minn, Minnesota recently felt compelled to write to their local newspaper to express their concern over being given just 10 – 11 minutes to eat lunch. (Return to discuss relevance/ implications/revise this section).
A decade into this experiment in American education, even formerly enthusiastic advocates of NCLB, such as education historian and once prominent supporter of the federal education policy, Diane Ravitch, have come to understand that, good intentions aside, NCLB is a “disaster.”
The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before in human history. The skills necessary for meeting the challenges of the new millennium are not the same as those that were sufficient to meet the challenges of the past. More than ever before, students need to develop what have come to be known as 21st century skills, authentic thinking and communication skills that include:
· Mental model building - using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
· Internal motivation - identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
· Multi-modal learning - applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
· Social learning - using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
· International learning - using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills.
In effect, what educators must focus on in order to prepare students to effectively participate in the 21st-centruy global community is the development of “lifelong learners.” In the past, the focus of education has largely been placed on teaching, yet 21st century demands a shift to a focus on learners: helping students learn how to learn, how to reflect on and articulate their growing knowledge, and how to implement that knowledge, together with others, in ways that positively impact the world in which they live, is crucial to authentic education. The problems that have been created by outdated thinking cannot be solved by that same thinking; instead, education must focus on cultivating creative, critical thinking that will enable students to become self-motivated, confident innovators who are able to bring new thinking to the problems faced by the real world in which they live.
LPMP meets (and exceeds) the challenge of providing 21st-century education
Having had the privilege of experiencing LPMP as a guest observer/participant for a five weeks, I have come to know that not only were my initial impressions of the school correct, but that, in fact, the work being done at LPMP is even more transformational and progressive than I could have imagined. Below is a discussion of the ways in which I have observed LPMP meeting, and exceeding, the 21stcentury skills goal that is becoming increasingly recognized globally.
Mental model building - using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
LPMP employs a variety of learning opportunities/methodologies to assist students in developing and refining their understanding/knowledge through the use of physical and virtual models, including mind-mapping and project-based learning.
Mind-mapping allows students to begin to articulate, as well as to visually conceptualize, the framework of key questions, ideas, and language of the particular project they are working on. Mind-mapping inherently encourages complex analytical thinking. Analysis, of course, is the process of breaking down a coherent whole into its parts so as to better understand a) how the parts function in and of themselves and b) how the parts function together to make up the whole. This physical modeling tool encourages students to recognize and represent the complexity and interconnection of ideas, as well as to begin to understand and represent complex structures.
Project-based Learning (PBL)
LPMP's focus on Project-based Learning (PBL) is perhaps its most striking contribution to helping students become engaged life-long learners. Whereas the traditional lecture, drill, test methodology encourages learners to think of knowledge as compartmentalized (limited to the classroom, or to the test, for example), PBL encourages what renowned educational theorist Paulo Freire, in his seminal essay “The 'Banking' Concept of Education” defines as real knowledge. For Freire, as for progressive schools such as LPMP, knowledge is not a static, compartmentalized “thing.” Instead, it is understood to be what it truly is: a process. True knowledge “emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other (Freire ___).” It should be noted that the PBL projects themselves are imagined and constructed by the students in collaboration with their teachers, increasing student engagement and ownership. PBL encourages students to actively engage in the meaning-making process through inquiry, through dialogue, through collaboration with others, and then to apply their growing knowledge in the real world. This is the kind of knowledge, and these are the kinds of learners, crucial to the 21st-centrury.
One particularly excellent example of PBL at LPMP is a Primary Grade Six project in which students collaborated in creating a video of a text they had read together (The Alchemist). Not only was the students' understanding of the concepts clear in the excellent artifact they produced, but the joy and engagement of the students was also clear in videos and images that captured the students' creative process. Perhaps Socrates said it best when he said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” PBL kindles the flames of curiosity, creativity, engagement, and joy necessary to cultivate lifelong learners. We owe students no less as we ask them to face the enormous challenges of a century the problems of which they did not create, but will necessarily be tasked with solving.
The world as a model is also a key component of LPMP pedagogy. Students are encouraged to look to their own natural environment for learning models, and to observe and understand their world as a classroom. Children in Kindergarten Two, for example, studying ants, are encouraged to observe ants on the playground: to recognize their size, their color, their movements and habits. Of course, observation is the first principle of science, and these little investigators practice one of the most important intellectual skills when they observe their own world. They also build physical models as they produce art projects that allow them to demonstrate their growing understanding, for example, of ant morphology. What kindergarten class would be complete without music? Although they are “only” five-years old, they are already being introduced implicitly to linguistics as they sing songs (in their Native language as well as in the English language).
*I will discuss later the implications of these multi-faceted learning activities on learning styles.
Internal motivation - identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
One of the most impressive aspects of LPMP's pedagogy and methodology is its focus on student learning as an organic, internal process. At LPMP, punishment and cohersion are avoided in favor of student-focused learning that evokes the natural curiosity and wonder necessary fro the development of life-long learners. The intellectual materials are not “owned” by the teachers” and “given” tot he students; instead, they are the creation of the students facilitated by their teachers, who dilligently strive to ensure that students are
Multi-modal learning - applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
Unlike schools that rely on traditional and outdated methods such as lecture and drill, LPMP teachers employ “multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles” daily. The Primary Six project discussed above provides and excellent example of this. Students employed multiple skill sets in producing their collaborative project, including music, technology, writing, theater, and oral presentation. Visual, auditory, kinetic
(Discuss Learning Styles research -return to ANTS discussion)
Social learning - using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
In traditional educational settings, which often views learners in isolation, LPMP recognizes that knowledge and meaning-making is an inherently social process. Particularly in the 21-st century, as human beings become increasingly capable through technology of interacting and collaborating globally, it is important to cultivate learners who are not isolated and compartmentalized.
LOVE: Introduce Erich Fromm's definition: to love someone, you must respect them, to respect them you must know them, to know them, you must listen deeply to them. LPMP LOVES their students by this eloquent definition. Deep listening, attention to the issues to he individual student, to individual teachers, sports/games that build social connections (not heirarchical). Bodies, spirits, minds, emotions
(Khru Kloy with upset child on day one: discuss the role of empathy in critical thinking and education) EQ?SQ/IQ: HOLISTIC intertwining.
Home/School synthesis (home visits)
International learning - using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills.
Real-world learning. Use ASEAN example (Primary Five). Buriram example (_________)?
How does LPMP EXCEED?
· Attention to teachers as students and as human beings.
· Mentoring of younger/less experienced teachers
· Constant self-reflection: as a team, and as individuals
· Regular dialogue (talking with, not AT teachers)
· Problem-solving as a community (child with diabetes-- not HIS problem, OUR problem. Same with View and Boom)
· Attention to environment: exciting, engaging, safe, full of wonder, play, lesson (walkways as classrooms).
· Return to Fromm: LOVE (no physical, emotional barriers, trust)
· respect/love/appreciation for their own (and others') culture (builds self-esteem and other-esteem)
· Dedication of teachers extraordinary
· Involvement of parents crucial: always seeking to improve/reinforce/build upon this crucial connection – HOME VISITS.