Monday, March 24, 2008

My Dream School- realised in Bangkok!

In Copenhagen, after the visit to Hellerup Skole (check out my other blog-http://create-teeth-buzz.blogspot.com) I shared with DCPD the concept of my dream school-
1) Parents need be part of nurturing process in tandem with the school and the teachers collaboration
2) Students are assigned to projects based on their interest- whereby talents and skills are also evaluated on the same level of academic excellence
3) Students are able to chart their own learning progress, identify the skills, are able to reflect and evaluate own learning and style.
4) Different ways of learning- from books, to internet, to fieldtrips, to self-initiated projects, to service learning- pervasively across all subjects in the curriculum everyday.
5) Teachers to co-create the curriculum with students and community.
6) Teachers as mentors, facilitators and coaches.
7) Leadership starting from self, driven by choice, capacity, curiosity

The Funny (scary) thing is, the exact details I listed all appeared in the school below: Foreign Media Coverage on Education Issues (15 Mar 2008 - 20 Mar 2008)

A school for multiple intelligences; Vanessa Race discusses why it is important for a curriculum to address the many talents and areas of
intelligence of young students
(Nuttaa Mahattana, Bangkok Post [TH], 18/3)

According to Vanessa Race, the school's first student and now its
academic consultant, the Vanessa School's curriculum is created with
the vision that future generations of its students should be able to
find their place anywhere in the world while showing compassion for
others and enjoying innate happiness.

The school was founded 23 years ago by Vanessa's mother who wanted to
create a unique learning environment for her daughter, which consists
of: An environment where children are free to ask questions; a place
where adults and children learn together in a friendly atmosphere; and
a place where freedom and versatility create a happy learning
experience. Two decades later, the objective of the school remains
unchanged.

With the master's degree in Mind, Brain and Education from Harvard
University, and being the only Thai student advisee of Dr Howard
Gardner - founder of the Multiple Intelligences Theory - Vanessa
returned to Thailand to share her knowledge and experience with
students in her school and to maximize their individual potential.

Why MI?

The theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) answered a lot of questions
in my mind, says Vanessa. I used to wonder why my friend is better
than me in ballet, and why I'm better than her in academics. Why do
people label students who are good in academics as "competent", but
usually ignore many others who might be good at music, sports, and so
on?

The Multiple Intelligences theory sensibly explains what already
exists in human nature. While IQ exams measure only a person's
mathematical, logical and linguistic intelligence, MI evaluates all
aspects of human intelligences. Everything we can be and become is
taken into account. It provides a place for everyone with special
skills and talents.

According to Dr Gardner, the MI theory includes Linguistic
Intelligence, Mathematical-Logical Intelligence, Spatial Intelligence,
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence, Musical intelligence, Intrapersonal
Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence, and Naturalist Intelligence.
It is believed that, given the right environment, the human brain can
develop each of these intelligences to its maximum potential.

Begin with the end in mind

Asked how to bring the theory into practice, Vanessa says she designed
her school's curriculum with the end in mind. Although Vanessa School
includes kindergarten through the primary levels (Prathom 6), she does
not think her job ends there.

When designing the MI curriculum for my school I imagine the farthest
my students could go on their academic path. That could lead to
becoming a student at Harvard or becoming the prime minister of
Thailand. Then I think about what skills it takes to get there. You
need to be able to work under tremendous stress; to work within a team
and share information; to maintain your work-life balance; to have
leadership skills and at the same time to be humble and respectful of
others. All these elements plus a few other theories comprise the
curriculum at Vanessa School.

Theory into practice The school is located in the Rangsit area where
students learn through a variety of activities. They develop their
Naturalist intelligence through activities like the Nature Walk.
Kindergarten students are thrilled to see that things change in the
garden of their school every morning. They learn to love their natural
environment and at the same time learn basic science through what they
see and touch.

Music and physical activities are also applied to maximize brain
potential. Brain Gym, for example, is the physical exercise in which
two sides of the body move through the center of the body. This helps
both sides of our brain to work well together, Kru Oh, a kindergarten
teacher, explains after the school's morning class, which is filled
with dancing, singing, and a stage play that teaches the youngsters
basic discipline.

The Messy Activity is one of the most popular among the students. The
outdoor challege is divided into a few stations. Students use sand,
water tubs with balls, food, water colors, painting and cooking
equipment.

Students play with the equipment in whatever manner they wish. Through
this fun and quite messy activity, children learn to develop their
bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, and interpersonal intelligences through
sharing and playing together.

For older students, Mind Map and Project Teamwork are introduced.
Through various assignments guided by students' interests, they learn
to understand each other, apply creative thinking, share ideas, and
practice linguistic intelligence through project presentations.

The most important skill is Intrapersonal Intelligence or the ability
to understand oneself, says Sutamas Autchin, a Thai language teacher
in Primary level.

In the room is a big mirror for students to observe their reflection,
draw a self-portrait and talk about what they think is superior and
inferior in themselves. This helps them think and understand
themselves better, which enables them to excel in what they are good
at and to work on areas that need improvement.

Right environment

The school, teachers and parents work together to nurture the child.
Vanessa believes that parents should not forfeit the power to impact
their children's education at school. The child's school and home
should empower and support each other in educating the child.

We start at the selection process, she explained. I believe that there
is no best school for every child, only the school that best suits
your family. If you are an authoritarian parent, you may not be happy
with a school that uses the democratic approach with your child, and
vice versa.

It takes the right combination of teachers, staff and students to make
an MI program work best for the students.

After the school selects students based on the parent's questionnaire
and interview, the parents' role continues. At home, we ask parents to
create the right learning environment for their children. This
includes the student's food that their parents provide. The school
advises parents on what kind of food is good for the brain - brown
rice, for example.

As in the school, at home brown rice is served; and white sugar and
soft drinks are banned. Parents should talk politely with the child
and at the child's eye-level. The idea is to make the child feel that
she or he is a person, too, and is worthy of attention and respect,
just as an adult. All parents are encouraged to read bedtime
storybooks to their kids and to take them out on weekends to broaden
their horizon.

We discourage parents from buying expensive toys because the best
"toy" children can ever have is their parents. Vanessa School teaches
parents that either the father or mother - preferably both - must
spend quality time with the child every evening.

It is interesting to note that video games - which many fathers love!
- are banned from the home by the school. According to Vanessa, video
games stimulate the same part of the brain as heroin. Accordingly,
says Vanessa, no parent should ever want their child to be glued to a
video game for many hours.

Parents in the school

Parents also play an important role within the school structure and
influence the direction of the curriculum.

A parent who is a business owner once complained to Vanessa that, "My
employees earned bachelor's degree, but they can't think at all. They
cannot even do what they are told!"

From this parent's comment, Vanessa organized a brainstorming session
to find out what skills parents expect their children to have.
Qualities befitting a CEO were added to the list.

Parents want their children to have good skills in leadership; active
listening and team work skills; creative thinking, analytical
reasoning; and reading, writing and public speaking skills, among
others.

With this vision in mind, the school transformed the way students are
evaluated during their final examination.

A theme will be given to all primary level students. They will then
have to work together in a project to visualize and later to realize
the theme. At the end of the project, parents are invited to the event
and give scores to the students.

Students' scores are based on how well they utilize multiple
intelligences in their projects.

This year, the theme is "Thanks to Life and the Environment". Students
decided they want to organize a fun-fair event called "Tales in the
Garden" and have invited teachers and parents to share a good time as
a way of saying thanks and to show respect to the surrounding
environment. Students from Prathom 1 to 6 work together as a team
applying their individual skills to organize the event.

In real life, Vanessa says, there will not always be a boss to tell
you what to do or where to go. Students must learn to think, evaluate
and get things done on their own.

As promoters of the Multiple Intelligences concept, Vanessa continued,
our duty is to create an environment that enables a child to achieve
whatever they want and to be whatever they want in the future;
function well under stress and be a happy person.

Nuttaa Mahattana has a bachelor of arts degree from Chulalongkorn
University and presently works as an assistant director of
communications and customer service at the British Council.

5 comments:

Nuttaa said...

Hey John!
I came across your blog by chance because I'm trying to find the link to my article. I'm the writer of his article and am happy that you've read it and find it interesting. You have such a good vision in education and that's why your idea matches with what this school offer! It's a lovely school indeed.

Regards,
Nuttaa

John Yeo said...

Hey Nuttaa

Thanks for commenting. Its cool to hear from the author herself. I would love to visit the school someday, soon. Would you please email me: yeojohn75@gmail.com. Would love to keep in touch for future colloboration.

john

John Yeo said...

Hey Nuttaa

Thanks for commenting. Its cool to hear from the author herself. I would love to visit the school someday, soon. Would you please email me: yeojohn75@gmail.com. Would love to keep in touch for future colloboration.

john

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
I chanced across your blog and read the article about the school in Thailand. It seems beautiful but will this ever be possible in Spore when we've got a 1:40 teacher-student ratio, and parents who aren't so pro-active in their parents' lives? The school in Bangkok works cos it's small and exclusive, very different from the realities of Singapore's schools. My sense as a previous educator in Singapore is that it's more geared towards something like Pat's Pre-school or maybe one of the elite independent schools where the class size for e.g. the gifted students may be capped at around 25 or 30. How feasible realistically is the Thai school in Singapore? Also, the teachers seem a committed lot while our teachers in Spore are bogged down with standardized testing, performance ranked salaries and much adminstrative work. I'd love for my children to be in a school like the Thai one but seriously, I wonder, will CPDD and MOE ever be able to recruit enough teachers to enable this sort of set-up in a Singaporean context, especially in a neighbourhood school for kids who really do need this sort of support? Your thoughts, please.

John Yeo said...

Hi...Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad to engage you on this discussion. Having had a short stint in poly,taught in a neighbourhood secondary school for 6 years, and now as you now, in MOE CPDD, I am well aware of the constraints within our system. (and I have had my share of frustrations with the concerns you listed)

That said, MI being a theory is a fabulous thing. And Howard Garder (God bless that man) who advocated MI did not set the parameters to how his theory would best be optimised in the classroom setting. If lucky, I may just be in conversation in couple weeks as part of my research paper on creativity students.

I think as a practitioner, that very often, some teachers find it way convenient to blame it on the 'wicked system' but throw out the goodness of standardize testing which has laid a strong foundation to how we prepare our students. Granted that class size of 40 is not exactly the best to cater to individual's needs, and no, much to the efforts of the personnel division to recruit more teachers and looking at how good teachers are getting the necessary recognition, I know recruitment will remain still an issue. Question is, does the class size really makes all the difference? It fundamentally goes back to what makes a good teacher, in my opinion. I have succeded in my opinion, to engage my kids but it is grounded on what I can offer for what I truly believe. I am glad that TLLM is reframing some of the struggles but the quality of our Singapore system should not be determined solely by these factors, alone. For me, the best satisfaction comes when I learn to overcome these challenges, in collaboration with my colleagues and even getting my students involved in the decision making process. That again, is dependent on how a teacher chooses to facilitate the learning.


If you are keen, may I invite you to read also on 2 other foundational classic seminal thinkers that led to Gardner building his MI concept- Torrance Incubation Model as well as Taylor's Totem Talent model. Fundamentally, the shift towards bringing the best out of the individual students is a difficult challenge that requires much on how the teacher chooses to engage the child. Tools are readily available with many different instructional methodologies. Teachers are increasingly aware that things such as differentiated instructions or Problem Based Learning all works to a high degree. I am not putting this in a 'politically correct' stance just because I am from CPDD but I truly believe that the good leaders are aware of ground needs and in CPDD we are ready to work with teachers who are keen to push the boudary of teaching and learning further.

Would love to hear what you think. As parents we do want the very best for our kids, and it is indeed difficult with the changing needs of our students as well as managing the other aspects of teaching. But trust me, its all part of growth, as long as we are centred on the purpose of our calling; at least mine :)