Monday, December 26, 2011

Allowing Learning to Happen

During the teacher training this week (which I am continuing to love), Mrs. Das told an interesting tale about a man who thought he could be helpful by assisting a butterfly out of its chrysalis. Why let it struggle. So he slit it open and the butterfly tumbled out. But then what?

Many parents and teachers try to help children and students through obstacles by doing the work for them. Their knowledge and skill is second nature and they want to transfer it to their children, so they can get frustrated when a child struggles to own this knowledge independently. Impatient, or maybe just out of a wish to be helpful, they finish the problem or give the answer before the student has time to do the work. "This is why masters are not always good teachers," said Mrs. Das.

Her classroom strategy? "Wait time," she says. "Give the students time to think before filling in the answers." She also reminds teachers that it isn't what the teacher teaches but what the student learns.

Helping a butterfly out of the chrysalis actually impairs the butterfly, she won't acquire the wing strength she needs to fly, her wings might be misshapen, and she might even die. Though a student will survive heavy handed teaching, something still might die: their own critical thinking, their enthusiasm to learn. Students need to have freedom and guidance to make necessary connections in their brains if they are going to be life long learners. As hard as it is to stand back, sometimes it's better to watch them struggle to find answers on their own.

This article in Psychology Today sheds light on the phenomenon.

I look forward to seeing how we can apply this understanding in the classrooms of all our pilot projects.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

REC's Master Teacher Training

Much has been happening in the world of Lho Mon Education, so much that I haven't had time to write up any reports. In short, I couldn't be more pleased with our final line up of LME partners. I will share details about the final two soon. 

Meanwhile, I am spending this week and next at Paro's Khangkhu Resort observing the Royal Education Council's master teacher training for a select group of educators from the REC Beacon Schools, which are testing out the latest innovations in education. Six of Paro's Beacon Schools, or Seed Schools, are participating in the master teacher training (from a total of 15 Beacon Schools in Paro and Thimphu). This week's course is the fourth in the series with a special focus on brain based learning, classbuilding, and teambuilding, critical thinking and active learning. I'm soaking up every word like a very thirsty sponge.

The instructors are from Singapore's Educare and they are, in a word, fabulous. Mrs. Jaya Das keeps all of the teachers completely engaged and animated from the beginning of class until our final tea. We have so much fun. At one point today the whole room was literally in tears from laughter.

The reason for the laughter was the result of an exercise in communication. About twelve of us lined up against the wall facing in one direction. Mrs. Das turned the person at one end (which happened to be me) around and showed a series of hand movements. Nothing elaborate, but I was immediately flustered. I was to turn and tap the next person on the shoulder, and as soon as she turned around, show her the movement, and so on down the line. What started out as a simple touch of the shoulder, ribs and hip, turned into the most hilarious wing flapping movement. As the final teacher did his goose dance, all of us grown adults were in stitches like little kids.

Mrs. Das gave us a minute to let us quell the giggles, compose ourselves, and wipe our tears. Then she asked: What would have generated more accurate information transfer?

The answer? When teachers demonstrate something once and expect students to grasp it entirely, there is sure to be a problem. But if a teacher demonstrates something, lets the student try it out, guides them, revises and then lets them work on their own, the chances are the student will truly absorb the information.

In turn, her own method of having us interact, be active in the room, have fun, helped us absorb that information. So it was a lesson within a lesson. And there were many more lessons throughout the day.

I am deeply grateful to the REC for letting me sit in on these important sessions. Twelve of these master teachers will participate in our July Curriculum Development Workshop so it's been great to meet them, learn about their experiences as teachers in Bhutan and as participants in this groundbreaking program, and to play! At lunchtime, Aum Tashi told me that she applies what she has learned from these trainings and the students have transformed. There is a new sense of security and belonging that has increased student self esteem, reduced discipline problems, and created a learning environment that allows her to be a better teacher and the students to be better students.

Anyway, I could gush on and I probably will!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Crises in Bhutanese Education

This article in Kuensel, sheds light on a crises in Bhutanese education. Despite a skyrocketing unemployment rate, new graduates don't want to accept posts as teachers. Only 44 people applied for 155 slots. Meanwhile, 200 contract teachers who taught for at least a year or two in remote areas have been pleading with the education ministry to give them a chance to join the teacher training program in Bhutan's two teacher training institutes. These issues are both bound up in the issue of the civil service. I'm sure there are hard working officials who are trying to rectify the situation but who are bound by endless laws and bylaws. It's a shame. And such a contrast to the Finnish model, where teaching is the noblest of professions, as explained in this New York Times article.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

English Program Begins January 2012: New Video

We will soon be announcing a few exciting new names to our growing list of partners who will be using the LME framework to create their own units. But our first project has always been Chokyi Gyatso Institute (CGI) where we will begin implementing the secular curriculum for monks in January, 2013. To prepare the monks to study in English, we are starting an intensive English language program next month. Debbie Miller from Canada is generously donating her time and energy for the first six months and will be arriving shortly. She'll be teaching in one of the temple classrooms while we wait for the new classrooms to be built. Then we get to plaster the walls with maps of the world, build bookshelves and line them with dictionaries, atlases, resource texts. We'll be getting a few computers and other materials. We've put together a new video about CGI. If you'd like to make a small donation, it will go a long way.

Either way, please watch the video.