By SEAMEO STEM-ED
9 May 2023 ─ The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for STEM Education (SEAMEO STEM-ED)’s Research and Evaluation team led by Mrs. Yaowalak Jittakoat presented the result from “Using Picture Books to Enhance Critical Thinking and Meaningful Reading” program at Thaksin University (Songkhla, Thailand) last Monday. There, her research found ─ within 10 weeks’ time, students are more engaged in conversations with the ability to articulate and formulate different ideas into verbal communication and as a consequence ─ elicit more unifying interaction among students in the classroom.
Earlier, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published its report titled “Thailand – Country Note – Result from PISA 2018” which is an educational indicator in reading, mathematics, science, and an innovative domain. The report highlighted students in Thailand scored lower than the OECD average in reading literacy (scored only 393 from the average of 487 points); mathematics (419 points compared to an average of 489 points); and science (resulting in only 419 points compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries).
Image from OECD measuring reading, mathematics, and science for Thailand
Image from OECD indicating Thai students' average performance
Image from OECD indicating Thai students' equity in reading
Image from OECD demonstrated share of top performers
At a global level, the proportion of top performers (students)’ ability to read and retrieve information, as well as recognize computational thinking from Thailand are characterized in a minimum spectrum compared to those leading countries (e.g., United States, Finland, Germany, China, South Korea, etc.).
Image from OECD website indicating “Education and Skills” of all nations
From the above, such critical issues in Thailand’s education are seen by many policymakers and educationists as fundamental challenges to the future of national competitiveness and the economy.
Meanwhile, last year (2022), OECD’s PISA pushed forward a framework to underpin mathematics assessment as a fundamental concept of reasoning and problem-solving processes. In response, SEAMEO STEM-ED Centre foresaw this as a crucial matter that requires immediate action, and as its mission stated to elevate Thailand and Southeast Asia educational standards. For this particular topic, the Centre identified that the capability to think in images and compound different information into conceptualized ideas that could be elicited from using “picture books” as apparatus.
How SEAMEO STEM-ED gave birth to the program
SEAMEO STEM-ED, after identifying that being able to read and understand concepts is what education (with almost all subjects involved) is built upon, SEAMEO STEM-ED sought collaboration with global experts to together tackle this ambitious goal. One of the key individuals in this initiative was Professor Kate Montgomery, an International Education Consultant and Curriculum Designer for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University ─ who is also an expert in English language literacy and critical thinking in challenging contexts.
With the sponsorship from Chevron Enjoy Science II (a project founded by Chevron Corporation tasked to implement effective STEM education models both within and outside of the classroom), the three then joined the alliance in initiating a project to use picture books as a medium to lay a foundation and equip Thai students with a tool for their lifelong learning experiences.
At the heart of it is the concept of pioneering literacy skills and producing a tangible output ─ with the integration of diverse expertise into the program titled “Using Picture Books to Enhance Critical Thinking and Meaningful Reading.”
Main objectives and sampling
Upon discussing the details of the project, the key agencies have concurred on four main aspects of what they would like to achieve. The four comprised of enhancing Thai students’ ability to self-produced critical ideas and comprehend meaning in reading; enhancing Thai schools and education; developing skills of elementary school teachers (focusing on the ability to relay information and to evoke different thoughts of students in classrooms); and producing strong foundational research in literacy enhancement for Southeast Asian countries to adopt in the future.
The core of the research lies within Bloom’s Taxonomy (a framework devised to improve communication between educators on the design of curricula and examinations by Benjamin Bloom with collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl). The framework consisted of six major criteria, which were knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
With the help of top researchers from Srinakharinwirot University, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, and Sakonnakhon Rajabhat University, researchers at the beginning underscored three key components of the research (thinking literally, thinking interpretively, and thinking critically) ─ whilst carefully selected 10 picture books as a medium of teaching. A common characteristic of picture books here is that they must be read and taught within 30 minutes while leaving some room for interpretation ─ and particular selections consisted of “This is Not My Hat”, “Rosie's Walk”, “Miki’s First Errand”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Stuck”, “Florette”, “I Used to be a Fish”, “The Wall in The Middle of The Book”, “Look at You! What a Mess You Made”, and “L' Autobus.”
Consequently, 16 schools (from all regions of Thailand) were selected after careful scrutiny. In addition, 32 teachers and 600 students took part in the program.
Where and how the project took place
After a year of planning, amending, and perfecting the teaching curriculum, on 15 October 2022 at Rembrandt Hotel (Bangkok, Thailand) the project has finally piloted. This was the first onsite meeting among the team, and at that time, Professor Montgomery conducted two workshops (“training of the trainers,” and “train the trainers”) that could possibly contribute to the outcome of the research.
In short, the two workshops served as guiding principles of teaching methods for teachers to understand the story, then progress through synthesizing and distilling its meaning, and ultimately connecting them to the real world.
After a five-day event (of two workshops), picture books were distributed to 16 schools for actual implementation in different classrooms for 10 weeks (one picture book for one week and 10 in total). The duration of this program spans over 6 months. For the time being, teachers who adopted the program (32 teachers) were required to teach a three-day per week, 40 minutes each class, and assess the outcome of students’ learning capabilities at the end of the program.
Evaluating the research
Throughout the next 10 weeks, Mrs. Jittakoat led Research and Evaluation team to collect the data on the research ─ where her measurements underlined the triad of “teacher attitude”, “teacher practices,” and “student outcome.” To explain this, the method revolves around a qualitative top-down standpoint of picture book reading strategies, coaching and mentorship, and lesson management sharing.
A didactic factor of research is measured through five indicators that adhere to the excitement of students, enjoyable experience in the classroom, student vocabulary expansion and literacy skill development, and critical thinking that is relevant to the real-world context.
Furthermore, the outcome of the research (shown below) demonstrated a gradual spike in student participation and the capability to formulate new vocabularies with stronger computational thinking processes (from week 2 – week 4). From the fifth week, with 5th picture books underway a sign of improvements in analytical and interpretational skills started to show across multiple classrooms.
During the last week of the program, teachers voiced how the program has elicited much enjoyment and freedom of thinking, as well as significant growth in classroom management.
Pertaining to the research outcome, five main factors in determining success in the classrooms can be extracted to students (the center of everything), fellow students (complimenting each other strengths and weaknesses), teachers (must possess a strong passion), strategies, and picture books.
Words from executives in response to research findings
At the presentation ceremony (on 9 May 2023), SEAMEO STEM-ED Centre Director, Dr. Kritsachai Somsaman showed genuine delight, as he remarked “This program possesses a characteristic of allowing students to think critically and expand their world.”
Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Pornsuree Konanta underlined Chevron’s mission of “human energy (where she indicated the organization has put human empowerment as a priority)” ─ and that Chevron has worked with different partners to ensure individuals in society become quality citizen, which “Picture Book” program also contributed to that part.
As the program concludes, “Using Picture Books to Enhance Critical Thinking and Meaningful Reading” personifies a promising aspect of regional adaptation where policymakers and researchers from Southeast Asian countries have shown a willingness to future adoption. SEAMEO STEM-ED Centre Director is now discussing possibilities of expanding this program to a wider audience in different parts of the world.