Teachers as the Experts in Designing Learning Activities

“I am sorry because I feel like I am using you to cover my weakness,” the teacher said.

“No, you shouldn’t see it that way. You are doing something that all teachers should do.

Last year, one of the teachers from my school back home in Malaysia asked me a favour. She invited me to share my thoughts with her students in the history class she is in charge. They were discussing “the importance of awareness in the nation building”.

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Self Regulated Learning to Transform Teacher Centered Setting


In Khalifah Model School (Secondary), when we transformed the school system from teacher-centered essentialism to student-centered progressivism, we believed that this transformation will help to save our students from being victimised by public education that concentrates a lot on low order thinking skills, mainly memorising and understanding. The transformation involved a lot of different approaches in teaching. In the new setting, students are supposed to take charge of their own learning, with teachers changing their role from being the ‘expert’ in content to the expert in designing a learning activity.

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Nurturing the Culture of Thinking



Today, I removed all the marker pens, whiteboards and computer. We put aside all the tables and arranged our chairs in U shape. I sat together with them, to try a different setting. I wanted to communicate with my students at the same physical level. We might not realise that when an adult stands up in front a group of children, even teenagers like our students, we appeared to be perceived as very gigantic. This influences the way they listen and pick up our lessons.

The topic today was, “The Culture of Thinking”

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Metacognition: Learning How You Learn

It was my first class for this new semester. I am assisting Mr. Amin to teach Study Skills to our new students.

They were the eldest last year in primary school. They had their UPSR. This year they become the youngest in secondary school. No more UPSR. And on top of everything, our school is not an ordinary school. Switching from a teacher centered classroom to a more progressive student centered classroom, we need to assist our students on transforming themselves into active learners, who take charge of their own learning, more than simply staying as the passive knowledge receivers, not even to be known as learners in its true sense.

So, starting from this year, we introduce Study Skills as a specific subject intended to help these new students. I teach two classes on this subject, assisting Mr. Amin who also teaches History 1 and History 2 for Year 2 students.



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Improving the Way We Praise Good Behaviour

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“Dad, today I got my examination result. I got 70%” Ahmad told his father when he got into the car.

“Awesome. I love you” daddy replied.

“Hmm… did he mean what he said? 70% is not a good grade. Why did he praise me?” Ahmad had this thought in his mind. He doubted his father’s praise.

Today, in our school, we had our weekly circle for teachers. Our CEO was discussing about the art of praise as a form of reward to reinforce good behaviour. Culturally, it is not a very common thing for us to praise good behaviour. When our children or students do mistakes, we spontaneously realise them and we give them remark. But if they put their shoes in order, place their bags nicely as they supposed to do, we tend to ignore them, or our sight simply miss them.

Praising good behaviour is needed.

But at the same time, we need to improve the way we praise.

The evaluative praise is easy especially when you already have the habit.



This is beautiful!

This type of praise works well for beginners.

But we will reach one point where the praise itself sparks doubt. Especially in our society where praising each other has not overcome sarcasm and say double meaning words. The unspecified praise can also mislead our children or students. We want to praise the doing, but being unspecified, we praise the doer. The doer got confused. What did I do that makes me deserved the praise?

We need to upgrade evaluative praise to descriptive praise. Descriptive in a sense that the praise is describing specifically the subject.


source: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

“Dad, today I got my examination result. I got 70%” Ahmad told his father when he got into the car.

“Awesome. I still remember that last semester you got around 60%. It is a good improvement. Keep up the good job. I love you, Ahmad” daddy replied.

“Owh, I thought it is not so good. But yes, there is an improvement and my dad acknowledges it” Ahmad’s inner speech is improved and becoming more positive.

I would say, this is one of the essence we can get from understanding the concept of qawlan sadīdā from surah al-Ahzāb verse 70:


“O you who believe, fear Allah and speak words straight to the point”

Sadīdā comes from the word sadd in Arabic which gives the meaning to contaminate, and direct something towards the intended direction. So when we describe our words as sadīdā, it means that we use the words that lead to the right direction and contain the right meaning. Precise!

When we speak, choose the right words, the right way to say the words, which will lead to the right outcome. This requires a good level of consciousness and wisdom. One might ask, why so fussy about it. Then, Allah relates the important of choosing the right words to the faith itself. Iman and Taqwa. If you consider yourself as a believer in Allah, fear Him and speak using the right words.


He will [then] amend for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great attainment.

And Allah promise us, worldly, He will adjust your work for your and spiritually, He will forgive your sins. By doing this, you obey Him and His Messenger and whoever has that quality, he verily hath the signal  victory.

Don’t curse or swear, dear teachers and parents.


And improve the way we praise.

Be more descriptive.

Let our praise understood by our students and children.

Allah will forgive us and make our work success, ameen.

Khalifah Model School Secondary


The Bloom’s Taxonomy of Hijrah


Bloom’s Taxonomy

“First, share what you remember from the Hijrah. Its the who, where and when.” I told my students.

This is the most basic part of the forum. Panelists should not over estimate the audience thinking that they already know everything. It is good to remind them of what are we talking about. Which Hijrah are you going to discuss, when did it happen, who involved, it took place from where to where… all these things will enhance your REMEMBERING.

Some of my students will become the panelists in a forum organised by our primary school (Khalifah Model School). Two of the panelists and the moderator were students there during their primary education, and one panelist will be a guest panelist. The forum is a part of the family day organised by the primary school. They invited students from the secondary school to conduct a forum on Hijrah, and the audience will be the primary school’s students and their parents, including the teachers.

“Okay, next stage, I suggest you to demonstrate your UNDERSTANDING. What do you understand about the Hijrah of the Prophet PBUH? Was it because they were afraid of the kuffar in Mecca? Or something else. Why Hijrah was so significant to Muslims? Well, what do you understand about the connection between Hijrah, and the development of Islamic calendar during the time of Khalifah Umar bin al-Khattab r.a.? These are the things that you can explore” I continued the coaching session.

Since early this year, we promote the Bloom’s Taxonomy as our strategy to promote High Order Thinking Skills. It has to be embedded in the learning, presentation, assessment, and all other possible activities.

Some of the students wrote down some notes, some were drawing, and I just smiled knowing each of them has their own way of learning. I hope so!

“After remembering and understanding, we should try to move to the next stage. The moderator can invite the next panelist to demonstrate his or her capability of APPLYING. If you live in Mecca during the time of the Hijrah, how would you see yourself as part of the historical event. What was your expectations? Will the face of Islam changed after the Hijrah? How confident you were at that time?” I added the next step to the strategy.

I don’t want to provide answers to all these questions. I want them to find them themselves. In fact, the questions should come from them. But at this stage, some sort of coaching is still needed.

“Does a forum has specific way to talk? Does it have to be formal, or… what do you think, ustaz?” one of the students ask me.

“Don’t worry about that. Which ever makes you more comfortable, then use it. Balance between them. And remember, you don’t have to impress the teachers or the parents. They are there, but I think, just concentrate on your juniors, the students.” I suggested.

Knowing that parents will also attend the forum, my students looked nervous.

“Well, the next stage, try to show some efforts on ANALYSING. Does Hijrah only refer to the physical movement from one place to another? Is there any other form of Hijrah? Are there still a requirement for us to hijrah? Did our Prophet PBUH mention anything about categories of Hijrah? Can you categorise Hijrah?” I continued with the Bloom’s.

I suggested them yo watch a video clip on Youtube when I talked about Hijrah on TV3 several years ago. I hoped they can see some different ideas on Hijrah, some different interpretations and understandings.

“The moderator can find your way to ask the next panelist to show the EVALUATING skills. What do you think about the current situation of Muslims? How they perceive Hijrah? How by improving their commitment to the better understanding of Hijrah can help them to change their life into betterment? Do you agree with the tradition of Hijrah marching or parade on the streets? If you agree, how you defend your agreement? If not, how do you argue?” I bombarded them with more and more questions.

I hope their experience in this forum will spark their mind to read, research and present in a more critical manner. If discussing about Hijrah goes only around where, when, who and a tinge of why, they will get bored and boring.

“Last but not least, can you come out with some skills on CREATING? Any action plan to help your peer? How you can help them improving themselves, and fulfilling your second duty as khalifah, help others to become good?” I concluded the coaching session.

I believe, if students can get into the habit of using Bloom’s Taxonomy in developing a content of any form of discussion, they will fulfil the objective of education, and that is LEARNING and developing the most precious skill as a human being and that is THINKING.

All the best, guys!



Building a Learner-Centered Course Outline


“The Malay paper for IGCSE is quite simple. So, I develop the course outline based on what I believe is needed for the students, beyond IGCSE’s requirement. But I found the content is overwhelming. Too many to cover (in a semester)” one of our teachers said during our consultation hour.

She has just recently joined us after her graduation and a short service as a substitute teacher in public schools.

This is a good example to contrast a teacher-centered classroom against a learner-centered classroom. To transform the teacher-centered classroom, a teacher needs to embrace the point that students need to play their active role as knowledge builders and teachers must step back from the front side of the classroom. How to reflect that on the course outline? A teacher needs to tolerate the function of content, and reflect on the learning outcome he or she wants the pupils to achieve.

Look at the content as a whole.

Understand the subject as a one big unit. Get the big picture.

Summarise the content, and explain the rational behind your summarisation.

Use a diagram for example, to visualise the flow of content from one category to another, from one point to another.

Again, try to categorise the content and organise them into themes.

Separate the themes from each other.

Evaluate the themes, criticise them and question if each of the themes can stand on its own as a module.

Build the course outline based on the themes into several modules.


This means, a teacher must have a strong sense of big picture of the subject he or she teaches, and possesses good details when the subject is zoomed in.

But at this transition period, I don’t prefer teachers to create a lesson plan on daily basis. I don’t ever prefer it to be called as a lesson plan. When a teacher has a lesson plan, he or she will ‘teach’. Perhaps at this stage, we will call it as a lesson strategy.

We have nobody from authorities to pressure us on reporting. Our ‘business’ in Khalifah Model School (Secondary) is only assisting the students to learn. Knowing how to know is always our priority, against the knowledge and gathering them. So, put your trust on your capability to develop, use your critical and creative mind, enjoy being a teacher.



From Parenting to Schooling


I embarked my involvement with education as a concerned parent. When my eldest son entered his first grade I saw how tremendously the schooling experience changed him within the first few months. I started to realize through experience that kids are highly influenced and adaptive to the surrounding. Six years of good parenting is not a guarantee for them to survive. I sent him to a private school since day 1 because living in Ampang, I found that the Principal of the best school in that area also sent his children to the private school, reluctant and worried of the unhealthy condition in public schools and education at that time.

Unfortunately the school we chose was not quite the right one. The school was clear about their mission to bring into practice the Islamic tradition. But the school is lacked of any specific method in pedagogy and curriculum. At that time, I believed that HOW in education is equally important as the WHAT. My son was burdened to learn something which I myself learnt at later age. I told my son that it is okay for you not to know the answer because the syllabus is completely irrelevant. He managed to scored  zero percent in Aqeedah paper and ranked the lowest in his class. To us, it meant nothing. But receiving response from people around us, it crushed down my son’s self esteem. My wife and I decided to quit him from the school after his first grade and we were searching for a school that has the courage to stand differently, which I myself was not so sure how different the school should be. At that point, Sister Azra Banu introduced me to Khalifah Model School. Happy with the who, why, how and what, we decided to send our children there.

I was not only involved in the school activities as a parent but even after my kids left, I continuesly shared whatever knowledge and skills I have to help the school and Khalifah Method.

Several years later I was invited to join the Board of Trustees committee and in August 2014, the BOT offered me to work as a full time staff at Khalifah Model School (Secondary) at its second year in operation. I refused to be appointed as the principal, knowing my weaknesses in administration and public communication. Alhamdulillah I was positioned as the head of the academic unit, holding responsibility to transform the concept and curriculum design to suit Khalifah Method and future education.

My life as an educationist began. I participated in the Islamic Teacher Education Program (ITEP), an online graduate teaching certification program and this summer, I attended the Summer School at the University of Helsinki to equip myself with knowlegde, skills, information and network, not just to continue to develop our school, but also to spark more interest among the public to talk about education as the most sustainable transformation we can work for a better future of this country.

Pihlajamäki, Helsinki.





Searching the best education system has a long historical background, highlighted by what Marc-Antoine Jullien de Paris (1775-1848) presented in his Esquisse (A Sketch and Preliminary View of a Work on Comparative Education. It was first published anonymously in a Swiss journal, Bibliotheque Universelle des Sciences, Belles Lettres et Arts (Geneva) in 1816 [i]. Under similar climate of exploring the modern paradigm of education, 􏰌􏰘􏰏􏰛􏰜 Rifa’a al-Tahtawi (1801-1873) also compared the French education as a model of Western education and what he had in his country, Egypt [ii].

In modern time, comparative education has become an established academic field of research. According to Harold J Noah (1985), and Dr.Farooq Joubish (2009), comparative education has four purposes:

  1. To describe educational systems, processes, or outcomes.
  2. To assist in the development of educational institutions and practices.
  3. To highlight the relationships between education and society.
  4. To establish generalized statements about education that are valid in more than one country.

These purposes of comparing education system from one country with another are now commonly presented by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). Both had been widely used to measure the performance of a country in different core aspects of education as compared to other participating countries. The objectivity of this global survey is now being criticized by many, which lead to the question on its validity to compare one education system with another. For example, we learn from the prominent Chinese author, Yong Zhao in his recent Global Search interview, he claimed that his research indicates that PISA rankings have a significant negative correlation with entrepreneurial qualities [iii]. Gerard Kelly in his article suggested that Pisa has two big problems, according to its critics. The first is highly technical: the statistical model the OECD uses isn’t fit for purpose. The second is more comprehensible: different students in different countries weren’t asked the same questions. Indeed, it seems that more than half the teenagers taking part in Pisa in 2006 were not tested on any reading questions whatsoever, which didn’t stop the OECD giving them a score [iv]!

Therefore, the most important question remained unsolved. What is the best education system?


PISA has put Malaysia and Finland into the two extreme edges of the result. In 2012, Malaysian students have scored below the global average. Currently, Malaysian students are at the bottom one-third among more than 70 countries in international assessments like Timms (Trends in International Mathe­mathics and Science Studies) and Pisa.


The Malaysia Education Blueprint has set the goal for Malaysia to be in the top third of countries participating in Pisa and Timms by 2025, but will that lead Malaysia to have its best education system?

The University of Helsinki in Summer 2015 offered a course under the Department of Teacher Education titled, “Understanding Finnish Education: From Myths to Realities”. The course is intended to critically analyze Finnish education together with collective perspective on the best education system as perceived by the participants from many different countries. I participated in this program to broad my academic perspective on my current work in Ottoman History related to the theory of knowledge, but must importantly, on behalf of the school where I serve as the academic director, in search for the best education system with Finland as the mirror.

Describing an education system is a systemic task. Not as simple as it sound, one might confused when he or she got deeper into the process of change, when change is concerned. Therefore, we need some sense of what to expect and which direction to take. I would divide my explanation based on the suggestion presented by Beverly L. Anderson [v]. It includes six stages of change as follow:

  1. Vision
  2. Public and Political Support
  3. Networking
  4. Teaching and Learning Changes
  5. Administrative Roles and Responsibilities
  6. Policy Alignment


A visionary system for education is centralized on certain principles and not easily influenced by different stakeholders. The best education system serves its main client and that is the students themselves. The entire components of the system must uphold the shared vision to empower students as individuals. Finland has demonstrate a good example on how the commitment to the shared vision abstains the education system to be distracted by regional and global reforms such as the standardization of education, increasing focus on literacy and numeracy and consequential accountability systems for schools [vi]. Finland maintain its commitment to increase the student learning, which remains the most fundamental subject that an education system serves.


The best education system does not only communicate the public at the informing level but it has to be taken into the highest level of participation. The involvement of the public in the interest of students and their education requires an efficient level of decentralization, as promoted by UNESCO, the World Bank, and other multilateral and bilateral assistance agencies for a number of years [vii]. One of the key legislative successes of Finnish education is the decentralization policy [viii]. The decentralization, be it deconcentration, delegation or devolution, helps to position politics and politicians in serving education, and not the other way round.


The best education system defines network as part of the professional capital, together with human capital and decisional capital [ix]. It as seen as insignificant but the 21st century education requires teachers to have the access to local, regional and global network to develop a more resourceful perspective and support. The network as the social capital refers to how the quantity and quality of interactions and social relationships among people affects their access to knowledge and information; their senses of expectation, obligation, and trust; and how far they are likely to adhere to the same norms and codes of behavior.


The best education system empowers teaching and learning at its best. Teachers have to achieve competency as being educationists in the sense that they move from acting as the content delivers into reflective pedagogical professionals. Finland transforms the teacher education by upgrading the basic requirement for service entry of having masters degree for all teachers in all school levels with the exception of preschool. The main idea is not to produce researchers, but to ensure teachers are reflective and have the capability to articulate the surrounding, the practice and the changes in a methodological manner [x]. This also requires the classroom to be transferred from the traditional setting of teacher centered perennialistic or essentialistic classroom into a more progressive learner centered classroom, which will offer the teachers more room for observation, reflection and research.


Administrative roles and responsibilities in the best education system must be position is delivering service by encouraging rethinking, improvement, and innovation, away from unnecessary bureaucracy. If Malaysia is taken as an example, we know that the roles and functions of the District Education Officers (DEOs) are mainly supervisory, managing information, and carrying out routine tasks. But how effective are the DEOs in carrying out their duties? Research on this question indicates that that the DEOs tend to spend more time handling administrative matters than professional matters [xi].


All level of policy, must to be aligned around the beliefs and practices of the new system, particularly in areas related to curriculum frameworks, instructional methods and materials, student assessment practices, resource allocation, and the inclusion of all types of students [xii]. The harmony in policies will ensure a clear direction with minimum supervision based on the culture of trust which would be considered as the most unusual but real factor behind the excellent quality of Finnish education.


The best education system is concentrating on human elements rather than numbers. Peter Gray once said:

Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorised answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play[xiii].

Less is more.

Less teaching.

More learning.



[i] Jullien, Marc-Antoine. From Jacobin to Liberal: Marc-Antoine Jullien, 1775-1848. Princeton University Press, 1993.

[ii] Livingston, John W. “Western Science and Educational Reform in the Thought of Shaykh Rifa a al-Tahtawi.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 28, no. 04 (1996): 543-564.

[iii] The Huffington Post,. ‘The Global Search For Education: Focus On China’. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.

[iv],. ‘From The Editor – Pisa Is Not Perfect But Rankings Are Here To Stay – Opinion – TES’. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.

[v] Anderson, Beverly L. “The stages of systemic change.” Educational Leadership 51 (1993): 14-14.

[vi] Sahlberg, Pasi. “Education policies for raising student learning: The Finnish approach.” Journal of Education Policy 22, no. 2 (2007): 147-171.

[vii] McGinn, Noel F. “The impact of globalization on national education systems.” Prospects 27, no. 1 (1997): 41-54.

[viii],. ‘Why Finland’S Educational Model Is More Conservative Than Ours | Stanford Center For Opportunity Policy In Education’. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[ix] Hargreaves, Andy, and Michael Fullan. Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Teachers College Press, 2012.

[x] Toom, Auli, Heikki Kynäslahti, Leena Krokfors, Riitta Jyrhämä, Reijo Byman, Katariina Stenberg, Katriina Maaranen, and Pertti Kansanen. “Experiences of a Research‐based Approach to Teacher Education: suggestions for future policies.” European Journal of Education 45, no. 2 (2010): 331-344.

[xi] Lee, Molly NN. “Centralized decentralization in Malaysian education.” In Educational Decentralization, pp. 149-158. Springer Netherlands, 2006.

[xii],. ‘Educational Leadership:Inventing New Systems:The Stages Of Systemic Change’. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[xiii] The Independent,. ‘Give Childhood Back To Children: If We Want Our Offspring To Have Happy, Productive And Moral Lives, We Must Allow More Time For Play, Not Less’. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.


‘Reconstructing’ World History and Historical Thinking Subject

historical thinking

Credit Photo:

Assalamualaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh.

I am working on integrating History subject in our school, KMSS, with Islamic World View. Currently, we are following IGCSE module for History but we found several major concerns:

  1. Students are not familiar with the topics which are not in our national mandated curriculum. (American Civil War, Modern History of Europe etc).
  2. Concentrating on content does not efficiently help us to shape the students mind with historical thinking which is more important than the content itself.
  3. Many mainstream idea in history are not aligned with Islam. Starting with the relation between God, Man, Space and Time, freewill vs determinism, the creation of Adam vs primitiveness of early men, conflict between Muslim History and euro-centric timeline (classical, medieval and modern era), and many more.

Therefore World History and Historical Thinking need to be reconstruct based on Islamic World View, and I choose the theme Challenge and Response (as described by Arnold Toynbee inspired by Ibn Khaldun), for the subject which is renamed as “HISTORY & HISTORICAL THINKING: The Khalifah Method Way [Y1-Y3]”.

challenge and response

We want to concentrate on developing the historical thinking, while students are given the option to choose a wide range of topics in world, local and regional as well as Muslim history. They can choose which part of history they want to investigate, the subject will guide them with the ‘process of historical thinking’. So, they wont have to learn about American Civil War with no interest. They can choose to investigate the historical background of Minang Community in Negeri Sembilan if they are interested in it. The teacher’s role is to guide them with source, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy and significance. With a good possession of historical thinking, we believe that students will become lifelong learners of history.

The structure and key themes for this module benefited the AC History Units developed by the History Teachers’ Association of Australia.

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