When Harrison (Qing) Xia (Ed.D. ’10) submitted the first draft of his Teachers College dissertation proposal, his advisor, Professor of Cognitive Studies, Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, did not mince words. In fact, she barely used them.
“Professor Lin-Siegler threw my proposal in the garbage can,” says Xia with a grin, adding that Lin-Siegler, who has since founded and directs TC’s Education for Persistence and Innovation Center (EPIC), taught him two valuable lessons.
The first was about how to respond to failure.
“She said, ‘The research questions are unclear. You have not done much literature review and analysis,” recalls Xia. “I felt bad, but it was true. I needed to communicate better, read more and write a new proposal.”
The latter work also reflected the second lesson:
“I learned how to formulate research questions,” says Xia, who came to TC after studying computer science at Delft University in the Netherlands. “Professor Lin-Siegler really taught me how to investigate the literature, ask highly critical questions, identify the gaps and organize projects that can generate new answers.”
I learned how to formulate research questions. Professor Lin-Siegler really taught me how to investigate the literature, ask highly critical questions, identify the gaps and organize projects that can generate new answers.
Both lessons, it turns out, have proven essential for the daunting task Xia has since set himself: creating and instilling a new philosophy of pre-kindergarten education in China. More specifically, his goal is to import a greater emphasis on creative thinking, but in a manner consistent with Chinese values and practices. In fact, one might almost say that Xia wants to China to absorb some of the same lessons he learned from Lin-Siegler.
“Chinese students rarely form their own questions,” he says. “They’re good at solving problems posed by other people. So we’re cultivating, in preschool, the habit of asking questions.”
“We” is Nobo Columbia Corporation (NOBO), which Xia launched in 2011 with more than $10 million backing from private investors.
Nobo’s major components are research and service. The company tests how different combinations of the elements of various cognitive and social cognitive theories (Maria Montessori, Multiple Intelligence, Metacognition and Creativity) affect children’s development and preschool management. Based on its findings Nobo creates curriculum for preschool and kindergarten children ages 2 to 6 and teacher and staff professional development.
NOBO is also a cutting-edge management services company. It provides curriculum services to more than 20 preschools (most of them private, but some under contract from local governments) in Beijing, Guangxi Province and Sichuan Province. The company also offers technologies such as its patented Haima Youping online assessment tool, billed as “China’s first platform that can adopt big data to evaluate children.”
At its heart, the NOBO approach is all about cultivating specific habits, including listening, observing, appreciating difference, and self-control.
“Our goal is not to have children memorize factual knowledge, but rather learn habits for acquiring and creating knowledge that will benefit their development,” says Xia, who has worked with Robert Siegler, now TC’s Jacob H. Schiff Foundations Professor of Psychology and Education, to ensure that his approach is consistent what’s known about children’s developmental learning sequences. “Because ultimately education itself is a process of continuous growth.”
Our goal is not to have children memorize factual knowledge, but rather learn habits for acquiring and creating knowledge that will benefit their development.
NOBO itself appears to be engaged in precisely that same process. Ultimately Xia hopes to serve more than 1,000 preschools and kindergartens in China. “It’s about helping Chinese children ask better questions and learn to solve problems. I learned these important skills by doing research with Professor Lin-Siegler.” He smiles. “I failed plenty of times before I mastered them.”