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I have been thinking about the student outcomes of Christian school graduates recently. Certainly we measure academic achievement. But if we are “equipping minds” and “nurturing hearts” so that our students can be world transformers, it seems to me that we over-measure the first, do not measure the second aspect (faith nurture) well, and may really want to consider a third aspect to help us describe how academics and faith development come together in our desired student outcomes.
I believe that nurturing faith, in and through the educational process, is the distinctive characteristic of why Christian schools exist. Yet there is resistance when I bring up the idea of some measurement of whether a child’s faith was nurtured or not. What is ironic to me is that our parents are judging this all the time. We ourselves also have a strong sense of how well our educator colleagues nurture, and certainly our students have a strong sense of how different teachers nurture their faith, yet we rarely ask for their feedback. We need to discuss this aspect more – it is such a critical part of our missions – but that is not the purpose of this post today.
Given how education is changing, we are in a process of “re-valuing,” and it seems appropriate to consider the following as we think about what we wish to measure: 1) new information has recently emerged about the significance of student engagement in learning, 2) an alarming number of our students become more disengaged in learning as they go up the grades, 3) research has shown that divergent thinking decreases from kindergarten forward, 4) a Gallup Poll from last summer indicated that only 1/3 of all U.S. students could be described as “hopeful, engaged, and thriving.” As Christian educators, we seek to 1) show our students the connectedness of this world through Christ, 2) demonstrate to them the importance of a lifelong learning passion, and 3) help them recognize and use their gifts and talents in a vocation that God calls them to in the world.
I propose that an additional set of indicators focus around the concept of student flourishing and be called the “Flourishing Index.” Below are some initial aspects that might considered criteria or demonstration of what it means to flourish:
• passion for learning
• desire to serve and make a difference
• ability to see connections
• blooming where planted
• thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions
• ability to demonstrate empathy for others
• desire to act morally and ethically across all aspects of life
• understanding of how God has gifted and called them
• demonstration of effective life habits and spiritual disciplines
• determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others
What else would you add to the “Flourishing Index”? At the end of the day and at the end of 12 plus years of education aren’t these the kinds of outcomes we are really hoping for?
(Thanks to my friend Mary Beth Pollema, Spanish teacher at Central Minnesota Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)
Let’s face it—social networking is here to stay! Though some people would argue that it encourages poor spelling and improper capitalization and punctuation habits, recent studies are showing that all the texting, tweeting, blogging, posting, etc. that students are doing is not “dumbing them down”, but is actually contributing to them becoming more literate and fluent in their writing. The point is– they’re reading and writing. And thanks to social networking it’s quite possible that they’re doing it more now than ever before. As a language arts teacher, I can get behind that and even be excited about it because I believe there are ways to use social networking tools to enhance education and I have even had some positive experiences in my classroom with blogs, wikis and Twitter.
My favorite tool with my freshmen English class is Blogger. I haven’t always known how to use this application. In fact, I haven’t always been an English teacher—I’m a Spanish teacher who writes as a hobby. But in my first year of teaching at my current school, I found that tucked in among the various Spanish classes on my schedule was a lone English 9 class. My administrator asked me to focus on teaching writing. Not a problem, I thought, I love to write! But it was a definite challenge that year because I found that very few of my students shared my passion for writing. Yes, they did a lot of writing for me and some of it was of good quality, but I could tell they didn’t enjoy it. And when they handed in their final drafts to be read by me–their audience of one—as far as they were concerned, the assignment was done.
I knew I needed to try to build some enthusiasm for the task of writing so I integrated Blogger the very next school year with my new batch of freshmen. The shift in my students’ attitudes towards writing has been dramatically positive though the writing assignments have generally remained the same. With Blogger, my students now have an online platform through which to share their writing with others and to respond to the writing of their peers. I believe this gives them a whole new impetus for writing since we all have an innate desire to have our voice be heard and our words be read.
Blogging helps to foster critical thinking, evaluation and creativity skills. Students not only learn to write, but also to design a blogspot in their own customized style and to provide constructive criticism via posts on their classmates’ blogspots. Even after the final drafts are published the students are reading their classmates’ writings and responding to them and this is happening both during class time AND outside of class time—simply because they like to interact online I have found that blogger.com is a wonderful tool to teach writing. And best yet—it’s completely free and easy to use! (I hope to write more about wikis and educational uses for Twitter in future posts.)
Aristotle – “All men by nature desire to know.” Isn’t that what got Adam and Eve into trouble? They wanted to know what it was like to be God. Didn’t curiosity kill the cat after all?
In reading the work of the most learned people of our day, we discover that the more honest ones admit they know very little about the one aspect that they have spent their lifetimes studying. While our information is doubling at tremendous speeds, we still know very little about our earth and space.
Daniel Boorstin – “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” We know from I Corinthians 8:1b that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” When we feel inflated about what we know, it not only has idolatrous power, but it also shuts down our desire to continue to be curious, to discover, to wonder, to be the sense makers, the inquirers, the delighters that God intended us to be.
Better to share honest questions as educators with our students and reflect, inquire, and wonder together, than to act as if we have it all figured out. Isn’t this a more truly God-honoring approach?
The inspiration for this blog post was drawn from a wonderful article by Peter Huidekoper, Jr. entitled “The Age of Wonder” that appeared in the October 12, 2011 Education Week.