Monthly Archives: January 2007

A case for quality faith integrated assessments (curriculum, classroom)

If one of the most important things in a Christian school is to nurture faith through the ability of a student to apply a Christian perspective (or worldview) to contemporary life, then we should make sure that our assessments are top notch and will drive our instruction. Additionally we need to make sure that the assessments involve the higher level thinking skills of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

What follows is an excellent example of this type of faith integrated assessment question for 8th grade science (thanks to Kristyn Kamps and Lloyd Dozeman from Holland Christian):

Letter to the Editor:

God included fire as part of His creation; its effects can be not only good but necessary. However, wildfires can also create wide scale destruction and death as did the fires of 1910. On January 4, 2002, CNN ran the following story: “Wildfires which were started by multiple lightning strikes early last month continue to burn out of control. They continue to wreak havoc across Australia’s most populated state and are expected to rage into next week. The largest fire has burned about 160,000 acres of bone-dry forest, killed animals, and created millions of dollars in property damage. Nothing good can come of this tragedy…”

Using what you have learned about forest fires, write a reaction to the CNN story using the following format.
Heading: Your reaction should be addressed to the editor of the article; begin your letter “Dear Editor.” (1 point)
Paragraph 1: Your first paragraph should explain who you are and why you are writing. (2 points)
Paragraph 2: Describe conditions that cause wildfires to spread. (3 points)
Paragraph 3: From what you’ve learned about what God created fire to be (good) and the issues people face when dealing with wildfires (bad), give detailed examples of how wildfires can be BOTH good and bad. (6 points)
Paragraph 4: Choose a position: either AGREE with the statements from the CNN article or DISAGREE and give 2 reasons for your position. (4 points)
Closing: Be sure to sign your letter with a closing (“Sincerely,”) and your name. (1 point)

I really like this assessment because it asks the student to apply a perspective to a real life scenario. Since it is a letter to the editor, it is also ready to be shared with others who may have agreed without thinking too deeply that “nothing good can come out of this tragedy…” – this statement reflects the nihilistic view that often pops up in media and needs to be countered by Christians who believe that we have a redeeming God who can bring good out of evil. This assessment asks students to use higher-level skills and apply a faith perspective to the situation. Are you using these kinds of assessments with your students? Are you willing to share them with others? If so, I would be happy to begin a “Quality Faith Integrated Assessments” folder in our CSI Member Community Center.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, student assessments

Growing up faster…and less equipped?

In an online article on MSNBC entitled, “For kids, is 10 the new 15?” there are many examples given of how typical teen behavior is now being seen in those in the “tween” years – kids who are in the 8-12 age range. Not only have the behavior patterns changed, there are several studies published in recent years that indicate that children’s bodies are developing earlier – for example the average age of girls starting menstruation, and breast development limits as low as first and second grade.

Access to media seems to accelerate the problem with more children being aware of, and seeking to emulate the “grown-up” dress, behavior, and values of teens and young adults on the Internet, TV, movies, music, print, etc. When parents fail to set limits the problem becomes exacerbated. Some parents may even encourage the concept of growing up faster and think that this behavior of their kids is “cute.”

At the same time children are still in the formative stages of worldview development. The type of thinking needed, thinking that enables youth to make the big picture connections and put things in their proper perspective, is just developing and significantly impacted by the daily barrage of media and materialism. How much should children be sheltered and how much exposure is needed to help them form accurate perspectives and a Christian worldview that does not shrink from, but is ready to respond to, and engage in, the world fully? I do know that before my wife and I had children we were more free thinking in terms of exposure levels than what actually happened after we had children. Today’s parents, pastors, and teachers seem to face an even greater challenge with kids growing up faster.


Filed under classroom, kids/culture, student outcomes

Does Taught = Caught? (curriculum, classroom)

Are we implementing what we say we are doing in our mission statements in Christian schools? What do you think the results would be from your teachers if you asked them to provide you the following information about the implementation and integration of a Biblical perspective in a particular subject area? Michael Essenburg, coach at the Christian Academy of Japan, suggests the following short survey questions:

Take the following survey to make an initial assessment of how well your students understand and use a Biblical perspective of course content. Before taking the survey, select one subject you teach and respond to the survey based on the students in that subject.

(1) ___% of my students, when asked, can readily identify 3 or more Biblical principles and explain how each principle is related to the subject I teach.

(2) ___% of my students, when asked, can readily identify 3 or more Biblical values and explain how each value is related to the subject I teach.

(3) ____% of my students can readily give a 1-3 minute explanation of a biblical perspective of the subject I teach.

(4) ___% of my students when asked for an opinion regarding an issue will respond, “The Bible teaches…” (instead of “I think…”).

Based on your answers, what will you do to help your students?

Possible outcomes of this survey might be: the recognition that greater thought needs to given to how faith and learning are integrated, the setting of a school wide goal for teacher work on integration of faith and learning, or on an individual level the setting of a SMART (Specific and strategic, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound) goal with their principal as part of their yearly professional growth plan.

More information on these type of student questions related to Biblical perspective can be found on Michael’s website:


Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, mission measurement, student assessments

Dining and binding – a winning combination

Eating together frequently helps to not only temper risky behaviors in teens, but provide meaningful opportunities for quality time together. According to a survey done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in 2005, it is important to not only have quality time, but also a quantity of time together. It is encouraging to note that the number of teens reporting having dinner at least five times a week has increased from 47% in 1998 to 58% in 2005. As expected those teens who are dining with family more frequently are also associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking, and drug use. They also are likelier to get better grades in school, to say that their parents are proud of them, and that they could confide in them. Those students reporting fewer than three dinners together also are part of families that are more likely to have the television on, to not have much conversation, and to have a short eating time. In terms of what gets talked about it is school and sports (86%), friends and social activities (76%), current events (63%), and family issues or problems (58%). Interestingly, the two topics that teens wish they could honestly discuss with their parents are: religious matters (51%) and curfews (51%).


Filed under encouraging the heart, kids/culture, student outcomes, use of time

Please share this blog!

Thanks for taking time to view and read this blog over the past couple of months! It was exciting to discover last week that according to Word Press, the hosting site, this Nurturing Faith blog has reached the #25 spot on their top 100 list of “Growing Blogs!” This is out of more than 500,000 blogs that are hosted by Word Press. Thanks for your participation!

Please pass on the information about this blog to those in your school or church community who may enjoy reading it. It is written specifically for those working in Christian schools and churches, so feel free to pass it on to teachers, youth workers, pastors, board members, interested parents, etc. We are all in this together, nurturing the faith of our youth. It is my hope that this blog can be a tool in better understanding each other, sharing ideas, dialoging together, and finding common ground in our work.

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Describing What is Distinctively Christian About Christian Education

Over the past several years I have been wrestling with ideas and words that would provide a succinct and easily understood definition of what is distinctively Christian about Christian education.

I would submit that distinctively Christian education happens through the means of Curriculum, Classroom, and Community. The diagram below gives further explanation of what is meant by these words.

I think that if we can use common language it will provide helpful handles for describing what we do to others and for ourselves. You may have noticed that I have already been using these terms in parentheses behind some posts as organizers.

Click on Diagram below for a larger view:



Filed under classroom, community, curriculum, distinctively Christian, Member Community Center

Quality worship experiences (Community)

Just before the Christmas break a couple of us from CSI had the opportunity to meet with John Witvliet, Kristen Verhulst, and Betty Grit from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. They have excellent resources for schools interested in improving the quality and intentionality of their worship experiences for students. They shared with us a model called Vertical Habits, using childlike language based on the Psalms. Click here for a further explanation. There are a couple of CSI schools using this model – Muskegon Christian, MI and Unity Christian in Hudsonville, MI. The Institute has been, and will continue to, offer workshops for school worship leaders and also has a helpful blog devoted to worship thoughts/needs/ideas.


Filed under community, distinctively Christian, worship

Calling out giftedness (classroom, community)

One of the most powerful and memorable experiences for me in my K-12 school career was my 8th grade teacher taking individual time to name some of my gifts and encourage me to develop them. What an encouragement and boost it was to me! I am absolutely convinced that this “naming” and “blessing” is critical for our students and one of the joys and satisfaction points we have in our work. It also reminds us to look for the good in each student and see them as God sees them – a marvelous creation, made in His image.

This summer I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on student faith development. One of the excellent papers I received as part of the course requirement was from Jane Hilbrands from Grand Rapids Christian and follows below:

As a high schooler, John was above average academically, well known through sports and well liked. The high school counselor looked at his grades, summarized the results of the standard career interest survey, and gave him some suggestions of careers that matched him. He became a college freshman with a declared major that he dropped during that year, and then later he followed the crowd into a business major. He received little to no guidance as to how his unique set of spiritual gifts and talents could be utilized in God’s kingdom within his major. He now is a successful business man who has questioned his career path and wished to find personal passion in his vocation for the last ten years.

Janine was similar to John in high school, being successful academically, athletically and socially. She completed a spiritual gifts survey in Sunday School and again later in an adult small group at church. Janine and her parents noticed that her “waiting” gifts discovered earlier had now become her stronger gifts. After her freshman year in college Janine felt drawn to a major that matched many of her spiritual gifts and is looking forward to starting those classes.

Justin is a high schooler with no solid ideas for the future. He enjoys athletics and receives tutoring help in the school support services. During his sophomore year he was considering taking a vo-tech path and spending time in a skills program instead of taking college prep classes. His tutor surprised him by noticing and telling him what a gift of the spirit he possessed in his ability to not look down on or be judgmental of others and in his exceptional ability to unconditionally accept others. “Very rare in teenagers,” she told him. She mentioned she could see him being a great special education or middle school teacher, especially because of this gift and because he is so social. Justin was rather flabbergasted at the thought of being a teacher, but he began pondering his future and decided to stick with his college prep classes for now.

At the Googling Youth Conference at Calvin College, many speakers discussed topics concerning teenagers, faith formation, culture and identity. Many of them addressed the importance of “calling out” spiritual gifts and talents in individual teenagers; in other words, to notice and name the unique radiance of God’s spirit in a person and sometimes to imagine vocational applications for those gifts of the Spirit. Claudia Beversluis described the narrative of creation to restoration which raises issues of belonging, purpose and identity. It is the age old adolescent questions of “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” When asked during a panel discussion how much we should limit media consumption, Quentin Schulze responded by professing the importance of knowing kids’ unique talents, naming their gifts, and letting them appropriately pursue their passions. Denise Isom defined identity as “becoming who we are” and emphasized the need of youth to see themselves. Doug Kamstra challenged us to take the time necessary to see young people as significant image bearers of God, which would include their individual giftedness. Lew VanderMeer encouraged us to give youth visions and goals for “growing up.” Dan Beerens asked us to be able to describe youth, including their potential vocations, spiritual gifts and evident “fruits”.

The search for self has always been central to the adolescent years. For youth, understanding spiritual strengths – the touches of heaven where God radiates in you brighter than in others, and the more measurable talents in academic, physical, social and emotional skills can give teenagers a sense of purpose and belonging, an identity. Even knowing weaknesses is part of the puzzle of self. With a secure concept of identity, adolescents feel less misunderstood or alone and more passionate and motivated. Having giftedness “called out” can be a crucial turning point in an adolescent’s emotional state and their concept of personal responsibility to actively engage in their world. Self identity gives purpose, which in turn creates passion. However, calling out giftedness is not simple.

Jane’s oldest son is a new teenager in middle school. She’s seen his ups and downs since the “terrible twos.” Although she hopes that as his mom she would be able to call out his spiritual gifts, she feels that perhaps her vision is limited, and she sees too much of the past and not enough of the quickly changing present. She hopes that other adults will see more sides of her son as he interacts more and more with peers and other adults in settings outside her sphere, the home. She hopes he will find his place of passionate work in God’s kingdom.

As youth director, Jeff feels great responsibility to guide his church kids in a growing understanding of God’s character, Christ’s example and our worshipful response. Jeff fervently prays for his kids and their daily faith walk. He sees his youth group almost weekly, and he slides between Bible study, rowdy crowd control, prayer requests, and whipped cream eating contests. He’d like to give as much guidance as he can to many life questions including “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” but he also feels limited, seeing only pieces of a person’s whole picture. He’s just not up to speed in a number of their areas of giftedness and talents.

Julie thoroughly enjoys her students in her high school English classes, and even though twenty-six different students walk into her classroom world every fifty minutes, she feels she knows them, although some better than others. Some students have definite talents in her classroom: creativity, organization, assimilating ideas, public speaking, verbal dexterity. But she realizes this is only the tip of the ice berg of who these kids are and how complexly God has gifted them.

Who is responsible for or able to call out giftedness in youth? Who is spending enough time with each youth to clearly see them? Who is able to see their many sides? In what ways must adults grow in their understanding of giftedness to be able to call it out in youth? How do you call out giftedness? Is a career interest survey comprehensive enough? Do church-based spiritual gift inventories allow for enough uniqueness? How can we create an effective model for calling out giftedness that collaborates between home, church and school that also creates compelling visions of the future for an individual?


Filed under classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart