Monthly Archives: October 2009

Timeless truth, different delivery #3 – What?

timeless and new(This post is part of a series – let me encourage you to read the previous posts that precede this post for helpful context – scroll down to view #1 & #2.)

What most influences the Christian school when constructing a curriculum? Is it state or provincial standards? The recommendations of national discipline area groups or cross-continental professional groups such as ASCD or NSDC? Is it what is readily available from Christian textbook publishers? Or do schools start from their mission, consider what they know about the learners of today, and reflect on how to instill the characteristics described in the Through Lines in the previous post and a wisdom about the purpose of life that is “foolish” by this world’s standards?

I would submit that most times Christian schools are pressed with many other needs and that due to lack of knowledge, will, expertise, or simply time, there is not sufficient energy given to the construction of Christian curriculum that leads students toward wisdom.  Schools who choose the secular curriculum/standards route run the risk of not defining the intent of the information for the learner and refining down the amount of material expected to be taught. I have worked with many schools to help them consider and determine what are the most significant student learning outcomes and then to incorporate Essential Questions that deal with those concepts and lead students toward Biblical wisdom.  Much work needs to be done as this approach requires deep understanding by teachers of the mission of the school, and time to work on curriculum refinement and assessment building.  Schools that choose the Christian textbook route run the risk of not developing a deep understanding by teachers of the outcomes and in some cases the Christian learning outcomes are tacked on and superficial.

ImageOne of the problems we face in Christian schools is that we have inherited or co-opted a public school approach to curriculum that separates knowledge into boxes. In a new and thought-provoking book entitled Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education, Stratford Caldecott points out that we have accepted a dualistic way of thinking and living: “The divisions between arts and sciences, between faith and reason, nature and grace, have a common root. In particular, our struggle to reconcile religious faith with modern science is symptomatic of a failure to understand the full scope of human reason and its true grandeur…the fragmentation of education into disciplines teaches us that the world is made of bits we can use and consume as we choose. This fragmentation is a denial of ultimate meaning.” (pages 12, 17) He suggests that the key to meaning is the re-enchantment of education through which we see the beauty, purpose and design of the cosmos, indeed a search for the Logos  – the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in whom all things cohere. (Colossians 1:16,17). Knowledge for its own sake or to glorify man is misdirected and God-denying. True education toward wisdom starts with the Creator and is incomplete if it does not have a spiritual foundation that reveals who is to be praised and honored for this beauty. Thus we must continually bring the unity of Christ back to a discipline based structure in many of our schools. How are we training youth to approach all learning in ways that reveal the unity of all things through Christ?  How should we go about this task? Are there better ways than others?

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Filed under curriculum, distinctively Christian, staff development, student outcomes

Timeless truth, different delivery #4 – How?

timeless and new(This post is part of a series – let me encourage you to read the previous posts that precede this post for helpful context – scroll down to view #1 & #2, then #3 above.)

One of the ways that we can help students experience the connectedness and meaning and beauty of the cosmos is through connecting learning, loving, and doing.  A full-fledged Christian education is an experience that connects head, heart, and hands, weaving together love, discernment, and virtue. What follows is an article by Jane Hilbrands describing service learning and a resources project that was described in the Nurturing Faith blog post of May 18, 2009 and what promises to be a great support for Christian teachers. Thanks, Jane, for your leadership and hard work to make this project a reality! Attention principals: Hopefully you always pass Nurturing Faith posts on to your teachers, but be sure to pass on this post and the link within it to your staff!

You may have heard some buzz in the education world about service-learning.  Perhaps you feel that your school has that angle covered; after all, there is the Thanksgiving food drive, the Angel Tree at Christmas and a few other projects.  Perhaps you feel that service projects really should be the domain of church youth groups and families, not sucking precious minutes away from the curricular crunch of the classroom.  Perhaps you think service-learning is the “Hands” part of CSI’s learning paradigm “Heads, Hearts, Hands.”  Perhaps, when finished with this article, you will have a whole new view of service-learning’s place in your school curriculum.

Unlike many service experiences, service-learning should always incorporate three distinct stages: preparation, action, and reflection.  Many students give money, accumulate service hours, earn project points or volunteer without preparation. Students zip in and out of a service experience without intellectually grappling with the underlying issues involved.  Without preparation students’ personal understanding and ownership of social justice issues may be minimized.  Students then may misinterpret their experiences and actually increase their prejudices or stereotypes.  Preparation is crucial in a service-learning experience, giving students a historical, cultural, and Biblical context for the situations they encounter.

This is the “Head” of CSI’s “Heads, Hearts, Hands” at its best, introducing students to the complex and interrelated issues within immigration, poverty, war, disease prevention, hunger, economic justice, racism and others both in the U.S. and globally.  These social justice issues can dove-tail with the traditional subjects of science, math, language arts, Bible, and social studies.  Although this may sound like a lot of research for teachers, wonderful resources are just a few clicks away online.  A conglomerate of resources has been compiled through a CRC Office of Social Justice/Kuyers Institute of Faith and Learning grant, organizing CRC-based background readings, statistics, videos, activities, resource pages, projects and more according to school level (elementary, middle, high) and by subject and issue. These resource summaries and curricular suggestions can be found at www.crcna.org/pages/osj_kuyers.cfm

Justice Resources page

Justice Resources page screen shot

The second stage, action, is the one usually envisioned when folks think of service-learning.  Students step beyond “Head” knowledge and move to “Hands” participation: helping younger students or the elderly, collecting food items, raising money, cleaning up areas, visiting hospitals, scooping soup, planting, etc.  Some educators resist hands-on actions because they feel there simply aren’t enough minutes in the semester to cover the curriculum they already face, let alone add-on more things.  Research supplies a different perspective however.

Students who participated in service-learning activities in high school were 22 percentage points more likely to graduate from college than those who did not participate, and students who participated in service-learning scored 6.7 percent higher in reading achievement and 5.9 percent higher in science achievement than those who did not participate in service-learning (National Educational Longitudinal Study, reviewed by Dávila & Mora, 2007).   Ritchie and Walters (2003) showed that both middle and high school students involved in service-learning had statistically significant increases in their motivation to learn.  Furco (2007) writes that a review of research indicates that high quality service-learning, because of its utilization of effective, experiential learning strategies, can enhance academic outcomes in such content areas as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.  Given our God-created multi-sensory bodies, hands-on actions are an effective and essential tool in deeply assimilating “head” knowledge. Simply, the more we involve ourselves, the more we comprehend and retain information.

The important concept to remember in the action stage is connectivity. Service actions should not be disconnected from curriculum learning, but instead should be a natural progression from classroom lessons to active responses.  For example, PE or science students studying nutrition should participate in a hunger service project; science students studying the properties of water could act to clean-up a local creek or improve a third world community’s access to safe drinking water; language art students can read literature of minority cultural or economic groups and participate in advocacy writing or campaigns for improving literacy. These are only a few ideas – many of the online links given in the CRC/Kuyers grant also head towards opportunities for taking action. The local and global possibilities are varied and many.  Once students’ eyes are opened during preparation, actions follow naturally and Christian responsibility and stewardship begin to grow.

The final stage, reflection, is where the wonder happens.  As details from preparation and action are individually and corporately revisited and reviewed, horizons are broadened, questions are posed, worldviews are adjusted, empathy becomes possible, and God’s Spirit has space to cultivate current and future fruitfulness in an informed and engaged Christian student. It’s a time for reflection, for internal reckoning of responsibility and calling.  This is the “Heart” where life-long growth and learning happen.  Although it is often listed in the middle, it is most prosperous as a final step, with both Heads and Hands before.

Each step in service-learning’s “preparation, action, reflection” or CSI’s “Heads, Hands, Hearts” is essential.  Without the head preparation of historical, cultural and Biblical context, the action of hands can lead to misguided conclusions. Without service actions, head knowledge becomes impotent, lacking participatory ownership of God’s restorative work.  Without heart reflection, personal positions and identity may not be solidly forged. Together these three stages form a solid educational paradigm, enabling students to be informed, engaged and deeply convicted of their role in God’s world.

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Filed under curriculum, distinctively Christian, resources, staff development, stewardship, student outcomes

Did You Know 4.0 – fall 2009 version

Some of you may have enjoyed the previous Did You Know videos . . . well enjoyed is probably not the correct word – let’s see – jolted by them might be more appropriate. They are a helpful visual compilation of the kinds of rapid change happening in our world that has relevance to educators and others.

Here is the latest in the Did You Know series, highlighting media convergence.

In case you missed the first video and remixed versions of that video, the most recent version of the original video is the 3.0 version below.

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Filed under change, discernment, kids/culture, leadership, staff development, uncategorized