“What makes young people catch fire, work hard, and persist despite difficulties?” This compelling question and succeeding answers are spelled out in a new book, Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, by Kathleen Cushman. Cushman suggests it is helpful to consider the differences between student experiences and what their elders report. She does this by citing evidence from the 2009 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.
Cushman reports: “Four out of five teachers and principals in our 2009 survey told us that they believe connecting classroom instruction to the real world would have a major impact on student achievement. They also held that addressing the individual needs of diverse students is necessary to student success. A school culture where students feel responsible and accountable for their own education, they said, would greatly affect student achievement.”
Cushman goes on to say: “In that same survey, however, a majority of students reported that their teachers very rarely – or never – speak to them personally about things that matter to the students. Over a quarter of secondary school students said their teachers do not connect the school curriculum to its applications in the outside world. And only one in four students felt strongly that school let them use their abilities and their creativity.”
Cushman wonders: “What should we conclude from such disparate perspectives?” Hmm…great question!
As I have pondered this question, it appears that in this time of educational change there are three principles with which we should be concerning ourselves as Christian educators as we engage students in the learning process.
Principle #1: Competence – we are responsible for ensuring that students grow in understanding and wisdom that allows them to thrive as adults. Simply put, what should kids learn?
Principle #2: Coherence – we must help students make connections between what they are learning and how things fit together in a bigger picture. In Christian education we desire for our students to image Christ, in whom all things cohere. (Col. 1:15-20)
Principle #3: Creativity – there are many ways that we can learn something and express our understanding. Creativity is today considered to be the highest level of thinking, as evidenced by the fact that it is now placed at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. As Christians we understand that we are made in the image of God. Likewise our own creativity is a reflection, in a small way, of the Creator of All.
My suggestion is that we value all of these areas equally in our educational process. It is easiest to get overbalanced in the competence area. As teachers, it is fun to tell others what we know; even though there is plenty of evidence today that telling is not the best way for students to learn. Consider how much fun it is for us to personally discover something instead of being told, yet we often persist in taking the easier “telling” route with our students. Here is one example of what could happen when we turn over some control.
Our greatest joys in the learning process come when things “connect” with our students and they “get it!” It is the joy of coherence that we are experiencing – helping others to see how it all fits together. Why settle for kids getting bits and pieces when we can help them to see how learning impacts their lives?
If we “kill creativity” through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?