Monthly Archives: February 2013

Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “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?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

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Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, image of God, kids/culture, mission development, resources, staff development, student outcomes, worship

Monsieur Lazhar – sowing seeds

(Thanks to my friend Paul Marcus, COO at Community Christian School, Drayton, ON and COO at Orangeville Christian School, ON, for sharing this blog post. Paul blogs at Paul Marcus Online.)

I had the opportunity to watch this  beautiful film on the weekend.  I’d never heard of it before doing some rummaging through the dearth of information on rottentomatoes.  It’s amazing what you find when you dig below the surface of mainstream monotony.

I’m not going to give a review here, there are many sites that can do that justice better than I.  However, I wanted to share a piece of a conversation that Monsieur Lazhar has with one of his colleagues at the school in which he just started teaching.  In fact, as we find out eventually in the film, he hasn’t actually taught before.  The internal struggle that he has is one that I think every educator has had at some point in their careers; I call it the ‘Just Sowing the Seed” struggle.  This is a struggle that exists because, no matter what consultants and pedagogues tell us, there’s no way to measure the meaningful progress that we’re making with students.  How many of us have had a child leave our classroom at the end of a year where we can’t discern a noticeable difference in their lives?

Monsieur Lazhar has this struggle as he works through his pedagogy.  He walks into a neighbouring classroom to see that it doesn’t ‘look like a hospital’ as his does.  Later as he’s having a drink with this colleague, the following dialogue ensues arising from his frustration and lack of confidence:

M. Lazhar: “And it’s my fault because I’ve forgotten to put some colour in their lives.”….”I feel guilty for having abandoned them”.
Colleague: “Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.”

We find out that Monsieur Lazhar’s comment may arise as an allusion to a life experience of his, but the response by his colleague is meaningful.  Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.  I’ve often been sitting with a group of teachers where we’ve felt equally discouraged and we’ve had to admit that we just have to ‘sow the seed.’  Teaching is one of those jobs that is thankless.  Sure, we get the gift cards at Christmas for Chapters and Tim Horton’s (Starbucks if we’re lucky), but we rarely see the product of our labour.  We have to submit that our work is a work of scaffolding: we do the work we can and we have faith that God will continue our work when our students have moved on.

Only if we stay in our craft for long enough do we have the opportunity to have a student who we’ve taught come and say “thank you,” and even then only if we’re the lucky few.  For now, we’ll have to take solace in the faith that God goes before us and with our students.

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Filed under devotional, early faith, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Identifying “take-aways for life:” using Essential Questions to nurture faith

If one accepts the idea that our main focus in Christian education needs to be nurturing student faith in the educational context, then it is vitally important that we engage students with questions that 1) cause students to stop dead in their tracks with intrigue, and 2) cause the students to deal with a Biblical perspective on issues of life. This is easier said than done! How can we develop such questions?

If I want to drive to a destination, I put into my Google Maps the destination I am hoping to arrive at – beginning with the end in mind. So, we first must ask the question: What kind of students do we seek to produce? My answer to this question is: “A flourishing student!”  and that is why I have been trying to spell out what that means in the series of blog posts that I have been writing in this space on the idea of a flourishing student (list of blog post dates).

If we accept Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as being in harmony with God, neighbor, creation, and self then we can begin to see how we must shape the questions we ask in our curriculum and what conceptual qualities they must possess. Our curriculum outcomes must deal with God, neighbor, creation, and self. The things we are trying to do in our teaching relate to one of these four areas. I see the connections as follows:

Curriculum flourishing connections copy

  • Creation and wonder – this is where we begin as learners and we should never lose it! We wonder about the micro and macro aspects of creation and the magnificent design behind it all. To whom should we give the praise and glory? We continue to wonder about creation’s mysteries that we learn have not been unlocked and are intrigued by the wonder and beauty of creation as we seek to live in harmony with it and learn how to use it well. Example questions in science class: Why are trees important to God’s creation? How does the structure of a DNA molecule exemplify order and creation?
  • God/Christ and knowledge and wisdom – all knowledge and truth exists because Christ brought it into existence and continues to hold it together. This is why we marvel at gravity and 2+2=4 and how our bodies work. So our essential questions can be pretty straightforward and need not be simply “God questions” that are painfully superficial, but should include a discussion of a God-centered starting point and a worship ending point. In non-Christian schools, knowledge is presented as if it can stand on its own, or praise is ascribed to man without any reference to a Divine Creator – this is a huge difference. We need to ask our students to apply knowledge in areas of study toward questions of discernment as informed by Biblical perspectives. Example question in math class: Do you think there is such a thing as ‘chance’?  Why or why not? Example question in social studies: Is capitalism in America successful?  Why or why not?
  • Neighbor and compassion – a Christian school should motivate students toward a desire to serve and make a difference in the world. It should produce true empathy as students understand people and situations in the world, and should inspire a compassionate response out of love for other people God has created. The student understands that each person is loved and cherished by God, having been made in his image. The student understands then that life is not just about themselves, but that they have a global responsibility to respond to the needs of our world. There may not be easy answers to questions that juxtapose two competing interests and Christians may disagree about the best ways to respond. Example question in social studies: As a Christian, what is the difference between needs and wants? Example question in English: Does having a shared experience make a person better able to provide true comfort?
  • Self and image-bearing/gifts – how can one be in harmony with one’s self? Harmony with one’s self might mean acceptance of how God has created you – your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual self and an ever increasing understanding through the years of how he has gifted you, wired you, and what makes you “tick.” It also means that you take seriously care of your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit: you eat well, sleep well, exercise well, develop positive habits, virtues, and a generous and gracious spirit. As you grow in Christ, you more and more are able to let the light of Christ shine through you, and to truly bring joy and hope into the world, into the lives of others. Example question in music: Why do we respond to God with music? Example question in art: How can art be used to redeem culture?

This model may help us in our thinking about producing effective “take-away” Essential Questions. As we engage students with questions and help them construct good questions, we may find these categories helpful as a way to balance areas of focus within a classroom setting.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, student outcomes