Category Archives: student assessments

Let’s articulate before it’s too late! (Faith and learning in curriculum, part 2)

They found some musty old books, dusted them off, read them, and saved a generation! In the story of Joash, we find the Spirit of the Lord leading him as a young person to read and re-institute the law of the Lord – see 2 Kings 23:2. We are told that the reading of the law led to a spiritual revival among the people and God’s blessing on the land. Even though oral tradition was foremost (writing was more the exception than the rule in those days), we see how God used the written word to preserve and instruct his people.

It is interesting that today in our age of every kind of communication, we still need to make sure that we get written down what it is we are doing in order to integrate teaching and learning. We have moved from oral to print in Christian schools in our attempts to articulate what we know about a Biblically infused curriculum. This has been an important part of our history as Christian schools – I clearly remember saving all those coins for Christian School’s International Foundation Day textbook drives in the 60’s. We now have reached the point where we must move increasingly from print to digital/electronic means for cost containment and for ease of sharing.

My concern is that we articulate in writing what it is we are doing – as I mentioned last month it takes veteran teachers who possess passion and astuteness in order to communicate in engaging ways with students about the unity of all truth through Christ.

  • I challenge you, veteran teacher, to share those ideas for integrating faith and learning that you have gained through reading, reflection, and practice and write them down to share with the next generation. Step up to the plate – it is part of your legacy!
  • I challenge you, young teacher, to observe, ask questions, press your veteran colleagues to not only orally share, but to record in the context of units of study, how they integrate faith and learning, how they bring biblical truth to bear on their subject matter, and what works most effectively with students. Do not be ashamed of what you don’t know, but have the humility to ask and learn.
  • I challenge you, administrator, to make sure your teachers not only write down what they are doing in integrating faith and learning, but to make sure that it is of good quality. Give your teachers time to work together to discuss how the mission and philosophy of your school actually turns into reality in the teaching and assessing of your students. Don’t let the vibrancy and distinctiveness of your school be watered down on your watch! Remember that Christian teaching and learning is the core business of your school, even though there are so many other daily distractions. Be a Joash for your school!
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A Common Core for Christian schools?

In these past few months, something remarkable happened across the United States: many states adopted a set of national standards called the Common Core State Standards.  (Those states are shown in yellow in the graphic to the right.) The adoption of the standards was sped along by the fact that any states applying for Race to the Top monies were required to have previously adopted the standards.

It is also remarkable that there has been a lot of praise for the content of the standards. Experts have even stated that the standards are stronger and more helpful than the current standards of 80% of the states. The standards are currently completed in language arts and math, with other areas still in the works.

As a “curriculum person,” I am always excited to have greater clarity around what we view as important for students to know and do. Yet, this set of standards lacks the kind of perspective toward wisdom that we are seeking to achieve with our students in Christian schools. I am not arguing with the content of the standards, just their completeness, as they are not wholistic in their current form, nor do they recognize the source all truth.

Would it be beneficial to have an amended Common Core standards for Christian schools that include an articulation of the kind of student outcomes we are working toward with our students?

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Student reflections on biblical perspective

puzzle-piecesThanks to Kim Essenburg, English 10 teacher at Christian Academy in Japan, for sharing student reflections related to seeing God’s truth in the material they studied.

Here are sample student answers to the final question on my English 10 short story test: What else did you learn in this unit that you did not have a chance to show on the test?

  • I think understanding that everyone has a perspective and that it’s important to connect literature and the Bible.
  • All of the authors, it seems, either were born or ended up in situations where they didn’t really belong, or they were missing something, or something went wrong. It’s interesting to note the different responses each author had in their situation. Tolstoy had a primarily Christian perspective, Kafka was nihilist, and Camus was existentialist—each one giving their own reasons for why things were the way they were.
  • I learned from Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” that if we are selfish and greedy, it might seem like you’re “living the life” at the moment, but in the end you’ll lose everything (the important things) you have.
  • Both Christianity and existentialism believe that people have the desire to find meaning. In Christianity, we find the true meaning in God and find joy, but in existentialism, people find their own meaning and find joy in that process. I thought it was sad that not all the people have hope and that not all people can feel true joy.
  • I learned a lot about decision-making and finding my place here. We all get left out and feel like an outsider, but I know that I still belong to God.
  • Every piece of literature has a worldview. It may be difficult to find, but if the author has any voice at all, you should be able to find it.
  • I learned that just like “The Guest” we all have to make decisions between two things. I learned that I have to pray to God before choosing the decision by myself because without God’s power, we are all weak and cannot make a decision we won’t regret.
  • From reading “The Bucket Rider” I learned how people who feel like they don’t belong anywhere are suffering because of emotional needs that may be as extreme as the Bucket Rider…. I want to be able to choose to act with empathy towards these people, unlike the coal dealer’s wife who ignored the Bucket Rider.

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Show your students what using a Biblical perspective looks like

(Thanks to Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy in Japan, for sharing this post.)

It’s the end of your English class, and you assign a 750-word essay in which your students are to evaluate a theme from Hamlet from a Biblical perspective.

Then the bell rings. One of your students, Ian, approaches you and says, “I don’t know what it looks like. I know what telling others about Jesus looks like—we read missionary biographies at school and I go on mission trips with my church. What does doing a good job on using a Biblical perspective look like in an essay?”

Question: How can you help Ian? (How can you help Ian understand what using a Biblical perspective in an essay looks like?)

Answer: Kim Essenburg, English 10 teacher at Christian Academy in Japan, responds:

I want my students to connect the Bible and what they study in English 10. As a starting point, I have to get my students to see that this is possible. I have to get my students to see that the Bible can be applied, for example, to the literature and grammar that they study.

Two strategies I use are:
1.    Having my students read and discuss an article that evaluates the subject from a Biblical perspective. When my students read Elie Wiesel’s Night, a Holocaust memoir, I have them also read “Justice in an Unjust World” by Gary Haugen.
2.    Showing my students sample essays in which students apply a Biblical perspective, for example:

There are many ways to define the word “peace”, but the Biblical concept of peace or shalom has a round meaning, relating all beings in the universe and outside the cosmos. Genesis 1 describes the perfect creation God had made in the beginning as He said, “It was very good” (New International Version). However, as man marred his image of God through sin, the relationship between God and man, God and creation, man and creation was broken. Fear and sorrow entered the universe, and every human being needed to go through such pain in the world. Henceforth, humans needed to pray for redemption and the restoration of the intimate association with God, so that this may someday lead to the restoration of creation. Romans 8:21 expresses the hope for this restoration when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” This is a place where all living creatures and humans live in harmony without pain and suffering, which is referred to as the New Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation 21. This concept of Biblical shalom in elucidated by Alan Paton’s book Cry, The Beloved Country as the “ideal justice.” Beginning with Stephen Kumalo, one finds the broken relationship between God and man and creation in the tribe, and through much adversity and sorrow, Kumalo attempts to build shalom by restoring the broken relationships.

Show your students what using a Biblical perspective looks like. Today.

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Is it important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Question: Is it important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

If you answered “yes,” keep reading.

You think it’s important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content. Three questions:
(1) What course content could your students apply a Biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units could your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments could your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Bottom line:
(1) What course content will your students apply a Biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units will your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments will your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Target Biblical perspective. Today.

(Post shared by Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy of Japan. For more information on integrating Biblical perspective, see his web site: http://closethegapnow.org)

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Faith Enhancing Practice* #10 – Culminating experiences (Classroom)

Transition points in student’s lives – moving from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school to college are often times of great change and upheaval, as well as significant markers in student’s personal development. These are often times when new friendships are formed, old friendships shed, and new personas or identities appear. They are times when students consider where they have been, where they are going, and how they will approach the next phase of the journey. These transition points can be key times for schools to help students do some reflecting on the deeper questions of life via culminating experiences.

Some Christian schools ask students specifically at these transition points to reflect on, and articulate the development of their faith perspective. These culminating experiences allow students to make connections between head, heart, and hands, and students are often asked to communicate these connections to significant persons in their lives. Schools have reported that these times can be very valuable experiences for the students personally, for the continued encouragement of the faith of students in general, for the encouragement of teachers and parents who are participants, and for assessing whether the school is being faithful in meeting its mission.

One school that has been developing and refining the senior presentation concept for several years is Lynden Christian School in Lynden, Washington. Superintendent Don Kok is very enthusiastic about what he has seen:

“The entire staff (preschool – 12th grade and Board members who are available) is involved in listening to the presentations.  It is an absolute delight to hear their stories especially when you may have had them as students during the lower or middle grades.  It is wonderful to hear about their journey and their goals for the future.  Themes that I have heard over the years are the influence of people in their lives who have made a significant impact (parents and teachers are usually named), and critical events (illness or death in family, particular activity such as work experience or trip, etc.)”

Principal Keith Lambert has seen many refinements over the time that he and others began the process of senior presentations with students.  He reports that the staff continues to look at incorporating new ideas. One of the new approaches that is being considered for addition is a focus on using Strength Finder materials to help students identify and develop their gifts through the high school years. (For more information on Lynden’s program, see his article in the upcoming Winter 2008 Christian School Teacher magazine.)

Lambert concluded: “We have been very excited about it (senior presentation) – this is one of those things that, long after I am gone, they will be doing this – it’s a fixture of the school.”

I know that there are other schools out there doing similar great things using this kind of approach to nurture reflective thinking around issues of faith and life – would you be willing to share what you are doing by posting a comment? That way others who are interested in putting culminating experiences together can get in touch with you to learn more.

*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.

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Let’s keep our focus on what is essential

It was my pleasure to work with groups at OCSTA and Heartland on the matter of developing Essential Questions and hearing how creative teachers are using them to engage students deeply. As knowledge continues to compound at incredible rates (does anyone disagree?) and as access to information that formerly needed to be memorized decreases, we find ourselves needing to re-consider what is most important to address with students in our limited school schedules. Are we spending enough time deleting from our curriculums? Are we considering how we might combine multiple key concepts through work done with other teachers from other disciplines? While it is true that we are preparing students for a future that we are not sure of, we probably have more student needs identified than most educators out there – simply because we recognize that we are privileged to deal with the issues of the heart as Christian educators. We know that, in terms of the issues of the heart, our students will need a strong Biblical foundation, a well-developed worldview, strong apologetics, a heart for justice, and a passion for Christ’s kingdom regardless of their vocational choice. Let’s continue to challenge each other’s thinking about what is really most important for our students to spend their time on in our schools.

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