Category Archives: student outcomes

A few things that caught my eye

Best way to take lecture notes – can you imagine everyone in the hall using this technology? :)

Here’s a RSA Animate style video explaining Common Core State Standards:

For over 180 videos of lesson ideas for teaching Common Core, check out this resource.

Still struggling to “get” Twitter? Are you a “Lurker”, “Participant” or “Author”? Here is a good intro video that explains the stages.

If you have tried Twitter and gone away from it, maybe this video from a University of Alaska professor will be helpful.

I love helpful visual diagrams! Katie Ritter has put together three very helpful ones. The one below that she calls Backwards EdTech Tool Flow Chart starts with the question “What do you want students to do?” and then moves to a guiding question. Depending on the answer you can move to a link to an appropriate web tool for them to use. Click here to access the chart. The other two tools that she created for her teachers at her school are also in PDF’s with clickable links. You can access them here.

Ritter chart

Excellent interview/article: Coming Out in the CRC: YALT’s Interview with Ryan Struyk – for those of you reading this and wondering about the abbreviations – the CRC stands for the Christian Reformed Church – the founding denomination of many schools in CSI (Christian Schools International) and YALT stands for the Young Adult Leadership Task Force.

Image of God – self perception vs. perception by others – does this get at why it is hard for us to accept grace and see ourselves as God sees us – as lovable and redeemed? Dove put together this video that has become the most watched online video ad ever according to this source.

Is this why glass ceilings persist and women are still paid less than men for the same work? Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, talks about if a businesswoman can be competent and nice in their work.

Here is a link to a commercial demonstrating the double standard that exists, as well as references to the full study done at Harvard.

The influence of grandparents on faith development –   interesting research results from USC sociologist Vern Bengston.

Great perspective piece on what Christmas is all about – A Christmas Apology, and the Seeds of Hope from Rachel Held Evans.

Write your own caption for this pic below from Paul Shirky which he calls School vs. Life! In any case, it speaks to the significance of our task as educators – helping kids make sense out the mess and at the same time connecting things back together in beautiful ways – blessings on your new calendar year ahead!

School vs. life -  paul shircliff @shirky17

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Filed under Biblical worldview, change, curriculum, discernment, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, student outcomes

Bringing shalom to our teaching

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

When I returned to Christian education in 1993 as a building principal, I was faced with the challenge of articulating the distinctiveness of a Christian education to present and potential parents. To that point, as a student in K-12 schools and as a teacher in two Christian school settings, I had not really thought a great deal about how Christian education was different. I had simply experienced it. I was aware of differences having gone to a public university and having served in public education for seven of my twelve years to that point, but had limited mental models to work from for further work.

My first exercise was to think of as many areas of difference in the experiences I had, to analyze what type of category it might fit into, and then to synthesize the differences into categories of distinctiveness. What I arrived at is the concepts of curriculum, classroom, and community to describe how Christian schools should be distinctive. These concepts appear in the tagline for this blog and I wrote about them in one of the first posts.

One of the reasons I felt we needed to have language around these concepts is to provide a way to discuss and further improve what we were doing in Christian education. Without such language we could basically talk in circles for days and not know where to begin or how to consider in focused ways what we are really talking about, let alone look for ways to improve distinctiveness.

Over the past year I have written in this blog about the idea of flourishing as our desired outcome for Christian school students. I have explored ten possible aspects of flourishing in a series of blog posts. We can work toward these aspects with students in the areas of curriculum, classroom, and community in a Christian school.  While the areas of how to nurture student faith in classroom and community are clearer, I believe that our greater challenge is to consider how we nurture faith and flourishing in the area of curriculum.

I would like to suggest that if we go back to Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as a person being in harmony with nature, God, self, and neighbor we can also then use those categories to consider how we might develop Truth revealing curriculum units. I suggest the following correlation of the aspects of flourishing with possible curricular emphases.

Flourishing is accomplished in a curricular emphasis through:

Harmony with nature – I suggest the word “Wonder” to capture this aspect. Here we are helping the student to understand the “ABC’s” of God’s great creation:  A- Awe, B – Beauty, C – Complexity, D – Design, E – Excellence, and so forth.  As we consider the Wonder of nature, we are driven to our knees in worship of the Creator. True wisdom begins in wonder as we creatures consider our Creator and his marvelous creation – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Harmony with God – I suggest the word “Wisdom.” In this area we consider our purpose for being, what is wrong with the world, and how it has been made right through Jesus’ work. We help students to know the Truth so that in “your light we may see light” and knowing the truth they may discern what is true, lovely, good, and right. We cultivate the discomfort that believers feel as they are in, but not of the world. We encourage students to raise prophetic voices against the brokenness of sin and alienation from God that is present in culture and society.

Harmony with self and man – I suggest the word “Work.” There are two aspects to this word – first of all we must educate in ways that help students identify whose they are, who they are, and what passions/gifts they have been given. Our learning processes must allow students to naturally unfold their “wiring” and help them discover their life call. Secondly, in the area of work we must help them understand that they are part of Christ’s work of the restoration of creation/mankind. Our learning experiences must serve to develop compassion for mankind at both the local and global level. “Work” then involves students understanding their passion to respond with compassion.

I hope these can be helpful terms as we work toward encouraging flourishing students and developing distinctive curricular units. In Christian schools we are able to begin our teaching and learning experiences with worship of the Creator; lead kids toward harmony with nature, God, self, and man; and end with the student’s desire to “offer their life as a living sacrifice.”

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, staff development, student outcomes

Essential Questions – engaging and mission oriented

I have been working on Essential Questions with Christian schools for a number of years now. Asking questions is a gracious way to invite people into a conversation. Jesus used questions in many different ways, but in each it was a way to cause those being asked to move to a higher plane of reflection, engagement, and dialogue. Jesus’ questions remain with us today and still challenge us: “Who do you say that I am?” Questions show respect for the others in conversation whereas statements tend to shut down further dialogue. Questions demonstrate that the asker is still open to further learning and demonstrates an attitude of humility.

Our best essential questions are shared questions that both the teacher and the student find worth pondering. “What is the difference between needs and wants?” is a question we all should be asking ourselves frequently and at each stage of life. Both teacher and student find a question like that worth their time as opposed to questions that are leading and guiding – questions that tell the learner that I as the teacher of course know the answer and I am just waiting for you to catch up and figure it out.  Sometimes I wonder why, with so many good questions out there, we spend so much of our time in the teaching profession telling students facts – the level of retention does not justify the kinds of time choices we make when we could have kids pondering things that are more essential and more fruitful for deep discussion of life issues.

When teachers are in the process of creating and identifying Essential Questions I am sometimes asked if there are “Christian” essential questions and non-Christian essential questions. Let’s start by acknowledging God’s authorship, sovereignty and his truth that is evident in all things whether it is acknowledged or not. All creation speaks to God’s design, beauty, and truth. Truly, the learning journey reveals God’s truth whether the teacher acknowledges or points to God or not in the process. In a Christian school a teacher has the freedom to point to God’s truth directly and to encourage students to seek to apply a Biblical perspective. In our question above of wants and needs, I can go up to a certain point in a public school and encourage living a stewardly life on the basis of being a good human being and sharing the planet, but I cannot root that in a spiritual belief system. In a Christian school I can encourage students to discover what the Bible says about wants and needs and to help them consider how the choices I make reflect good stewardship, the kind of compassion Jesus modeled, or how to think prophetically about societal issues in the light of Micah 6:8.

Let me give a few more examples. I recently purchased an excellent resource called The Essential Questions Handbook, published by Scholastic. The book is laid out by Big Ideas in the four core areas of ELA, math, science, and social studies and covers grades 4-8. So in social studies, the first big idea is Community. One of the Enduring Understandings caught my eye: “Within a community, we encounter and should respect alternative viewpoints and values.” In both public and Christian schools, we can encourage kids to demonstrate respect and seek to understand alternative viewpoints. In a Christian school we should also be encouraging kids to be gracious because they are interacting with fellow image-bearers, and equipping them with some wisdom as to how and when best to share the truth claims of the Gospel with others in their community. In Math the Big Idea of patterns results in an Essential Understanding of “Order exists in the universe.” In Christian schools we go beyond and ask who is responsible for this order, and what does this pattern reveal to us about God’s character. In Science the Big Idea of Endangered Species may result in an Essential Understanding of “Human activities can have positive and negative effects on the environment” leading us to wonder with students how to value various human activities. How as Christians do we determine whether human need or species survival are the final determining factor? What are the boundaries that need discussion around humans being the crown of creation and having dominion over creation versus stewardship and creation care?

It seems to me that there are many fruitful Essential Understandings and Essential Questions out there that reveal God’s truth. What is different is how a Christian teacher views that concept/question, whether they lead students to understand God’s truth in deeper ways, and ultimately help them to see God’s wonder, wisdom, and sense their own personal call of work in God’s world.

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

Flourishing – Determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

One of the most significant flourishing outcomes that we hope for our students is our last item- a determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others. In order to do this, we must be able to bring together all aspects of head, heart, and hands – our cognition, passions, and behaviors. It is not that a people with this determination are saccharine sweet, out of touch with reality, or constantly smiling; rather, they know what they believe, who they are, and have a sense of their impact on others as they go through life. This determination comes from a sense of deep faith, gratefulness for God’s gracious gift of salvation, and a desire to live out a life of grateful service to others, to be Christ to them in small and large ways.

What we are really talking about is what attitude we choose to demonstrate each day, in each situation and circumstance. One of the most helpful quotes that speaks to the significance of a positive attitude is this famous one by Chuck Swindoll:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is I have a choice every day of what my attitude will be. I cannot change my past. I cannot change the actions of others. I cannot change the inevitable. The only thing I can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Swindoll is saying that attitude is more important than most anything else in life:  it is a critical issue to address with our students. We can help students realize is that they have a choice about their attitudes. A broken or difficult past may haunt us, but we have a choice about whether we forgive and move on or not. We have the opportunity to choose our attitudes each moment and in each circumstance. We see this modeled by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-28) as they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and chose to spend their time praying, singing, and eventually giving witness to that hope and joy that was spilling out of them. All students have the potential to flourish in this way – it is not dependent on intellect – in fact, some “special needs” students often can be the best bringers of joy and hope.

Our ultimate hope for our students is summarized in this final Flourishing Index statement – that they learn to become Christ-like – giving evidence of the hope that they have through Christ, being grateful in all circumstances, being humble in times of blessing, and living selfless lives of service to others, which is the faithful presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, encouraging the heart, image of God, kids/culture, student outcomes, worship

Impressive . . . and readable!

Visible-Learning-for-Teachers-Hattie-John-EB9781136592331The educational community worldwide owes a huge debt of gratitude to John Hattie. Hattie, a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia is the author of Visible Learning, the result of 15 years of labor in the synthesis of educational research. The scope of what he attempted and completed is staggering: 800 meta-analyses of 50,000 research articles, 150,000 effect sizes, and about 240 million students! This work was reported in his 2009 book, Visible Learning. In his recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, he adds the results of 100+ meta-analyses that have been completed since 2009 and attempts to build a bridge of clarity directly to the daily work world of teachers and administrators.

What struck me initially about this book is the fact that he uses the format of the lesson to explain the findings of his research, thus putting the research results in context for the practitioner. His sections in Part 2 of his book are 1) preparing the lesson, 2) starting the lesson, 3) the flow of the lesson: learning, 4) the flow of the lesson: the place of feedback, and 5) the end of the lesson.  He presents the research findings in a readable format for teachers and administrator that it is simply outstanding! I have never enjoyed reading research so much! The chapters are filled with helpful tables and diagrams that bring further clarity to the text. At the end of each chapter is a series of 4-10 questions for further discussion that could be used very effectively in faculty learning sessions.

As excited as I am about the content, accessibility, and usefulness of the book, I am even more overjoyed about the perspective that Hattie articulates in Parts 1 and 3 of the book. He acknowledges the significance of passion and the difficulty of measuring it. In particular he emphasizes the significance of teachers demonstrating a passion for having a positive impact on all students in their class: to monitor, self-assess, and modify their performance so that they make a difference in what they do. Hattie believes that a key to student learning is that educators must be passionate about evaluating their impact. While we associate a book of research like this with student achievement, Hattie makes clear that an over-emphasis on this area can cause us to lose focus on “what students, know, can do, and care about.” What he means is that the kinds of things that we have been addressing in this blog related to student flourishing, i.e. “the school and learning experience…must be productive, challenging, and engaging to ensure the best chance possible that students will stay in school.”

I deeply resonate with how Hattie concludes the book. After all the excellent presentation of research, he opens a discussion of eight mind frames of the teacher by stating the following:

“The major argument in this book underlying powerful impacts in our schools relates to how we think! It is a set of mind frames that underpin our every action and decision in a school; it is a belief that we are evaluators, change agents, adaptive learning experts, seekers of feedback about our impact, engaged in dialogue and challenge, and developers of trust with all, and that we see opportunity in error, and are keen to spread the message about the power, fun, and impact that we have on learning.”

Wow – right on John! Our ways of thinking, or worldview (my word), is the linchpin to student learning. What we believe about students, their capability, how to manage and engage them, the barriers to their learning, and our ability to impact them are, and always will be, the keys to student learning. Hattie provides a helpful, copy permission granted, self-assessment checklist that all of your staff could take to understand what their own mind frames are and what might be their personal strengths and barriers.

I have been challenging Christian schools to see all students as image-bearers of God – in this distinctively Christian worldview there is no room for giving up on kids or not appreciating the gifts that each student brings into the classroom. While it is easy to give lip service to this concept, what I appreciate about this book is that Hattie has challenged us to go a step further by examining our mind frames and linking those mind frames back to the research. If we are serious about offering our professional work back to God as worship, we must be reading books like John Hattie’s – books that show us the truth about what we know so far about student learning via research and also show us bridges to offer our very best work back as worship and praise to God.

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Flourishing – Demonstrating effective life habits and practicing spiritual disciplines

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

If we desire that our students flourish, we must seek for our students to develop effective life habits and spiritual disciplines. All educators work with students to develop effective life habits, but in Christian education we emphasize with our students that their work is done for God’s glory and not for their own success. Working with students to develop spiritual disciplines can only be done in a Christian school, and is an important part of our work.

We want our students to learn effective life habits so that they may flourish in their lives now and in the future – simply put, people with effective life habits know how to get stuff done! A reasonable goal for our students should be that they know how to manage their time and respect the time of others. Their organizational skills will help them to not feel overwhelmed in their own lives and allow them to effectively give their time to lift the lives of others. The kinds of effective life habits I am talking about have been widely written about in books such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and my intent in this post is not to reiterate those but to consider our role as educators in helping to form these habits.

What role do spiritual disciplines play in a flourishing student’s life? Our desire is that our students not only believe in Christ, but seek to become like him – to connect what is in their hearts with how they live out their lives. In that sense, since we don’t know whether our students truly believe, our best opportunity as believers is to model spiritual disciplines for our students and encourage our students to understand the value of such practices to help us connect belief and action. We should consider both individual and corporate ways we could teach spiritual disciplines to our students so that they may become flourishing Christians who are more like Christ.

What spiritual disciplines might we as Christian educators want to model for our students? In Dallas Willard’s excellent book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, he suggests two categories of disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth:

Disciplines of Abstinence – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement – study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission

Where do we naturally begin when we think about developing a desire to love and serve Christ in students? In James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, he suggests that story and worship practices are critical to a truly Christian education:

1) Spirit – imagination – narrative – body – heart: “In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story. And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment— by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.”

2) Practices focused on worship – communal practices – formation of habits: “Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the “core” of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship.”

Are we up to the modeling challenge this year? Let’s work with students on life habits and spiritual disciplines so that they may flourish.

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Flourishing – Understanding how God has gifted (students) and called them

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

I had two differing experiences in my educational career that dealt with the aspect of vocation. One was in my 8th grade year when my teacher took some time with each of us to talk about our individual talents and how we might use them in high school and beyond. A second came during a very confusing time of life as a college freshman – seeking direction in the guidance office, I was given a vocational test. The test suggested that I should consider becoming a rabbi; I thought this a curious outcome since I was not Jewish, but an evangelical attending an evangelical college. (Given that I am writing this blog on nurturing student faith, maybe that test was not that far off! :) Needless to say, one experience was helpful, and the other was not particularly so.

I hope that as K-16 institutions, we are now doing a much better job with helping students understand how God has gifted them and also helping to discern God’s call in their lives. But I wish I had more certainty – please write if you feel this is an area of strength in your school – I would love to share what you are doing!

Over the last decade, the recognition in the business world, that we should be working from our strengths rather than spending time trying to build weak areas, is a welcome relief to our previous deficit approach. I am specifically referring to the work done by Clifton and Buckingham and the numerous books written as follow-ups to this groundbreaking work. Using a strengths model, I believe that the time is ripe for us to better equip students through identifying their gifts/talents and having them practice using their gifts/talents in team settings. We have said that we believe all children can learn, so then we can’t continue to teach in the same ways – we need to be helping students know who they are and how God has wired them, thereby optimizing their talents in the classroom. Secondly, we know that cooperative learning is a research proven strategy, but unless we have identified individual gifts/talents, we likely will not effectively put project groups together where talents are maximized.

Last month I shared what Beaver County Christian is doing with having their alumni come in and talk about how their Christian education is impacting their careers. One of the benefits that I like about this project is that it serves to cultivate the missional imagination of the students. Through the stories shared by the alumni, students can begin to imagine how they might be listening for, and living out, God’s call in their lives. As a child I was brought to “missionary union meetings” to hear how missionaries were making an impact on the world out there. Although I didn’t always enjoy going, I usually enjoyed the engaging stories, the cool artifacts, and learning about the world on the other side of the globe. I realize now that my parents were trying to expand my missional imagination!

We are living in a time where we have a greater global awareness through our connectivity, more movement toward a personalized student educational experience, and more understanding how teams function best.  These three aspects may indicate that this is a perfect time of convergence around better equipping our students to flourish through understanding their gifts/talents and how God is calling them. What is working well in this area at your school?

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Filed under Biblical worldview, church partnering, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture, mission development, student outcomes