working together so learners can flourish

Alasdair MacIntyre said “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”[1] The spirituality/faith/beliefs that grow out of the story or stories we inhabit precede and inform our rationality and our practices. “Practices are essentially belief-shaped, and beliefs are essentially practice-shaping.”[2]  Elliot Eisner states that education is “a political undertaking because it reveals in its practice a conception of human nature, a view of the human mind, an image of what the young can become, and a vision that can guide us as we try to invent the future.”[3]  As Christians we have a particular way of making sense of the world and our place in it. Consequently, the way we answer the 4 questions of Learner-Centered Collaboration must be shaped by what we believe – about the nature of human beings, the nature of the world we study, the kinds of lives we are called to live [the nature of the good life], and, therefore, our convictions about the purpose of schooling. In short, we need to strive for faith-informed answers to the four questions.4Q2

Our answers to the questions and the practices that follow from them must ultimately be about shaping lives not just meeting standards or achieving learning targets. We need to keep the larger vision in mind – an act of imagination. Consider this example by Etienne Wenger:

Two stonecutters . . . are asked what they are doing. One responds: “I am cutting this stone in a perfectly square shape.” The other responds: “I am building a cathedral.” Both answers are correct and meaningful, but they reflect different relations to the world. The difference between these answers does not imply that one is a better stonecutter than the other, as far as holding the chisel is concerned. At the level of engagement, they may well be doing the exact same thing. But it does suggest that their experience of what they are doing and their sense of self in doing it are rather different. This difference is a function of imagination. As a result, they may be learning very different things from the same activity.[4]

Implicit in the 4 questions is a question of justice. We want all students to have access to a quality course of study. We want all students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a manner that truly reveals learning. We want all students to have access to teaching and learning activities that are meaningful, engaging, and effective. And we want all students to have the opportunity to relearn or to go deeper. Its all about justice – for us, justice biblically defined.

Biblical justice works toward God’s intention for his creation – shalom – a broad vision of human flourishing in which humans live in right relationship with God, others, themselves, and the rest of creation. We are created in the image of God to keep and serve his creation. Because of this, we together with the rest of creation are of great worth. Biblical justice requires that we be attentive to the worth of the other and to all the ways in which the other can be wronged. Nicholas Wolterstorff reminds us that “Teachers stand before the students as authority figures with power at their disposal; that makes it easy for them to wrong the students.”[5]   Our answers to the 4 questions should define what ‘right relationships’ look like in our learning spaces (with each other and with that which we study) and be attentive to the ‘fine texture of injustice’ that might invade and distort them.

John Amos Comenius, a Moravian bishop writing in the 17th century, helps us take an important step further. He said that to treat any individual injuriously, or to deny them the benefits of education, is to “commit an injury not only against those who share the same nature as ourselves, but against God himself.”[6]  His normative image of learning spaces and individuals is of “gardens of delight.” Youth must be taught from the beginning , he urges, “that we are born not for ourselves alone, but for God and for our neighbour, that is to say the human race.”[7]  The end of education, he says should be that “the entire world should be a garden of delight for God, for people, and for things.”[8]

What a delightful vision and framework for addressing the 4 questions of learner-centered collaboration.

[1] Alasdair C. MacIntrye, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p.216.

[2] David Smith, “Recruiting Students’ Imaginations,” in Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith & Learning, ed. David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), p. 213.

[3] Elliot W. Eisner, “Back to the Whole” in Educational Leadership, 63:1 (September 2005) p. 18.

[4] Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) p.176.

[5] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Teaching Justly for Justice” in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 33.

[6] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 8.

[7] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 9.

[8] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 9.

elaine brouwer

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Comments on: "Framing the 4 Questions of Learner-centered Collaboration: cultivating “gardens of delight”" (1)

  1. Our junior and senior high students have expressed concern over their workloads and subsequent stress levels. To address this, the staff has implemented a homeroom at the end of the day. The students place homework they have received in each class on the board. This allows every student to review their planner and gives a staff member the opportunity to intervene should workloads appear excessive. We also have a test and project calendar that we share in the hopes that we can spread out more high stakes work.

    The system still does not address individual student learners. As a result, we have gone back to the drawing board. Using the LCC model, we are attempting to identify the attributes of a healthy learner in our school. Data is being collected in homerooms, and each class at the end of block days collects individual student responses to frustration levels in that class. Our goal is to identify the attributes of a “healthy” learner, use the data we have collected to see how it matches up against the attributes we have identified, determine adjustments for those who struggle with their “health” and maintain those who are “healthy.” Finally we will retest to see if the changes we make stick.

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