working together so learners can flourish

Posts tagged ‘David I Smith’

How does faith affect teaching and learning? #2

In my last post, I called attention to a site called whatiflearning.com. I suggested that perusal of the resources on this site might aid us in our continual quest to make it more likely that our Christian faith will be integral to our teaching and learning. In this post, I continue an exploration of this resource.

whatiflearning examples

The ‘What if Learning’ approach uses three steps in designing teaching and learning – seeing anew, choosing engagement, and reshaping practice. The intent of the steps is to underline a “concern with how teaching and learning happen, not just with what content gets taught and when certain Christian words and ideas feature in the curriculum.”Cogs-Seeing-Anew-Engagement-Reshaping-Practice

 

The first step “Seeing anew“, “is about being open to new ways of looking at our teaching and what goes on in our classrooms, ways that can let connections with faith, hope, and love come into focus. Shifting from looking at a learning activity just in terms of the information conveyed, for example, to seeing it as at the same time a chance for moral growth or spiritual challenge can open up new possibilities.”

 

The authors offer examples of ways that Christian faith might lead us to see anew – in ways of seeing our pursuit of learning, our place in the world, our life together, and our service. The list is meant to be evocative, not exhaustive.

 

Examples of the “seeing anew” approach include:

 

Many more ‘what if’ scenarios are offered each with a discussion of strategies for engagement as well as an elementary and secondary example for each.

 

The plentiful resources on whatiflearning.com offer us a new lens and a new set of vocabulary with which to consider what we are currently doing. The examples offered, which are the heart of the site, can spark rich discussions of how we can make it more likely by design that our Christian faith will be integral to our teaching and learning.

 

As your staff engages with the ideas on this site, I encourage to share your own examples of seeing anew, choosing engagement, and reshaping practice. Through intentional collaboration, we can strengthen and encourage each other in our collective journey toward a distinctively Christian approach to teaching and learning.

elaine brouwer, director of alta vista

How does faith affect teaching and learning?

As Christian educators we are always on the lookout for authentic ways to make it more likely that our Christian faith will be integral to our teaching and learning. We want to avoid the bookends or the icing on the cake.

As one way to address that concern, I want to explore in this and future posts an approach described anCHOC CAKEd illustrated on a site called ‘What if Learning.’ In a Powerpoint on the site, the authors use the image of “a triple chocolate cake” to illustrate “where Christianity influences the ethos, the content of the curriculum, AND the teaching and learning.” Check it out.

The site is intentionally built around concrete examples of elementary and secondary teachers connecting their Christian faith with their teaching using three great strands of Christian thought and action – faith, hope, and love (I Corinthians 13:13).

whatiflearning examples

Each example includes:

  1. A brief commentary explaining how it connects with a Christian understanding of faith, hope and love.
  2. A brief explanation of how it connects with the ‘What If Learning’ approach.
  3. Suggestions for how you could create more examples like it.
  4. Hints for digging deeper into some Christian ideas that might illuminate the example.

example

A glance at a few of the titles of the examples (102 in all) gives you a glimpse of the ‘What if Learning’ approach:

titlesCogs-Seeing-Anew-Engagement-Reshaping-Practice

The ‘What if Learning’ approach uses three steps in designing teaching and learning – seeing anew, choosing engagement, and reshaping practice. The intent of the steps is to underline a “concern with how teaching and learning happen, not just with what content gets taught and when certain Christian words and ideas feature in the curriculum.” These steps are meant to serve as aids in focusing on some key points of contact between Christianity and the way we teach. More on these ‘steps’ in future posts. In the meantime, I encourage to explore a few of the examples.

elaine brouwer, director of alta vista

Framing the 4 Questions of Learner-centered Collaboration: cultivating “gardens of delight”

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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