Back in my teaching days, I asked high school students in a writing course to write down the ideal age of life (12? 21? 35? 65?). Students had to present reasons for their choice. Most chose an age older than they were at the time. A solid minority chose an age they had already passed. Why? Hardly any decisions to make; no chores; plenty of playtime
Over time that led me to consider not the ideal age of life but the age at which most adults have settled in to their worldview, to commitments in relationships, and to handling stuff: money, property, environment. That age seemed to be 35. In today’s culture, with more than one sociologist claiming that young adults are unsure of jobs, relationships, church, residence, etc., often as late as 30, maybe the settling in comes a bit past 35.
This past school year for “professional development,” in the Christian school where I work, the teachers concentrated on the “long view” for planning, implementing, and testing their lessons. We started with this: “What are the enduring understandings (skills and concepts) you expect our current students to know and act on when they are 35?” It’s planning backwards: first name the measureable goal; next, plan lessons that will help students get further down the road to that goal; then, design the “test” (oral, written, construction, etc.) that will measure progress; and, finally, design activities that will help the most students to “get it,” get the “enduring understanding.”
The teachers’ best work came from those who combined biblical principles to subject matter to student’s lives. That work included persistent repetition, illustrations in multiple units, and connections to students’ lives. What follows are some of the actual “tests” the teachers used to evaluate progress.
- Math. “My enduring understanding was that math is used in everyday life, in careers, and to glorify God. My Algebra 2 students created a budget for themselves based on a specific scenario I gave them. They had to write a reflection of this process and incorporate Scripture. Many talked about stewardship and being wise with finances. They did a great job!”
- Science. “In Grade 8 in a unit on astronomy, I had my students read Psalm 19:1–6 and Job 9:1–10 and then tell how this Bible writer describes the relationship of God to the objects in the sky and to human beings. Next, tell how your study of the skies and the Bible passages influence your relationship to God.”
- Music. “My enduring understanding is that music is a tactile community experience to communicate spiritual ideas. My first assessment for this idea in orchestra was to listen to the ‘I have a Dream Speech’ by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, then see a video of it, and then with music without and with video. Students compared and contrasted all the renditions and named which emotions each example created for us. The collective agreement was that seeing the passion in Dr. King’s face and hearing the emotional music accompanying the speech, elicited emotions and a connection were hard to explain.”
- Bible for Chinese Students. “I chose to teach students that God is love and that Christians are followers of Christ. I am teaching all four Gospels. For every event we covered, I emphasized these themes because almost all of my students thought of the Christian God as mean, sexist, and cruel; they considered Christians as people who go to church every Sunday to give an offering. Each day of exam week, I am showing the Gospel of John because it emphasizes how God is love. After each section, students will write what the event shows about Christ’s love.”
- Art. “I wanted students to learn how to love their neighbor by recognizing God’s image in someone else – learning how to give respectful and helpful feedback. I did this through a portraiture project: They needed to introduce themselves to someone outside their usual social circle and spend some time together, e.g., eating lunch. They learned the student’s name and interests and then asked to take their portrait. In class critiques, they discussed how a portrait of someone you know well generally has a different mood than a portrait of someone you only recently met.
At 35, will these “tested” students act on these enduring understandings? I think so. One writer on schooling says, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” That means testing for the truth at every level of Christian education.
– Dan Vander Ark