Friday, May 31, 2013

Knowing and Doing

What’s a motif? Support your claim! What is human dignity and why does it matter? I want my students to know facts, master skills, and come to deep understandings. 

And I want something more. If one of my 10th grade English students can answer all the above prompts now in June, but she goes home and calls her little brother an idiot, has she mastered everything I’d hoped back in September that she would? No. The Bible talks about that kind of behavior using metaphors like tinkling brass and clanging cymbals, or forgetting the face one has seen in the mirror. Knowing implies responsibility for doing. 

Can school assess this? I think so. One of the requirements of my end-of-semester presentation is that students plan a concrete application of a biblical principal related to their presentation topic--an action they can propose at the beginning of working on their presentation, implement within the next week, and report on in their presentation. 

Some of the questions I ask and model are the following: What difference has dealing with this topic made not just inside your head, but in your life? What is one specific thing you have done as a result of thinking about this topic? 
  • To avoid kindling greed like Pahom’s (in Leo Tolstoy’s short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”), you could give up internet window-shopping for a week. 
  • To practice the kind of committed, unselfish love and communication marriage will require (coming out of our study of the plays A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare), you could really answer your mom’s question next time she asks how your day was. 

This concrete application does not require fundraising for the relief of a global issue, or hours of investment (bringing food to the homeless). It does not involve teaching or consciousness raising (“Giving this presentation to my classmates” or “Posting my project on internet”). It involves demonstrating an authentic effort to check one’s own eye for planks, a way to be a speaker with ethical appeal, and it takes only a few minutes of actual time. 

School must teach this knowing-to-doing transfer poorly. Why? My students have so much trouble getting their heads around what I’m asking them to do. I lead them through the paragraphs above. Then students turn in proposals that are general (“I’m going to be thankful”), involve consciousness raising (“I’m going to make a video”), or are long term (“I’m going to become a doctor to help people”). I think I must have done this poorly first semester, because this is my students’ second time through the same exercise, and I’m still getting these answers. 

But I think it is important to grapple with how I--how we--can do it better. Because some students are getting it, like the ones who write up the following applications:
  • "Try to develop a leadership quality despite being an introvert. Ex: Instead of going over my thoughts in my head, say what I’m thinking"
  • "Instead of telling people we love them show it by doing chores, helping them with homework"

Getting students better at this application is important because if Christian schools produce students who can write compelling Biblical perspectives of every issue in every discipline but have not love, we are nothing. If our students dream of serving their neighbors half-way around the world someday, but won’t serve their classmate today, they are not preparing to grow into the type of people who will fulfill their own dreams.

Whenever I identify something I want to help students get better at, I’ve usually designed an assessment that a couple of students do well on, and then I wonder how I can provide modeling, training, and practice to equip more students to do more of what the top performers do. I have one assessment. 

How can I provide more scaffolding? That’s part of my summer assignment.

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