The Christian school of today has to be both strategic and creative in terms of defining, delivering, documenting, and refining the learning program.
Schools, particularly, Christian schools have traditionally put a strong emphasis on the three core areas (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). We do this in hopes of instilling a high quality curriculum that honors God. Many Christian schools see themselves as counter to the educational establishment. Thus, they have the perception that they can remain distinctive and even counter-cultural by holding onto a timeless knowledge-based curriculum. However, schools that are pursuing excellence and striving to incorporate contemporary research and understanding of how we learn need to be open to change while guarding the sanctity of being God honoring. In all cases I would say that each Christian school holds the burden of creating programs that will be unique, relevant, and forward-thinking. Active learning is such an approach to teaching and learning. Essentially, we are convinced that the student needs to be a part of the learning and active in the instruction process. Research says that passive learners do not learn or have the same level of understanding that students who are intimately involved in the material and learning.
History of Active Learning at Salem Christian School
Integral to SCS’s design is a discipleship model. We desire that the faculty work closely with each student and serve as mentors to maturing young Christians. Active Learning (AL), has been something we have been working on for a few years. Specifically, we are endeavoring to provide an active learning model that offers students learning experiences that include yet surpass traditional learning models, as it effectively builds both academic and life skills in students. Our model looks at students as apprentices. We desire to come alongside the student and guide them towards mastery of the skills and content.
AL, as defined and developed at Salem Christian School, starts from two premises:
- that good teaching is diverse in its delivery, expectations, and format so that it matches the students’ learning and developmental needs and;
- Project Based Learning allows for diverse modes of delivery that encourages the learner to be actively engaged in the process. It is an effort to recognize that all students are created by God with unique gifts and talents and that a learning program beyond books and paper is apt to reach a student at least differently or perhaps better.
We look at data, research, and practices that originally arose in the 1980’s. In the beginning educators were generally looking for better alternatives of assessment, learning styles, and overall school reform. To read more about this you can reference prominent voices in education such as Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Cynthia Tobias (The Way They Learn), Jay McTighe (Understanding by Design), and Grant Wiggins (Authentic Education). Additionally, a great resource would be Essential Questions by Tighe and Wiggins. Collectively these works in addition to the teaching methods of Jesus have informed our teaching and curricular goals.
Our practice is directly informed by the emphasis on Expected Student Outcomes (ESOs), by organizations such as the Association of Christian Schools International, Pennsylvania State Standards, and the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. Secondly, the newer Wiggins/McTighe material, “Understanding by Design,” offers much in the realm of performance assessment.
What Active Learning Looks Like at SCS:
All forms of alternative learning models have multiple expressions or names. Fundamentally, educational leaders have to decide if the form under consideration is going to be an inner classroom approach, an interdisciplinary approach, or an out-of-classroom approach. In our setting, all effort in this regard is in addition to the core knowledge curriculum. This can best be seen by looking at the daily schedule. We have block scheduling so that the student can deeper engage the content in the high school, minimal core teachers in the middle school, and adequate allotted time to the crucial material in elementary. Additionally, we have Math Lab in the high school. This course is unique to SCS and is project based learning so that the students can deepen their math skills in addition to better preparation for the SAT and PSAT. Some of the most important outcomes of a project include creativity, collaboration, time and deadline management, resource allocation, and a myriad of other skills transferable to larger life.
This year, we are working to organize all of our programatic choices on data we are collecting. We hope to use the data to bring about a better understanding of what our students are retaining. Thus, we can develop a stronger efficacy in the classroom experience for everyone. The goal is that students will learn to see how learning is their responsibility and that the instructor’s responsibility is to ensure that the content and skills are presented in a manner that inspires the students to think bigger and bolder.
Active Learning is not an end in itself, but merely underpins the overall learning program at our school. I mention this because there is a tendency in the realm of alternative assessment to sideline good, solid, and worthwhile content learning in the name of “experiential learning.” Active learning reaches beyond experiential. It does not transform the instructor into an actor on stage. Rather, it pulls everyone into the process. It shares responsibility. Similar to theater production, each act, scene, and line are different depending on the actor and script. This is challenging. Some of us do better than others. And, some subjects better lend to the model. However, everyone is expected to be working towards this end. God calls us for excellence, a constant move towards “better”. SCS develops students to love God with all their mind, body, and soul so that we meet the holistic outcomes of a biblically based, God honoring, robust, and life-shaping Christian education.