Core Practice: Formational Learning Experiences

 

“It is nothing but a pious wish and a grossly unwarranted hope that students trained to be passive and non-creative in school will suddenly, upon graduation, actively contribute to the formation of Christian culture.” Nicholas Wolterstorff

Every Christian school classroom must provide authentic (real work, real need, real people) opportunities for students to practice living the Kingdom story. This practice becomes a habit, shaping who we are.

Wolterstorff suggests, strongly, that students must be given the opportunity to do God’s work NOW-to be active and creative in God’s story. Meaningful work creates a sense of purpose in their lives, and draws students more powerfully to God’s story. As the name suggests, Formational Learning Experiences are designed to form the students’ hearts and actions as well as their minds, equipping students to become people who live and breathe God’s story. Research and experience suggest that formational learning best emerges from experiences that get at our gut and touch our heart.

Formational learning experience in fourth grade

When fourth Grade students studied salmon as part of their science content, they learned that streams in the Seattle area are in need of restoration, specifically for salmon migration and the greater global impact of the salmon population. Students decided they wanted to do work that specifically would impact a stream or river. They decided to partner with Mountains to Greenway Trust and Earth Corps, who work for habitat restoration. Students planted native plants at Issaquah creek to restore the riparian zone near the creek. They captured their experience as earth keepers in personal narratives, and then wrote letters to the Earth Corp volunteers and Mountains to Greenway Trust. This formational learning experience led to deeper learning for students in their science and writing classes and gave them opportunity to be active participants in God’s story as community builders, earth keepers, and image reflectors!

Formational learning experience in high school

Students in Spanish 2 engaged in a semester-long formational learning experience. Every Thursday, students traveled to a nearby elementary school that hosts a bilingual Spanish/English program. Every week, they built relationships with elementary students by acting as lunch and recess buddies. In addition to opportunities to practice speaking Spanish, they also tangibly engaged with their storyline, “The Gift of the Stranger,” by listening, serving, and playing with students who come from different backgrounds and who live in different contexts. This formational learning experience led to greater engagement and academic achievement within the Spanish class itself and students also articulated ways they began to view the world and God’s love for others differently because of the relationships they built.

High school art

High School Art students were invited to meet their learning standards through creating art for Bethany Christian Services’ new office space. Bethany Christian Services works with adoption, foster care, and family support. Students visited the new office space, spoke with people who work with Bethany Christian and asked what kinds of messages the staff hoped to communicate through the art hung in the space. Students explored the question “how do you tell a story through art?” and considered how to use text, color, and imagery to communicate a story of love, joy, hope, and safety to the families who will visit the new office space. They were given the choice to work independently, in pairs, or in small groups; students also chose the medium for the art pieces they would create. When they were finished with their creations, they gifted their work to Bethany Christian Services.