Essay: Teaching and Formation
Teaching and Formation
When I was in secondary school, the report card in many of my classes included not only a grade and percentage for the semester, but a rank showing where I finished relative to other students. Sometimes test scores were read out in class in ascending order. Besides what I learned about the subjects that I was studying, I was taught that learning was about competition, and that I had a vested interest in the failure of others. If they did less well, I placed higher.
This is one example that what goes on in schools and classrooms is much more than the transfer of information. Whether we acknowledge it or not, education is not just a process of information, but of formation. Formation does not imply that students are completely molded and controlled by their teachers—they are not. It simply means that the daily teaching and learning practices in which we participate shape our sense of who we are as learners and what learning is all about. Which questions are emphasized or left out, ways we are encouraged and expected to interact with others, the pace of work, and the goals that are articulated—all of these, and more, contribute to the learning experience. Education is not just about ideas; practices matter.
Recognizing that practices matter affects how we approach teaching about faith and science. Teaching FASTly—giving both Faith And Science their proper place in our Teaching—is about more than debates over facts; it emphasizes and facilitates three important insights:
- The Christian life is not just about beliefs and theological truths, but about practices of prayer, care for others, humility, peacemaking, hospitality, truth seeking, and so on. These practices are the fruit of faith that grow in us and shape us. Within these practices we learn to be virtuous and Christ-like.
- Science is not just a collection of facts and theories. It is made up of practices of collaboration, attentiveness, and perseverance. These practices arise from and shape the discipline of science. They challenge our character as well as our understanding. Within these practices we learn to seek scientific truth.
- Classrooms are not just places where information is transferred, but include practices that shape how we interact with others, what we focus on or ignore, how we handle conflict and uncertainty, and what questions are rewarded. These practices communicate a vision of the purpose of learning. Within these practices students grow as learners and develop their vision for the future.
Teaching FASTly means putting these three insights together. It means asking what kind of person is being formed by the patterns of practice in our teaching and learning. If learners engage fully with the opportunities offered them, what virtues will they develop? What modes of engagement will they learn to find comfortable? What kinds of participants in the disciplines of science and the practices of faith will they become? As you read and use the activity maps and the individual activities, ask yourself what kind of formative influence they might be aiming for. What do our practices tell students about who they should be?