Article first published in THSC REVIEW May 2014.
Home school parents talk a lot about teaching and learning. We read books, go to conferences, and attend seminars. Intuitively we know that both teaching and learning happen on many different levels, but breaking the process down can be a bit boggling.
Scripture hints of levels of competence in Exodus 35: 31. In speaking of a man named Bezalel, Moses tells the children of Israel that God has called Bezalel to the work of building the tabernacle and has “filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship.” Modern educators use a tool called Bloom’s taxonomy to break down these terms and define them incrementally. By understanding the levels of learning, parents can teach in ways that help their children learn to their maximum potential.
The most basic level of learning is remembering information. As we introduce children to primary information, we may ask them to recognize and memorize certain elementary facts. Learning in the early years tends to center on activities like matching, listing, selecting, or labeling. These exercises help children to internalize the basics. Checking for proficiency at this level may be as simple as asking your child to rewrite or describe the information.
We would likely all agree that it is not enough to parrot data. We want to know that our students grasp the concepts behind the facts. To test your children’s understanding, you might invite them to explain the information in their own words, give examples, summarize, discuss, or predict how the bits of information they have gathered might play out in real life. This last exercise prepares them to segue into the next level of learning.
Students demonstrate a firm grasp of new concepts by showing that they can apply their new skills to a variety of similar-but-different situations. Repeated application results in mastery. Challenge students to develop proficiency by solving story problems, modifying samples, drawing illustrations to show cause and effect, or using their new skills in a presentation. Unit study activities are a wonderful way to pull these first steps together and cement them in memory.
These first three levels give students the tools for thinking. Too often “schooling” stops there, but true education does not. Now that our students have the tools for thinking, we must teach them how to use their tools and build on their knowledge.
To develop wisdom, students must know which tools to use in which situations. We can help them separate their new skills into components, sorting facts from theory. At this phase they may benefit from examining, categorizing, comparing and contrasting, outlining, or diagramming–breaking down the components in new ways to understand how they fit together. It is at this level that students begin to make interdisciplinary connections. For example, they may realize that the invention of the printing press (science) enabled Shakespeare’s plays (art) to be published and sold as books (literature) to a newly literate population (history), standardizing English spelling and punctuation (grammar).
By this time your student is beginning to weigh his growing collection of facts and form his own value judgments. Isn’t this exactly what we hope our children will be able to do as adults? They are learning to assess alternatives and make wise choices. We can reinforce their development by creating opportunities for them to critique options, to make their own decisions, and to offer persuasive recommendations. They may begin to enjoy activities such as debate, essay writing, or volunteering in civic causes.
The ultimate product of an educated mind is creativity. When we create we recombine bits of our experience to construct new ideas into new forms that take on new meaning. Once your child reaches this level of learning, the knowledge he has mastered will begin to bloom in beautiful ways that may amaze him—and you! Then the process begins anew as he tackles new challenges.
Knowledge is meant to change us. It changes us on three levels. First, it changes our minds, then it changes our hearts, and, finally, it changes our lives. Remember our friend Bezalel? His Hebrew name means “in the shadow of God.” Christian education literally teaches us to live in the shadow of God—to take our thoughts captive and to allow the Lord to shape our character. Then, as each man thinketh, and out of the fullness of our hearts, we speak and we live.