The Building Blocks of Faith describe four spiritual needs that are met in Christ:
the need to belong
the need to know and understand
the need to have hope
the need to be called and equipped
Although the Building Blocks of Faith were primarily developed with churches in mind, this helpful model can also provide a framework and structure for curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Christian schools.
Darryl DeBoer, a co-creator of Teaching for Transformation, puts information that we teach into three categories: what our students need to know for 60 minutes, 60 days, and 60 years. In short,
60-minute information is important for us to get through our days, but has little value beyond the moment.
60-day information is information that students need to know to take a test at the end of a unit or project, but ultimately is not important beyond a particular class or school term.
60-year information is the big ideas we want our students to know and wrestle with for the rest of their lives.
The Building Blocks of Faith can help educators focus on those 60-year big ideas. As we design the units we teach, using Essential Questions in combination with the Building Blocks can help us focus on those big ideas. It also helps us view our students not as “brains on a stick,”to quote James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love (p. 3), but holistically, as image-bearers of God.
Here is an example from a social studies unit that uses essential questions and the Building Blocks to explore issues involving immigration and justice.
Who am I? In what ways is our identity defined by others? How does God’s Word shape our identity?
What is community? How are decisions made about who is included and who is not?
How do we evaluate the importance of historical events?
Who decides how laws and rules apply? What is the relationship between laws in the Bible and the laws of our country?
Why do human rights need to be protected?
How does our view of God’s Kingdom inform our vision for the society we live in?
Calling and Equipping
What obstacles keep us from becoming involved in helping others?
How does a kingdom view of justice inform how we treat others?
As educators, we know that students learn best when they feel safe and respected. Again, the Building Blocks provide some valuable guidance. How do our classrooms demonstrate that our students belong? Does our instruction also help our students identify their callings and equip them for work in God’s kingdom?
One of the emphases in classrooms recently has been an emphasis on social/emotional learning. At my own school we have used components from Expeditionary Learning (EL Education) or Crew to give structure to our teaching on a daily basis. Morning meetings, team building, and sharing times are built into our day. When the curriculum is taught through the lens of instruction informed by the Building Blocks, we know that our students will be more receptive to learning and respectful to their learning community. Here are some examples of activities that I have used in my music classroom.
How do we model for students that learning is ongoing, never complete, and a journey, rather than hoops to jump through? The Building Blocks, by their very definition, are not end points but rather a way of seeing our life in Christ as a process of lifelong learning.
Thankfully, many educators have been experimenting with assessment tools that reflect this ongoing process. As Dr. Dave Mulder recently mentioned in a professional development session on assessment that I attended, two areas of education that really understand assessment well are kindergarten and graduate school. In kindergarten, letter grades are rarely used. Instead, a set of criteria are used that not only reflect learning targets (knowing), but also belonging, having hope, and equipping. In graduate school, typically students continue to revise and redo their work until they have mastered the skill or concept.
One way we reflect this ongoing journey through assessments is by giving students multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning. In the Christian life we realize that we have never “arrived,” so we can model this to our students through allowing them to have multiple opportunities to show proficiency.
A second way in which we have learned to show progress is by using formative assessments more frequently. Formative assessments are ways to check for understanding throughout a lesson or unit. Here are some great examples of quick formative assessment activities shared by Dr. Mulder. The Building Blocks again can help us with this by making sure that we are checking for understanding not only in content but also in how students are learning in community (belonging), connecting their learning to God’s promises (hope), and learning to practice the skills they learn (calling and equipping.) As an example, here are some formative assessment strategies for a high school science classroom.
And third, the Building Blocks can help students as they reflect on their learning. The reflection prompts in this document not only show mastery in knowledge, but also, belonging, equipping, and hope for the future.
In my own music classroom I have used the Building Blocks in planning lessons, in the way I interact with my students on a daily basis, and in my assessment of their learning. The framework provided by the Building Blocks has over and over again reminded me that what I teach should become part of students’ lives, not just for the next few weeks or months, but as they continue to wrestle with who they are and God’s place for them in God’s kingdom.