by Shirley K. Morgenthaler, Ph.D.
Turning Instruction Inside Out: Trusting the Child in the Faith Formation Process
For more than a decade teachers, administrators, and teacher educators have been studying the concept of inside-out classrooms and teaching. The process involves giving the student the needed information in advance and then using classroom time for application, analysis, evaluation, and creativity. If the last four words in the previous sentence sound familiar, it’s because they are the higher-order thinking skills of Bloom’s taxonomy. While that taxonomy has been around for several decades, it is only in the past decade or so that educators have become serious about finding ways to implement the higher-order categories of thinking and learning.
Just like classrooms, churches need to address the issues and concepts that arise from addressing the upper levels of children’s learning. We need to move beyond our emphasis on knowledge and understanding to help children work on faith applications, faith analysis, evaluation of their understandings to their lives, and give ways to implement their understandings into their lives and activities.
First of all, we need to trust children to learn and to analyze their learning. Is this right? Does it make sense? Does Jesus help me make sense of the salvation story? I will trust the Holy Spirit to support me in my faith journey with Jesus. Remember that we can present the Gospel to children, but only the Holy Spirit can form faith in their hearts.
We need to consider inside-out classrooms in the Sunday School and the sanctuary. That means giving stories and materials for children to read and process with their families. This actually puts the responsibility for teaching the faith where God put it. Into the hands and arms of the parents. The inside-out part of Sunday School and worship then becomes an application, an analysis and evaluation of what they are learning at home.
As leaders, we need to walk and learn alongside children as they learn to apply their faith to their lives. This will mean developing discussion groups, prayer partners, and faith sponsors in our congregations. Children need to learn from their parents. But they also need to observe and enjoy the faith walk of various saints in the congregation. To see that faith is lived personally and powerfully by people they see in church and Sunday School each week. This might mean taking 15 minutes out of the Sunday School time and putting it into a Faith Partners time, where children meet with assigned adults in pairs and small groups to pray, to discuss their faith walks of the past week, to listen to the faith stories of their adult friends.
These same pairs and small groups can be used to help children evaluate their understanding of God. What do they know about God? What do they want to know about God? What do they need to know about God? How and where can they learn these things? How can their faith mentor and prayer partner help them learn or discover those things?
Finally, we need to celebrate children as they create ways to share the good news of Jesus with friends and family. As a congregation, we can plan an annual storytelling afternoon to hear the reports of children’s faith journeys over the past year.
With whom did they share the good news of Jesus love and salvation this past year? Did that friend attend Sunday School or Church as a result?
How has their prayer life grown over the past year?.Wh
What exciting new thing did they learn about Jesus over this past year?
What do they want to learn over the next year? What do they want to understand more fully?
The culmination of this event could be the staple for church events, the ice cream social. Let this be another time for adults and children to learn from each other.
Dr. Shirley K Morgenthaler is a Distinguished Professor of Education, emerita at Concordia University Chicago and a member of the Children's Spirituality Summit Board of Directors. She served as president of the Chicago Association for the Education of Young Children and the Illinois Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators