The Recipe: Cooking Up an Integrated Syllabus

The aim of this post is to offer step-by-step help in creating a biblically integrated syllabus. The syllabus can be described as the plan, the contract, or the map for the whole course. But here I am making the case that you can think of your syllabus as a recipe.

A recipe is the guide for making a dish. It outlines the tools, the heats, the ingredients, and more. Those who follow a clear recipe for a great dish often save themselves from frustration and disappointment. Having a recipe does not guarantee success; executing the meal is still necessary. But it is important to construct  your dish before it goes into the oven. Likewise, it will take the whole year to bake your course, but it should be fully constructed before you add the heat of the school year.

[Note of encouragement: In order to succeed, you do not need to throw away your existing material. This process outlined below is designed to help you improve what you already have.]

Step 1: Picture

It wasn’t always this way, but now most people find their recipes on the internet. Since webpages aren’t limited by space or color, we most often see a beautiful picture of the dish being described. This is usually at the top of the page. Why? Because it is a visual summary of what you can expect if you follow the instructions. Your course description can be thought of in the same way. The course description paints the picture for your class. It shows the students a snapshot of what they are getting into.

So, what does an integrated course description look like? And how do we get there? I engaged the topic of course descriptions in a previous post that is certainly worth reading. Here, like with a recipe, I am simply going to give some clear directions.

First, look at the course description that you have already constructed. If you have not included a course description in your syllabus, it is imperative that you write one. It does not need to be long, and there are many examples that you can access on the internet. Here is the course description/rationale from WRIT201: Intro to Creative Writing from Liberty University.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing, including how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction. The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality.”

In order to integrate this description, we need to start asking the essential worldview questions that we want the students to be able to answer throughout this course. (For some help, check out this post.)

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? ). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?).”

These are just a few of the questions that we could ask (others might show the connection and importance of story-telling/fiction to Jesus’ parables, etc.), but these three questions are enough to fuel our integrated course from start to finish. Once we have the essential worldview questions in place, we want to design a biblical framework for answering them.

Our course descriptions must have scriptural basis. We cannot be biblical integrators without using the Bible. A Spirit-led class = A Scripture-led class. God has elected to speak to us through his Word, and we need not look for any other word from Him because the Bible is God-breathed—useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God will be fully equipped for every good work. His Word is sufficient. And his Word is the only authority for the church. Therefore, if you want God to work and lead and speak in your classroom, make space for his voice—the Bible. Let us not try to make God mute by emptying our syllabi of his words. So, next we investigate some ways in which the Bible speaks to our course questions.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means? → Because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15.), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? → Because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means. 2 Pet 1:20-21.). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works? → Because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively. Matt 28:18-20.).”

We are nearly done with our course description. Now we take out the essential questions, but leave the responses and Scripture references.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). This will include how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means (2 Pet 1:20-21). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively (Matt 28:18-20).”

Now that is a nicely integrated course description! And every other portion of the syllabus flows easily from there.

Step 2: Pieces

The next part of a recipe (after the picture) is a list of ingredients—getting all the pieces together. The syllabus should have a list of assessments, projects, etc. as well. These are your course ingredients.

For our Creative Writing class, we might have a list of assignments that looks like this:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices.

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art.

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class.

Your syllabus likely already has something like this laid out within it. In order to integrate this section, simply take the questions that you asked in the course description and add them to the appropriate assignment as an essential integration question like so:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?)

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note and evaluate the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand what an author means?)

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?)

Now, whenever you use your class time for a quiz/paper/essay, you have an integration question to work with: your assignments match and are married to your course description. The work is done, and you do not need to create new integration questions for any day that you engage one of these assignments. And, because you already have a biblical rationale to answer these questions in your course description, you are in great shape to reinforce what the Bible teaches throughout the year. You can keep going back to the central ideas that you have already laid out. This little bit of work now saves you much time and struggle later. And won’t it be great to finish the year and know that your students have grasped the ways in which their creative writing course is built from and toward God’s glory?

Step 3: Process

The final part of a recipe is the process—when and how to do what. In our syllabus, it is the same. We have all the components, but we need to have a plan for how to fit them together. This is where unit planning and your course objectives come in. Here are the measurable learning outcomes from Liberty’s WRIT201 course:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course.
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview.

All we need to do in order to integrate these objectives/outcomes is bring in our questions and answers from the course description and assignments. Notice what I mean below:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in order to better understand important works including the Bible.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works in order grasp and rightly respond to the underlying worldview.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course in order to grow in creative and technical proficiency for the advancement of the gospel
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing in order to use my gifts to honor God.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others in order to better serve the church and reach the world.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview to grow in understand of God, his Word, and his world.

Conclusion

I want to encourage and challenge you to make time to integrate your syllabi. It is a process, and it does take work. But it is an investment that I know you and your students will find worthwhile. More than that—it grounds your course in the Word, worldview thinking, and discipleship.

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Careful Bible Quoting and Tired Teachers

I love God’s Word. I love to read it. I love to sing it. And I love when people quote the Bible. It can be wonderful to hear God’s words on the lips of God’s people. But the Bible is a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), so it can also be disturbing and dangerous when Bible quotation is misused. Let me share an example.

Over the course of this week, I have shared with friends and family that I am tired. It is the end of the school-year and this is a busy time. Events are often. Grading piles are deep. Emotions are strong. During a one of these conversations, someone quoted the King James Version of Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” He used it to remind me that God made today, and we should be joyful in the fact that He made it for us. This is a good sentiment. And I am joyful. However, there is a big problem with this interpretation—basically, that is not what the text actually means. And it is less than the text means.

Psalm 118 is a celebration of God’s saving plan and power. It extols Him for bringing salvation to his people through hardship. To get a picture of the true message of this psalm, look at what verses 20-24 say in the NIV translation:

20 This is the gate of the Lord
   through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
   you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.

When we read the context, it is difficult to miss that this is actually a messianic prophecy about Jesus. In Acts 4 there is even more clarity when we read Peter quoting this passage correctly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He said,

Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected,
  which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The danger of misreading Psalm 118:24 to be about rejoicing today without having a gospel-motivation is two-fold: 1) When we do that, we are not actually letting God speak through the Bible—we are putting our message into God’s Word instead of hearing his message. We are missing out on hearing his voice. 2) When we do that, we remove a clear declaration about Jesus, our Messiah, and replace it with a moral challenge. “This day” in the text is not today, but the day of salvation. But the day of salvation should make us joyful today.

As a tired teacher, there is something much more encouraging than a call to be joyful because God made today. There is something deeper, richer, better. There is real Good News. What actually can make a tired teacher joyful? The gospel. Jesus has saved me. In the words of Psalm 118, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.” Why should a tired teacher be glad? Because of the gospel.

Please hear this call from one teacher to another: work hard to read the Bible in order to grasp what God really says in it… his message is better than whatever we could replace it with. And let’s work hard together to share the true message with our students.

How Does the Holy Spirit Speak in the Classroom?

I recently asked a student, “How can you know what God wants you to do? How can we listen to the Holy Spirit?” The answer was fascinating. The student answered by pointing to prayer, talking to parents/mentors, and turning off the smartphone. While those are helpful and needed answers, the foundation was missing. Even after much prodding, the student could not seem to get there. Of course, the key to knowing God’s will is listening to his words… the Bible.

It is amazing that many seem to miss that God is speaking still today through his ancient words. Scripture is living and active (Heb 4:12). It is fully equips us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). It comes down to this: you cannot know the Lord if you don’t listen to Him speak. And, while there are variations between English translations, there are about 800,000 words in the Bible we read. There is no question in the believer’s mind that these 800,000 are God’s own words. This is the objective message of God. So we must hammer home that in order for students to hear the voice of God, they need to listen to Him speak through his Word. Do we want to hear the Spirit speak? Do we really? If so, we must go to the Word.

And, of course, we know that. How did the student know that it is important to pray, speak to wise mentors, and eliminate distractions? From the Word.

A pastor painted this picture beautifully for me from the Bible. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NLT) says, “17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we understand what God wants us to do? By being filled with the Spirit. But how do we do that?

Look at the parallel passage from Colossians 3, “16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Here Paul replaces his statement about being filled with the Spirit with being filled with the message. So how do we know what the Spirit says? How can we become filled with the Spirit? Become filled with the Spirit’s message. Become filled with the Word. He is the Author of the Bible, after all.

So do you want the Spirit to speak powerfully in your classroom? Then give the Bible, the Spirit’s own words, a prominent voice in your teaching.

The Holy Spirit and Your Class

Jared Wilson, in Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life, says,

“The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit can’t be pumped and scooped. He can’t be slung around, gathered up, or dispensed. He’s not pixie dust. There’s no such thing as the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is not a thing at all, but the very presence of the personal God himself—with us, in us, and around us.”

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of the most misunderstood ideas in the church today, and much hard work needs to be done to help get us back onto a healthy track. However, I think this quote gives us a good place to start. It helpfully reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and that Person is God Himself. For a more in-depth look at the Holy Spirit in education, download the paper below. I wrote it about how teachers should understand the Person and work of the Spirit. I know it will help you start thinking about this in a constructive way.

Click to Download Paper Here **The Role of the HS in Christian Ed_Hayes PDF**