Approaches to Integration: Contributor

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

————— 

The Contributor Approach to biblical integration is significantly different from the approaches discussed previously. The biblical-theology and worldview approaches hinge on the teacher using a grid of questions to structure well-organized lessons that lead toward specific truths. However, the contributor approach is different; instead of leading directly to truths, it leads to questions. 

You see, throughout life, students will not always have their teachers to guide them in biblical thinking. Therefore, it is important to teach young people to ask the right questions so that they can teach themselves. In other words, the aim of this approach is to help students learn to learn. 

So how can we do this? What does the contributor approach look like? 

The idea is to lead students in a form of directed freedom. Think of directed freedom as giving students an overarching task, but allowing them to have freedom in how they go about it. This allows them to explore, try things, make adjustments, and be creative. Here are a few ideas:

1) Academic Content Creation: Asking students to include biblical-integration as part of an assignment. For example, if your students write a book review or paper, create a project, or develop a presentation, you can ask them to include biblical integration in that work. Tell them what you are looking for and include the integration in your grading rubric. They could be asked to search the Bible for connections, develop a biblically-formed analysis, or demonstrate the truths about God that they learned. 

2) Class Discussion: After introducing a new topic in class, ask the students leading questions about how this content points to God, discipleship, brokenness, etc. For example, if a PE teacher introduces a game that requires teamwork to the class, that PE teacher could then ask, “This game requires teamwork to succeed. Can you think of any other areas of life in which teamwork is needed in or to succeed?” This could lead in many directions: family/relationships, the church, communities, etc. Or the PE teacher could ask, “We can tell who is on our team in this game by looking at the uniforms. How can we tell who is on our team in life?” This could lead students to talk about beliefs/convictions, willingness to sacrifice, and more. Another idea would be for the PE teacher to ask, “There is a difference between a good and a bad teammate. If someone is distracted or unwilling to work, that causes a problem in our game. What makes a good teammate in life? Do you think you are a good teammate? Why?” And the discussion would move ahead from there.

3) Practical/Real-Life Engagement: Different classes are passionate and equipped in different areas. Some course material opens doors for moving outside of the class environment. One class, upon learning how to address envelopes, might be asked to send a letter of encouragement to someone in their life. This gives them freedom to choose whether to write to a parent, sibling, friend or pastor. They are contributing. Another class, upon learning about the justice system, could choose to pray for those who are incarcerated by using the tools provided by Prison Fellowship. As you can see, these activities are teacher directed, but students have varying levels of freedom to engage as they think is best. They can use their own will and choice to make an impact.

There are many other ideas that we could discuss, but the main idea of the contributor approach is to give students the opportunity (and expectation) of participating in the process of biblical integration. Many of these ideas are low-stakes and variable which generally sets them up as formative assessments. This approach might not be sufficient on its own, but it can supplement other approaches and help your classroom come to life. In addition, it helps the students learn to take responsibility for their own biblical thinking… and that is worth working toward. 

Key ResourceFormative vs. Summative Assessment from Carnegie-Mellon University

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Perspectives Approach to Biblical Integration.

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Two

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part two of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

Some teachers shared joy in their biblical-integration experiences, saying things like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God.”

These responses encouraged me because they demonstrate that these teachers are listening to their students. Teachers must be good at delivering information, but we must also excel at receiving it. Our students feel loved, noticed, and cared for when we hear what they have to say. Essential questions are powerful because they open the door for student engagement and response. In the same way, biblical integration that gets students thinking and speaking is powerful because it allows them to be full participants in the conversation. We must allow students to be heard. Then we must, thoughtfully, respond to what they share.

Another survey response related to the question, “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

This is an important question. If biblical integration feels tacked on or supplemental, students will recognize it for what it is — extra. Therefore, the best way to make biblical integration feel natural is to build it into the DNA of your course. It is not ideal to plan all of your units, lessons, assignments, etc. and then try to add biblical content. When we do that, we are doing something unnatural. If that is where you are, don’t be discouraged. But do recognize that there is room to grow.

Instead of adding integration to our material, we should show how the biblical worldview informs and directs our work. Ask questions like:  Where did our subject come from? Why do we study it? What does this unit demonstrate about our world, humanity, God, the church, etc.? How can we use these skills be used to honor God? Where might our subject be affected by sin? Once you have identified some important questions and ideas, consider how you can best get your students to engage them as a part of the course material. Strategizing in this area can make it feel more natural. A few ideas would be:

1) Engage in a worldview-driven introduction at the start of each unit. When you begin the conversation on Lincoln, help the students connect some biblical dots related to his life, beliefs, work, etc. When you start to talk about the design of the eyeball, speak about the qualities of the Designer. Or speak to how we can wisely use our eyes.

2) Include worldview-reflection at the end of each unit. This can be as simple as asking the students to write (or speak) about what they have learned about God’s power, presence, kindness, brilliance, etc. from that particular unit. This kind of work invites them into a natural reflective type of integration.

3) Write the rubrics for your assignments that invite/require the students to integrate. If they create a paper, presentation, project, report, etc., they can show how it relates God’s Word and God’s world. This helps the students start to explore the reality that all things are God’s things. Integration will seem more natural to students when it is more usual for them to be integrators themselves.

4) Have your key integration ideas planned in your unit so that you can assess them. Teach them just like you teach the rest of the content. Biblical integration will seem natural when it is included (and tested) in a way that is congruent with the rest of the material.

Part three of this series will interact with survey responses like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher,” and “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

The Rubric and Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case that if biblical integration is in the syllabus and the assessments, it will be much easier to ensure that you really teach in an integrated fashion. As teachers, we want our students to be prepared for their exams. We want them to accomplish what is mapped out in the syllabus. However, as with most things, integrating assignments/assessments is often easier said than done.

Here is one area that can help you make great strides to integrate your class: Include integration in the grading rubric.

The purpose of a rubric is to assess student performance against stated expectations. Therefore, if you regularly include an integration component into your rubric, you will then teach students to integrate everything they do. Look at the (incredibly basic, bare-bones, lightweight) example of a rubric that might be used in any class that assigns papers, presentations, etc.

Style/Grammar (40) Good: … Fair: … Poor: …
Content (40) Good: … Fair: … Poor: …
Biblical Engagement (20) Good: Accurately, thoughtfully shows connection to biblical ideas/themes/principles. AND cites/references specific Scripture passages. 16-20pts. Fair: Makes some effort to show connection to biblical ideas/themes/principles. OR cites/references specific Scripture passages. 10-15pts. Poor: Does not engage biblical ideas/themes/principles. OR presents inaccurate/shallow understanding of biblical teaching. 0-9pts.

Notice that all students are expected to participate in biblical integration. It is not something that they consume, but something they contribute. They are expected to practice thinking about their topics from a biblical worldview. This means that they are growing in their critical thinking, Bible study, and gospel communication. That sounds like a win for Christian education to me!

PS: This really can be done across subjects and in many different ways. Here are some examples using themes from the book of Jeremiah. In English, a student might note the brokenness of the heart (Jer 17:9) that arises in so many literary themes. In Anatomy/Biology, they might note design that God employed in making his people (Jer 1:5). In Music, they might talk about the different ways that God has given us to express emotion (Jer 33:11; 48:36).