One Teacher at a Time: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made…for His Purposes
You are fearfully and wonderfully made…for His purposes. This simple affirmation statement started as a daily prayer over my three sons when they were little. It served as a vehicle for pouring His truths into their hearts, but over the years it has become more than just their little prayer. It has become my North Star, if you will—a gut check in times of arrogance and judgment, a personal reminder in times of struggle and failure, and a sweet constant visual of the awe and wonder of God. It is proof that He has a beautiful way of using little things to reveal how immense He is.
In 2016 when I was first introduced to Christian Deeper Learning, I realized that this little prayer summarized my hope for every student I teach—that they, too, would know they are fearfully and wonderfully made…for His purposes. Thus, with my boys’ permission, I began praying it over each of my classes. The more I considered the tenets of CDL, the more the little prayer transformed into a reflective tool for all aspects of my classroom; from lesson planning and classroom management to every conversation and relationship I try to build with my students. It helped steer an important shift in my thinking as a Christian educator from one who teaches students how to “do school” to one who uses some of the most basic skills and practices to equip students to see themselves beyond school.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made…for His purposes. In other words, my students are capable, strong, smart, unique, and in God’s hands. Believing this as passionately as I do, my actions should clearly communicate this to them. But do they? How am I communicating to them that they truly are capable? Do I include time and opportunities for my students to grapple with things so they can increase their perseverance? Does my planning honor their intelligence or undermine it for the sake of time or a required grade in the gradebook? Do I afford room for voice and choice and scaffolding for individual learning? And am I conveying to them that they are loved, redeemed, forgiven, and chosen to help build God’s kingdom? I literally ask myself these questions on a daily basis, even moment-to-moment sometimes, about the most inconsequential choices in my classroom—because God uses the small and trivial to bring about immeasurable results.
One of those choices pertains to a skill which is required in every classroom (and beyond), and in all honesty can be the bane of most teachers’ existence: reading directions. In the past I convinced myself that students would not understand an assignment unless I read every word aloud and pointed out the most important parts. I also believed that if I read the directions then students could get started on the assignment faster. Is that really communicating that they are capable, strong, and intelligent? No. And that whole “expediency” excuse is a false assumption because I still end up answering a million individual questions before they can get started, because students tune out my voice. To remedy this, I now simply require my students to take time to read and annotate any written directions on their own before discussing an assignment with them. I call it “Keep Calm and Create Meaning for Yourself” time. As simple as this sounds, working this time into the class period creates an opportunity for students to practice and make progress on this crucial skill. When you try to decrease the work necessary to understand what is expected of them, students are conditioned to sit back and wait for teachers to make them understand instructions. I’m 100% guilty of doing this as described above, and it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit that I fully realized the profound implications of this simple practice.
When the pandemic forced us all online, my ninth grade students at the time communicated their frustrations with having to decipher the myriad of written directions from their various teachers. It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to read and comprehend; it was that they never really had to create careful meaning from written directions because teachers were always present to answer their questions. That’s when I pulled our 3 Stance Questions from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies1, which we had been using all year, to help them discover how capable they really are. Adapting those questions to specifically consider written directions, my students employed a process they already knew in a real life situation. These adaptations are described below:
‘What surprises me?’ becomes ‘What are the givens?’ Students identify what they do understand about the assignment: what key concepts the assignment involves, what they are expected to do, what materials they need to complete the assignment, when and how the assignment should be submitted, etc.
‘What does the author assume I know?’ becomes ‘What does my TEACHER assume I know?’ Students circle any words or concepts they do not understand and generate questions based on them. (This also becomes a great question for the teacher to consider when writing instructions because it exposes their assumptions about students’ mastery level of content vocabulary and concepts.)
‘What changes, challenges or confirms my thinking?’ becomes ‘What changes challenges or confirms my understanding of the assignment?’ This question forces students to process what they think the assignment is while also prompting clarifying questions that can then be discussed collectively.
Returning back to the regular classroom, I continue to build in time for this simple practice and watch my students shift from passive recipients of directions to active, questioning, clarifying participants in the work placed before them.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made…for His purposes. Is the simple act of giving students time to read and process directions for themselves really an illustration of being fearfully and wonderfully made? Yes. It communicates my belief in their intelligence and capabilities and fosters student agency that then translates to less trivial skills. And is it really one of God’s purposes for my students? Absolutely. His Word is filled with important directions, and the more attuned they are to them, the more He can speak directly to their hearts.
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