Because life is a series of edits

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Classical Capstone

In Arts, Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Thought, Writers, Young Ones on April 24, 2013 at 8:35 am
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“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.”
Jeremiah 31:26

I slept well last night, not because I was tired (I was), nor because all’s right with the world (it isn’t). I slept well last night because I had just witnessed truth, goodness, and beauty at work, and it was comforting.

Last night, I (along with four other teachers – Abby Lorenc, Alex Kelley, Josh Spears, and Todd Wedel – and four sets of super-supportive senior parents) had the privilege of hearing from our four seniors – Sarah Baskerville, Ruth Serven, Mackenzie Valentin, and Austin Clark. Each presented what we’re calling our Classical Capstone – a 25-minute speech followed by a 10-minute question and answer period, during which the student fields questions from parents and faculty advisors concerning what he or she has just presented. In addition to the presentation, students have the opportunity to create something that goes along with the topic discussed.

As the Capstone is a year-long project, Academic Dean Todd Wedel put together a 35-page booklet detailing the initiative’s requirements. Here’s the overview paragraph:

The Classical Capstone is the culmination of the Classical and Christian education at Veritas. Through the process of developing their Classical Capstones, students will be required to determine a topic of interest to themselves, formulate a driving question or concern, conduct background research, take a position, motivate the position or concern to their audience, work through drafting the Classical Capstone, publicly present the Capstone Project and answer questions from the audience, defend their project during a formal examination, and reflect up on what they have learned about the learning process, themselves, and a Christian worldview
through the various stages of the Classical Capstone.

The project is designed to encompass the students’ classical Christian education:

The Classical Capstone will demand that students demonstrate all the elements of a truly classical education, familiarizing themselves with the grammar of their topic or subject, determining the connections between/among viewpoints/sources/positions/expressions, and expressing their viewpoint cogently, clearly, and winsomely. The Classical Capstone will demand, as well, that the entirety of the Project is imbued with a Christian worldview, from the way students select an appropriate topic, to the way they conduct research, to the type of argument or position they formulate, to the way they express their position, to the way they respond
to questions and challenges.

So that students avoid becoming overwhelmed or lost in the process, they are able to choose a faculty advisor to walk through the year with them:

Students will work with a Faculty Advisor during the course of their Project in conjunction with the Classical Capstone Director. The Faculty Advisor will help with the selection and narrowing of topic/focus, aid in direction of research, aid in the formulation of appropriate argument, and serve as one of the members of the examination panel.

Finally, when all’s said and done (as it was last night), there are “deliverables”:

Although the most common form of the Classical Capstone’s final deliverable will be a paper, students are not limited to this form. Other forms of rhetoric-level instruction are acceptable and encouraged if they comport with students’ natural gifts and abilities. The scope of the project will still involve background research and may require written work even if the final deliverable is not written (e.g. a student may need to write an analysis and defense of a painting or musical composition). Deliverables will be evaluated on their ability to demonstrate standards of biblical aesthetics including order, balance, harmony, unity-in-diversity, etc.

I’m not sure I can think of a better way to invest two hours. Our students presented very thoughtful and well-written papers on the topics of our human need for art, what good art is and should be, how our relationship to food has everything to do with our relationship to others, and (just for fun), an in-depth analysis of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As Mackenzie’s presentation involved a study of journal-making, she made two beautiful leather-bound journals – one with paper she bought, another with paper she made out of (I’m not kidding here) old jeans. Ruth, having talked about art more literarily, brought copies of an original short story heart-wrenching in its description of two boys caught between dysfunctional parents called “The Tree”.

Sarah, advocating for a cultural return to “cuisine” (and not just “cooking”), baked amazing homemade pumpkin muffins using her own recipe for everyone in attendance. And Austin had obviously invested his “project” time in a ton of extra reading and research, as evidenced by his phenomenal grasp of the complexities of the Normans and Saxons during his Q&A time.

With only a month of school left (and a thousand thoughts having to do with it running through my mind), it was nice to sit back and witness why it’s all worth it. Last night was a celebration of our seniors’ hard work and accomplished rhetorical gifts which served to reaffirm the trivium as a tried and true educational methodology. In addition, seeing their desires (and not just their words) shaped by education that is truly Christian was inspiring.

Make no mistake, their grasp – like mine – of the nuances of life is far from perfect and still developing (some of the parents’ careful but challenging questions spoke to this). But, it is being shaped and redeemed by the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel, reminding me of Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in these students will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.

I’m not sure there’s a more comforting thought with which to hit the hay.

Why We Test (and Why We Don’t)

In Pedagogy, Students on April 17, 2013 at 10:56 am


Standardized-testing

"Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted."

Albert Einstein

As is true of many schools in our state and nation, Veritas is administering standardized tests this week. Our Grammar and Logic students (1st-through 8th grades) are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, while our 9th and 10th graders are taking the PLAN Test. (We're doing some other developmental things with PreK, Kindergarten, and 11th and 12th grades so they don't feel left out.)

We test because we can, not because we have to; this is unfortunately not the case for a majority of American schools. Education in the United States has been preoccupied with standardized testing this past century, but especially so during the past decade. From President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" in 2001 to President Obama's "Race to the Top" in 2009, we have not lacked for modernity's attempts to measure educational success.

There's little conceptually wrong with this; assessment is a good thing,
which is why we at Veritas test our students every year. For us, good uses of testing include identifying general areas of instruction
that need improvement as well as facilitating home/school interaction as to
future specific differentiated instruction within
our unique blended model. We take test results seriously, but not so
seriously that they blind us to the bigger picture captured in our
portrait of a graduate.

Over the past eight years, Veritas
students have scored in the 90th percentile of the ITBS.
In addition, over this same period of time, we've tracked a 10-point
improvement over students' own pre-admission assessment scores, which
means students are improving while with us (for comparison, most public schools report only a 1-to-2-point improvement over the year).

In 2012, across the core subjects (defined by the ITBS as language
skills, reading, and mathematics), our students’ national percentile
rank for K through 8th grades was 84th and our school’s national
percentile rank for K through 8th grade was 97th. This means that, on
average, Veritas students scored higher than 83% of American students
and we as a school scored higher than 96% of American schools taking the
ITBS in these subjects. Also (and as in previous years), our
students tested an average of three grade levels above their grade
level.

Most of what you hear or read about testing is negative, and rightly so due to the unintended consequence of
schools choosing to "teach to the test" for the sake of
increased government funding. In addition, the modernist mentality of
"all success must be measurable" is limiting in evaluating
what a student has learned and not just what he or she can regurgitate.
Test
scores can be a helpful measure of past and/or current realities, but
often are poor predictors of true success (especially a more biblically-informed definition of success currently missing from our Department of Education).

Here are just a few things that testing does not help us
evaluate about a student's experience across a school year:

  • Leadership potential and growth
  • Enjoyment of spontaneous creation
  • Value of actively engaging with community
  • Risk-taking and innovation
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Ability to ask deep questions
  • Reception of constructive criticism
  • Integrity and humility
  • Desire for truth, goodness, and beauty
  • Collaboration with others
  • Overall love of learning


The list could go on and on, but the point is this: testing provides some insight into a student's academic achievement, but not all of it.

Of course, on the flip side of the testing question is the concern that kids shouldn't be made to test for reasons of pressure creating or contributing to existing test anxiety. Some argue that standardized testing (and its results, particularly if they're not what the parent – not always the student – hoped for) could work against a kid's self-esteem and confidence and therefore should not be used.

We must not forget that the only real way students build
confidence is to attempt, struggle through, and overcome challenging things.
The lie is that education should be easy; learning (i.e. that which goes beyond
mere regurgitation of information and crosses over into character formation) is
difficult. When it comes to helping our students deal with testing anxieties, the key for us as parents is not to over-emphasize perfect test results, but to help students shoot for improved ones.


Our goal should be to help students
lean into and learn to stand up under stress rather than run away or hide from it.
Stress is both a part of life and an important formation tool God uses in the
lives of people (think of all the stress He intentionally brought upon those in
the Bible He chose to use!). We should help students respond with
faithfulness as they take hold of the task at hand, for as James 1 speaks specifically to spiritual growth, the principle applies to growth that is of an educational nature as well.

So we test our Grammar and Logic School
students and take seriously the results. But we want to help them understand that the ultimate goal of assessment is not to pass the test and then fail life.
That just would not not be very smart at all.

Out of the Bag for the Good of Oklahoma City

In Educators, Veritas, Web/Tech on April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

This week is a significant one for classical Christian education in Oklahoma City.

Four months ago, Providence Hall Head of School Nathan Carr and I (on behalf of our boards) launched via video and website what were then the public beginnings (at least to our respective schools) of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.

This week – tonight, actually – we announce the new school to the Oklahoma City metro via a three-minute news story on Fox 25's "Tell Me Something Good" feature with news anchor Mike Brooks. Here's the link.

But before we do that, today we'd like to roll out the brand new crest for our new school. Many thanks to Todd Milligan at Dust Bowl Artistry for helping create what we hope our families will embrace as a wonderful and symbolic visual that represents who we are as The Academy. (Note: For an excellent interpretation of our crest, read Nathan’s explanation of each of the elements.)


Academy Crest (300 dpi, Color)

In addition to the new crest, we're also rolling out our new public Facebook page and Twitter feed for The Academy, so go like/follow us if you would. Finally, if you haven't already (or haven't in a while), be sure to visit the official website for The Academy, where we cast our vision and continue to detail the creation of our new school.

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

In Arts, Musicians, Oklahoma City, Thought, Young Ones on April 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

Our two oldest have been rehearsing their hearts out for this performance in a couple of weeks. Proud of them for their efforts, glad for them for the opportunity. Tickets available.