Effective (Christian) Pedagogy...

As I continue to unpack the NZC I am struck again by the concept of Effective Pedagogy.  Not because it is a new concept but rather lost in the guilt of the missed opportunities for students when we as educators get it wrong.  At Timaru Christian School our motto is 'Honouring God in All We Do', a motto similar to many other Christian Schools.  AND like other schools our motto is not intended just for the students, rather it is to be observed in all aspects of the whole school community.  If I and my teachers are to Honour God in our day to day teaching surely we need to be able to develop a model of effective pedagogy which will ensure students get maximum learning opportunities in the classroom.

Our New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) identifies seven dimensions to what it considers constitute Effective Pedagogy;

  1. Creating a supportive learning environment
  2. Encouraging reflective thought and action
  3. Enhancing the relevance of new learning
  4. Facilitating shared learning
  5. Making connections to prior learning and experience
  6. Providing sufficient opportunities to learn
  7. Teaching as inquiry

On the most part, I agree with the above, some more than others, however this is obviously not the only model of effective pedagogy. There are many models around the world and I am sure your school will have a model of sorts, likely to be most clearly defined in the school's Performance Agreements for it's teachers. Whatever the model it does not hurt to ask questions about the source, the relevance and how the model is actually being practiced in each classroom, by each teacher.

The question of relevance is an important question in two ways. Firstly because we are in a time of remarkable changes in technology and secondly we need to be able to relate to our students in our teaching, such as Christ did.

Although the need for Biblical knowledge and knowledge of God will never end, the day of having to memorise menial academic facts, figures and equations is coming to an end. It was going to happen at some time, but already there are countries which are trialling the use of the internet in final exams at the secondary level (ie, Denmark, Australia).  If I knew my students had access to the internet during assessments there would be obvious changes to my teaching model.

As Christian educators I am sure that we would all agree that during His time of ministry on Earth, Christ was the perfect teacher.  In observing His teaching we see that He was obviously anointed for the job and one of the most powerful aspects of His teaching was relevance.  He was able to take heavenly concepts beyond our understanding and explain them through parables which were relevant to the people He was teaching.

Unlike the NZC, a model of effective pedagogy has been developed in New South Wales which has only three dimensions;

The NSW model of pedagogy contains three dimensions: intellectual quality, a quality learning environment and significance. Each component has been proved to improve student learning outcomes.

Promoting high levels of intellectual quality has the potential to cater for a range of individuals that may have special needs or different backgrounds. High levels of intellectual quality have shown positive effects on student outcomes. To promote intellectual quality, teachers need to incorporate the elements of deep knowledge, deep understanding, problematic knowledge, higher-order thinking, metalanguage and substantive communication.

A quality learning environment is important in focusing students’ attention around their learning. By providing a positive and supportive learning environment, student outcomes improve. The elements that promote a quality learning environment are: explicit quality criteria, engagement, high expectations, social support, students’ self regulation and student direction.

Significance is vital in making learning meaningful and important to students. For the work of students to have an impact outside of school, teachers need to ensure that students’ learning matters. Each of the elements of background knowledge, cultural knowledge, knowledge integration, inclusivity, connectedness and narrative must be significant to students, so that they might apply their knowledge in the context of the wider society.

(Summary of the Quality Teaching Discussion Paper)

Department of Education and Training 2003, Quality Teaching in NSW public schools(Discussion Paper),
Department of Education and Training,


The obvious omission for us as Christian Educators from both the NZC and the NSW models is (understandably) the Spiritual dimension. I have often wondered what this 'Special Character' dimension of Christian Education was called, Spiritual Integration, Bible Knowledge... however in recent years I have come to define it best as Discipleship.

From observations of Christian schools in New Zealand and overseas the only constant is that this Discipleship dimension is defined and delivered in many different ways.  I have heard of schools where the 'Discipleship' dimension is delivered purely because the school employs 'good, solid Christian teachers', and in another the Special Character is delivered because the Principal takes daily morning devotions and another where each unit and curriculum plan must 'supported' by scripture.  I am not advocating that one school is better than another, rather that we as Christian Educatiors take a close look into the way our school delivers it's Discipleship dimension of the Curriculum and querry whether it could truely come under the banner of Effective Pedagogy.

If we were to combine the NSW three dimensions with our Discipleship dimension, we would have four dimensions which could easily be reviewed at staff meetings once a month.  This could be achieved by a short discussion on one of the dimensions each week...OR...use a staff member who you have identified as exceptional in this area and have them present one aspect of what they do in this area...OR...in a larger school management units could be given to four teachers (or shared?) to research and present best practice in each dimension once a month and to carry out 'audits' in classes...(be sure to share this Best Practice on our website!!).  The options are endless but there may be no greater task in the school than to ensure effective Christian pedagogy is at the forefront of discussions in staff meetings.  



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