Sunday, July 29, 2018

Christ in the Classroom: My Review

Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind by [Dees, Jared]


About the Book:

If the goal of catechesis is to cultivate an encounter with Christ, why do religious educators spend so much time focused almost exclusively on ideas and not experiences? The reason is that many have never been shown a method that inspires the heart while also instructing the mind. Jared Dees, creator of the popular website The Religion Teacher, shows how applying the steps of lectio divina to teaching can reorient religious education toward encountering the person of Christ rather than merely sharing information about him.

In Christ in the Classroom, Catholic author and speaker Jared Dees applies the five steps of lectio divina—reading/learning, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action—to the ministry of catechesis. He offers teachers and catechists a practical framework for preparing lessons that broaden the focus of teaching from mostly intellectual learning to also encountering Christ in prayer, reflection, and action. Using this method, students and catechists come to know intimately the person of Christ at the same time that they are learning the tenets and traditions of the Church.

Dees shares stories of success and failure from his own teaching experience and he offers dozens of field-tested strategies, tactics, and teaching methods to effectively integrate the steps of lectio divina into the classroom or other catechetical setting.

Outfitted with these tools, both experienced and new religious educators will feel confident in their ability to teach effectively and lead their students to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

About Me:

I've spent a lot of time as a catechist.  When I was in junior high and high school I used to help with the pre-school religion program in my parish.  My Senior year I was asked to teach the third grade class, along with a friend.  When I was in college I taught for three years, and then, when my older kids went to public school I taught for six years, and later, for one more.  While I never claimed to be the best, I was available, willing, and I think I managed to teach a few kids a few things over the years.  In short, I never felt like I was wasting my time.

Last year a friend who has taught seventh grade religion in my parish for years asked me to help with her class.  She had thirteen kids, several of whom were major problems.  She needed back-up.  I agreed to help her, though my previous experience with kids has generally been with younger kids (almost all of those years described above were with third grade).  By the end of the year I was completely convinced that we were wasting our time.  

Few of our students attended Mass regularly; some I had never seen at Mass.  They did not seem to know the basic stories of the faith.  Our textbook was filled with words like "transubstantiation" and "epiclesis" but many of these kids experienced Communion as a once in a lifetime event, or so it seemed to me.  Why were we there?  What was the point?  I felt like a social studies teacher rushing through a chapter--but instead of giving the kids a test on the chapter next week so we knew they studied and learned it, we moved on to the next one.  

I've been an "internet Catholic" for a long time--starting back in the days of AOL message boards.  While I haven't heard it so much lately, "back in the day" what I'd read over and over again is that the reason so many of my peers--the late Baby Boomers--left the Church or became only lukewarm or "cafeteria" members was  because of poor catechesis.

While our parents and older siblings had the Baltimore Catechism and were taught lots of knowledge about our faith, by the time my age-mates and I came along, it was the Sadlier "Hippie Jesus" books that were big on pictures and low on content.  My junior high and high school classes never had textbooks.  Yes, said the internet, the problem was lack of content--while we spent our CCD classes talking about feelings and treating other people properly, we weren't learning what we needed to learn to keep us in the faith.

As noted above, I've taught in many different parishes over the years but third grade is where I seem to land.  As either a student or a teacher I've used five different editions of Sadlier's third grade book.  Each was more wordy and less life-based than the one before.  Now my parish uses Loyola Press.

My Comments About the Book:


I found Christ in the Classroom when perusing NetGalley one day and decided to give it a try.  It is Jared Dees' thesis that unless our students develop a relationship with Christ, we are wasting our time.  I tend to agree.  While I understand why religion texts seem to have gotten longer and more complex over the years, it seems to me, especially when working with basically unchurched kids, that all we are doing is (attempting to)filling their heads with trivia.  If you have no relationship with Jesus are you going to attend Mass?  If you don't attend Mass, does it matter if you can define transubstantiation or epiclesis? 

Dees advocates integrating real times of prayer into your class and the form of prayer he advocates is Lectio Divina, basically praying with scripture. 

Regarding those overly wordy textbooks, Dees recommends picking a limited number of points to make and rather than trying to cover the whole chapter, make those points in a variety of ways--and then use them as a basis for prayer. 

The book itself is easy to read and would be a good gift for any new catechist and well as for experienced ones who are open to trying something new. 

Dees is the author of the website The Religion Teacher which has both free and paid resources. 

I'd like to thank Dees and the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade: B+


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