- Developmental learning: Such learning concerns the transmission of Bible stories and Christian teachings in ways that are developmentally appropriate for children and young people. As Foster explains, attention to developmental learning has “been a major theme in the the preparation of curriculum resources” for church use. Developmental learning is commonly associated with division of children and young people into various learning groups for Christian education, with age-appropriate learning goals and activities.
- Practice learning: Practice learning is “directed to the competency of our participation in the community or communities with which we identify.” The goal of practice learning is “effective and competent participation”. Foster emphasises the importance of repetition in practice learning – competency and confidence come from practicing practices, over and over again together with others. In the endeavour of Christian faith formation this can be applied to “reading the Bible, conversing about beliefs and doctrines, giving leadership to committees, offering prayers of intercession, caring for the sick, feeding the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, and strategizing ways to address some social, economic or political issue. … It takes practice to participate in any of them effectively.”
- Discovery learning: Discovery learning invites, enables and promotes exploration and discovery around a line of inquiry, relevant to the situation and setting of the learner. Foster writes that discovery learning “is a critical source for the maintenance and renewal of congregational life, because it explicitly engages us in the “creative” appropriation of our faith traditions to address the disruption of our changing social and historical contexts.” He posits that discovery learning is “the mode of learning that draws us most closely into the mystery of God.”
I have recently finished reading Charles R. Foster’s book From Generation to Generation: The Adaptive Challenge of Mainline Protestant Education in Forming Faith (2012, Cascade Books). Foster is the Professor of Religion and Education emeritus at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His book sets out to address the question of why the USA “mainline” Protestant denominations have been increasingly unable to retain children and young people as active participants over the past decades. While the focus of the book is primarily upon the North American context (including historical discussion of the Christian education endeavours of various USA denominations), I found much of what he said generally applicable to my own church experiences in Australia. In this and some future posts I want to share and discuss some of his thoughts and observations, and their implications for contemporary endeavours to form faith in children and young people. A central aspect of Foster’s book is a call for “education in forming faith” to be reconceived and understood in terms of three modes of learning: “developmental learning”, “practice learning” and “discovery learning”. Foster regards these three modes to be “necessarily interdependent in the mutuality of forming and transforming personal and community faith.”