Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    What if You Graded Your Youth?

    My former life as a school teacher came rushing back to me yesterday as I pondered a crazy thought: What if I sent home a report card each semester to the parents of my youth? What if it included grades for my youth in such areas as attendance, participation, biblical literacy, application of skills learned, ability to articulate one's faith, prayer life, outreach/mission efforts. Would parents be shocked? Would the youth know what to make of it? How might such an evaluation help a youth minister to determine how effective she is being in reaching and teaching teens? How would you even begin to evaluate/grade such areas of one's spiritual growth? Would anyone ever be brave enough to give it a try?

    --Brian

    10 comments:

    Jonny McCormick said...

    If I'm honest I don't think this is a good idea...for a number of reasons. I think people would become disheartened by their "grades," I think it would create distance between people and it would formalise the setting, for a start.

    I do however think it is important to be continually talking with young people and your youth about how they are doing in these areas, and be mentoring them and supporting them in a very practical way. I think it makes much more sense in terms of church to do things relationally as opposed to coldly and distantly...i think the grading process can be done in a much more efficient and encouraging way than what has been described here.

    How did you come up with this idea, and do you think it would work....it's certainly intriguing....these are just my ideas by the way, im open to be changed...

    Brian said...

    Jonny,
    Thanks for your reflections. The idea ocurred to me as I was having a discussion with a person who teaches in the public schools. I just sort of wondered what the effect would be if parents knew their kids were being graded like in school. I was really just thinking out loud. This is not something I would actually try, partly for the reasons you mentioned. But I do like your suggestion that we should be in conversation with our youth about all these things (easier said than done in my neck of the woods). Doing so would push us as youth ministers to really think about what it is we are trying to accomplish in our ministries. Perhaps, rather than grading the youth, we should be grading ourselves!

    Michael said...

    I have one foot in higher education and one foot in youth ministry, so I am used to giving grades. I honestly think it is a bad for education (let alone youth ministry!). A lot of the newer more constructivist approaches are moving away from traditional grading, though it is so ingrained in our education system that it will be a long time until it is gone. Grades are very prescriptive and limit emphases to specific goals determined by the teacher, or in this case the youth pastor. What if a youth pastor were to include compassion, spiritual disciplines, evangelism and missions but leave out poetry or songwriting? You could have the next great Christian poet / song writer in your youth group, but they might not realize what God is calling them to be because you've prescriptively graded them on your own areas of emphasis.

    Brian said...

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michael. And so right you are that we may tend to miss certain spiritual gift that don't fall into traditional categories or that don't fit into our personal understandings.

    My final years in public education were in programs that did not grade on the A-F system but rather by determining a students progress or mastery on a whole host of learning objectives. I think part of this tongue-in-cheek proposal in this ost also comes out of conversations Jacob and I have had numerous times about the possibility of developing a multi-year set of objectives for a youth ministry program, such that at the end of 4 years, you could look back and say "Yes, these youth experienced mission, spiritual practices, learned to read the Bible critically, understand the history and polity of our denomination...etc."

    Lauren said...

    I think it would be a great idea. Grades in school challenge me and i know it challenges other to do better. As long as we don't become focused on getting a "A"...and keep the focus on becoming better Christians, than yes, i think it would be a wonderful way to show what are strengths are, and where we are weak in Christ. I don't think it will put distance between people, i think that in a youth group especially, it would help everyone hold each other accountable...and leave us vulnerable and transparent...that's the only way we can grow, if we set aside our pride and humble ourselves..and i think a grading system would be very humbling. I think that anyone brave enough to do this should be commended.

    I'm thinking of introducing it to my own youth group.

    Thanks for the idea!!

    Laura Francabandera said...

    I agree with all the above reasons, although I don't think there is anything wrong with a broad set of metrics with which to evaluate your programs and curricula. Like, say: By the time they move into youth group, the kids should at least know generally where the books of the Bible are, know the basic tenets of their faith, etc. A sort of report card for pastors, teachers, and leaders? There will always be variations in spiritual maturity, but with basic metrics, you can at least gauge the effectiveness of your programs.

    Pjayclark said...

    hmmm...I see both sides- but what would happen if we provided the scale and they had to give their own grades and take them home and discuss them with their parents?

    I think the youth would take it seriously and possibly be more harsh that we would.

    Thoughts?

    P. Jay

    Brian said...

    Hi Lauren. If you do try it, let us know what happens!

    Laura, I like your suggestion of basic metrics. They would differ from church to church, youth ministry to youth ministry, but could be a way to focus all involved on what the mission and goals of the ministry are.

    pj - I love the idea of having youth do a self-assessment. This makes the most sense of all! I used to do this all the time with my gifted students and they were often more critical and honest with themsleves than I ever was as their teacher. Hmm..I see a new post forming as I write...

    Brance said...

    I've tried sending home graded tests before. When I finished teaching a unit I actually gave the youth a test and then graded them and gave them to parents.

    The problems I ran into were these.

    • Parents who don't come to church and don't care
    • Youth who think it's a competition and try to outperform the other youth
    • feelings of discouragement and even giving up among the youth that didn't score as well

    That was a couple years ago. I only did it twice and I learned my lesson.

    But...

    I do think grading them in general categories is a good idea, for my own use. I disagree with Michael, in that I don't think evaluating the youth on the basis of their love, compassion, Bible knowledge, attitude toward authority, world view, comfort with evangelism, etc. will hinder a poet or songwriter from growing creatively.

    My primary purpose as the youth pastor is to grow them spiritually, and that means helping them become more Christ like. But I can't help them if I don't have a good idea of where they are. If I do manage to effectively help them grow as Christ followers, then the poet or songwriter will perhaps be more doctrinally sound in their writing, and that would be a good thing!

    I regularly sit down with my adult leaders and we do just this, we evaluate all the youth individually and write up a report on where that youth is in the process of sanctification. We don't compare one youth to another to determine progress. We compare each youth to him/herself based on the last evaluation we conducted. This helps us know if what we are doing is effective.

    Then we can look at the group as a whole and come up with a teaching plan for the next quarter based on the areas that seem to be the greatest overall need among the youth.

    And when I'm interacting with them individually during events, trips, etc. I can use the little teaching moments that come along to help that particular youth in an area where I think he/she needs help.

    OMV Student Ministries said...

    I try to do informal report cards with parents. I tell them what their students do well, and I try to address what their students need to work on. It comes off as more loving and caring and less cold than an actual report card. Although, I do kind of like the idea.