15th Century Teaching Model Still Highly Relevant

Recently I visited a school to learn about their BYOD program.  I came away with lots of great insights and ideas.  One of them was a teaching method I had never heard of.  The Ignatian Pedagogical Model is based on the Jesuit St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises.  There are 5 basic components: Context, Experience, Reflection, Action, and Evaluation.  Though interpretations seem to vary on how it should properly be implemented, I think the validity of the basic components speak for themselves.

Students must be provided with a reason for learning beyond traditional reasons of, 'state standards require this', 'because it will be on the test', or 'because I said'.  Those might be "context" to a teacher, but they are not context to a student of the 21st Century.  If you don't know or can't explain to your class why they are learning a particular topic, maybe you should look for some real world application or possibly rethink whether this particular topic should be a priority.  Like Daniel Pink says in his most recent book To Sell is Human.  Teachers have to "sell" their curriculum.  If the kids aren't buying what you're offering, you really have no one to blame but yourself.  You can sit back and blame parents or the culture, but that won't change anything and it certainly won't be a valid excuse as to why your students aren't doing well in your class.

After students have real meaning as to why they are learning something, they need to experience it.  Spoiler Alert: worksheets, web quests, and the like are not a way to experience curriculum.  Students have to be immersed into the field of knowledge with real world activities that produce an authentic product.  The construction of the product they produce should take them through an inquiry-based learning path.  Students should then present their product to an authentic audience.

Context and experience should be done sequentially, but reflection should be done throughout the process.  Reflection is such a powerful tool.  Students greatly benefit from metacognition; evaluating their thinking process, finding ways to improve, and just being mindful of their learning habits.  A learning journal shared to the teacher and student would work well. A student blog would be a public platform for students to demonstrate their thinking and learning.  Regardless, a single reflection platform is not enough.  The teacher should have conversations throughout that force students to stretch their thinking and expand their sphere of learning.

The goal of Jesuit education is to move the student into action, not simply the personal satisfaction of learning (source).  To me, in a school setting, this is a flexible component that can be worked into the "Experience" portion.  Once the student has the knowledge, what will they do with it?  Is the product they are making the final use for this knowledge?  Can it be incorporated into future learning? Can students take political action such as writing to their congressman or writing a letter to a newspaper or company? The "Action" component is a great way to exercise the new learning that has taken place and justify the context you provided initially.

As with all things education, assessment is important to get right.  While I don't think there is a "right" way to do this component, there certainly are some wrong ways, such as ending this teaching model with a multiple choice test.  We usually advocate for students to present everything they learn to an authentic audience, a group of students, or one-on-one to the teacher.  Our motto is: you can't hide from a conversation.  The ultimate summative grade should be discussed between you and your student.  No time for that?  An alternative would be to build a rubric as a class before you start your project in the experience phase.  In addition, you can put formative evaluation benchmarks along the way to see how students are doing.  It may be a completion grade for a journal entry or a qualitative grade on the weekly set of journals.  Either way, its nice to work in a few smaller grades into a larger project.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Model doesn't need to be a large project.  You could probably create a one-day lesson using this model.  Its simply a structure.  An apparatus that supports curricular content and instruction.  I like it because it is so simple; the five parts are very easy to understand.   The five parts address educational best practice and allow for great depth, yet they can be flexible and easily addressed.  In addition, I think students would learn to adapt to this method.  They might be critical about the context or curious about the action that follows.  These are both good signs that they are buying what you're selling.  At that point you got 'em, everything else is easy.


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