A thorough overview of the Heart-focused Educational method

Part 1: the Heart behind the method

In my years of research, I have discovered and implemented elements of several main methods of education, which align well with the Biblical view of the educational model outlined in Deuteronomy 6. These implementations have become the foundation of the method that I use in my math series, Math Lessons for a Living Education and my history series, America’s Story 1-3 and The World’s Story 1-3. This method is scientifically and relationally based.

The first and most important element of my method, which was developed by my friend, Dr. Gary Newton, is a model depicting the journey that true education takes through the level of the student’s understanding, as it moves down towards their heart. He outlines his groundbreaking research and work in his book Heart-Deep Teaching – Engaging Students for Transformed Lives. Secondly, I have extensively experimented with implementing certain elements of the Charlotte Mason method, using them, with amazing results, in conjunction with Dr. Newton’s Heart-Deep Teaching method. Also interwoven throughout my educational method, are research-based activities and approaches determined by my discovery of how the human brain develops, grows, and processes. Integrally important to rounding out of my method, are the elements of Biblical leadership training. It is important to note that this “method” is not complete; it is, instead, a living method, as it is continually growing and deepening as experiences and research illuminate another area of the human ability to learn and grow.

Because the heart of my educational approach is based on Dr. Newton’s Heart-Deep Teaching model, I am going to start by showing his graphic, which depicts how the journey of true education begins in the mind and is completed deep in the heart of student. It is from the heart that actions and behaviors are determined by the knowledge that has become wisdom.

To understand the concept of heart-deep teaching, we must first understand the meaning of the word “heart” in this context. The majority of people might define “heart” as their emotional center. But how does the Bible define the word?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew view, as referenced in the Shema, literally and metaphorically refers to the whole person. In the New Testament, Jesus expounded on the OT viewpoint of the heart. He taught that faith needed to be heart-deep, not just outward appearances. Dr. Newton explains: Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained this deeper level of spirituality as an inner transformation affecting outward lifestyle. His teaching focused on the transformation of the heart.” (Matt 5:28).

As Christian homeschool parents, we desire to reach the heart of our children. We instinctively know that if we do not have their hearts, we do not have them at all. We know that if we do not disciple them at a heart level with the truth of the Gospel, their lives will not follow a good path. Many of us wonder how we can facilitate an education that not only reaches the academic standards needed to be useful citizens, but to point our children’s hearts towards Christ with the hope that they will choose to pursue a relationship with Him. The answer is in heart-deep teaching and learning, which is accomplished through the four domains of learning.

These domains are the Cognitive Level [referring to the knowledge and intellectual skills], the Affective Level [referring to the emotions and attitudes], the Dispositional and Volitional Level [referring to values and tendencies to act], which intersects with all of the other domains, and the Behavior Level [referring to physical skills and habits]. Although it is helpful to separate these out for the purpose of study and research, it is important to note that they are interrelated and holistic in practice.

Dr. Newton’s model of Heart-Deep Teaching and Learning shows how true learning takes place. The straight arrows running through each domain, Mind, Emotions, and Will, are better thought of as ladders, descending deeper into the person, ultimately reaching their heart. Dr. Newton explains it this way: [Because the process is indeed interrelated and holistic in practice], the spiraling arrow depicts the journey which travels progressively deeper into the depths of the person as the Holy Spirit acts as a catalyst in each of the areas of a person’s heart. His role is to initiate and direct the whole range of learning as people respond to the principles of God’s Word. Working together with a teacher, fellow learners, and the environment, the Holy Spirit initiates and directs the process of heart-deep learning. Thus the Holy Spirit acts as a primary agent of teaching and learning in the process of discipleship in each of the domains.

Most of us are most familiar with the Cognitive domain of learning. Benjamin Bloom’s basic taxonomy of learning breaks the Cognitive domain into six levels of learning. These levels begin with knowledge and move through comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Dr. Newton adds to these, the level that the Bible calls wisdom – the highest [or deepest] level of thinking which is related to putting knowledge into practice in making decisions. From a Christian perspective in line with a Hebraic way of thinking, the highest level of thinking always relates to practical application of knowledge. Thus the cognitive journey to the heart could be said to begin with knowledge and end with wisdom. [Dr. Gary Newton, Heart-Deep Teaching, pg. 46]

According to Bloom’s taxonomy, the first level of learning in the Cognitive domain is the gathering of knowledge. The knowledge stage is simple learning, the “taking-in” stage. All of the subsequent stages of learning depend on this level as the foundation. The second level of learning is the Comprehension and Application level. This is the largest category of intellectual abilities and skills, in which the student begins to make the knowledge more personal and meaningful on an individual basis. Next comes the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation stages. These stages move the knowledge gathered, comprehended and applied, towards the final step which Dr. Newton has added to the taxonomy of learning: Wisdom.

In Luke 2:52, it says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. This means that He grew in applied knowledge, as well as in favor with God and man, which indicates maturity in social behaviors and skills [indicated by the blue arrow in the Heart-Deep Model graphic above]. As Christ-followers, wisdom lived is the ultimate goal. According to Dr. Newton, “Wisdom [when knowledge reaches the heart of the student and comes out as action], the highest [and deepest] level of thinking always relates to practical application of knowledge.” (page 46, paragraph 2) It is important to remember that each level of learning is important to the whole process. The rudimentary levels of gathering basic knowledge is a necessary step in creating a foundational future building towards wisdom.

Let us break down each of these levels of learning, aligning them to my educational model and method. The first level, the Knowledge taking-in stage, is when the student takes in the information. Unfortunately, many of the available curriculum choices focus on this gathering stage, skimming or skipping the following understanding, application, analysis, and synthesizing steps. The focus is urging the student to keep the information in their short term memory just long enough to spit it back out on a quiz or test. Because the secular education model dictates the goal of high standardized test scores, the method is educational bulimia – take in and spit out.

Go to the next page to read Part 2: The Science Behind the Method.