Teaching Faith Across the Grades 6-12 Curriculum and Programs: Religious Education

Written by Father Tom Simonds, S.J., Director of Secondary Engagement, NCEA, [email protected].

In this blog, through six separate posts, I will be sharing how faculty can develop teaching strategies across the curriculum and across programs using the Four Pillars of the Catechism and other curriculum guides. In this post, I will focus on religious education. In future blog posts, I will focus on physical education and athletics, clubs and activities, fine and performing arts and modern languages. Go back to look at my previous posts for ideas for teaching the faith in math, science, language arts and social studies.

Religious Education Today

While learning outcomes in religious education have been established by (arch)dioceses and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for grades 6-12, I propose that religious educators first focus on evangelization of students. Many Catholic students have not had the opportunity to practice their faith or learn about their faith in a deep way. Non-Catholic students in Catholic schools also need to be prepared for more in-depth instruction in the faith through evangelization. In this context, the best strategy is to develop a plan for student religious formation that is sequential. Religious educators will need to consider the previous religious background and religious education of their students as they develop a sequential strategy. At approximately grade 6 or grade 9, I recommend beginning religious instruction in Catholic schools using the Four Pillars of the Catechism as a curriculum guide.

The Four Pillars of the Catechism

(1) What We Believe and (2) How We Celebrate

The first two pillars of the Catechism focus on what Catholics believe and how Catholics celebrate their faith together in community. By focusing religious education on the Mass, educators can address both pillar one and pillar two. For example, Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus during the Mass. This belief is founded upon Scripture and the Tradition of the Church (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-29). Because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, we take special care to reverence the Eucharist. Examples of this reverence include the preparation of ministers to give Communion to the faithful, the care each person takes in handling and consuming the Eucharist and the bow we make as we stand before the minister to receive the Eucharist. Teaching students the reasons why we perform rituals at Mass will help them more fully participate in Mass and also will help them more fully understand the Catholic faith.

Joe Paprocki’s book, Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechesis that not only Informs but also Transforms, is an excellent resource for using the Mass as a way to teach students both the practice of their faith and a deep understanding of their faith. In his book, Paprocki maps out a unit plan that uses the tried-and-true pedagogical methodology of sequential learning. Beginning with everyday things students know, Paprocki shows how to bring students into the Kingdom of Christ, how to speak the new language of the Kingdom and how to live in God’s Kingdom. This fantastic resource could be used for a unit of religious education in grades 6-9, and the book includes more general ideas that can be integrated into classrooms at all three grade levels.

(3) How We Live

The third pillar of the Catechism addresses how Catholics live in the world as disciples of Jesus. The Catholic Mass can be used as a curriculum guide for teaching this third pillar.

At the end of Mass, the priest sends the people out from the church to live their Catholic faith in the world. Two of the new Mass dismissals are helpful in focusing on how what we learn and do at Mass help us prepare to live as Jesus’ disciples in the world.

Mass Dismissals

  • Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
  • Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.

Each of these dismissals has a unique focus on how Catholics are called to live in the world. The first dismissal text focuses on living according to the teachings and commandments of Jesus to give glory to God. The second dismissal text focuses on telling others about the Good News of Jesus and inviting them to join the Catholic community.

(4) How We Pray

The fourth pillar of the Catechism focuses on prayer. The Our Father is a shared traditional prayer for both Catholics and Christians throughout the world. Students begin by memorizing traditional prayers, such as the Our Father, and then they are able to participate in public Catholic prayers by praying together with others in community.

Jesus also encourages us to pray to God on our own (Matthew 6:5-15). There are many forms of personal prayer and religious educators can teach students some forms of personal prayer as a means to unite them with Jesus and the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Additional Resources

Hallow App

Religious educators can supplement class time with the Hallow app. The app will enable you to give assignments to your students that include time for prayer, reflection and review of key church teachings. When students use the app at home, they may generate interest among other members of their families and begin making prayer a part of family life.

Disciple of Christ, Education in Virtue

The Disciple of Christ, Education in Virtue resources can be used at all grade levels, both elementary and secondary. A wide array of resources are available from Disciple of Christ on their web site including textbooks, teachers’ guides and videos. The Disciple of Christ program could be a way to connect your religious education program with all the other programs in your school through a focus on virtuous living and following Christ as his disciples.

Advent and Christmas Reflections

A book I published with NCEA is a great resource for teaching the Catholic faith at any grade level, both elementary and secondary. Advent and Christmas Reflections: Ideas for Teaching the Catholic Faith in the Home, School, and Parish is a flexible resource that can be used in many different settings with students of many different ages. My book will also help you reflect more deeply on the meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons for yourself and your vocation as a teacher.

Advent and Christmas Reflections includes a list of activities to choose from for each day of the Advent and Christmas seasons. These activities promote prayer, creativity, witnessing for the Gospel, social awareness, social action and a deepening understanding of the truths of the Catholic faith.

Please Come Back!

I will be posting again in this blog with strategies for teaching the Catholic faith across the curriculum and programs in grades 6-12. Please come back here to learn more!