Powerful Positioning: Texts, Actions, and Objects

by Debra Paxton-Buursma with John Booy, Kathy DeJong, Mark Ponstine, Aubree Cantral, Jeanine Bakker,  Janorisè Robinson, Becca Brasser, and Shanna Pargellis

How do spaces create powerful learning possibilities or pitfalls? The Sacred Space Pedagogy project explores how the arrangement of texts and objects can empower or restrain purposeful engagement, exploration, reflection, and production in learning. Consider how easily we remember a catchy song, manage the multiple steps in a restaurant, or experience emotion when baptismal water flows over flesh.

The Power of Habit

James K. A. Smith helps explain why ordinary experiences powerfully affect how and what we learn. Smith suggests that because people are embodied, they learn with their bodies—not just with their heads. The material and activity aspects of basic routines powerfully shape our hearts—what we believe and value—impacting the sense our heads make of experiences. We aren’t always conscious of this powerful influence until we experience disequilibrium when practices change. For example, we become disoriented when the cereal aisle is relocated or when new growth obscures a familiar hiking landmark. Smith calls routine practices “learning liturgies” suggesting that life liturgies in a church, coffee shop, or classroom shape us and teach us what we believe and understand (86). The powerful potential of ordinary texts, actions, and objects in teaching practices to shape hearts and minds may support distinctive, faith-shaping instructional decisions.

Discovering Common Themes

Jo-Ann and I discovered four common themes across the schools regarding the intentional positioning of materials. First, schools “galleried” objects and text in common areas such as entries, hallways, and gathering spaces, where the messages could be shared widely. The entry often proclaimed a yearly school theme, sometimes through student art.

Second, schools showcased collaborative pieces. Daystar commissioned an artist to design and create a mosaic. The artist worked with students as they positioned objects and helped to create the mosaic. Grand Rapids Christian School students painted Bible stories on tiles set into library pillars. The Potter’s House features a yearly multigrade Martin Luther King Jr. representation.

Third, language, symbols, or metaphors intentionally showcased distinctive aspects of a school’s vision or Christian nature such as doing justice or being faithful. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

Works Cited

Smith, James K. A. Desiring The Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Baker Academic, 2009. Print.

—. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Brazos Press, 2016. Print.