Don Tapscott, in Growing Up Digital, lists eight shifts in learning styles for teenagers. The way I learned things as a teen was linearly. For lots of cultural reasons, teens no longer learn that way.
This is important when we begin to think of evangelizing and catechizing teens in the catechumenate process. If we approach faith formation the way we came to faith, we’ll fail to bring the teens in our lives to true conversion to Jesus Christ. Here are the shifts Tapscott outlines:
1. From linear to hypermedia learning
Books, especially textbooks, are linear. TV is linear. Movies are usually linear. The Internet is not linear. Online games are not usually linear. Teens today access information in an interactive and non-structured way. Their learning style is different than the way most of us learned new information. If we want to communicate the good news, we have to do so in a way that fits with their postmodern, hyperlinked, seemingly distracted method of sending and receiving information.
How is your catechumenate for teens more like surfing the Internet and less like reading a textbook?
2. From instruction to construction
Schools all across the country are abandoning traditional pedagogy and shifting to creating learning cultures. We can do the same thing with teens in the catechumenate. Instead of seeing ourselves as teachers who are broadcasting information, we can involve the teens in designing their own formation processes and activities.
How is your catechumenate for teens involving them in creating their own faith formation process?
3. From teacher-directed to student centered
There is always a difference between what I want to teach and what the learner wants to learn. When I was a teen, I learned what the teacher wanted to teach. If we want to engage teens in a significant faith formation process, we have to let go of what we want to teach them; we have to shift focus to what the teens want to learn.
You might think this makes the catechist less important, but the opposite is true. By staying focused on the teens’ own goals for faith formation, the catechist is challenged to stretch into new teaching methods and content.
What is one way your process could be more focused on the faith formation goals of the teen?
4. From absorbing material to learning how to learn
It is easy to give people fish. It is more difficult to teach them how to fish. As RCIA catechists, if we can teach the teens how to teach themselves, we will have given them the gift of lifelong faith formation—no matter where they are or what circumstances they are in.
What is one tool you can turn over to the teens in your process so they can do their own exploration of the faith?
5. From school to lifelong learning
When I graduated from high school, I thought I would go to college, learn a profession, and work at that profession the rest of my life. Of the four professions I have had since then, none of them relate to my college degree. Young people today do not expect to be working in one job for their whole lives. They are already lifelong learners. Except when it comes to faith issues. We have to change that.
Can you name three characteristics of your teen catechumenate that enable lifelong learning?
6. From one-size-fits-all to customized learning
When people ask how to catechize teens, I always want to answer, “Which one?” Today’s teens grew up with a totally customized world, made possible by digital media. We have to provide customized faith formation based on each teen’s background, talent, learning style, and spiritual development.
Can you identify one way in which you can move to a more customized faith formation process for the teens in your RCIA process?
7. From learning is torture to learning is fun
Is faith formation the highlight of the week for the teens in your process? If not, why not? If Jesus Christ is the answer to their deepest longing, it is our job to introduce them to Christ in such a way that they are over-awed by the experience.
What is the most awesome thing about your faith for you? How will you share that with the teens in your RCIA process?
8. From teacher as transmitter to teacher as facilitator
Imagine this. You divide your teams into two groups. Both groups are given the task of creating a game that is both fun and challenging. The purpose of the game is to solve a mystery—the mystery of the Trinity. Both teams have access to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (online), the parish priest, Catholic Updates or similar resources, their parents and grandparents, and you. The game must include references to liturgy, Scripture, and your parish practice. Their goal is to design the game to be played by middle-school children. The winner of the contest is the team that gets the most middle-schoolers to play their team’s game and enjoy it.
Not only will the teens learn about the Trinity, they will also be teaching the middle-school children about the Trinity. And all you did was point the way.
What is another way you might serve as a facilitator instead of a teacher for the teens in your RCIA process?
If we can make these eight shifts in the way we form teen catechumens in the faith, we will have an exciting church filled with the passion and excitement of young Christians.
5 thoughts on “Eight essential shifts in forming teenagers in the RCIA process”
Wow, thought provoiking! I have three teenagers and this article makes me think that I need to “Let go and let the teens”…decide,learn, explore! To answer the 6th question, I would say that I could move to a more customized faith formation process for teens in the RCIA by letting THEM decide what they’d like to discuss and explore. When my 17 year old daughter’s catechist let the kids decide what the “topic” would be, she quit complaining about going to religious education. Maybe I need to do MORE of that with teens in RCIA. Thanks, Nick!
Whoa! God is good!
In the last 4 days, I’ve just had 3 teens inquire about RCIA. Plus, I’m in the middle of a redesign of our Confirmation Prep program. This gives me plenty to mull over.
This is a question I have struggled with for the past four years, as we have more and more teens brought for full initiation. I have adapted and changed and modified each year, trying to find the “right” way….but I guess you are right! Each teen–indeed, each inquirer–is different, and we need to be flexible and listen more to what they want to learn and how to best help them make connections to their faith. Instead of viewing their constant need for internet and texting as a distraction, I need to embrace it and let it remnd me that they want to keep in touch with the world and with in each other, just in very different ways than I did at that age! Making me rethink my approach, once again! Thank you!!
Thanks Nick! This is just what I was looking for. I am meeting with my catechists for teens in a few hours. Perfect for teens not in the RCIA process too!!
My one concern with this approach (or rather an exageration of it)—that we lose the understanding that we (the catechist) have things to give. Of course, not of our own, but from the riches of the Church.
Catechesis should not be simply “choose your own adventure” and “find your truth inside you.” It is instead “echoing down to another.” We, the Church, have been give the Deposit of Faith, the divine revelation of truths that must be known and lived. While catechists, just like any secular youth worker, want to meet kids where they are, we must be convinced that leading them to be transformed by Christ, through His teaching, the Sacraments, and Christian relationships, is the best place for their adventure to lead.
I think this post supports this approach too, recognizing Jesus as the answer to their deepest longing and suggesting the Catechism and the Liturgy as sources of information. A complete capitulation of our role as teacher is dangerous though.