We've used the word contextualtization in church ministry settings over and over and we argued for and against it in seminary again and again. But I think it absolutely applies in the educational world as well. Here is the definition of contextualize from dictionary. com:
In essence it is the idea that we can keep the message the same even when we must deliver it via different methods to different people groups. The book uses this simple definition,–verb (used with object), -ized, -iz·ing.
to put (a linguistic element, an action, etc.) in a context, esp. one that is characteristic or appropriate, as for purposes of study.2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/contextualizationAlso, especially British, con·tex·tu·al·ise.Origin: 1930–35; contextual + -ize
—Related formscon·tex·tu·al·i·za·tion, noun
"relating effectively to the needs, concerns, and interests (material, political and otherwise) of the people to whom we are ministering." The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, p 83.In my perspective, we've rounded this corner in church ministry, but I'm seeing contextualization used more and more in schools as well. In the educational world there is macro-contextualization (such as when a class of like-wired learners engages in a message in a way that is different from the next class of like-wired learners) and there is micro-contextualization (delivering a message to an individual learner based on his or her learning style -- how they best take in information). In homeschooling we deal with micro-contextualization.
In sharing the story of Jesus with someone we need to take into account all of their prior experience and knowledge in order to help His story connect with their own. Naturally, in our home teaching we have the freedom to infuse the content with our spiritual worldview, but we (I) have to be sensitive to our (my) students and realize that children have a "still-developing" worldview. For instance, one of my children is totally on board with Jesus, the other is not. So, as I teach I point out proofs because that speaks to my unbeliever, and I point out blessings because it speaks to my young believer.
Contextualization works for non-gospel messages as well. Academics can be contextualized. The facts remain the same, but we use changing methods. I use two different math curricula for my two sons as a way of relating to their interests and needs: one needed hands-on learning with less distraction on the page, the other needed a feeling of accomplishment and constant review (spiral learning). So, I have taught them both to add, but in very different ways.
Children are natural learners and yet the knowledge they obtain must be appropriate for their developmental stage. Those who are committed to reading aloud to their kids know that when we do so, we introduce them to places and experiences that their life path won't take them to. That way when they do learn about arctic explorers they know a bit about the barriers in that environment even though they live in Yuma, Arizona and have never experienced it themselves. We read aloud to provide them with context.
"...context is the stage where all comprehension takes place. 'It is the reality that ties together and therefore shapes all knowledge...' " ibid, p.87If they have no context to refer to, they cannot grasp the new knowledge.
Education is a constant putting down of layer upon layer. The lower grades are all about introduction, they are not about making our children into trivia champions. We are layering for future learning. Once a child, for instance, understands that there are different types of plants then they can learn the parts of each one. Once they master that they can learn about the food chain and later the symbiosis between green living things and human living beings. Only then can they grasp the vast importance of agriculture, food supply, conservation and other related higher thinking. It's all about their first years, their first layer of introduction. Once the foundation is there we build upon it and in their higher grades they experience the meaning in new contexts.
We make an assumption when we school at home. We assume that we are helping this child take off on a life long journey of learning. We assume that we are not the end-of-the-line when it comes to knowledge. We are simply laying down the layers as it is appropriate for each child. They will take over their learning process gradually. If they do, then they will not likely abandon it at graduation because we have spoken to them in their immediate context, sped up the experience or slowed it down, related the information visually/ auditorally/ kinesthetically/ tactally. We've said, "Remember when we learned about...?" or "Remember when our family did..." and in so doing we've given them an unfailing foundation for what is yet to come.
We didn't treat them like cookie cutters, label them, pressure them to perform, or overlook them. We performed our task of educating with the whole child in mind -- his traditions and schedules, tendencies and personality, friendships and family connections, likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations, hurdles and victories, abilities and opportunities, nature and nuturing -- it's all a part of his context into which we speak all the words of life and Life.