Life hasn’t slowed down much for Calvin professor of education emerita Yvonne Hoekstra Van Ee ’63. In fact, her work has taken a fascinating new turn as she became a partner with Holland, Mich., third-graders to produce a revised translation of the New International Version of the Bible.
Always an innovator in her Calvin classroom—where she taught early childhood education—Van Ee has continued her study of the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching young students. This system emphasizes a discovery and collaborative method of teaching and learning.
“Teachers work as a team in this approach,” said Van Ee, “and they are always asking, ‘What do our students know and do naturally?’ The aim is to have students use their knowledge and abilities to interact with their environment and advance their learning and understanding.”
Van Ee’s efforts in early childhood learning drew the attention of Zondervan Publishing’s “Zonderkidz” division. Zonderkidz hired her to teach a semester-long course on child development for its staff writers and editors.
“It has been mutually beneficial over the years to be a consultant for Zondervan,” said Van Ee. “We’re well-suited collaborators.”
Zondervan publishes a variety of Bible translations for all ages, including the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)—first published in 1995 with the new and emerging reader in mind. After 10 years and continuing updates in the NIV Bible, it was time for a revision of the NIrV. Obviously, the young reader would benefit from this translation but so would other readers, including those new to the English language or anyone who wanted an easier-to-read-and-understand Bible.
Van Ee was asked to join a team of theologians as an education specialist to work on this revision of the NIrV. The team, headed by Michael Williams, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, reviewed sentence length and word usage.
The task was intriguing: how to provide an accurate and clear translation at a third-grade reading level.
“Word choice needed to be at grade level as did clear phrase and sentence structure. For example, the students didn’t understand the phrase ‘take an oath,’ but did understand the word ‘promise,’” said Van Ee.
The team also worked on limiting sentences to no more than 15 words. At the end of the project, the readability index of the translation was listed at grade 2.9.
The team tested its work by enlisting the help of third-graders, and Van Ee chose Rose Park Christian Elementary in Holland, near her home.
“The experience at Rose Park was a delight,” she said. “I had several of the teachers there in my Calvin classrooms years ago. And the kids—well, I called them ‘my experts.’”
Van Ee would test a translated sentence by giving the students limited choices of words or phrases that could be used in a sentence. The students would select one or provide one they thought gave the best meaning in the sentence. They also read selected passages for clarity and meaning. Students worked in groups of six and every student in the class participated. This process went on over two years.
“For me, the experience was incredible,” she said. “On one hand I listened to theologians debate the meaning of words or phrases, some based on newly translated ancient manuscripts. On the other hand I had the joy of working with young children as they excitedly participated in testing the wording of Bible passages.”
Van Ee received thank-you notes from the Rose Park students—now fourth- and fifth-graders—after they received their own copies of the new NIrV Adventure Bible.
“How can you not be deeply touched when you read comments such as ‘My life is different after this project’ and ‘I promise to read my new Bible every night,’” she said.