Teaching

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Sharpening Your Teaching Skills: Anticipation and Preparation (#2)

Posted by on 06 Mar 2008 | Tagged as: Teaching

Last time we considered the developmental needs of your students. While that kind of information is ?gold ? when it comes to anticipating needs, sometimes we overlook the physical needs of students. This time we ?re talking about the learning environment, the brick-and-mortar location where learning takes place.

Anticipating Environmental Needs

OK, as a teacher, it ?s easy to get bogged down in educational theory; that ?s our training; that ?s why we ?re in the role we ?re in. Knowing all the educational psychology and related information will help you figure out why your students learn ?or not. But if your students are distracted by their physical surroundings, none of the educational theories will help you connect with them, and you ?re not going to meet their needs. At the very least, you should consider the space, comfort, and suitability of your classroom environment.

Space

Having enough space is important for teaching adults as well as children. We know that kids need a lot more classroom space than adults (children typically need about 25 square feet per student, while adults need only about 9 square feet). Unfortunately, we ?re far more likely to stuff 30 adults into a space that should really accommodate only about a dozen. A three-by-three square of space might only be enough space to sit on a chair and cross your legs, but if your students cannot do even that, they ?re going to check out ?first intellectually, and then physically.

Comfort

It ?s also easy to neglect concerns about comfort in the classroom. While classroom space in a church may be difficult to come by and while adults are more capable of simply ?dealing with it, ? if your classroom isn ?t comfortable, eventually it will reduce the effectiveness of your teaching and the likelihood of students returning. Consider these comfort factors:

  • Temperature: Can you control it?
  • Seating: Is there enough? Can your learners endure sitting there for the whole time?
  • Amenities: Can your students snack as they learn? Is there a place to set their coffee? Do they have to hold their coats, purses, or other extras?

Suitability

Because classroom space is at a premium, many churches will place groups in whatever space is available. Again, while this may be a necessity, at some point it may be destructive to the class itself. Some aspects to consider include:

  • Noise: Does the space have a lot of outside noise (from hallways, other corners of a large room, or equipment such as copiers, telephones, or air conditioners)?
  • Furniture and equipment: Do your students have a table to write on if needed? Do you need a white board or a TV and DVD player?
  • Decor: Are the room decorations distracting? (Are you trying to teach senior adults in a room that is designed for infants or teenagers? Are there posters, photos, or other content that may be inappropriate? This is especially important if you ?re meeting in a space outside of a church.)

Unfortunately, the environment where we try to teach is not always best suited for our needs, and it can get worse when we cannot control the environment. However, if we can anticipate the ways the learning environment can affect our students, we can prepare by adjusting our lessons, our materials, and our teaching practices to minimize negative effects.

Re: “An Open Apology Letter to My Class”

Posted by on 07 Nov 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

If you’re a Bible teacher or preacher, please read “An Open Apology Letter to My Class” by Randy Gariss in the November 4, 2007, issue of Christian Standard (they have it online here). It’s written from the somewhat-humorous perspective of someone who is in a fictional rehab center, but it made a few deadly serious points.

During the author’s first “group session,” the facilitator told the group of preachers and teachers: “You hold up the Word of God because it is true, but you don’t hold it up as something alive and powerful in your life.” That’s a huge shot at many Bible teachers and preachers, but it’s very likely an accurate assessment. I have to admit that there are far too many lessons and sermons in my repertoire that are simply regurgitated facts from my most frequently used textbook from college: the Bible. I know that I’d fight tooth-and-nail defending the authenticity and value of the Scriptures, but I also know that there are many times when I’ve taught “the Truth” while living in denial of the same facts.

The facilitator asks further: “We easily stand in front of a class, but did the preparation of that lesson or text bring us before God?” No, the preparation has often only brought me to the front of the class, at the last moment in many cases. Many times the last minute preparation has brought back memories of what professors or preachers said while I was a student, rather than bringing me face-to-face with God.

Gariss writes: “The goal of Scripture is not information but transformation! And we are frauds to teach texts that are not transforming us!” So, I’ll join with Gariss and apologize to my classes for defrauding them.

Forgive me, Lord. I am eternally grateful for the transformation you’ve worked in my life. Embolden me to revel in that transformation as I prepare to preach and teach and as I hold out the Word of Life to others that they may be transformed as well.

Sharpening Your Teaching Skills: Anticipation & Preparation

Posted by on 01 Nov 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

Perhaps the least practiced skill in teaching is preparation. It has been said that the average Bible teacher spends about 11 minutes preparing for class, and that varies depending on how many stoplights exist between the teacher ?s home and the church.

When it comes to preparation for teaching a Bible lesson, the key is anticipation. Your best bet for teaching the best lesson is to anticipate every need, every question, every variable that could arise when teaching the lesson. Since that ?s not really likely to ever happen, start with what you know; then you should be well-enough prepared that the unanticipated will have less of an impact on your lesson.

For the next several posts, we will look at some of the areas that you ought to consider as you prepare your lessons. In this post, we will consider the developmental needs of your students.

Anticipating Developmental Needs

The most basic information to consider when anticipating the needs of your students is their developmental characteristics. Every person matures from infancy through adulthood according to fairly uniform stages of physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. While individuals progress at different paces, knowing the common characteristics will help you identify your students ?needs.

Because this is fairly specialized knowledge of which I have only a basic grasp myself, I wouldn’t dare to offer even a basic overview. But you can learn the basics of physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual development by reading up on experts such as Jean Piaget, Benjamin Bloom, Erik Erikson, Lawrence Kohlberg, Bernice McCarthy, Anthony Gregorc, Lawrence Richards, and James Fowler. The downside is that even though this research will get you detailed information, it won ?t guarantee that you will know everything there is to know about your students.

The only way to know what your students truly need is to interact with your students. While it may be difficult to get to know each student well on a personal level, pay attention to their interaction in the class setting. As you work through different teaching strategies and activities, you will begin to discern how your students are different and who reacts to which method in what ways.

Regardless of how you learn about your students, generally or specifically, understanding their developmental differences will help you anticipate their needs and prepare lessons that meet those needs most effectively.

Top 10 Indicators that You Don ?t Spend Enough Time in Lesson Preparation

Posted by on 26 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

10. Students wince at the sound of the spine of your teacher book cracking as you open it.
9. You ask your students, ?So, what should we do today every week.
8. You ask to borrow a student book at the beginning of each class.
7. The class gets to nominate and vote on the lesson text.
6. You have suggested home Sunday schooling to the education committee.
5. Students start asking for transfers to other classes.
4. No matter where the lesson starts, it always ends up with baby Moses in the basket.
3. You just noticed the date on the curriculum is April 1987.
2. You think objectives are those students who complain about the lesson every week.
1. When students ask about handouts, you give them your spare change.

Essential Elements of Effective Study Materials

Posted by on 24 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

As Bible school teachers and smaller group study leaders and teachers examine study materials to purchase or use for their lessons, they need to consider whether the mateials are capable of being used effectively. Many people assume that published curriculum is ready to use ?right out of the box ?; that is rarely true.

However, most teachers can evaluate curriculum and determine the steps needed to make just about any curriculum usable for their specific classroom or study application. By identifying whether a curriculum has the following elements, and by evaluating how well those elements are used within the curriculum, a teacher can prepare to use the curriculum to its maximum potential of effectiveness, which will surely be greater than when they first opened it.

  1. Integration: All topics and themes are either taken straight from the Bible or are cross-referenced to specific Bible stories. Lessons need to be relevant to students ? lives, so topical studies are important. But the Bible is always relevant; it ?s just a matter of making sure the students understand how.
  2. Storytelling: The presentation of topics and themes and Bible stories make use of storytelling techniques including the use of visuals and drama. Our culture thrives on storytelling, as is obvious in our fascination with movies. People typically consider their lives to be stories, and they often enjoy sharing their stories with others. While the Bible accounts are factual and historical, they are still stories, God ?s story, to be exact. We need to be able to share that story in such a way that people not only listen but want to hear and know more.
  3. Large Group: Regardless of the current trends that say otherwise, there are benefits to having large group activities within lessons, especially when there are varied levels of faith, knowledge, and maturity within the group. While the default approach to teaching in large groups is lecture format, there many creative approaches to teaching larger groups. Large groups are also important for building relationships, instilling a sense of group identity, and encouraging fellowship through corporate worship, games, and other large group activities.
  4. Smaller Groups: There are many reasons why using smaller groups within a lesson will help teachers present and students learn the material more effectively than within a large group alone. Providing opportunities for interaction among smaller groups of students (twos, threes, up to six or eight) encourages discipling relationships to develop and grow between teachers and students and among students.
  5. Holistic Activities: Better materials consider the ?whole student. ? Because each student is different, materials should at least allow for varied approaches, whether they are written into the material or not. These should include activities that are thoughtfully constructed and placed considering age appropriateness, development (physical, cognitive, spiritual), learning styles and modes, and multiple intelligences and utilizing multisensory input.
  6. Technology: Even print-only materials should provide opportunities and suggestions, if not bundled resources, for integrating technology into lessons and classrooms. Check to see if the publisher has internet-based supplemental materials such as video clips, handouts, blogs, or links to related materials.
  7. Teacher Enrichment: Effective materials should be a little self-conscious in that they realize that they are not necessarily immediately usable in all classroom or study situations. They ought to incorporate information and methods for helping teachers prepare for lessons, understand their students needs and learning styles, grow in their own spirituality and knowledge, and disciple their students.

Top reasons to have a uniform Bible school curriculum for adults

Posted by on 17 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for several years, and now I’m getting keyed up enough to share it. While I like the idea of having teachers who are able to design and write their own lessons for teaching the Bible and other spiritual and doctrinal issues, the fact is, there are far too few who are able to do it well. Some simply don’t know enough about teaching to develop effective lessons that are approachable by diverse students. Others are so comfortable with their own learning and teaching styles that they refuse to change. More often than not, teachers don’t have the time to put into developing and teaching effective lessons. And with the increasing dearth of Bible knowledge, many more people simply refuse to teach because they don’t think they know enough.

Legitimate reasons or not, they’re real. So, I’d like to propose that uniform curriculum may be a reasonable solution to these problems. There are several good reasons why using the same curriculum in all adult Bible classes in a church setting will help the body of believers grow “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).

  1. Uniform curriculum allows the church leaders to identify a purposeful plan for training all disciples to know God’s Word.
  2. Uniform curriculum from a publisher you trust reduces concerns about false teachings.
  3. Uniform curriculum reduces the amount of background research time needed to prepare for a lesson.
  4. Uniform curriculum allows the teacher to focus on preparing the lesson for a specific group of students.
  5. Uniform curriculum allows for the last-minute exchange, replacement, or substitution of teachers without losing continuity for the students and without last-minute preparatory scrambling by the teacher.
  6. Uniform curriculum removes the burden of choosing a Bible class based upon content.
  7. Uniform curriculum encourages class groupings to be more natural, based upon the age and stage of life of the students.
  8. Uniform curriculum enables students of varied measures of faith to interact, thus encouraging discipling relationships among students.

Sharpening Our Teaching Skills

Posted by on 16 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

Despite our best efforts, we simply cannot control everything in our teaching efforts. Classroom settings, student backgrounds, student interest, student experience, technology for the classroom, research in the topic, whatever the variable, it will likely change from one teaching experience to the next. Even from one week to another your life, your students ? lives, and the world can change drastically. For these reasons, we must always be sharpening our teaching skills.

Fortunately, the one thing that doesn ?t change is God. As Bible teachers, whether for children, teens, or adults, whether in a formal classroom, in a small group setting, or in a one-time event, regardless of who the students are and in what setting they are learning, we can be certain that God ?s Word never changes. Unfortunately, because of sin and the consequences of sin, the understanding of God ?s Word and the application of it seem to change from individual to individual.

No longer can we count on everyone in a given classroom having even a basic understanding of God, Jesus, the Bible, or the church. No longer can we count on the ?tried and true ? methods of teaching to reach every student in the same way for the same results.

The best way to keep a tool sharp is to use it correctly. So, we must continue to use correctly the tools that we have. Occasionally, we will find that even with consistent, correct usage, our tools become dull and need to be sharpened. Occasionally, we will find ourselves in situations where the tools we have are not the tools needed for the job at hand; then we have to improvise and maybe use the tools we possess in ways that they were not intended to be used. Sometimes that works; other times it does not. Either way, we tuck that information away for future use. We can look for new tools to do that job better, or we can be prepared to use what we have when we need it.

Sharpening Our Teaching Skills

Posted by on 16 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

Despite our best efforts, we simply cannot control everything in our teaching efforts. Classroom settings, student backgrounds, student interest, student experience, technology for the classroom, research in the topic, whatever the variable, it will likely change from one teaching experience to the next. Even from one week to another your life, your students ? lives, and the world can change drastically. For these reasons, we must always be sharpening our teaching skills.

Fortunately, the one thing that doesn ?t change is God. As Bible teachers, whether for children, teens, or adults, whether in a formal classroom, in a small group setting, or in a one-time event, regardless of who the students are and in what setting they are learning, we can be certain that God ?s Word never changes. Unfortunately, because of sin and the consequences of sin, the understanding of God ?s Word and the application of it seem to change from individual to individual.

No longer can we count on everyone in a given classroom having even a basic understanding of God, Jesus, the Bible, or the church. No longer can we count on the ?tried and true ? methods of teaching to reach every student in the same way for the same results.

The best way to keep a tool sharp is to use it correctly. So, we must continue to use correctly the tools that we have. Occasionally, we will find that even with consistent, correct usage, our tools become dull and need to be sharpened. Occasionally, we will find ourselves in situations where the tools we have are not the tools needed for the job at hand; then we have to improvise and maybe use the tools we possess in ways that they were not intended to be used. Sometimes that works; other times it does not. Either way, we tuck that information away for future use. We can look for new tools to do that job better, or we can be prepared to use what we have when we need it.

Do My Lessons Stick?

Posted by on 04 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

Encouraging Spiritual Growth from a Teacher ?s Perspective

Spiritual growth is tough to measure. Parents worry whether the words they speak to their children are getting through, especially when bad behavior continues. Bible school teachers worry in the same way, but it may be tougher to deal with than from a parent ?s perspective.

Even though parents have the ultimate responsibility for training their children in righteousness, Bible teachers have the burden of higher accountability for their role, as James 3:1 shows: ?we who teach will be judged more strictly. ? While we cannot discount the fact that individuals are responsible for their own growth and for their own sin, teachers are certainly accountable for teaching the truth.

It ?s easy to determine whether a teacher is teaching the truth; we have the Bible as the ultimate resource. However, teaching is more than simply passing out information. If that ?s all we had to do, then we could be free and clear by simply distributing Bibles. Professional teachers and adequately trained volunteer teachers know that information isn ?t learned until it is internalized. That is, information must be added to an individual ?s repertoire of decision making skills and processes.

The Bible shows that using that information is an indication of internalization (Matthew 12:331; Colossians 1:4-62). However, as Bible teachers, we do not always have the ability to see that information being applied, since our interaction with our students is typically only an hour each week. We could base our assessment of how well the lesson has been applied by surveying parents of child students and spouses, friends, children, and/or coworkers of adult students, but that seems impractical.

So how can we know whether our lessons stick? In all honesty, unless we are resolved to develop fairly deep relationships with each of our students, we probably will not know for sure. However, we can increase the likelihood of making them stick by making our lessons ?sticky. ? Here are some suggestions to consider when writing and teaching your lessons.

  1. Link it. Consider the relationships between cognitive development, spiritual development, and teaching and learning styles. Use what you know about the infrastructure of learning and teaching and use it as effectively as you can. Turn the science of teaching into your art. Check out the chart I developed to line up various educational theories with spiritual development theories.
  2. Apply it. Application, application, application. Be as specific as possible when making application statements to your students. That means you need to know who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Don ?t accept the general applications found in published curriculum, use specific examples from your kids ? school experiences, from your small group ?s work experiences, from your support group ?s marriage, divorce, parenting, addiction ?whatever ?experiences.
  3. Explore it. Try to consider different perspectives. Identify your own experiences and learning/teaching styles and try to develop activities, points of application, discussion questions, etc., from a different perspective. Approaching a topic from the varied perspectives of the multiple intelligences theory is another way to explore a topic more fully. (Do a search for it and Howard Gardner if you ?re not familiar with this theory.)
  4. Beat it. The old preaching outline ?tell them what you ?re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them ? isn ?t necessarily a bad concept. Sometimes we try to cover too much information quickly rather than spending more in-depth time on fewer concepts.
  5. Share it. Get together with other teachers who are in your team or who may have taught the same concept. Even if you aren ?t teaching the same topics, getting together with a group of teachers to talk about all of your topics may be helpful. It is amazing what happens when we realize that ?all of us are smarter than any one of us. ?
  1. ?A tree is recognized by its fruit ? (Matthew 12:33, NIV). [ ?]
  2. ?We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints ? the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God ?s grace in all its truth ? (Colossians 1:4-6, NIV). [ ?]

Do My Lessons Stick?

Posted by on 04 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Teaching

Encouraging Spiritual Growth from a Teacher ?s Perspective

Spiritual growth is tough to measure. Parents worry whether the words they speak to their children are getting through, especially when bad behavior continues. Bible school teachers worry in the same way, but it may be tougher to deal with than from a parent ?s perspective.

Even though parents have the ultimate responsibility for training their children in righteousness, Bible teachers have the burden of higher accountability for their role, as James 3:1 shows: “we who teach will be judged more strictly.” While we cannot discount the fact that individuals are responsible for their own growth and for their own sin, teachers are certainly accountable for teaching the truth.

It ?s easy to determine whether a teacher is teaching the truth; we have the Bible as the ultimate resource. However, teaching is more than simply passing out information. If that ?s all we had to do, then we could be free and clear by simply distributing Bibles. Professional teachers and adequately trained volunteer teachers know that information isn ?t learned until it is internalized. That is, information must be added to an individual ?s repertoire of decision making skills and processes.

The Bible shows that using that information is an indication of internalization (Matthew 12:331; Colossians 1:4-62). However, as Bible teachers, we do not always have the ability to see that information being applied, since our interaction with our students is typically only an hour each week. We could base our assessment of how well the lesson has been applied by surveying parents of child students and spouses, friends, children, and/or coworkers of adult students, but that seems impractical.

So how can we know whether our lessons stick? In all honesty, unless we are resolved to develop fairly deep relationships with each of our students, we probably will not know for sure. However, we can increase the likelihood of making them stick by making our lessons “sticky.” Here are some suggestions to consider when writing and teaching your lessons.

  1. Link it. Consider the relationships between cognitive development, spiritual development, and teaching and learning styles. Use what you know about the infrastructure of learning and teaching and use it as effectively as you can. Turn the science of teaching into your art. Check out the chart I developed to line up various educational theories with spiritual development theories.
  2. Apply it. Application, application, application. Be as specific as possible when making application statements to your students. That means you need to know who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Don ?t accept the general applications found in published curriculum, use specific examples from your kids ? school experiences, from your small group ?s work experiences, from your support group ?s marriage, divorce, parenting, addiction ?whatever ?experiences.
  3. Explore it. Try to consider different perspectives. Identify your own experiences and learning/teaching styles and try to develop activities, points of application, discussion questions, etc., from a different perspective. Approaching a topic from the varied perspectives of the multiple intelligences theory is another way to explore a topic more fully. (Do a search for it and Howard Gardner if you ?re not familiar with this theory.)
  4. Beat it. The old preaching outline “tell them what you ?re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them” isn ?t necessarily a bad concept. Sometimes we try to cover too much information quickly rather than spending more in-depth time on fewer concepts.
  5. Share it. Get together with other teachers who are in your team or who may have taught the same concept. Even if you aren ?t teaching the same topics, getting together with a group of teachers to talk about all of your topics may be helpful. It is amazing what happens when we realize that “all of us are smarter than any one of us.”
  1. ?A tree is recognized by its fruit ? (Matthew 12:33, NIV). []
  2. ?We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints ? the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth ? (Colossians 1:4-6, NIV). []