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20. The Interview as a Teaching Technique

We as teachers must increase the out-of-class involvement of our students. We cannot satisfactorily communicate God’s truth if we are limited by existing structures to only one hour per week, and in some cases, even that rather irregularly. So we bolster our minimal classtime by trying to involve our students in learning activities during the week. The more closely we can link these outside activities to classroom methodology, the more unified the learning experience will be.

The use of interviews in class is inseparably linked to a discussion methodology. It emphasizes however, that the input for the class time can be brought to class by the students rather than the teacher. It sends the students out to deliberately confront other persons with the intent of securing information from them that will be helpful to the class.

The objective of the interview is to solicit information about a specific topic so that the class may have the opportunity of responding to this information. But there is an added dimension in using the interview: the student has the responsibility for making an approach to his informant and bringing back the information in a form that can be used for class discussion. This removes the passive element from student involvement and sends him actively into confrontation with the subject matter, as well as with personalities having to do with the subject matter.

Values of Interview Teaching

One positive point has already been mentioned, the matter of participation. If we are really committed to the principle of involvement, then we will want to select teaching methodologies that will tie the students in to the entire process of teaching and learning. This is not always the case, even with some participational approaches to teaching. For example, the question and answer method is participational, but involvement only takes place at the actual classtime. This is also true of the general discussion method. But the student who interviews must be involved right from the point of assignment, through the securing of the information, to the presentation, discussion, and evaluation in the class.

Another valid plus in interview teaching is the opportunity to plug in a vast amount of information to the classroom setting. The teacher must do enough significant study so that he comes to class with a reasonable depth of knowledge. But in interviewing, the student or students will pick up different points of view and new approaches to an issue which the teacher might not have thought of while preparing the lesson largely from one point of view.

And that really suggests a third value, namely, the broad outlook on questions and issues which can suggest sources of information which have not occurred to the teacher or students up to that point. Most educators agree that a broad perspective on an issue generally results in a stronger learning experience.

Problems in Interview Teaching

To successfully utilize this classroom approach, the teacher must build genuine motivation in the students. Frequently, particularly m Sunday School settings, students are quite happy to let the teacher do the work for them. Interviewing is an attempt to delegate the responsibility for learning back to the student. At first some may be very hesitant to accept this responsibility, and the teacher will have to encourage them as well as help them carry out successful interview sessions.

Another drawback is that the student may be somewhat incompetent to formulate satisfactory interview questions. The success of the interview largely depends on the clarity and comprehensiveness of the questions used. Poor interviews then result in poor classes. Sometimes, too, it is hard to find key people who can contribute something of significance to the subject which the class is studying.

However, we too often limit interviews to so-called authorities. Surely we can get valuable points of view from ordinary people such as fellow students, friends, neighbors, adults in the church, or just the man on the street.

Perhaps the most dangerous problem of all is that the interview method may find us at classtime with nothing more than scattered human opinions on subjects of great importance. However, this only becomes a problem if we do not seriously recognize that all we sought in the first place is human opinion. It is our task in class to pour all of this information through the sieve of God’s Word so that truth may come out the other end.

It is quite possible in any given class session where interview information is used that we will want to reject more of the data than we accept. This depends of course on the kind of people who were approached for the interviews. Think of the class session somewhat in the manner of the diagram on page 104.

Principles for Effective Interview Teaching

Think over a class situation in which you might want to use interviews. The controversial subject for discussion is the issue of abortion. It is your purpose in the next class session to come to grips with the question, “Should Christians defend or reject the current liberalizing trends in abortion laws and practices?” You have 12 teens in your class, and you want to send them out for interviews in the intervening week.

First of all you must discuss the kind of people who should be interviewed. Of course, you could send the class out “blindly,” simply asking them to contact people they think would have something to contribute, but it is more effective to discuss who should be approached on the subject. There are at least four possible choices in setting up the interview structure: one student may interview one person; one student may interview several persons; multiple students may interview one person; or multiple students may interview several persons.

Let us assume that after your preliminary discussion, you and the class have decided to opt for plan four. Annette will approach an attorney, Sue will be interviewing the pastor, Dick will be going to the hospital to try to make contact with a doctor who has been involved in some legal abortions, and Liz wants to contact a Christian psychologist. The class and teacher then agree on the questions to be used and whether the same questions should be used for each interviewee.

The class also agrees to share the expense of Liz’s contact since she will have to call the psychologist long distance and record the interview by means of a telephone hookup on her cassette recorder. Each class member will have approximately 10 minutes to present the information which he obtained so that 20 minutes of the hour can be left for open discussion.

After all of these careful plans have been laid, share with your students some of the following basic principles of handling the interview itself.

1. Avoid being bothersome or impertinent to the person you are contacting. Let him know right from the start that you appreciate his giving his time in this way and that you will be happy to meet at his convenience and follow any “ground rules” he lays down. For example, he might want to speak so candidly that he will not want his name to be used, or he may reject the idea of recording his statements.

2. Assume the role of an inquiring reporter, but do some basic homework on the subject before you approach the interviewee. This will avoid the embarrassment of having to stop and ask definitions of terms or clarifications of ideas which could have been learned simply by doing some background reading. Incidentally, there should be essential background reading assigned to all of the class in preparation for the discussion next week.

3. Keep the interviews short. It certainly will not take long to get enough information for a 10-minute presentation. The quality of the information is not dependent upon the length of the interview, but rather the significance of the questions.

4. Do not expect the interviewee to offer an organized lecture. In fact, this is precisely what we want to avoid. If he is speaking about the subject broadly, he might avoid the questions which have been assigned and somewhat distort the specific nature of the information which we want.

5. Keep the inquiry flexible enough to take advantage of clues that arise in the course of the conversation. There might be a very strategic path that was not covered in the initial questions but which will be of great interest to the class. If the pattern of the interview is elastic, the reporter will be able to “play it by ear” in order to incorporate this key information.

As their teacher, you will want to contact your interviewers sometime during the week to make sure that all is proceeding on schedule. Nothing could be more disastrous for next week’s class than to have all four of the students turn up with no information at all. You should be available as a resource person to suggest an alternate personality if they have trouble getting in touch with the one selected.

Let me caution again that all of the information must be subjected to the evaluative light of the Word of God. We would certainly expect all of the persons selected in the plan above to be competent authorities on some phase of the problem of abortion. But we should never teach the ideas of men as substitutes for the revelation of God. We will want to compare the information we get with what the Bible says about the subject of abortion. This is where you come in as the teacher. It may very well be that the pastor will offer strictly biblical information to the inquirer who approaches him. But you cannot rest on that possibility. All effective discussions must have a leader who can refer opinions and ideas to the Word of God so that they can be tested by its absolute truth.

You may also discover that the class becomes so alive and interesting that the students want to continue the discussion for another week. Try to be flexible enough in your curriculum plan to allow for expansion on a topic that has really raised what we have come to call a “teachable moment” in the life cycle of a class. Interviews may very well spark teachable moments and you will be happy that you left some of the more traditional methods behind to experiment with interviews.

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible