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1. Thinking about Teaching Methods

John Wesley was sarcastically dubbed a “methodist” when he began to promote an organized approach to the communication of the Gospel. His commitment to method implies that there is a disorganized way to communicate the truth as well as an organized way. Wesley’s success, demonstrated by his place in history, is a strong argument for the latter.

The word method is simply descriptive of processes and techniques used by a teacher to communicate information to the students. Because class differ in interests, mental ability, and attention span, the teacher must use teaching methods which are appropriate for his group. Children have learning characteristics which differ considerably from those of adults, so teaching methods which may be very effective with adults will not necessarily achieve communication with children.

The age of the students, however, is only one of the issues involved in choosing the appropriate teaching method. Another major factor is the objective of the lesson. What goals are to be accomplished in the classroom period? Can the goals chosen be achieved best through a large amount of pupil participation, or do they require transmission of a generous portion of content? Apart from the crucial concern for biblical theology, there is nothing more important in preparing to teach than a clarification of objectives.

In 14 years of preparing college and seminary students to be teachers, I have found their major collective hang-up to be clumsy construction of teaching objectives. As Findley Edge has well reminded us, good teaching objectives should be brief enough to be remembered, clear enough to be written down, and specific enough to be achieved. (Teaching for Results, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn.).

More recent emphases focus on the necessity of formulating objectives in terms of student behavior. For example, rather than saying, “To help the class realize the importance of daily prayer,” one could state the objective like this: “The student will understand the importance of daily prayer and begin a program of daily personal devotions.” Such an objective is brief, clear, specific, and describes something that the teacher wishes to happen in the life of the student. When this kind of objective is developed, the road to selection of method can be walked more Y.

A third factor influencing the method selected is the content of the lesson itself. A historical lesson from the book of Acts for high schoolers could lend itself well to an illustrated presentation with the use of good Bible maps. On the other hand, the principles of Christian separation expounded by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 would be handled better in that same class through open discussion.

One danger teachers face is the constant temptation to offer excuses for lack of variety in teaching methodology. Many teachers excuse their consistent gravitation to the lecture method by suggesting that the amount of content, or perhaps the nature of the content, requires that approach. Actually, they are probably guilty of not thinking creatively with regard to methodology.

These three factors are perhaps the most important criteria for the choice of teaching method, but they are by no means the only ones. Additional items include available resources, educational background of the students, and, very important, the time allotted for the teaching period. The thinking teacher is aware of all of these variables and applies them appropriately in his preparation.

The variety of teaching methods is almost limitless. It may be helpful to think in terms of categories of method. For example, one type of communication emphasizes the teacher as the performer in the educational process. One might call this teacher-to-student communication. Within this category such methods as lecture, storytelling, and demonstration would be included. Obviously these methods are primarily monological. They lend themselves to large groups, coverage of much content, and groups of learners who have minimal preparation for the classtime. Usually, teachers with less training and experience tend toward this category since it is easier to use than most others. Unfortunately they form habits which persist years later when they have gained experience worthy of a greater variety in teaching method. As someone has said, the only bad method is one which is used all of the time.

A second general category of method might be called student-to-teacher communication. This is a monologue in the other direction. The student performs, and the teacher plays a listening role. In this category we would expect to find such methods as recitation, reports, and testing. Obviously such student performance must be planned and motivated by the teacher, but communication is still basically on a one-way track. Here the preparation time for the student is increased. He must know in advance of the class period what is expected of him and how he should utilize preparation time.

Two-way-communication between teacher and student is other approach to teaching methodology. In the opinion of many professional educators, this category exceeds the first two in effectiveness. It emphasizes an involvement of both teacher and pupil in the mutual quest for truth. Two different methods must be included here. The method called question and answer is distinguished from the method called discussion by the kind of questions asked. When teaching by question and answer, the teacher either asks or answers objective questions, usually based on some item of a factual nature.

In discussion, thought questions are used. These generally lead the class to penetrate the subject with a much higher degree of perception and perspective. The teacher who would teach by discussion must spend a considerable amount of time preparing the kind and sequence of questions which he will use. Successful two-way teaching is dependent upon effective preparation by both teacher and student.

Group activities represent yet a different kind of teaching method. A wide range of group activities can be utilize emphasis here is on multiple instructional involvement. Panels, debates, buzz groups, and all forms of drama could be included here. The collective planning, preparation, and participation offer a significant contribution to the learning experience of the entire class.

Teachers who work with smaller children would certainly want to include instructive play as a method category. Methods in this list are generally used with children from the earliest years of instruction up through junior age. They include various kinds of games and toys, use of a sand table, puppets, fingerplays, puzzles and contests, action songs, and simple role playing. At one time in the history of education, it was thought that fun and learning were not mutually compatible. Now we know, however, that interest is one of the important keys to learning, and good elementary teaching incorporates as much instructive play as possible.

A final category might be designated nonclassroom activity. In all serious education the teacher is concerned that students prepare themselves for class by studying in advance. Guided preparation, carefully related to class sessions, can contribute much to mental and spiritual growth. Nonclassroom activity, however, refers to anything that happens outside of class providing it is a part of a planned instructional effort. It could happen before a given class session or could take the form of follow-up or carry-through. In this general category consider such methods as field trips, guided research, and various kinds of projects.

The teacher who wishes to be really effective will be sure that his teaching is characterized by variety. In developing variety the teacher must become acquainted with various methods. He must try these and analyze them in use over a period of time. This implies that be must use lesson plans and keep records that enable him to compare various teaching strategies. The teacher’s own attitude toward his ministry is very important. If he recognizes teaching as genuine service for Christ which must meet high standards, he may see variety as one of those standards of excellence toward which he must constantly be striving. The conscientious teacher can learn new methods by reading helpful literature, observing effective teachers, and attending workshops and conferences. In the final analysis, however, he will have to experiment, because continual effort and experience are a necessary part of teaching progress.

The methods described in this book are not new. There is no pretense of “different and creative” approaches to teaching (which are too often neither new nor creative). I am concerned that teachers understand the recognized methods, their strengths, limitations, and some principles for their effective use.

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible