Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 26, 1968
NUMBER 21, PAGE 2b-3

Teaching For Learning (Part VIII.)

Martin M. Broadwell

In this article we promised to look at writing some realistic objectives for studying the Book of Acts with someone that was not a Christian. Note that in stating the subject this way, we have done something we fail to do many times: we have specified the audience that is to be the object of our teaching effort. We have not yet said what our objective is going to be (what they will be able to do after the learning experience), but at least we know something about him (non-Christian). And most important, we have inferred that it makes a difference how we will teach, depending on the make-up of the group to be taught.

Let's reflect for a moment. How often have we been through a study of the Book of Acts, under quite varying circumstances, only to have each study look an awful lot like the last one. There was the study with the teenage group (some of whom were Christians, others who were not), in which we went through the book paragraph-by-paragraph (if not verse-by-verse). We studied the conversions with much diligence and tried to make the rest of the history and socio-economic aspects as interesting as possible. Even with a workbook of some kind, it was a lengthy study.

Now remember the adult auditorium class on Wednesday night where again we studied the Book of Acts. The class was predominantly Christians, many with years of active service to the Lord. Again we studied at least paragraph-by-paragraph, spending about the same amount of time on the conversions as we did with the teenage group. The most response and participation we got from the class was in making vital points about certain aspects of the various examples of conversions. Without a study guide, the time to complete the book probably took longer than the time in the teenage class.

The next occasion in our hypothetical memory trip was a cottage meeting held every Monday night in the home of a newly converted lady who worked diligently to get her husband (a non-member) and her neighbors to attend. The interest was good and the decision to study the Book of Acts was a wise one, because by the time the book is completed, several have obeyed the Gospel. But notice the way the study was conducted: almost identical with the other two we mentioned.

What's the point of all this? It's pretty obvious, isn't it! We need some way to delineate between the audiences. How can we do it? By using realistic objectives, stated in terms of the learner, not the teacher!

Now let's go back to the beginning of this article and pick up with our desire to study the Book of Acts with a group that is predominately non-Christian. (This may well be the cottage meeting group). We asked you, in our last article, to try to set some objectives for this class. Once again let's make sure we understand the difference between stating objectives in general, non-behavioral terms and stating them in terms of the learner. First the general type: "The purpose of the course is to teach a better understanding of the Book of Acts." While this is a seemingly worthwhile purpose, when we examine it more closely, we find we haven't been very specific after all. In fact, such an "objective" would fit almost any study of the Bible, and any kind of group. The trouble is, there is no real, measureable performance expected of the learner.

What would be a more specific objective? How about this one: "To teach an appreciation for the conversions listed in the Book of Acts." This is better, but it has two things wrong with it. First, it puts the emphasis on the teaching rather than the learning, hence is teacher oriented instead of student oriented. It would be much better to word it, "The student will acquire..." or "The student will be able to..." The second and most glaring thing that is wrong is the use of the word Appreciation. How much do you have to know to appreciate something? What can you do differently when you appreciate something that you couldn't do when you didn't have this appreciation? Finally, how do you measure appreciation? The point is obvious; if we want to teach somebody something, we want to be able to measure it — hence we should be able to state it in "action" terms.

Suppose we said, "The student should be able to name all of the conversions and tell what each person did in each of these conversions." Now we have some specific behavior and something that is measurable. But this may not be a very realistic objective, because do we really expect our teaching to be that successful? We could "soften" the objective some like this: "Given specific individuals or groups of individuals, the learner will be able to give an accurate account of their conversions." Or we could go even further and specify only certain conversions or perhaps allow some freedom of choice by saying that the "learner should be able to name at least three conversions and give the details..." Notice that we now have something that not only says exactly what we want the learner to be able to do, but also a completely accurate way of telling whether or not the objective has been met. It is a simple matter to test the group individually or collectively by asking questions requiring the answers to fit the objectives we have just listed.

But there is another very large advantage to stating the objective in the manner we have shown here. If the objectives are too general the instruction is likely to be the same. On the other hand, if the objectives specify exactly what the learner is supposed to be able to do, and it is a measureable thing as we have discussed here, then we also have a very good measure of the teacher! So often the teacher gets off "Scott-free" and the student gets blamed for not knowing something at the end of a period of study. That's the trouble with giving grades to students, especially where the grades are to be used in such a way as to affect the future of the individual (for example, job promotion or salary increases); it implies that the instruction was 100. In reality, the student who made an 83 may have had a 73 teacher! But by specifying the objectives in terms of what the student is to be able to do, both the teacher and the learner can be tested fairly accurately.

This begins to have all kinds of side benefits, too. The teacher is able to concentrate on those things that lead towards meeting the objectives and the student knows exactly where he is going. (This assumes the student knows the objective, which is most important.) And look what happens to our approach to the Book of Acts if we take one of the specific objectives mentioned. Once we have selected the objectives and told the students where they should be at the end of the period of study, there is no problem in leaving out extraneous details. There is no need (at this time) to go into the accounts of Peter and John in jail, or Paul's journeys, or the division between Paul and John Mark, et cetera, et cetera. Not that these things are not important — they just aren't important to meet these objectives. Another time, another study, another set of objectives will allow for ample discussion of these subjects.

We want to deal further with objectives, on other kinds of studies, so try your hand at it in the meantime. Try one for a group of teenage boys, or pre-school children or a class on song leading. Try it for the class you happen to be teaching right now! — 2882 Hollywood Dr., Decatur, Ga. 30033