Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 30, 1968
NUMBER 5, PAGE 2b-3,6b

Teaching For Learning (IV.)

Martin M. Broadwell

Let's look at what may well be the key to successful teaching, that is, being able to say ahead of time just what we want our students to be able to do at the end of a class period. To give this name, we'll call it our objective. But let's not get caught up in theory, because it is here, more than anywhere else in our discussion that we must be practical and realistic. The best way to clear the air is to put the teaching-learning process in its simplest context.

There is first the STUDENT. Presumably he cannot do something that we feel would be good for him to do. He may not be able to name the books of the Bible, or list the sons of Jacob, or describe the crucifixion scene, or discuss instrumental music with someone, or properly apply the scriptures relating to the plan of salvation, or whatever we are trying to teach him. Later we plan to look at the LEARNER in more detail, but for now let's just say that he can't do what it is we would like for him to do. Notice that the fact that he can't do these things doesn't say that he wants to do them. It merely states a condition that exists.

Next there is the SUBJECT MATTER and the action we want performed with that material. Remember, there are many things he can do with the same subject matter. He can just hear it. He can hear it and say "There sure is a lot of it." He can memorize that list of items, or repeat a number of facts in a "proper" order. He can use these facts to prove or disprove certain arguments. He can even change his own life to conform to them. Note that ALL of these, except just hearing, fits our definition of learning. Even being able to say there is "a lot of it" represents a change in his behavior, providing he really couldn't say this with conviction before. (We use this technique all the time in describing the horrors of Hell, or the expansive beauties of Heaven, or the terribleness of sin. We are trying to create a broad concept, not expecting the audience to get the actual facts, item for item, committed to memory.) So we pick the SUBJECT MATTER, and hopefully pick what we want the student to do with it.

Finally, there is the TEACHER. He is the real key, for he determines — ahead of time — what will be taught, and he decides — during class — just how it will be taught, including how fast, what technique will be used, how much involvement will be sought from the students, etc. When the class is over he must search his conscience to see if the students really can do what they were supposed to be able to do when the teaching was over.

A Happy Mixture

So now we have the ingredients for the teaching-learning process to take place: the STUDENT, the SUBJECT MATTER and the TEACHER. It sounds simple, but look at all the places for the process to break down. The student may not like the material, the teacher may not really be interested in teaching, and the subject matter may be wrong for either the teacher or the student. What we try to do is to bring about the proper blend of the tree. But here again, we must start by asking ourselves, "What do I want the STUDENT to be able to do?" Only then can we choose the proper material, proper teacher and the proper way to present the material.

But this is beginning to get monotonous, so let's get into some specifics and see how it works. To give us a big enough field to work in, let's start off by talking about a study of the book of Acts. (That's pretty broad, but certainly this is the book studied more often than any other in the church.) It may be studied at any level, almost, from the very young to the adult classes. It may be studied by those who have been members for a long time, or a short time or not members at all. Strangely enough, it very often comes out looking the same way, regardless of who is on the receiving end.

For example, if it is to be a verse-by-verse study, each conversion gets careful consideration (even in the "auditorium class." Also, there will quite likely be some effort to memorize or trace Paul's journeys, town-by-town. Chances are, the comments from the class will be quite similar in most cases. Of course, if there is a study guide, the classes will look even more alike anywhere the book is used. (That's the purpose of the literature, incidentally, so there's no quarrel here.) But! Wait a minute! Just where are we trying to go with this study of Acts. Unless we do the proper job of setting our objective, that is, determined ahead of time what the students can't do then decide what we want them to be able to do after the class, we aren't likely to accomplish the desired results.

Setting The Objective

Let's see what we would do if we wanted to teach the book of Acts to a group of Christians with a fairly good background in the book already. There are several approaches. If we feel reasonably certain that they really know the conversions and the facts concerning the beginning of the church, we then decide on what they don't know, and what they need the most. For instance, do they need to know more about the history of the times or the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles, or the work of the church, or New Testament geography, or whatever else. Let's pick one of these at random...say the history of the times covered by the Book of Acts. Here's where the importance of realistic objectives comes in. We must now — before we start teaching — decide what we want the class to be awe to do at the end of the period of time used in covering the book. This should be in "behavioral" terms, i.e. in terms of measurable action.

For example, "At the end of the course, the student should be able to name the rulers mentioned in the Book of Acts, and tell what their position was with respect to the Roman Government." Or, "The student should be able to identify the following rulers and tell what their relationship was with the various apostles and preachers. (Then list the rulers.)" Or, "At the end of the course, the students should be able to rearrange the following events into chronological order, giving the approximate historical date that each event took place. (Then list whatever events you wish the student to learn.)" Notice that all of these are measurable items. Given to the students ahead of time, the objectives become a target to shoot at, and an advance copy of the final exam. If we used these objectives as stated above, notice how it changes our approach to teaching the Book of Acts. No longer are we tied to a "lock-step" method of being sure every verse is fully explained. We have a specific objective in mind and those things which do not apply directly to this objective can be saved to a later study. Since the students know what the objective is, they too are not disturbed if some of the material is passed over rather hurriedly.

A Problem Arises...

All of a sudden a problem comes to mind: This takes much more work and study on the part of the teacher in preparing for the whole course and for each lesson! That's right, because now we have stated just what results we expect and must be sure that all of our efforts are aimed in this direction. We, too, must be able to meet the objectives. Remember the old saying, "If you don't know where you're going. any road will get you there." Well, teaching is much like that. More often than not we simply "teach" the lesson, and leave it up to students to get whatever they want from it. We complain about the teachers when our children don't learn their ABC's. We are much unhappy when one of our children has a teacher who just "puts it out," and leaves it up to the child to get what he can. Let's ask ourselves if, indeed, we are not committing the same error in our own teaching!