The Three Components of Learning
The instruction time should begin with a common language. A sign of a lack of preparation is to use language that the instructor knows the students do not understand. The ineffective teacher in this case is more concerned about covering their lack of preparation with verbal smoke than studentâ€™s understanding of the life changing scriptural truths. The teacher has to be able to communicate the information so that the students understand what is being communicated. The way in which different people learn even influences the way one should communicate. This requires flexibility and a willingness to change for the sake of the student. Hendricks refers to this as the â€œthe law of educationâ€ and what Gregory refers to as the â€œlaw of the teaching process.â€ Hendricks points out that all communication â€œhas three essential components: intellect, emotion, and volitionî ºin other words, thought, feeling, and action.â€ Yount calls these â€œissues of the head, heart, and hand.â€ Every student falls into one of these three categories. Yount explains, â€œThinkers are looking for meat to chew, new ideas, and new ways of looking at the world. Feelers are looking for gifts to receive and share, relationships with new friends, and personal relevance. Doers are looking for a project to finish, â€˜letâ€™s get the job done, done right, and in the quickest way possible.â€™â€ Therefore every concept that is taught should touch on all three learning concepts. Lawrence Richards proposed a method of lesson preparation that includes these concepts. His method is hook, book, look, and took. Richard explains,
The hook is an approach to a teaching lesson that draws in and interests the participant. The book is the presentation of a biblical story, theme, or concept.Â The look is the exploration of the materialâ€™s implications and applications for the lives of the participants. The took is the suggestion of and commitment to actual responses on the part of participants in the light of what has been learned or discovered.
Shelly Cunningham adds to Richardâ€™s lesson preparation outline by adding cook. Pazmino notes, â€œCunningham sees cook as the final step of learning that fosters the follow-up or transfer of learning after one teaching session and prior to its successive session.â€ This is an assignment or some other activity that encourages the student to think about the lesson until the next teaching time.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow has identified four levels of learning. The first is unconscious incompetence; this is where a person is ignorant and does not even know that they are ignorant. The second level is conscious incompetence; this is where a person now knows they are ignorant of a subject. The third level is conscious competence; this is where a person has learned something, but they are consciously aware they are doing what they have learned. The fourth level is unconscious competence; this is where a person becomes so competent of the learned behavior that they do it without being conscious they are doing it. The teacherâ€™s objective then is to move the student from not knowing a concept to knowing it so thoroughly that they do it without even thinking about it. This means that if a teacher knows his subject thoroughly, feels it deeply, and is practicing it, he more than likely will be a better communicator than a person who does not possess these three characteristics. With Christian education, the teacher has to encounter the biblical text, feel the Holy Spirit moving and impacting them, and then they apply certain principles to their own lives before they can ever effectively communicate it to a student. Teachers can only take their students as far as they themselves have been in the spiritual journey. If the teacher is trying to fool her students, the rouÃ©s will eventually be found out and she will loose creditability. The phrase â€œdo as I say, not as I do,â€ does not lead to life transformational teaching, only to disheartened and pharisaical students. Gregory says, â€œA teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art to be taught.â€ In a secular teaching environment it is enough for the student to know 2+2=4, and in this case they have mastered the information. However, for the Christian teacher mastery of the material is not enough; teachers are only effective when the student has made Scripture a part of their lives; when the studentâ€™s life has been transformed.
Gangel asks the question, â€œHow can a housewife, truck driver, computer programmer, beautician, or physician become a master teacher, perhaps for only one hour a week? Thatâ€™s a Herculean task. But we can all profit from the example of the greatest teacher, whom Nicodemus respectively called â€˜A Teacher . . . come from Godâ€™ (John 3:2).â€ Jesus as the master teacher gives those who teach several techniques to use in their own teaching times. How was it possible for Jesus to be such an effective teacher without classrooms, flannel graphs, power point presentations, or textbooks?
One would be to start with the learnerâ€™s world or context. Gregory refers to this as the â€œlaw of the Lesson.â€ Jesus oftentimes used the environment around Him and used story subjects that would have been familiar to His learners. When Jesus spoke of peopleâ€™s hearts being receptive to the gospel, He used varying types of soil. This agrarian society would have visualized in their minds the various soil types and clearly understood the illustration. Learning must be a series of steps where one lesson builds upon another. One lesson is used as a jumping off place for the next. The skill then is required by the teacher to determine how long one continues with a particular study. If the teacher stays too long, the lesson becomes monotonous. If the teacher goes too fast, the students are left behind in the cloudy dust of the once clear material. Gregory says, â€œNew elements of knowledge must be brought into relation with other facts and truths already known before they themselves can be fully revealed and take their place in the widening circle of the experience of the learner.â€ What the learner already knows helps them to decipher and understand the new material being taught. Therefore, the level of mastery of the previous material dictates the time that would be required to introduce new material. The teacher then needs to get the students to explain the material taught back to her, or another student, in order to evaluate if they have understood the material properly. Most people tend to explain what they have learned in the language that they are most familiar. The soldier in an effort to explain would refer to the battlefield, the sailor to the sea, or the scientist to the lab.
The teacher should also have a way of evaluating if students understand the material as the class progresses, as opposed to a test or some other method of evaluation that would come later. This would allow the teacher to change his method, speed and volume of information given, to something the students may understand better. It is better to have taught one thing and it be understood and applied rather than have taught five things and nothing be understood or retained.
Another example of Jesusâ€™ teaching technique would be to allow the learners to discover the truth. People learn best when they make the connection to a spiritual truth themselves. The teacher ceases to be the dispenser of knowledge (lecturing, telling of truth) but instead guides students to experience different things where they learn through discovery. This is also referred to as active learning. Some examples of active learning are simulation games, role-plays, service projects, experiments, research projects, group pantomimes, mock trials, purposeful games, and field trips. Direct, purposeful experiences are the best way for a learner to retain information. Methods that rely on other peopleâ€™s experiences or â€œmethods requiring little student involvement, result in relatively little student learning.â€ Methods that require the learner to experience certain experiences are the most effective. Taking these methods into account, and realizing that the more the student experiences the more they will retain information, it is sobering to realize the methods used by most teachers, preachers, etc. use the least retentive method to teach. Spoken or written communication has a retention rate of 5 to 10 percent. Media allows the learner to retain 25 percent. Role-play is 40 to 60 percent and direct experience has a 80 to 90 percent retention rate. Knowing that active learning is the most effective, it is crucial that the activity be specifically designed to teach an objective. Hendricks says, â€œThis condition implies an important insight about teaching: Activity in learning is never an end in itself; itâ€™s always a means to an end.â€ The teacher must make sure that she adds to Platoâ€™s quote, â€œwe learn by doingâ€ by saying â€œwe learn by doing the right thing.â€ Gregory refers to this as the â€œLaw of the Teaching Process. This law states, excite and direct the self-activities of the pupil, and as a rule tell him nothing that he can learn himself.â€ Dale explains that each part of the spiritual diet should be regularly and systematically addressed through teaching biblical facts and offering children practical application experiences. Dale says, â€œThe church often concentrates most of its time offering new knowledge while neglecting the application. Even when addressing the application issues the church tends to do it verbally rather than through hands-on experiences. Therefore a proper spiritual diet offers children both knowledge and experiences.â€
Along with active learning is the brother of this concept, interactive learning. Thom and Joani say, â€œInteractive learning occurs when students discuss and work cooperatively in pairs or small groups.â€ This method encourages students to work together, which is essential in the life of the church. The teacher is not only teaching students how to discover truths as a team, but also how to work together in life. Ecclesiastes 4:9â€“10 says, â€œTwo are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!â€(NIV). The Shultzs suggest several reasons as to why interactive learning works so well. The first is â€œinteractive learning is student-based, instead of teacher-based.â€ Interactive learning encourages the students to work together to discover the answer to various questions, as opposed to a teacher presenting information, and then asking individual students for factual brief answers. In interactive learning, students ask each other questions and have to think their answers through instead of parroting short factual information back to the teacher. Another reason would be that students learn to depend upon each other, and they often can solve problems faster than if they were alone. In interactive learning no student is left out because they realize that all the students are needed to accomplish the task given. Joani and Thom Shultz say, â€œIn interactive learning, each pair or team is responsible for responding. Partners count on each other and hold each other accountable.â€ Lastly this type of learning encourages students to build relationships with each other. Realistically, it is these relationships with others that will bring people back to the next learning time, not the presentation of the teacher. Also, in having an interactive time the lessons can be implemented into their lives immediately. During a time of learning, the teacher could provide opportunities for the students to put into practice, what they have learned.
Another example of Jesusâ€™ teaching techniques is taking advantage of teachable moments. The Pharisees taught by rote practices. Jesus, on the other hand, seems to be so familiar with His subject matter that He easily made connections to spiritual truths wherever and whenever He chose. Where the Pharisees taught and the students sat still and were to remember, Jesus calls His students to â€œgo.â€ Jesus calls His students to â€œfollow me.â€ A teachable moment is when something happensâ€”a student asks a question, or some other occurrence happensâ€”and the teacher uses this as a way to either teach a new concept, review, or add to what has already been taught. Jesusâ€™ classrooms were fields, homes, oceans, temples, boats, roads, hills, and a cross. The disciples were expected to do more than just listen; they were encouraged to do something. This is life transformation. When the student chooses to follow the teaching as a part of their lives, this is effective teaching. Jesus also rarely did things the way He was â€œsupposed to.â€ He never avoided hard topics like death, hell, money, anxiety, etc., but instead showed how these topics where apart of everyday life. Because of this, Jesusâ€™ teachings were rarely predictable. There is a direct correlation between oneâ€™s predictability and oneâ€™s impact. The higher the predictability in the teaching time, the lower the impact. Christ was always teaching for change in the hearts of the people and this is reflected in His teaching methods. His teaching was not simply for the sake of being different, but His teaching was different because of who He was. His character and love for people overflowed into His teachings.
In the teaching time the teacher must motivate the students to apply what has been taught to their lives. Hendricks call this the â€œLaw of Encouragement. Teaching tends to be most effective when the learner is properly motivated.â€ The key word in this concept is â€œproperly.â€ There are several illegitimate ways to motivate students to learn. The first is what Hendricks calls the â€œlollipop motivationâ€ or extrinsic motivation. This occurs when the teacher offers the student something that will motivate them to behave a certain way, memorize Scripture, or learn some other teaching point. This is illegitimate because oneâ€™s goal in Christian education is life transformation not temporary behavioral change. The teacher could also be fooled into believing that the student is doing better by the amount of patches on a vest, or pins, or â€œlollipopsâ€ handed out during a period of time. When the student goes home, however, the vest is on the floor along with her understanding of Christianity. The beliefs are stitched to the vest and not her heart.Â Students should understand the need for following God and be taught to have a grateful heart, then students will be motivated to change their lives. This behavior will be with him all day, and all week, not just one hour a week in a specific location. Students need to see the importance of Scripture and God in their lives, and out of this understanding their lives are transformed. Gregory says, â€œThe nature of mind, as far as we can understand it, is that of a power or force actuated by motives. The striking clock may sound in the ear, and the passing object may paint its image in the eyes, but the inattentive mind neither hears nor sees.â€ The hard part of teaching is working from the outside to make something happen on the inside.
In motivating a student the teacher needs to instill within them the need to do what was taught. The student must desire it from within (intrinsic), in order for it be lasting change. This is why the teaching methods that teachers use should expose students to real life experiences. When they see how to respond to a bully, how to overcome addiction, how to revive their marriage, then the student will take to heart what is being taught.
The type of extrinsic motivation that has been described has also been referred to as â€œdirect reinforcement.â€ Yount says, â€œDirect reinforcement decreases intrinsic motivation in students. Providing rewards to students already interested in a subject actually decreases interest. Students given rewards for correct solutions to problems subsequently chose less difficult problems than students who received no rewards at all.â€ Direct reinforcement also short-circuits the learning process by narrowing the students focus to the reward. Class discussions come to a stop when questions like, â€œWhat will we win?â€ or â€œwill there be a test on this?â€ are asked. Yount explains that when learning is for the sake of getting the reward then when that reward is over, so is the motivation. When a teacher chooses to use direct reinforcement, her time spent in developing relationships or even teaching is taken away because of the need to administrate a tally board, keep up with points, or other reinforcement schedules. In direct reinforcement, there is also the need for increasing rewards. Candy as a motivator may grow tiresome, and the teacher has to seek to find another. This in itself is teaching the students to become greedy and disobedient. It is teaching the student to say to herself, â€œI will behave/learn if it is worth it to me.â€
The most effective way to motivate students to learn is the praise of the student from a loving and endeared teacher. Yount says, â€œâ€˜Praiseâ€™ means more than objective feedback on performance. It includes positive feedback on the studentâ€™s personal worth, which in itself, is a powerful motivator.â€ For this to be most effective the teacher must have a personal and close relationship with the student. The closer the relationship, the more the teacherâ€™s praise means to the student.
Jesus gives one other time-honored example that the conscientious modern day teacher seeking to be life transformational can follow. This is His example of prayer. In Luke 11:1 the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. This is because Jesus prayed about everything. Teachers can lead by example by praying in the classroom for their students and other concerns, praying in other places and times where their students can hear and observe them. But more importantly, praying for them on a daily basis is the place at which true transformation takes place, not only in the heart of the teacher for her students, but also in the lives of the students because of the power of prayer.
All of Jesusâ€™ examples of teaching methods include an element of creativity. One of the specific ways that he showed this creativity was in his use of questions. Referring to questions, â€œThese form the heart of His teaching method. The four Gospels record over a hundred different ones. Some of His questions were direct and simply intended to secure information; some clarified uncertainty in the minds of His hearers and some invited expressions of faith. For example, â€˜Do you believe that I am able to do this?, (Matthew 9:28), He said to the sick man.â€™â€ He used hypothetical questions to teach problem-solving in situations (Matt 21:31). Jesus also allowed questions to be asked of Him as in Matt 12:13â€“34. Another form of His creativity was the use of parables to teach a spiritual point. This method of teaching provoked thinking (Mark 4:2). Other forms of creative teaching methods would include â€œoverstatement (Mark 5:29â€“30); proverb (6:4); paradox (12:41â€“44); irony (Matt16:2-3); hyperbole (23:23â€“24); allusion (John 2:19); and metaphor (Luke 13:32).â€
 Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives, 37.
 Ibid., 69.
 William Yount, Called To Teach (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999), 136.
 Pazmino, God Our Teacher, 47.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 39.
 Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, 18.
 Kenneth Gangel and Howard Hendricks, The Christian Educatorâ€™s Handbook on Teaching (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1984), 14.
 Tom Shultz and Joani Shultz, The Dirt on Learning (Loveland: Group, 1999), 39.
 Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, 71.
 Ibid., 74.
 Shultz, The Dirt on Learning, 39.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 138.
 Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives, 53.
 Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, 84.
 Dale, Changing Lives or Spinning Wheels, 34.
 Shultz and Shultz, The Dirt on Learning, 181.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 187.
 Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives, 94.
 Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, 92.
 Yount, Called To Teach, 77.
 Ibid., 78.
 Gangel and Hendricks, The Christian Educatorâ€™s Handbook on Teaching, 25.
 Ibid., 27.