I overanalyze things. So, when my son told me the other day that nap time at school is “badder” than recess, I laughed –for a second. That is, until my mind raced twenty years into the future as Bryce is interviewing for a job and says, “Thank you for considering me for this position. I’ll do a gooder job than you could ever imagine.” So I quickly corrected him to use the word, “worse” as a comparative adjective instead of “badder.” I’m fairly certain he will use the incorrect word again.
So, I wondered, what is the best way to teach him? Should I quickly put together a chart on irregular comparative and superlative adjectives? Or, should we practice using “worse” in sentences for about ten minutes? Maybe I should just trust that in time, he will hear me use “worse” enough times in natural conversation that he will catch on. So, which way is the best way for my son to learn? I actually think it is all three.
There is a place for charts and chalkboard teaching (Classroom/Lecture). There is also much to be said for practicing scenarios (Practice/Mentor). And, there is great merit to real life observation (Modeling). In my opinion, all three types of teaching/learning are necessary for the average person. Of course, there are some who naturally soak up a lecture in the classroom, just as there are some who can only learn by doing. However, for most of us, we need a mixture of all three. The problem is that we typically get the order of importance backwards.
Many of us believe that lecture is where all learning starts. However, unless the student is already familiar with the subject, they are not likely to understand or pay attention. For instance, kindergarten teachers don’t write “1+1” on the chalkboard on the first day of school. Instead, they expose their students to a couple of apples. They ask them how many apples Johnny has, etc. The idea of counting apples is familiar to the students because by this point in their life, they have seen adults buy apple at the store or they have fought over the last apple in the house with little brother. The concept has already been modeled to them in real life. The teacher, then, is building upon that model with practice. The students will spend several days practicing addition (unbeknownst to them) with apples. Finally, when the time is right, they will go to the chalkboard and capture what they have learned in abstract terms.
I’m not sure why we abandon this method later in school. For instance, I think biology would have made more sense to me if we had tried the lab before the lecture. And, in Spanish class, I’m certain that spending time in conversation before unpacking grammar would have helped me tremendously. For my son’s usage of “worse,” I am trying to make sure he observes me modeling correct grammar, and that I am giving him plenty of times to practice under my mentorship. And, when he uses incorrect grammar, I may take a moment to explain the correct usage.
When it comes to discipleship, I’m afraid we’ve bought into the backward order of teaching as well. Typically, we think discipleship starts in a sanctuary, progresses to a classroom, and maybe, just maybe, will one day make it into real life. Perhaps, however, Jesus’s example should change our thinking. He didn’t start out by telling men to “come to the Synagogue” (although He did teach there), instead He just told them to “follow me.” In the midst of his modeling, He took advantage of opportunities to give the Twelve “hands on experience” and mentoring. And, occasionally, when their heads were full of questions from everything they had witnessed and experienced, he even pulled them aside for a lecture. Seems a little backwards to most of us, doesn’t it? Here’s a few ideas to consider when trying to make disciples:
1) Avoid lecturing on ideas that are foreign to your disciples. Give them concrete experience –even if it means trying something and failing- before trying to explain everything. Let experience pique your disciple’s interest. Providing answers where there are no questions is typically a waste of time.
2) Don’t miss “teachable moments.” Look for opportunities to teach when a disciple shows genuine interest or intrigue. These are the most fertile opportunities for teaching.
3) Don’t try to “lesson plan” everything. Undoubtedly, you should have some basic goals and objectives for what you want you disciple to learn. However, don’t be fooled into thinking you can plan how they will learn it, when they will learn it, or in what order they will learn it. Much like in parenting, life situations dictate opportunities. Given enough time, ample opportunities will present themselves for the prepared disicplemaker to invest in his/her disciple.
Please don’t misunderstand. Didactic teaching and lecture are good. I fully believe that they have their place in Christian growth as long as they are not emphasized to the exclusion of modeling and mentoring. Lecture is good, but when you add hands on experience and observation, its gooder!