May 23, 2014—No, this isn’t about dancing. The “moves” I’m referring to is movement in your teaching process. A great communicator once said that how you communicate is just as important as what you say. In terms of teaching that may mean that how you teach is as important as the content of your lesson. It’s easy to see how that can be true in Christian education. To teach about God’s love lovingly is more effective than presenting that same message (content) with an attitude of intolerance and impatience. In the Christian faith, “the medium is the message.”
The style you chose to carry the content of your lesson can either hinder or help bring the message home in the life of your learners. Giving attention to two aspects of the teaching process can help you become a more effective teacher: style and movement. Style refers to the way you chose to engage in the process of teaching. Each style has it’s own movement. Movement refers to how the lesson flows during the learning experience: how one part of the lesson leads into the next and how all parts lead the learners to where you want them to go. For example, you can choose to use a movement in a lesson that will start slow or subdued and flow eventually to fast-paced or highly interactive. The movement you chose should help you carry the message of your content.
Here are eight styles of teaching. Each has it’s own movement. Effective teachers are able to choose the learning methods that best fit within each movement in order to attain the desired outcome. Each style can be used for a single lesson or for a series of lessons. Chose the style that can best help your learners assimilate the message you want to teach.
In this teaching style you will try to link the lesson topic to the life of experience of your learners. The lesson begins with a focus on the learner’s experience and ends with calling for a response to the content. The movements within this style are:
Encounter: Introductory questions or activities will help the learners share their experiences on the matter at hand: “What is your experience with . . . ?” “What did you do when . . . .?” “How did you handle that situation?” “How did you feel . . . ?”
Exploration: Study the theme. Use research, lecture, show a film, lead a discussion to introduce and explore the content.
Depthing: Go deeper into the content though engaging methods: make a collage, discussion, form a panel of speakers, give a report.
Focus: Explore the learner responses to the content message from a Christian perspective. Call for a personal response to the message of the lesson.
This teaching style is similar to linking, but the movement and focus is on the shared group experience. The emphasis is on the experience of the community rather than that of the individual. The movement within this style may look like this:
Life Experience: Ask learners to share their experiences. Discuss how they are similar.
Reflection: Allow the learners to explore their experiences and feelings surrounding what they have shared.
Story: Make a connection between the shared experiences and feelings of the group with the biblical story.
Appropriation: Lead the learners to reflect on the stories of the group and the biblical story. Guide the learners to make connections between the two.
Sharing: Allow each learner in the group to voice applications of what they learned in making connections between their story and the biblical story.
This teaching style works best with smaller numbers of people (between 12-15) and more mature learners. Ideal for short term studies. The movement within this style may look like this:
Focus: Lead the group to clarify their expectation of learning and on the format of the learning experience: time, place, number of meetings, level of commitment, methods used, leadership, attendance, etc.
Participation: The learners enter the learning process in accordance with the contract they agreed to in the first stage (movement).
Evaluation: When the learning cycle is completed, the group evaluates the learning experience and decides on whether to continue under a new contract or decides to disband as a learning group.
This teaching style calls for a higher level of commitment and participation from learners. It appeals more to certain kinds of learners, but can provide a good challenge for most. The movement within this style may look like this:
Pose Problem: Select or agree upon a problem that arises out of discussion or based on a current situation.
Analysis: With the group explore various dimensions of the problem. As a rule, eight to nine people can come up with an almost exhaustive list of the various aspects to any problem. A group larger than nine will tend to get stuck and be less effective in problem-solving activities.
Research: Either as a group or through assignments, explore the problem as found in Scripture, books, articles, films, literature, history, etc.
Formulations: Lead the group to formulate a statement based on a critique of the research.
This teaching style is similar to the shared praxis and problem solving approaches, but it takes things a bit further in that the learners are called upon to apply their findings in a real-life situation. The movement within this style may look like this:
Focus: Lead the learners as a group to reach a consensus on the theme of the inquiry.
Experience: The group shares their experiences relating to the theme chosen.
Research: The group investigates as much as they can about the theme. They identify the critical elements of the theme.
Verification: The findings of the group’s research is tested against research from other sources on the same theme.
Location: The group applies the findings of their research to a real-life situation they share in common.
This teaching style can help equip learners for theological reflection. Most matters of faith, belief, doctrine, and theology require the ability to deal with abstract concepts. The movement within this style may look like this:
Gathering perceptions: Invite your learners to share their understanding of, experiences, and stories about the concept you want them to learn.
Investigation: Provide a variety of resources (texts, dictionaries, readings, video) for your learners to research the various meanings and uses of the concept. Have learners list the characteristics of the concept based on their finding.
Articulation: Guide the learners to use the data gained from the last step to define the concept in their own words. Have them test their definition based on their research findings. Have them strive for accuracy.
Insight: Lead the learners to examine the process of how they reached their definition. Guide them in a discussion about how this process might help them approach other faith questions.
This field trip style takes the learning experience outside of the classroom. The movement within this style may look like this:
Orientation: Lead the group to discuss the anticipated field experience, clarifying the purpose and details of the excursion.
Field Study: Visit the site of the field experience. Depending on the learning outcome, this can be another church’s worship service, a soup kitchen, a shelter, a nursing home, a museum, etc.
Report and Debriefing: Prompt the group to share observations and insights from their field trip experience.
Reflection: Discuss the implications of their observations to their Christian lives.
This style takes advantage of the personal resources the learners bring to the group and challenges each member to become a teacher. The movement within this style may look like this:
Focus: Introduce the focus of the theme, the concept, or the problem at hand to the group.
Group Search: Form small peer groups and assign them to research the theme or problem.
Forum: Facilitate a forum in which each peer group shares insights with other groups in a general format.
Extension: Re-form the peer groups to reconsider and extend their understanding based on the forum information and experience. Have them make applications to the Christian life.
Synthesis: Re-call the peer groups to combine again. Lead them to formulate key ideas from the groups and the forum. Have them consider and weigh the applications for Christian living.
As you consider your teaching goals, avail yourself of these styles and how they use movement to carry the learner in the process of learning.
Kevin Treston, A New Vision of Religious Education, 1993.
Klausmeier, H. J. “Instructional Design and the Teaching of Concepts,” in Levin, J. R. (ed), Cognitive Learning in Children, 1979.
Raths, L., Harmin M., and Simon, S. Values and Teaching, 1966.