August 30, 1994
The students in Leah’s elementary class were each given two plants and instructed to put one in a closet and the other where it would receive plenty of sunshine. Otherwise, both plants must receive equal care.
After a few weeks, the teacher asked the class what they observed. All reported that the plant in the sunlight was twice the size as the other one. All but Leah said they learned from the size of the larger plant that plants need sunlight. Leah had a different view. She looked at the smaller plant and said, “No matter where you live, you can grow.”
While some teacher might not appreciate that response, Leah’s mother applauds her daughter’s thought processes. Leah did not give the “expected” answer and she “doesn’t think like the others.” She is very “positive.”
My question is: will the education system encourage thinkers like Leah? Or will she eventually “learn” to give only the “expected” answers?
A common method of education involves teachers learning material, then passing the information to students, often by using a lecture. The students use notebooks to record what they hear, memorize some of it in order to get a passing mark on an exam, then forget most of what they learned.
Although most manuals on teaching say this is the least effective way to learn, many teaching situations fall into this lecture/exam pattern. Sunday school and church are often similar. Even though preachers and Christian teachers usually spare us from exams, most use lectures and applaud note-taking.
Jesus lectured too, but used another teaching method that was very effective. He involved His students both in discovering and defining problems as well as involving them in the solutions.
The following example illustrates a modern application. Students form a circle leaving one person out. They wrap their arms tightly around the neighbor on each side and will not allow the one outside in, no matter how hard he or she tries.
After the exercise, the class discusses how it felt to be excluded (helpless, unwanted, angry) and how it felt to exclude one person (fun at first, then uncomfortable, guilty). They examine ways outsiders can find acceptance, what to do if they are part of such a group and do not like what is happening, what the others might do if one person broke the circle, and creative methods of displaying acceptance.
After this exercise and discussion, they will long remember the importance of Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
In a class that uses active learning exercises, the students are not expected to give certain responses. There is no right way to feel nor is there an exam hanging on the answers. The students are drawn into a situation that produces emotions very much like those they experience every day but in an environment where it is safe to discuss them. Students who participate in the above exercise often say they feel just as bad keeping someone out as they feel being left out, something they normally would not admit in an actual life situation.
Jesus taught His disciples this way, but rather than create an artificial situation, He took them out into the marketplace. Together they met with, taught, and confronted their world. After a debriefing with the Master teacher, those men never forgot His lessons.
Leah would fit extremely well into classes like that.